THE CULTURE OF THE SEVENTIES
IT was in the seventies that good taste reached its lowest ebb. Not only in America, but in England as well, where rebels like William Morris were contemptuously rejecting a machine civilization. A veritable débâcle of the arts was in process, the lesser as well as the greater, in New York and Boston as well as in Chicago and San Francisco, from which literature could not wholly escape; and that débâcle was an expression of profound changes taking place at the bases of society. The dignified culture of the eighteenth century, that hitherto had been a conserving and creative influence throughout the Jeffersonian revolution, was at last breaking up. The disruptive forces that swept out of the great West, bringing the frontier spirit to every threshold, and the factory economy that displaced the wares of the craftsman with the products of the machine, were destroying that earlier culture and providing no adequate substitute. Distinction of manners and dress was gone, dignity and repose were gone, traditional standards were gone; and in their stead a bumptious restlessness, a straining for originality and individuality that exuded in a shoddy and meaningless grotesque. It was not without justification that Godkin contemptuously applied the phrase, "a chromo civilization," to the works of that singular generation dwelling between worlds, the one dead, the other seeming powerless to be born.
How much was lost in the break-up of the excellent culture of the eighteenth century the children of the seventies neither knew nor cared. Generations of growth had gone to its shaping. It had been formed by the needs of men and women conscious of the ties that linked them with the past. It was bound back upon the rich cultural life of medieval times, and in the aristocratic eighteenth century it had come to flower in forms of fine distinction and dignity. Touch that century on any side-dress, architecture, furniture, manners, letters--and the same note of refinement, of grace, of balanced harmonious form, is everywhere evident. The culture of the times of the Coffee House Wits was all of a piece, held together by an inner pervasive unity. The formality of the wig and the heroic couplet was symbolic of a generation that loved dignity, and the refinement of the Chippendale sideboard, wrought in slender Honduras mahogany, was the expression of a society that cultivated the graces of life. But when the tie-wig and smallclothes disappeared before the social revolutions of the end of the century, when the gentleman was pushed from his place by the banker and manufacturer, and broadcloth gave way to tweeds, the culture of the eighteenth century was doomed; and until another culture should impose its standards upon society and reestablish an inner spiritual unity, there would be only the welter of an unlovely transition.
In no other field is the sprawling formlessness of the seventies more grotesquely suggested than in its architecture and in interior decoration, which is a lesser form of architecture. Upon the buildings of the times the hallmark of the Gilded Age is stamped in gaudy colors. By the end of the thirties the fine traditions of colonial craftsmanship were gone and the builders set forth on a foolish quest for historical styles. Revivals followed on each other's heels. The Greek revival and the Gothic revival marked the successive decline of the noble art of building, until at last, turning away from the past, architecture erupted in what it conceived to be a new American style, the expression of a free democratic people, but which later generations reckon a sign and proof of cultural bankruptcy. It was the golden age of the jig saw, of the brownstone front, of the veranda that ran about the house like a spider web, of the mansard roof, the cupola, the house of stilts. Flamboyant lines and meaningless detail destroyed the structural unity of the whole; tawdry decoration supplanted beauty of materials and a fine balance of masses. A stuffy and fussy riot of fancy, restrained by no feeling for structural lines, supplied the lack of creative imagination, and architecture sank to the level of the Jerry-builder. Bad taste could go no further.
With this decay of aristocratic culture and the attendant disintegration of the earlier cultural unity, three diverse strands of cultural impulse remained, each of an individual fabric that could not easily be woven into a harmonious pattern: a decadent Federalistic culture that occupied the seats of authority in New England and wherever New England opinion was respected; the body of social aspiration that had come from the French Enlightenment, from which individual dreamers still drew nourishment; and the vigorous individualism of the frontier that bit so deeply into the psychology of the age. Behind these diverse impulses lay still another that would eventually shoulder them aside and provide the pattern for the America that was rising--the culture of an urbanized and mechanized society that in its vast warrens of business was creating the psychology and manners of a standardized, middle-class world of salesmanship.
NEW ENGLAND IN DECAY
In one spot in America, at least, the disruption of the fine old aristocratic culture would not be suffered without a protest. Brahmin New England would cling to its traditional standards though all the rest of America should go whoring after strange gods. The welter of the seventies it looked upon with undisguised contempt. It would not follow the way that other portions of the country were hastening. It would have nothing to do with a bumptious frontier spirit that recognized no obligations to the past--for the excellent reason that it had no past. It had had its fill of the visionary Enlightenment that had come to logical fruit in the vagaries of Thoreau and the grotesque vaporings of Alcott. It had had more than its fill of the strident causes that spawned like mushrooms in the rank soil of French romanticism. Emerson it could forgive, for Emerson was a Brahmin, but it quietly ignored his philosophic anarchism and chose to dwell on pleasanter aspects of his teaching. Wendell Phillips it regarded as a common nuisance, but Edmund Quincy it forgave, for after a season of vagrant wanderings he returned to the placid ways of his ancestral Brahminism. Of all these things, whether frontier or Utopian or what not, it had had enough, and so it turned back lovingly to the culture of earlier times and drew comfort from a dignified Federalism--enriched now by a mellow Harvard scholarship that was on intimate terms with Dante and Chaucer and Cervantes and Shakespear-a Federalism that fitted the dignified Brahmin genius as comfortably as an old shoe.
It was an excellent heritage--that old culture. Never richly creative, never endowed with a fleshly paganism, it possessed nevertheless a solidity got from long wrestling with the eternities, a pleasantly acrid flavor got from crotchety old books, and a sober
morality got from much contemplation of the sinfulness of the children of Adam. It was as native to New England as Boston brown bread, and it issued in self-respecting and dignified character. Underneath all transcendental and other eruptions it had lain unmoved like the granite foundations of the New England fields; and now after those eruptions had subsided it provided the solid footing on which the later culture might rear its chaste temples. But unhappily the building days of New England were over. Matters were going ill there. Emigration to the West was draining the vitality from farm and village, and in Boston disastrous changes were under way. The familiar places where Sam Adams and Josiah Quincy had dwelt with their fellows were being invaded by immigrants who brought with them another faith and discordant manners. The Roman Catholic church grew strong as the Old North declined; the Irish brogue displaced the Yankee on Boston Common; Faneuil Hall was given over to alien fishmongers. The Brahmin remnant was absorbed in banking and brokerage and railway investments. It still held the Boston purse but it was fast losing the Boston vote. The capital of the Puritan fathers was being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution that their descendants had set on foot. New England was visibly falling into decay and the years of its intellectual leadership in America were numbered.
The days of high thinking were over and the familiar home of humanitarian causes was inhabited by other tenants. All that remained of the golden forties was the quiet atmosphere of good breeding. Unitarianism, that Theodore Parker had kept openminded and militant, settled into a staid and respectable orthodoxy, its pale negations sufficing to soothe its placid congregations. Transcendentalism, that had thrown a lovely mist about the lean New England character, was evaporating in the rising sun of science; and the ardor of reform, that had burned fiercely in the Puritan heart, subsided into a well-bred interest in negro schools and foreign missions. The Abolition leaders laid aside their pens, convinced that the last injustice had been removed from American society. Their work was done and they turned unwilling ears to calls for new crusades. The New England conscience was tired. It had borne the burden and heat of a long day and was glad to be released from its cares to set up monuments to its sacred dead and to write the chronicles of its past. New England lost interest in ideas and turned away from creative intellectual life to catalogue its libraries and revere the men who had written those libraries. The Enlightenment was over in Boston and the stir of reform passed to New York and the West, where Amelia Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton carried forward the great crusades for temperance and women's rights, and Henry George was preaching the gospel of a new social economics. Whatever militants existed in New England were not likely to be Brahmins and their labors did not roil the quiet waters. Clamorous distractions no longer disturbed the calm of Federalistic culture, and Cambridge and the Back Bay quietly appropriated the literary earnings of Concord and lived pleasantly on its revenues.
The inevitable fruit of such thin soil was the genteel tradition, the excellence of which in the seventies New England maintained in the face of all frontier leveling and romantic liberalisms--a timid and uncreative culture that lays its inhibitions on every generation that is content to live upon the past. It was a penalty for backsliding. The men of the preceding generation had got their cheeses made--and excellent cheeses they were, with a fine native flavor. But the transcendental cow had gone dry and with no fresh cows coming in the Brahmins of the seventies were hard put to it to live an adequate intellectual life. Translations and medieval scholarship were no better than remainder biscuit after voyage. Ever since Lowell put away his youthful radicalisms and turned bookman, Brahmin culture had been undernourished. The story of intellectual New England after 1870 is little more than a repetition of the story of New England after 1790-a resurgence of the traditional Toryism that assumed an unquestioned custodianship of all matters intellectual.
That was her own business, of course, and it would have been of no great concern to the rest of the country if New England had not set up a cultural dictatorship over American letters. It was not content to follow its own path to sterility, but was bent on dragging the country with it. Boston taste determined American literary standards, and Boston taste rejected most of the new movements then getting under way. Stoddard and Stedman in New York, Boker in Philadelphia, and Aldrich in Boston, stoutly upheld the genteel tradition, of which the Atlantic Monthly was the authoritative spokesman. Great figures from the past--Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, Motley, Parkmanstill walked the streets of Boston, and their extraordinary reputations were little less than tyrannous in the inhibitions they laid on younger men. It is incomprehensible today, the authority of these great reputations. Young William Winter walking twenty miles to stand in the moonlight at Craigie House gate and view reverently the silent walls within which the great Longfellow was sleeping; Mark Twain in the fullness of his powers abashed and put out of countenance at his temerity in speaking humorously of Emerson and Longfellow and Holmes at the Atlantic dinner--one understands such things with difficulty now that those reputations have so much bated and dwindled. Yet to the generation of the seventies the inhibitions of the genteel tradition were all-powerful, and the little Boston group set themselves up as a court of final jurisdiction over American letters. New England parochialism had become a nation-wide nuisance.
The genteel tradition, as Professor Santayana has pointed out, had long been a disease in New England. Some of the finest minds of the Renaissance--Emerson and Hawthorne in particular--had suffered from it; their mental processes "had all a certain starved and abstract quality," a lack of the rich paganism that endows life and art with sensuous beauty.
They could not retail the genteel tradition [he goes on]; they were too keen, too perceptive, and too independent for that. But life offered them little digestible material, nor were they naturally voracious. They were fastidious, and under the circumstances they were starved. . . . Therefore the genius of . . . Hawthorne, and even of Emerson, was employed in a sort of inner play, or digestion of vacancy. It was a refined labor, but was in danger of being morbid, or tinkling, or self-indulgent. It was a play of intra-mental rhymes. Their mind was like an old music box, full of tender echoes and quaint fancies. These fancies expressed their personal genius sincerely, as dreams may; but they were arbitrary fancies in comparison with what a real observer would have said in the premises. Their manner, in a word, was subjective. In their own persons they escaped the mediocrity of the genteel tradition, but they supplied nothing to supplant it in other minds.1
If the thin pale atmosphere in which the genteel tradition throve starved the minds of greater men in a more vigorous age, it would play havoc with smaller men in an imitative age. After Emerson and Hawthorne came Stedman and Stoddard and Aldrich, upon whose studiously correct pages the genteel tradition laid a hand of death. In the seventies it had become the refuge of a stale mentality, emptied of all ideals save beauty, and that beauty become cold and anemic. Its taboos were no more than cushions for tired or lazy minds. The idea of morality--with its corollary of reticence-and the idea of excellence were well enough in the abstract, but become empty conventions, cut off from reality, they were little more than a refuge for respectability, a barricade against the intrusion of the unpleasant. In compressing literature within the rigid bounds of a genteel morality and a genteel excellence, New England was in a way of falsifying it. Highways are easy traveling, but the artist who will not venture from them misses much. In the seventies and eighties the incurious Boston mentality missed pretty much everything vital and significant in American life, and the more daring children of Boston-men like Henry Adams and, shall we add, Henry James--sought congenial atmosphere elsewhere.
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH AND THE GENTEEL
In the expansive days of Walt Whitman and Mark Twain the official custodian of the genteel in letters was Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who as editor of the Atlantic from 1881 to 1890 sturdily combated all literary leveling. Sitting in the high seat of Boston authority he would countenance none of the "Josh Billingsgate" corruptions of the English language that he professed to believe were sullying the purity of American literary taste. A Portsmouth, New Hampshire, boy, early transplanted to New York City, he lisped in numbers before he learned to think. At the age of nineteen he published a volume of poems entitled The Bells, A Collection of Chimes, the tintillations of which were little more than faint echoes of Keats, Chatterton, Tennyson, Poe, Bryant, Willis, and Longfellow; and to the end of his life his state of ideal felicity was to be "loaded to the muzzle with lyrics and sonnets" wherewith to do execution on all purveyors of realism with its "miasmatic breath blown from the slums." Transplanted to Boston from the Bohemian world of Pfaff's restaurant where Willis held court, he settled down into the staid atmosphere of the Back Bay with immense content. Though he was fond of calling himself only Boston-plated he was soon as completely Bostonian as the Autocrat himself. Intellectually and esthetically he had been Cambridge bred, and the influence of Longfellow, Lowell, and Holmes determined his every literary endeavor. Like the returned prodigal he wandered no more but was satisfied to feast on the dainties of Back Bay culture. He immersed himself in the genteel. His one ambition as editor of the Atlantic was to keep it as Lowell wished it kept. To the end of his life he remained completely insulated against the creative forces of the times, and in the year that Stephen Crane was writing Maggie he published The Sisters' Tragedy. He would have been shocked byMaggie, if he had read it, as a later generation wonders at The Sisters' Tragedy.
It is easy to see why Aldrich should have been taken to Boston's heart. His refined and delicate technique more than compensated for an intellectual sterility that seems never to have been apparent to his ardent admirers. Witty, charming in manners, in love with art and devoted to a painstaking craftsmanship, he was a hollow reed through which blew into flawless form the refinements of his world and group. Good taste found nothing to offend in his scanty pages.If he worshiped at the altar of beauty, beauty to him was always a chaste goddess, severe and pale and slight. A blowsy goddess like Whitman's, or a slattern like Mark Twain's, he would have none of. As a youthful poet, to be sure, he sometimes hinted that she had red cheeks and plump breasts and rounded limbs, but on his removal to Boston he discovered that she was quite Beacon Street with her slender form and modest reserve--no Greek but a lovely Puritan maiden; and the mature Aldrich came to prefer her chaste reticence to the freer ways the younger generation liked. They were destroying beauty--this younger generation--with their vulgar realism, besmirching the goddess with their vulgarities. In an interlude entitled "Realism" he gave voice to the following pastoral lament:
Romance beside his unstrung lute
Lies stricken mute.
The old-time fire, the antique grace,
You will not find them anywhere.
Today we breathe a commonplace,
Polemic, scientific air:
We strip Illusion of her veil;
We vivisect the nightingale
To probe the secret of his note.
The Muse in alien ways remote
And in a dramatic monologue, quite evidently suggested by The Grammarian's Funeral, he voiced the following protest against an age enslaved to realism:
A twilight poet, groping quite alone,
Belated, in a sphere where every nest
Is emptied of its music and its wings.
Not great his gift; yet we can poorly spare
Even his slight perfection in an age
Of limping triolets and tame rondeaux.
He had at least ideals, though unreached,
And heard, far off, immortal harmonies,
Such as fall coldly on our ear today.
The mighty Zolaistic Movement now
Engrosses us-a miasmatic breath
Blown from the slums. We paint life as it is,
The hideous side of it, with careful pains,
Making a god of the dull Commonplace.
For have we not the old gods overthrown
And set up strangest idols? We would clip
Imagination's wing and kill delight,
Our sole art being to leave nothing out
That renders art offensive. Not for us
Madonnas leaning from their starry thrones
Ineffable, nor any heaven-wrought dream
Of sculptor or of poet; we prefer
Such nightmare visions as in morbid brains
Take form and substance, thoughts that taint the air
And make all life unlovely. Will it last?
Beauty alone endures from age to age,
From age to age endures, handmaid of God.3
It was not the realists alone, he thought, who were fouling their own nests, but all who turned aside from the narrow path of Victorianism to explore new ways. Whitman he regarded as a charlatan whose mannerisms were a "hollow affectation" representing "neither the man nor the time." Riley's formal verse he preferred to his dialect poems--"The English language is too rich and sacred a thing to be mutilated and vulgarized," he wrote, overlooking the Biglow Papers. He held Kipling's cockneyisms in contempt and said he would not have opened the pages of the Atlantic even to the "Recessional." Lanier he thought a less significant figure than Fitz-Greene Halleck, and of Poe he remarked that if he "had been an exemplary, conventional, taxoppressed citizen, like Longfellow, his few poems, as striking as they are, would not have made so great a stir."4 In such literary judgments the arch-conservative is engaged in defending the genteel tradition against every assault, convinced that the portals of creative literature open into the past and that in following in the footsteps of the dead we shall come upon a living world. The sterility of his own refined craftsmanship is perhaps sufficient commentary upon his faith.
When in later years he turned to prose his work revealed the same negative qualities. His prose style is finished, clean, and thin, wanting in homely idiom and a rich suggestiveness. The water trickled gently from the spring of his invention, cool and unrolled, but never abundant. The dignity that results from a strong nature held in restraint, he never achieved. There were no depths in him. He waited patiently for his vessel to fill and measured it out carefully. As a short-story writer he gained a surprising repute, and admirers like Sarah Orne Jewett were never tired of praising the sprightliness of his humor. Nevertheless his most celebrated story scarcely explains today the immense stir it made. Marjorie Dawe is a clever jeu d'esprit but a bit thin and artificial, too consciously written backwards from its surprise ending. Other distillings of his wit and wisdom, done in the sententious manner and gathered up in Ponkapog Papers, are slight in content, and the effervescence is long since gone out of them. The Story of a Bad Boy, with its pleasant recollections of his Portsmouth youth, remains his most important work in prose and deserves much of the praise that has been lavished upon it; but set over against Huckleberry Finn its shortcomings are evident.
It is absurd, of course, to expect an aesthete to concern himself with ideas, or to care greatly about what goes on outside his ivory tower. The rumblings of the vulgar world beat ineffectually against the gate behind which he sits and dreams. For years the editor of the Atlantic was scarcely conscious of his complete aloofness from the world of reality, and he wrote in some surprise to Hamilton Wright Mabie, in 1897:
I like to have you say that I have always cared more for the integrity of my work than for any chance popularity. And what you say of my "aloofness" as being "due in part to a lack of quick sympathies with contemporary experience" (though I had never before thought of it) shows true insight. To be sure, such verse as "Elmwood," "Wendell Phillips," "Unguarded Gates" and the "Shaw Memorial Ode" would seem somewhat to condition the statement; but the mood of these poems is not habitual with me, not characteristic. They did, however, grow out of strong conviction.5
Yet though he spoke rarely on social themes, during the long years in Boston most of the Back Bay prejudices seemed to have seeped into his mind and when the "strong convictions," to which he refers, found utterance they proved to be Brahmin convictions. In the vigorous poem "Unguarded Gates"-a poem tense, outspoken, almost unique in its deliberate declamation--he sallied forth from his ivory tower to speak to the American people on the dangers of uncontrolled immigration, a subject that Boston Brahmins had been talking about since the days of Harrison Gray Otis.
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures from the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World's poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow's children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome,
And where the temples of the Caesars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.6
What emotions lay back of the measured words of the poem, and how deeply they were colored by the social passions of the times, he tells in a letter to George E. Woodberry, written May 14, 1892:
I went home and wrote a misanthropic poem called "Unguarded Gates" . . in which I mildly protest against America becoming the cesspool of Europe. I'm much too late, however. I looked in on an anarchist meeting the other night . . . and heard such things spoken by our "feller citizens" as made my cheek burn. These brutes are the spawn and natural result of the French Revolution; they don't want any government at all, they "want the earth" . . . and chaos. My Americanism goes clean beyond yours. I believe in America for the Americans; I believe in the widest freedom and the narrowest license, and I hold that jail-birds, professional murderers, amateur lepers . . . and human gorillas generally should be closely questioned at our Gates. Or the "sifting" that was done of old will have to be done over again. . . . A certain Arabian writer, called Rudyard Kipling, described exactly the government of every city and town in the . . . United States when he described that of New York as being "a despotism of the alien, by the alien, for the alien, tempered with occasional insurrections of decent folk!"7
Two years later he again gave private expression to one of his rare judgments on matters political and social:
When not otherwise engaged I sit and smoke, and smile at the present administration [President Cleveland's]. . . . The best kind of Democracy (as per sample) is no better than the worst kind of Republicanism. The Income Tax is the deformed child of Coxey and his brother scalawags. I vote for McKinley. We shall have bloody work in this country some of these days, when the lazy canaille get organized. They are the spawn of Santerre and Fouquier-Tinville. In about twenty years we shall bring out an American edition (illustrated with cuts) of the beautiful French Revolution.8
And again in 1899:
Personally I must confess that I have never been very deeply impressed by the administrative abilities of what we call the lower classes. The Reign of Terror in France is a fair illustration of the kind of government which the masses give us when they get the happy opportunity.9
The literary conservative, it appears, was no better than a social and political Tory. He has traveled back a hundred years and speaks again the very language of Robert Treat Paine. Canaille is not a nice word to apply to American workingmen, and the French Revolution has never been well thought of by the children of the ancien régime. Thomas Bailey Aldrich was a cultivated gentleman, on the pleasantest terms with the Muse of Beacon Street. Twice he traveled around the world; innumerable summers he spent in Europe; yet of many things that concern men greatly he was very, very ignorant. Of the American people beyond the Hudson River, he knew nothing. Of social economics he knew nothing. Fearful lest his art should get a smutch from the streets, he withdrew within his tower, where perhaps it is well to leave him. Yet it is odd to recall that he was once regarded as a significant literary figure and that intelligent people listened to him seriously.
THE NEW ENGLAND SCENE
In fields less distinguished than poetry and the essay the sway of the genteel was neither so magisterial nor so repressive. As fiction somewhat tardily encroached upon the older literary preserves of New England it brought with it a fresher and more realistic spirit that was eventually to deny the validity of the traditional standards. The group of fiction writers that arose in the seventies and eighties to chronicle the life of New England, was greatly concerned with the decay of the old New England world, and with the causes of that decay. As it set down with loving fidelity the characteristics of an earlier order it could not fail to consider the unloveliness of the new world that was rising on the decay of the old--the alien industrial towns with their polyglot workers that were flourishing as the native villages and quiet countryside declined. New England fiction, therefore, came to embody two main features, chronicle and criticism. It gathered up such picturesque bits of the past as time and change had left, and it questioned with some anxiety the ways of an industrialism that was destroying what it loved. It was not Boston fiction, but up-country fiction, given to exploring quiet villages and decaying towns; and in both its chronicles and its criticisms the spirit of realism became more searching as the years passed.
In its own fashion such fiction would finally be brought into service to the social conscience and issue as sociological studies. As the evils of sweated labor under the factory system were brought home to the common knowledge, one would suppose that New England would have been the first to conscript the novel to arouse the public conscience. There had been anxious discussion amongst the Concord intellectuals on the evils of industrialism, and in the early forties the talk had turned upon associationism as the likeliest cure; but though from such discussions came Brook Farm and other Utopian ventures, no fiction resulted. It was elsewhere, in the Pennsylvania iron district where exploitation was harsher and more brutal than in the textile mills, that fiction first turned to consider the ways of industrialism. In 1861 Rebecca Harding contributed to the Atlantic a story entitled "Life in the Iron Mills," that was stark and fierce in its drab realism.10 Nevertheless ten years were to pass before Elizabeth Stuart Phelps published The Silent Partner (1871), a dithyrambic plea for justice for the millhands.
If this was not the first New England novel of industrialism it was certainly one of the earliest. In conception, temper, and technique it belongs to the emotional fifties, and is almost primitive in comparison with Rebecca Harding's work. Underlain with religion, it is sticky with sentiment. Although Miss Phelps professed to base her work on the Reports of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, to which she says she was "deeply in debt for the ribs" of her story, the result is more a tract than a study. There is no realistic grasp of the materials. She was grieved that the mill-masters should reveal so little Christian understanding of the hard lot of the hands and so little sympathy with their poverty. "I believe," she said, "that a wide-spread ignorance exists among us regarding the abuses of our factory system, more especially, but not exclusively, as exhibited in many of the country mills." "Had Christian ingenuity been generally synonymous with the conduct of manufacturing corporations, I should have found no occasion for the writing of this book."11 It was to lessen such ignorance and encourage Christian sympathy between the classes that she offered her study.
The book is a closet study done with more unction than skill. It is the work of an emotional woman who lived in a world of sentiment rather than reality. Miss Phelps was an Andover Brahmin, highly sensitive, whose deeply religious nature was ruffled by every vagrant wind. She was tremulous in her eager desire to lessen the injustice of men. The Silent Partner is a story of a young woman brought up in luxury, daughter of a manufacturer, who on her father's death wishes to join in the management of the factory, but on being politely rejected by her partners she engages in personnel work amongst her employees. There she comes upon poverty as a sordid fact, and that discovery works a moral change in her life. She is overwhelmed by it and cannot understand why the conscience of the world is not overwhelmed. "Sometimes I do not see," she exclaimed, "what else there can be to talk about in such a world as this! I've stepped into it, as we have stepped out into this storm. It has wrapped me in. . . ."12 Of the complexity of the problem she is wholly ignorant. Surely there must be some road that leads to justice--justice based on understanding and Christian kindliness; and the working girl whom she singles out for heroine becomes in the end a street preacher to the textile workers, after refusing to marry and bring children into a world of factory toil. The Silent Partner is an emotional Puritan document that was out of date when it came from the press.
While Miss Phelps was thus summoning the New England conscience to cleanse the textile mills, her Brahmin sisters were little inclined to engage in such thankless labors, but preferred to gather up and preserve such fragments of the homely traditional New England as had not been swept away in the engulfing stream of industrialism. Female writers, from the days of Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton, had long been busy in New England but never had they written so well or so understandingly as in the days of the New England decline. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Rose Terry Cooke, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Alice Brown were not great writers, but they essayed to be faithful recorders of what came under their eyes. It was the earlier New England that quickened their imaginations, the rugged Yankee character that had taken form under a homely domestic economy. They had no liking for the New England that was rising in the shadow of the mills; the cleavages of race and religion that were sundering the old homogeneous society were bitterly distasteful to them. The Irish, the French-Canadians, the masses of raw immigrants that were swept into the hoppers of the mills, were unwelcome gobbets to the Brahmin stomach. And so these recorders of the New England decline turned away from the sordid industrial scene, and it was not till thirty years later that Mary Wilkins Freeman, in The Portion of Labor (1901), essayed to do more adequately what Elizabeth Stuart Phelps had first sketched.
From Catherine Sedgwick to Mrs. Freeman the note shifted from the moralistic to the sentimental, then to the idyllic, then to the realistic; and the successive changes are sufficiently marked by three writers, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary Wilkins Freeman. Seeking their materials remote from Boston, amidst the old native stock pottering through the traditional round of life, they discovered a world of angular figures that had grown knotty and gnarly from a harsh climate and a meager soil. The stoic repressions that were a heritage from Puritan ancestors had bred a hard race that any twist of circumstance was likely to turn into grotesques. Calvinists have always at hand a providential justification of any freakish outcome to men's struggles, and in piously denying freedom of the will they often put the seal of God's approval on their own willfulness. Mrs. Freeman's Pembroke is not unlike< I>Winesburg, Ohio, as a record of abortive lives; and Sarah Orne Jewett, in spite of a Brahmin temperament that chose to see the idyllic rather than the grotesque, could not overlook what New England provided so abundantly. In A Country Doctor a visitor in the village of Oldsfield thus analyzed the New England character:
... for intense, self-centred, smouldering volcanoes of humanity, New England cannot be matched the world over. It's like the regions in Iceland that are full of geysers. I don't know whether it is the inheritance from those people who broke away from the old countries, and who ought to be matched to tremendous circumstances of life, but now and then there comes an amazingly explosive and uncontrollable temperament that goes all to pieces from its own conservation and accumulation of force. By and by you will all be blown up,-you quiet descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans, and have let off your superfluous wickedness like blizzards; and when the blizzards of each family have spent themselves you will grow dull and sober, and all on a level, and be free from the troubles of a transition state. Now, you're neither a new country nor an old one. You ought to see something of the older civilizations to understand what peace of mind is. Unless some importation of explosive material from the westward stirs them up, one century is made the pattern for the next.13
They deal wholly with the past--these chronicles of a decaying New England--concerning themselves with a "primitive and Biblical people" who dwelt in quiet inland towns or about the lonely shores of the Maine coast; yet always under the shadow of the meeting-house, with few defenses betwixt them and the eternities. The age had traveled far beyond them and they were left pottering about in their narrow Hebraic world, unaware that science and industrialism were undermining the foundations on which village and meeting-house rested. "In that handful of houses," said old Captain Littlepage in The Country of the Pointed Firs, "they fancy that they comprehend the universe." But if they understood God's plan of redemption they knew nothing of the ways of capitalism. A certain romantic quaintness colors the realism of these country tales and imparts a note of the idyllic. Harriet Beecher Stowe first discovered the literary possibilities of decaying New England, and in Old-Town Folks, Poganuc People, and The Minister's Wooing, she turned back to the days of its prime and sketched the scene with a loving hand. But it was rather in The Pearl of Orr's Island, especially the first part before the heavy moralism that was always entrapping her art had closed upon the tale, that she revealed its possibilities to later writers. In a letter of July 5, 1889, Sarah Orne Jewett suggests the source of her own more finished work:
I have been reading the beginning of The Pearl of Orr's Island and finding it just as clear and perfectly original and strong as it seemed to me in my thirteenth or fourteenth year, when I read it first. I never shall forget the exquisite flavor and reality that it gave me. . . . It is classicalhistorical-anything you like to say, if you can give it high praise enough.14
But Miss Jewett desired a more adequate realism and so she turned curiously to consider the technique of the great continental realists of the eighties. She read Zola and Flaubert, Tolstoi and Turgenev, and oddly enough was persuaded that she had long been trying to do what Tolstoi was doing. In a letter of 1888 she wrote:
That story of Tolstoi's was such an excitement that I did not sleep until almost morning. What a wonderful thing it is! . . . It startled me because I was dimly feeling the same kind of motive (not the same plan) in writing the "Gray Man.". . . I have felt something of what Tolstoi has been doing all the way along. I can tell you half a dozen stories where I tried to say it, "Lady Terry," "Beyond the Toll-Gate," and this "Gray Man." Now and then it came clearer to me. I never felt the soul of Tolstoi's work until last night . . . but now I know what he means, and I know that I can dare to keep at the work I sometimes have despaired about. . . .15
Yet to later readers the tie that drew her to Tolstoi seems the thinnest of gossamers. The roots of her character--and of her artwent down too deep into Brahmin soil, she was too completely under the critical sway of Lowell and Fields and Aldrich, for her to turn naturalist. Her realism--if one may use the word--was as dainty and refined as her own manners-bleached out to a fine maidenly purity. In The Country of the Pointed Firs--a story that Willa Cather would destine for immortality in the select company of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter--she discovers an innate gentility, or at least gentleness, in the simple fisherfolk of the Maine village, and she suggests as its source a primitive environment supplemented by an encompassing religion. Nowhere does she paint in the smutch of vulgarity, for in these eddies of New England life she discovers no vulgarity either of mind or manners. But in the cities it is different. There she found evidence in plenty of what she called the "cheap side of life," and she attributed it to the increasing material well-being of the country. Of the new middle class she held a low opinion-
Their grandparents or even their own parents went hungry and ill clothed, and it will take some time for these people to have their fling, to eat all they want and to wear fine raiment, and flaunt authority. They must get to a state, and by slow stages too, where there is going to be something fit for education. . . . The trouble is to us old-fashioned New Englanders that "the cheap streak" so often spoils what there is of good inheritance, and the wrong side of our great material prosperity is seen almost everywhere.16
There spoke the Brahmin. That this "cheap streak" should have spread so far through American life, that the vulgar middle class should have taken over the rule of the country, gave her concern. To one brought up on Carlyle and Lowell and Arnold the ways of the plutocracy were abhorrent, and she clung the more tenaciously to the land of her memories, where the gentry ruled, where the plain people respected themselves and their betters, and where vulgar display was unknown. "I think as Mr. Arnold does," she wrote in 1884, "and as Mr. Lowell did, that the mistake of our time is in being governed by the ignorant mass of opinion, instead of by thinkers and men who know something."17 Though she disliked and distrusted the America that was submerging the old landmarks, she was as ignorant as her Maine fisherfolk of the social forces that were blotting out the world of her fathers, and she clung with pathetic futility to such fragments of the old order as remained. Like Lowell in his later years her heart was given to a Brahmin democracy where gentlemen ruled and where "the best traditions of culture and manners, from some divine inborn instinct toward what is simplest and purest," were held in universal respect.
What Miss Jewett with her love of the idyllic did not see--the grim and stark ugliness that resulted from the long Puritan repression--Mary Wilkins Freeman was to make the very warp of her work. She did not come of Brahmin stock. Bred up in the narrow village world of New England, she was a part of that world and she knew it as Miss Jewett could not. The decay of a social order was all about her in her youth. The more ambitious were drifting to the cities or to the new West, and those who remained were deeply marked by the constricting round of duties. Catastrophe seems always to be lying in wait for the characters that fill her meager pages. They are either timid and querulous, or fiercely "sot," yet in either case happiness has a way of slipping through their fingers. There was too little of the wine of paganism in their veins for them to enjoy what life offers. They held themselves in with too tight a rein. The New England conventions were always building higher the dams of their emotions until they broke and the roily waters rushed out in a wasting flood. Potential disaster peeps out of every page of her stories. Pembroke is an extraordinary collection of mean and petty and tragic lives, besotted with stubborn willfulness, without grace or comeliness, extracting no pleasant flavors from the crushed grapes of life. In that narrow world daily existence demands an unending struggle and the pinching meanness breeds miserly instincts and dour ways. A Humble Romance is a stark bit of sordid futility, and in many another of her short stories Mrs. Freeman etched in the familiar scene with a mordant pen. Drawn with realistic strokes the picture of New England in decay is not so lovely as Miss Jewett found it to be.
Realizing poignantly what was happening in the home of Puritanism, Mrs. Freeman turned eventually to deal with the problem of industrialism that was subduing New England to its will. The Portion of Labor picks up the theme where it had been dropped a generation before by Miss Phelps, and attempts in realistic manner to portray the life of the New England villager in the shoe factory. It is a tract rather than a story, and it finds no difficulty in reconciling industrialism with morality. It revives the old Puritan ethics of work--preached by Richard Baxter to his Kidderminster weavers two hundred and fifty years before; it discovers in discipline of character the great end of life; and it accepts the factory as a necessary instrument of civilization. It is the Cinderella story of a village girl who, refusing a chance to be sent to Vassar, enters a shoe factory, becomes a proletarian leader, engineers a strike, gains a wider vision of the function of labor, accepts the principle of exploitation, and is rewarded by marriage into the exploiting class. In her girlhood she was a radical in an untaught way, and from her valedictory essay at the High School Commencement to her organization of the factory workers she boldly attacked the factory owners. With the machine itself she had no quarrel. This is how she felt when she took her place for the first time in the mill:
Scared she was not; she was fairly exultant. All at once she entered a vast room in which eager men were already at the machines with frantic zeal, as if they were driving labor herself. When she felt the vibration of the floor under her feet, when she saw people spring to their stations of toil, as if springing to guns in a battle, she realized the might and grandeur of it all. Suddenly it seemed to her that the greatest thing in the whole world was work and that this was one of the greatest forms of work--to cover the feet of progress of the travellers of the earth from the cradle to the grave. She saw that these great factories, and the strength of this army of the sons and daughters of toil, made possible the advance of civilization itself, which cannot go barefoot. She realized all at once and forever the dignity of labor, this girl of the people, with a brain which enabled her to overlook the heads of the rank and file of which she herself formed a part. She never again, whatever her regret might have been for another life for which she was better fitted, which her taste preferred, had any sense of ignominy in this. She never again felt that she was too good for her labor, for labor had revealed itself to her like a goddess behind a sordid veil.18
Nevertheless she is ready to fight for control of the machinefor a return to the workers of a larger share of their earnings; but when the strike fails and she contemplates the misery that it has spread amongst the workers, she recants:
Her youthful enthusiasm carried her like a leaping pole to conclusions beyond her years. "I wonder," she said to herself, "if, after all, this inequality of possessions is not a part of the system of creation, if the righting of them is not beyond the flaming sword of the Garden of Eden? I wonder if the one who tries to right them forcibly is not meddling, and usurping the part of the Creator, and bringing down wrath and confusion not only upon his own head, but upon the heads of others? I wonder if it is wise, in order to establish a principle, to make those who have no voice in the matter suffer for it--the helpless women and children?" . . . She reflected, as she had so many times before, that the world was very old thousands of years old--and inequality was as old as the world. Might it not even be a condition of its existence, the shifting of weights which kept it to its path in the scheme of the universe?19
Mrs. Freeman wisely chose a girl in her teens as the leader in a fierce labor battle, for Mrs. Freeman's own thinking on social questions was still in its teens. She had the warmest sympathy for the exploited poor; her conscience was as tender as Miss Phelps's; but her inadequate knowledge of economics served her ill. If economic inequality is necessary to keep the world from flying from its orbit, it serves the purpose likewise of character development. When an old factory-hand looks back upon a long life of futile labor he thus philosophizes:
Andrew quoted again from the old King of Wisdom--"I withheld not my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoices in all my labor, and that was my portion of labor." Then Andrew thought . . . of all the toilsome lives of those beside him, of all the work which they had done with their poor, knotted hands, of the tracks which they had worn on the earth towards their graves, with their weary feet, and suddenly he seemed to grasp a new and further meaning for that verse of Ecclesiastes.
He seemed to see that labor is not alone for itself, nor for what it accomplishes of the tasks of the world, not for its equivalent in silver and gold, not even for the end of human happiness and love, but for the growth in character of the laborer.
"That is the portion of labor," he said.20
So the book ends on a Hebraic note. In 1901 when Mrs. Freeman wrote The Portion of Labor the psychology of work had been pretty well explored. For years William Morris had been preaching a very different doctrine, pagan rather than Hebraic, yet Mrs. Freeman seems to have been acquainted with Morris no more than was Ellen Brewster, her girlish heroine. Even the starkest New England realism was not very critical of the industrialism that was destroying the traditional New England. A cynical reader might perhaps suggest that the explanation is to be found in the fact that the Yankee was profiting enormously from this fouling of the Puritan nest.
THE AFTERGLOW OF THE ENLIGHTENMENTWALT WHITMAN
If the philosophy of the Enlightenment was fast disintegrating in the America of 1870, it still numbered its picturesque followers who sought to leaven the age with the social spirit of an earlier generation. It was a noble bequest--this gift of the French thinkers--with its passion for liberty, its faith in man, its democratic program. From that great reservoir had come pretty much all that was generously idealistic and humanitarian in the life of the two preceding generations. Its persuasive idealism had woven itself so closely into the fabric of national thought that our fathers had come to believe that America was dedicated in a very special sense to the principles of a free society. The democratic movement returned to it constantly to refresh its strength and take new bearings. At every great crisis the familiar pronouncement of the Declaration of Independence had been confidently appealed to in furtherance of social justice. And now in the days of an acquisitive individualism, when idealism was begging alms in the marketplace, it still threw flashes of romantic splendor on the crude American scene. Old Peter Cooper still dreamed his dreams of social justice after eighty years had passed over his head; and Thaddeus Stevens, grown crabbed and surly from bitter struggles, mutely testified to his passionate equalitarianism on the day of his burial. But it was Walt Whitman in his den at Camdenculturally and in the things of the spirit countless leagues removed from Boston--who was the completest embodiment of the Enlightenment--the poet and prophet of a democracy that the America of the Gilded Age was daily betraying.
In his somewhat truculent pose of democratic undress Whitman was a singular figure for a poet, and especially an American poet. The amplitude and frankness and sincerity of his rich nature were an affront to every polite convention of the day. Endowed with abundant sensuousness and catholic sympathies, he took impressions as sharply as wax from the etcher's hand; and those impresions he transcribed with the careful impartiality of the modern expressionist. His sensitive reactions to experience were emotional rather than intellectual. A pagan, a romantic, a transcendentalist, a mystic--a child of the Enlightenment yet heeding the lessons of science and regarding himself as a realist who honored the physical as the repository of the spiritual--to an amazing degree he was an unconscious embodiment of American aspiration in the days when the romantic revolution was at flood tide. His buoyant nature floated easily on the turbulent stream of national being, and his songs were defiant chants in praise of life-strong, abundant, procreative--flowing through the veins of America.
Oracular and discursive, Whitman lived and moved in a world of sensuous imagery. His imagination was Gothic in its vast reaches. Thronging troops of pictures passed before him, vivid, vital, transcripts of reality, the sharp impress of some experience or fleeting observation--his own and no one's else, and therefore authentic. Delighting in the cosmos he saw reflecting its myriad phases in the mirror of his own ego, he sank into experience joyously like a strong swimmer idling in the salt waves. Borne up by the caressing waters, repressing nothing, rejecting nothing, he found life good in all its manifestations. As an Emersonian he was content to receive his sanctions from within, and as he yielded to the stimulus of the environing present his imagination expanded, his spirits rose to earth's jubilee, his speech fell into lyric cadences, and from the exalted abandon of egoistic experience there issued a strong rich note of the universal. His like had not before appeared in our literature for the reason that the childlike pagan had not before appeared. Emerson with his serene intelligence almost disencumbered of the flesh, and Hawthorne with his dessicating skepticisms that left him afraid of sex, were the fruits of a Hebraized culture that Puritan America understood; but Walt Whitman the caresser of life, the lover who found no sweeter fat than stuck to his own bones, was incomprehensible, and not being understood, it was inevitable that he should be inexorably damned. The most deeply religious soul that American literature knows, the friend and lover of all the world, the poet of the democratic ideal to which, presumably, America was dedicated, Whitman was flung into outer darkness by the moral custodians of an age that knew morality only from the precepts of the fathers.
The early stages of Whitman's intellectual development are obscure, but that in his twenties he caught most of the infections of the times, literary, political, and social, is clear enough. The young printer-editor in frock coat and tall hat, with cane and boutonnière, who often joined the Bohemian society at Pfaff's restaurant, was a callow romantic, practicing the conventional literary arts of the time, writing formal verse, spinning romantic tales,21 and seeking to approve himself a reputable littérateur. But the passion of reform was already stirring within him and a succession of causes-temperance, anti-capital-punishment, abolitionism--recruited his pen. As a child of Manhattan and of the Jacksonian revolution it was inevitable that his first great passion should have been political, and when in the late forties he found a suitable vehicle of expression in the Brooklyn Eagle, his native Jeffersomanism took stock of current political programs. His political master was the radical equalitarian William Leggett--whose praises in after life he never stinted--and from Leggett and the Evening Post, supplemented by Fanny Wright and Tom Paine and other disreputable influences, he seems to have got the first clear expression of the sweeping democratic postulates on which later he was to erect his philosophy. The times were stirring everywhere with revolution and on Manhattan Island Locofocoism, with the newfangled matches, ten years before had started its little local bonfire by way of preparation for a general conflagration that should consume the accumulated mass of wrong and injustice. The ardent young Whitman was deeply infected with Locofoco enthusiasm and his editorials for the Eagle were the pronouncements of an extreme left-wing Democrat, as became a disciple of Leggett.
In this early phase of his democracy he fixed his hopes on the great West where, he believed, a freer and more democratic America was taking shape. He was an expansionist, full of ardent hopes, an apostle of "manifest destiny." In such lesser matters as finance and governmental subsidies he was a good Jacksonian, following Old Bullion Benton in his preference for hard money and dislike of shin-plasters. He was opposed to the bankers and monopolists. He called himself a "free-trader by instinct," and so late as 1888 he said, "I object to the tariff primarily because it is not humanitarian--because it is a damnable imposition upon the masses."22 But these lesser things were inconsequential in comparison with the great objective towards which America was moving--the everwidening freedom of men in society. "There must be," he wrote in those early years, "continual additions to our great experiment of how much liberty society will bear."23 On that grand theme he was never tired of speaking. With Tom Paine he believed that just government was a simple thing, fitted to the capacity of many heads; it is made complex to hide its dishonesty. After commenting on the "once derided, but now widely worshipped doctrines which Jefferson and the glorious Leggett promulgated," he went on:
. . . this one single rule, rationally construed and applied, is enough to form the starting point of all that is necessary in government: to make no more laws than those useful for preventing a man or body of men from infringing on the rights of other men.
There is not a greater fallacy on earth than the doctrine of force, as applied in government. . . . Sensible men have long seen that the best government is that which governs least.24
Such comments, of course, are only familiar echoes of the Enlightenment-echoes that run through all the thinking of the naturistic school, from Godwin and Paine to Charming and Emerson and Thoreau. In the minds of the children of the Enlightenment the creative ideal of individualism was always pointing toward the ultimate end of philosophic anarchism, and Whitman with his assured faith in the average man accepted the Godwinian political theory as naturally as did Thoreau. What other politics, indeed, was possible for those who built upon the postulates of the innate excellence of human nature and the measureless potentialities of men when vicious social codes have been swept away and the plastic clay is molded by a kindly environment? The perfectibility of man was no romantic dream to the disciples of the French school, but a sober statement of sociological fact, based on a rationalistic psychology; and Whitman was convinced that he was a competent realist in thus envisaging the social problem. If man's instincts are trustworthy, what justification is there for narrow repressions laid on his freedom? Hitherto those repressions have only maimed and distorted him, encouraging his baser rather than his better impulses; and before he can realize his potentialities he must put away all external compulsions and learn to rely solely upon himself. Hence the immediate objective of the democratic revolution was individual freedom, the breaking of all chains, to the end that free men may create a society worthy of them.
So it was as a revolutionary that Whitman began his work; and a revolutionary he remained to the end, although in his last years he chose to call himself an evolutionist. A born rebel, he was always preaching the gospel of rebellion. " I am a radical of radicals," he said late in life, "but I don't belong to any school."25 It was this revolutionary spirit that made him the friend of all rebellious souls past and present. "My heart is with all you rebels--all of you, today, always, wherever: your flag is my flag,"26 he said to a Russian anarchist; and it was this sympathy that enabled him to understand Fanny Wright and Tom Paine and Priestley, who "have never had justice done them."27 "The future belongs to the radical," and so Leaves of Grass--he says in "Starting from Paumanok"-"beat the gong of revolt." Conventional law and order he frankly despised and those individuals who sought their own law and followed it awoke his admiration. Thoreau's "lawlessness" delighted him--"his going his own absolute road let hell blaze all it chooses." It is a coward and a poltroon who accepts his law from others--as true of communities as it is true of individuals. He was a good Jeffersonian in his fear of Federalistic consolidation that must put an end to local rights and freedoms.
To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States,
Resist much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
. . . no nation, state, city of this earth, ever afterward resumes
I am for those that have never been master'd,
For men and women whose tempers have never been master'd,
For those whom laws, theories, conventions can never master.29
This is the spirit of the radical forties when men were prone to repudiate their allegiance to the political state; when left-wing Abolitionists were dissolving the Union by resolutions; and transcendentalists were proclaiming the doctrine of nullification of unrighteous law. It had come out of the Jacksonian upheaval, but it was daily discovering fresh sanctions as the anarchistic premises of the Enlightenment were more adequately explored and the revolutionary spirit of Europe broke in upon America. During these turbulent years Whitman's great plan was in gestation, but before Leaves of Grass came to print in the first slender edition of 1855 other influences had been at work, confirming his earlier views, endowing them with lyric passion and expanding them into a grandiose whole. Those influences would seem to have been the fervid emotionalism of the fifties, the monistic idealism of the transcendental school, and the emerging scientific movement. On the whole perhaps it was the first, with its vague and expansive Utopianism, that bit most deeply, stimulating his rich pagan nature to unconventional frankness and encouraging him to throw off the inhibitions of a Puritan ethicism that held American thought in narrow bondage. The rude and ample liberalisms that so shocked his early readers were in no sense peculiar to Whitman, despite common opinion, but the expression of the surging emotionalism of the times, and Leaves of Grass, can best be understood by setting its frank paganism against the background of the lush fifties.
With its Calvinistic antecedents--Scotch-Irish and Huguenot as well as New England Puritan--America had always been unfriendly to a pagan evaluation of man's duties and destiny, and the revolutionary movement of the forties had been kept within sober ethical bounds. John Humphrey Noyes was probably the most radical American of the times, yet the Perfectionism of his earlier years, with its ascetic religiosity, bore little resemblance to the later communism of the Oneida Community. But the liberalism of the fifties was casting off all Hebraic restraints and running wild, proclaiming a new heaven about to appear on the free continent of America, and bidding the youth of the land live joyously as children of the earth. Paganism for the first time lifted up its head and surveyed the American scene--a youthful paganism, lusty and vigorous, that suggested amazing applications of the respectable doctrines of freedom and individuality, to the scandal of older-fashioned folk. From the free spaces of the West, carried on the tide of the Gold Rush, had come a spontaneous reaction from the earlier repressions. Liberalism was passing from the political to the social--a free welling-up of repressed desires, a vast expansiveness. Too long had the natural human emotions been under the ban of asceticism; too long had a God of wrath dispossessed a God of love. Life is good in the measure that it is lived fully, and to live fully is to live in the flesh as well as the spirit. Emerson the prophet of the earlier decade had suffered from an extreme unfleshliness; Whitman the prophet of the fifties would recover the balance. As the current of emotionalism gathered force a frank joie de vivre submerged the old reticences; candor, frankness, a very lust of self-expression, was the new law for free men and women--a glorification of the physical that put to rout the traditional Hebraisms. A riotous sentimentalism ran about the land until it seemed to timid souls as if liberty were quite running away with decency. Freedom for black slaves was one thing, but freedom for women--the loosening of social convention--suggested terrifying eventualities like free love and the disruption of the family. They would countenance no such immoral freedom and under the leadership of young Anthony Comstock the forces of reticence and respectability made ready to do battle with the new liberalisms.
It was not alone Walt Whitman who threw down the gage to the Comstockian watchmen in the gates. The apostle of the new freedom, the high priest of emotional liberalism, was Henry Ward Beecher, lately come out of the West, who from the pulpit of Plymouth Church swept his thousands of idolizing followers along the path of Utopian emotionalism. With a rich amplitude and golden vagueness of metaphor he preached the new gospel. From his lips flowed a lyric chant, a vast paean, a very shout in praise of liberty and love, of godlike man and a manlike God. "Lifeaffirmative, immediate, in a highly ornamented Mayday world he acknowledged and commemorated life!"30 He bathed in a "perpetual tropical luxuriance of blessed love." "I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love," he cried; "and to love I must have something . . . that touching my heart, shall not leave the chill of ice but the warmth of summer." Like a good Emersonian he discarded reason--the discipline of the ancestral Calvinism--to follow the "secret chords of feeling," the "heart's instincts, whose channels you may appoint but whose flowing is
beyond control." A "magnificent pagan"-so Thoreau called him--he reveled in sensuous beauty. His emotions mounted as he contemplated this new land, this new people, the golden future that beckoned--with all shackles broken, dedicated to freedom, warm and palpitating from abundant life--a radiant world of lovely women and manly men. He dwelt on Pisgah and from the heights looked out on a divine democracy. "The life of the common people is the best part of the world's life," he exclaimed; "the life of the common people is the life of God." And to his congregation intoxicated with his rhetoric he shouted, "Ye are gods! You are crystalline, your faces are radiant!"31 And the end and outcome envisaged by this prophet of the American Idea was a vaguely grandiose fellowship, not of the Saints alone, but of all the thronging children of men, for of such is God's kingdom of this world.
As such lyric chants fell on Whitman's ears, they must have quickened the ferment of thought that was eventually to clarify for him the ideal of democracy, exalting it by making it warm and human and social. The old Jacksonian leveling had been negative; its freedoms had been individual, its anarchism selfish and unsocial. The great ideal of the fellowship had been lost in the scramble for rights. Even transcendental democracy had narrowed its contacts. The hermit Thoreau in his cabin at Walden Pond was no symbol of a generous democratic future. In the struggle for liberty and equality the conception of fraternity had been denied and the golden trinity of the Enlightenment dismembered. It was this idea of fraternity, made human and hearty by his warm love of men and women, that Whitman got from the expansive fifties and built into his thinking. The conception of solidarity, then entering the realm of proletarian thought through the labors of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, was his response to the new times--a response that infused his democratic faith with a glowing humanism. Democracy spiritualized by Channing and Emerson and Parker had suffered limitations from their lingering Hebraisms--the Puritan passion for righteousness had imposed strict ethical bounds on the democratic will. In Thoreau it had been subjected to caustic skepticisms--the transcendental individualist quizzically asked, "What is your people?" and refused to subject himself to the mass. But in Whitman all limitations and skepticisms were swept away by the feeling of comradeship. Flesh is kin to flesh, and out of the great reserves of life is born the average man "with his excellent good manliness." Not in distinction but in oneness with the whole is found the good life, for in fellowship is love and in the whole is freedom; and love and freedom are the law and the prophets. The disintegrations of the earlier individualism must be succeeded by a new integration; fear and hate and jealousy and pride have held men apart hitherto, but love will draw them together. After all solidarity--the children of America merging in the fellowship, sympathetic, responsive, manlike yet divine, of which the poet should be the prophet and literature provide the sermons.
It was a noble conception--washing away all the meanness that befouled Jacksonian individualism--and it somewhat slowly found its way to parity with his first master conception, the universal ego, and settled into place in those later opening lines of Leaves of Grass:
One's-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.32
Then came the war to strengthen his faith in the common man. As he watched the soldiers marching, fighting, suffering, he was deeply impressed with their courage, patience, kindness, manliness, and came to reverence the deep wellspring of national being from which issued such inexhaustible waters. It was not the few but the many that gave him hope. "I never before so realized the majesty and reality of the American people en masse," he wrote of some regiments returning from the front. "It fell upon me like a great awe."33 And as he contemplated this fecund people, with its sons and daughters issuing strong and wholesome from every part of the land, there came to him a new conception of unitythe Union that Lincoln loved--the drawing together into an indissoluble whole of the far-flung commonwealths--a realization of the perfect State where reign liberty, equality, fraternity. Solidarity had taken on a political complexion but its life-blood was in the veins of a free people.
But pagan though he was in his deeper nature, a child of the emotional fifties, he was a transcendentalist also and his democratic philosophy, as it took shape, bears unmistakable marks of the New England school, supplemented perhaps by Quakerism. His wellknown comment, "I was simmering and simmering; it was Emerson brought me to boil," suggests much, and in particular that the Enlightenment as it had come to him through the Jeffersonian heritage was supplemented and spiritualized by the Enlightenment as it had taken special form in passing through the transcendental mind. To this latter source must be traced the philosophic monism that served to draw his speculations together--a mystic sense of the divine oneness of life that took his major postulates in golden hands and fused them into a single spiritual whole. Thus instructed the "great Idea, the idea of perfect and free individuals," became curiously Emersonian in all its amplifications. There is the same glorification of consciousness and will, the same exaltation of the soul, the same trust in the buried life that men call instinct, the same imperious call to heed the voice of innate Godhood; and round and about this "perfect and free individual" is a mystical egocentric universe wherein the children of men may luxuriate in their divinity. The body is excellent as the soul is excellent; away, therefore, with all shamefacedness--the mean secretiveness, the putting of fingers to the lips in presence of the naked, the lies in presence of open palpable fact! For if this be indeed God's universe, and He is in and through it all, the children of Adam may stand in His presence unafraid--nay, rather with pride in their own excellence. "I exist as I am, that is enough," for "Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from."
Whitman not only accepted Emerson with ungrudging loyalty but he dwelt much with Hegel and the German idealists, and with their help he penetrated curiously to the core of things, discovering there an inner spiritual reality that is the abiding substance behind the external manifestation. He had come upon food to sustain his faith in presence of the mean and base that compassed him about, and the puzzling contradictions of life no longer troubled him. If man be perfectible, if he be indeed a child of God though still in his infancy, how glorious must be the future toward which he is pressing! The evil will pass and the good remain.
Roaming in thought over the Universe, I saw the little that is Good
steadily hastening towards immortality,
And the vast all that is call'd Evil I saw hastening to merge itself and become lost and
When he turned from the oracular utterance of Leaves of Grass to sober exposition, he phrased it thus:
There is, apart from mere intellect . . . a wondrous something that realises without argument . . . an intuition of the absolute balance, in time and space, of the whole of this multifarious, mad chaos of fraud, frivolity, hoggishness--this revel of fools, and incredible make-believe and general unsettledness, we call the world, a soul-sight of that divine clue and unseen thread which holds the whole congeries of things, all history and time, and all events however trivial, however momentous, like a leash'd dog in the hands of the hunter.35
To discover this divine clue and be drawn by the unseen thread into the orbit of things, to suffer the Methe "human identity of understanding, emotions, spirit"-to fuse with the Not Me--"the whole of the material, objective universe and laws, with what is behind them in time and space"-became therefore for Whitman the grand objective of man's life and effort. This for him was the sum and substance of religion, which was no other than the binding of the individual back upon the whole. "A vast similitude interlocks all." And so from his conception of social solidarity he went forward to the conception of spiritual solidarity, and discovered religion to be the crown and glory of the "American Idea." Walt Whitman and America were to be the prophets of religion. "Easily at home in a natural world of prodigious brightness and scale, he . . . saw `the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,' and was urging the life of instinct and impulse. Love was the keytaking form and in `Starting from Paumanok' he asserted his Love, Democracy, Religion--a new religion."36 His message was purpose.
Forever and forever--longer than soil is brown and solid--longer than
water ebbs and flows.
I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are to be the most
And I will make the poems of my body and of mortality,
For I think I shall then supply myself with the poems of my soul and of
I will make a song for these States that no one State may under any
circumstances be subjected to another State,
. . . . . . .
I will sing the song of companionship,
. . . . . . .
I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love,
. . . . . . .
I am the credulous man of qualities, ages, races,
I advance from the people in their own spirit,
. . . . . . .
I, too, following many and follow'd by many, inaugurate a religion, . . .
. . . . . . .
Each is not for its own sake,
I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion's sake.
. . . . . . .
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
None has ever yet adored or worship'd half enough,
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain the
I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these States must be their
Otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur;
. . . . . . .
For you to share with me two greatnesses, and a third one rising inclusive
and more resplendent,
The greatness of Love and Democracy, and the greatness of Religion.37
But this new religion of the mystical Whitman, in harmony with post-transcendental thought, was deeply impregnated with the spirit of science. He was in the very fullness of his powers when the conception of evolution came to him and he greeted it gladly, weaving it into all his thinking and discovering in it a confirmation of his idealistic philosophy. It was the evolution of Herbert Spencer, it must be remembered, that Whitman accepted--teleological, buoyantly optimistic, dominated by the conception of progress, shot through with the spirit of the Enlightenment; and such an evolution was a confirmation and not a denial of his transcendental premises. It supplemented rather than contradicted the tenets of his faith. Like Emerson as he saw the bounds of the material universe slowly pushed back by science he discovered amidst the constant change the presence of growth, development, the natural passage from the simple to the complex; and like Theodore Parker he felt that this slow unfolding was no other than the unfolding of God, making Himself evident and unmistakable to man. Evolution was God's great plan. "The law over all, the law of laws, is the law of successions," he was persuaded; "for what is the present after all but a growth out of the past?" But noble as is the evidence of God's work discoverable by science, the soul is not content to rest with such evidence; it must seek out the reality behind the manifestation; and for this work the poet alone is fitted. The poet must complete the work of the scientist. The noble "Passage to India" is a lovely chant of human progress, the adventurous soul conquering the earth; but it must not pause there; it must seek God through the universe until it finds Him, and "Nature and Man shall be disjoin'd and diffused no more," and "All these hearts as of fretted children shall be sooth'd."
Bathe me O God in thee, mounting to thee,
I and my soul to range in range of thee.38
It was in this profoundly religious spirit that Whitman accepted science, built it into his poetry, rested confidently upon it; and it is this spirit that explains his formal statement in the "Song of Myself."
I accept Reality and dare not question it,
Materialism first and last imbuing.
Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration!
Fetch stonecrop mixt with cedar and branches of lilac,
This is the lexicographer, this the chemist, this made a grammar of the
These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas,
This the geologist, this works with the scalpel, and this is the mathema
Gentlemen, to you the first honors always!
Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.39
Equipped with such a philosophy and supported by such a faith Whitman accepted the twin duties laid upon him: to make clear to America her present failure in the great adventure--how far she had fallen short hitherto of any adequate democratic reality; and to mark out afresh the path to the Canaan of democratic hopes--reviving the early hopes of the Enlightenment and drawing in lovelier colors the democratic Utopia dreamed of for a hundred years. To be both critic and prophet--that he conceived to be his mission, a mission that he was faithful to for upwards of forty years. For the first duty he was admirably equipped. No other knew this America so intimately or so broadly--had penetrated so lovingly to the common heart and read so clearly its secret hopes and fears. That America was not yet a democracywas very far indeed from a democracy--that it was a somewhat shoddy bourgeois capitalistic society shot through with cant and hypocrisy and every meanness, he saw with calm, searching eyes. No contemporary critic, not Godkin, not Emerson, saw more clearly the unlovely reality or dealt with it more scathingly, not only in Leaves of Grass but especially in his prose writings and in casual talk. Amongst scores of such passages a single one must serve for illustration.
I say that our New World democracy, however great a success in uplifting the masses out of their sloughs, in materialistic development, products, and in a certain highly-deceptive superficial popular intellectuality, is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary, and esthetic results. . . . Shift and turn the combinations of the statement as we may, the problem of the future of America is in certain respects as dark as it is vast. Pride, competition, segregation, vicious wilfulness, and license beyond example, brood already upon us. Unwieldy and immense, who shall hold in behemoth? who bridle leviathan? Flaunt it as we choose, athwart and over the roads of our progress loom huge uncertainty, and dreadful threatening gloom. It is useless to deny it: Democracy grows rankly up the thickest, noxious, deadliest plants and fruits of all--brings worse and worse invaders--needs newer, larger, stronger, keener compensations and compellers. Our lands embracing so much . . . hold in the breast that flame also, capable of consuming themselves, consuming us all. . . . Even today, amid these whirls, incredible flippancy, and blind fury of parties, infidelity, entire lack of first-rate captains and leaders, added to the plentiful meanness and vulgarity of the ostensible masses--that problem, the labor question, beginning to open like a yawning gulf, rapidly widening every year--what prospect have we? We sail a dangerous sea of seething currents, cross and under-currents, vortices,-all so dark and untried.40
As a realist Whitman granted the worst charges of the critics of democracy, but he probed deeper and brought other facts to light that modified the equation. It was the difficult question the old Federalists had posed and that Carlyle had lately revived--the question, is not this meanness inseparable from democracy? is not your people in fact a great beast, requiring the lash and the curb? It was the crux of the long debate over democracy and to it Whitman gave anxious and frequent consideration. In fighting the battle of 1790 over again, like Jefferson he rested his case on the native integrity and measureless potentiality of the "bulkpeople"-they are the deep soil from which spring the abundant fruits and flowers of civilization. Gentle-nurtured folk do not understand this--they do not like the rank qualities of vital being. Matthew Arnold "always gives you the notion that he hates to touch the dirt--the dirt is so dirty! But everything comes out of the dirt--everything: everything comes out of the people . . . not university people, not F.F.V. people: people, people, just people!" In the rude, vital, natural man is the inexhaustible wellspring of good and evil; "He's got it all . . . not only the cruel, beastly, hoggish, cheating, bedbug qualities, but also the spiritual--the noble--the high-born";41 in "some ways" he is a "devil of a fellow," but he is not "all devil or even chiefly devil."42 And because he is not chiefly devil such love and beauty and justice and comradeship as there is in the world, such progress in civilization as has been made hitherto, have been possible how otherwise? If he has journeyed thus far out of the primeval slime, what bounds shall be set to his eventual journeyings? Why put out one's eyes with a mere handful of years?
So Whitman projected his democratic commonwealth far into the future; he would not have us believe that it had been realized here in America. Political democracy, the struggle for political rights that had engaged America hitherto, was only negative, a necessary preliminary to the ultimate reality. "I submit," he said, "that the fruition of democracy, on aught like a grand scale, resides altogether in the future," and its realization depends upon the use to which the people put their freedom. If from it emerges a proud and self-conscious individualism--"the quality of Being, in the object's self, according to its own central idea and purpose, and of growing therefrom and thereto--not criticism by other standards, and adjustments thereto"-then democracy on a grand scale will be possible and the self-reliant citizen will take his place in a free creative society. The ideal of the growing man, and the ideal of the perfect State--broadly social rather than narrowly political--these were his twin ideals; and the tie that is to bind men together in spontaneous solidarity is love. How characteristic is his sketch of the perfect city, and how deeply saturated with the Enlightenment! There is wanting only a physiocratic economics to make it perfect.
A great city is that which has the greatest men and women,
. . . . . . .
Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov'd by these, and loves them in return
and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of
. . . . . . .
Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor,
Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
. . . . . . .
Where the city of faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
. . . . . . .
There the great city stands.43
Individualism, solidarity--on such strong bases he erected his ideal democracy, and the heaven-reaching temple will be overlaid with the rich arts and graces of a civilization worthy at last of the name. Such was the Enlightenment as it came to flower in the passionate idealism of Walt Whitman--a dream that was mocked and flouted and nullified by the Drews and Fisks and Goulds-the "hoggish, cheating, bedbug qualities" of a generation that scorned him for a beast. Even his stout faith was shaken at times by the infidelities of the Gilded Age. He was troubled by the gap that opened between the free individual and the perfect State. "I seem to be reaching for a new politics-for a new economy," he confessed in 1888; "I don't quite know what, but for something."44 Although he protested, "The older I grow . . . the more I am confirmed in my optimism, my democracy," he projected his hopes farther into the future. He sympathized with the socialists but he was not one of them. His revolutionary ardor abated and he preferred in later years to call himself an evolutionist.45 "Be radical--be radical," he said to Traubel, "be not too damned radical."46 With his catholic sympathies that refused all bitterness he could not be a partisan--"after the best the partisan will say something better will be said by the man."47
So in the twilight of the romantic revolution Whitman quietly slipped away. The great hopes on which he fed have been belied by after events--so his critics say;48 as the great hopes of the Enlightenment have been belied. Certainly in this welter of today, with science become the drab and slut of war and industrialism, with sterile money-slaves instead of men, Whitman's expansive hopes seem grotesque enough. Democracy may indeed be only a euphemism for the rulership of fools. Yet in a time of huge infidelities, in the dun breakdown and disintegration of all faiths, it is not wholly useless to recall the large proportions of Walt Whitman, his tenderness, his heartiness, his faith, his hope. There was in him no weak evasion, no sniveling over the shards of the goodly vessel broken at the well, but even when "old, alone, sick, weak-down, melted-worn with sweat," a free and joyous acceptance of life.
Thanks in old age--thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air--for life, mere life,
. . . . . . .
For all my days--not those of peace alone--the days of war the same,
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat--for sweet appreciation,
. . . . . . .
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books-for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men--devoted, hardy, men--who've forward
sprung in freedom's help, all years, all lands,
For braver, stronger, more devoted men-(a special laurel ere I go, to
life's war's chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought--the great artillerists--the foremost
leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return'd--As traveler out of myriads, to the
long procession retrospective,
Thanks--joyful thanks!-a soldier's, traveler's thanks.49
A great figure, the greatest assuredly in our literature--yet perhaps only a great child--summing up and transmitting into poetry all the passionate aspirations of an America that had passed through the romantic revolution, the poet of selfhood and the prophet of brotherhood, the virile man and the catholic lover--how shall Walt Whitman become dumb or cease to speak to men unless the children of those who are now half-devil and half-God shall prove to be wholly devil--or wholly moron?
THE BACKWASH OF THE FRONTIER-MARK TWAIN
As Whitman contemplated the feeble literature purveyed by the worshipers of the genteel he asked with some irritation: "What is the reason in our time, our lands, that we see no fresh local courage, sanity, of our own--the Mississippi, stalwart Western men, real mental and physical facts, Southerners, etc., in the body of our literature?" That was in 187o and the answer was at hand in the person of Mark Twain. Here at last was an authentic Americana native writer thinking his own thoughts, using his own eyes, speaking his own dialect--everything European fallen away, the last shred of feudal culture gone, local and western yet continental. A strange and uncouth figure in the eyes of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, yet the very embodiment of the turbulent frontier that had long been shaping a native psychology, and that now at last was turning eastward to Americanize the Atlantic seaboard. Yet in spite of a rare vein of humor, the outcropping of a rich and whimsical imagination, he made his way slowly to polite recognition. For years he was regarded by authoritative critics as little more than a buffoon, an extravagant fun-maker with a broad streak of western coarse ness, and it was not till near the end, when he had long been an international figure, that the culture of the East accepted him. It was Howells then who pronounced him "the sole, the incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature . . . the very marrow of Americanism."
Just as that judgment was at the time, it needs qualification now. The marrow of Americanism is not the same substance from generation to generation. The outer environing life of a people works itself slowly into the bones and brings about subtle changes. Mark Twain was indubitably an embodiment of three centuries of American experience--frontier centuries, decentralized, leveling, individualistic; but the Americanism that issued from them came to its flower and was quickly succeeded by another kind as the fields of experience were re-lowed by industrialism and sowed to a different grain. Mark Twain was the child of a frontier past--as Lincoln was, as the Gilded Age was--and the America of today could no more breed him than it could breed Lincoln, or Greeley, or Whitman; his Americanism was the reflection of an environment that is no longer ours, in the slack folk-ways of the frontier that we have outgrown. Child of the Southwest in its early boom days, he was cradled in profitless schemes and nourished on dreams of vast potential wealth. The frontier spirit was an effervescence in his blood and golden expectations flung their mirage over the drab reality. As a boy he took impress from a kindly, ignorant, slave-holding, Calvinistic village world, and he quitted the slattern village life to plunge into the picturesque traffic of the Mississippi in the boom days when every river pilot drove his boat full steam ahead. Then the Far West of silver mines and the Golden Gate took him in hand--a gambling, romantic, optimistic frontier, feverish with flush times, "a beggar's revel of potential millionaires without the price of a square meal."50 And finally this buoyant, irreverent adolescent was taken in hand by the Far East: by New England respectability in the persons of Olivia Langdon of Elmira, William Dean Howells of Cambridge, Twitchell and Warner of Hartford; and by New York in the persons of Carnegie and Gilder and Whitelaw Reid and Henry H. Rogers, to be made over into a man of the world.
Such were his origins and his schooling. All his life he remained a boy, with the imitativeness of youth, and yet with something deep within him that cherished its own integrity. Quick to take color from his environment and at home in crowds, he lived nevertheless in the solitude of his own heart.Acutely conscious of his rough western ways, he admired the culture of the Langdons and the refined art of Howells, and he wanted to be approved by them. A kinsman of Beriah Sellers, he delighted in the great barbecue and wanted to carve great portions for himself, to heap up his plate as others were doing. His reactions to experience were always emotional. He was not a Walt Whitman to penetrate curiously to the core of his own being and grow thence outwardly, content to wait till the world came round to him. He loved to make a splurge, to be talked of, to be in the public eye, to live on an ample scale; he accepted the world's standards and wished to be measured by them. It was characteristic of the frontier. Wanting other standards, the frontier measured success by obvious material standards. Its aggressive individualism was never spiritual or intellectual or cultural. So with all his heritage of generations of frontier individualism he never achieved an intellectual or spiritual unity, an untroubled conscious integrity, as Emerson did and Whitman did. He never was at home in the world of catholic thought, but all his life he suffered from the petty inhibitions of his origins. He could not throw off the frontier--its psychology and its morality were too deeply intertwined with his primitive self; and the result was a harassing inner conflict that left him maimed.
Yet with all his shortcomings--because of them indeed--Mark Twain is an immensely significant American document. He is a mirror reflecting the muddy cross-currents of American life as the frontier spirit washed in, submerging the old aristocratic landmarks. To know Mark Twain is to know the strange and puzzling contradictions of the Gilded Age. With unconscious fidelity he reveals its crudity, its want of knowledge, discipline, historical perspective; its intellectual incapacity to deal with the complexities of a world passing through the twin revolutions of industrialism and science. And he reflects with equal fidelity certain other qualities that go far to redeem the meanness: a great creative power; an eager idealism, somewhat vague but still fine; a generous sympathy; a manly independence that strove to think honestly; a passionate hatred of wrong and injustice and an honest democratic respect for men as men. A significant if not an unsoiled or heroic document!
That in his later years an impassable gulf opened between Mark Twain and his generation, that the buoyant humorist of the seventies ripened into the bitter satirist of the nineties, is a matter that has been much remarked upon. The fact is clear enough but the explanation is not so clear. In part no doubt--as Van Wyck Brooks has pointed out--the change resulted from a thwarting of the creative artist by a disastrous surrender to the ideals of the Gilded Age; in part, also, it was the inevitable toll exacted by the passing years. A humane and generous spirit cannot long watch with indifference the motley human caravan hastening to eternity--cannot find food for laughter alone in the incredible meanness and folly of men cheating and quarreling in a wilderness of graves. Tenderness, chivalry, love of justice, are poor bucklers to withstand the blows of fate, and Mark Twain had little skill in defense. The humorist like the poet is sensitively responsive to life and the scars multiply fast. Endowed with a nature not unlike Swift's in its fierce rage at inhumanity, not unlike Sir Philip Sidney's in its romantic chivalry, he was not a stoic to endure with equanimity. He was foredoomed to suffer vicariously. The comment he wrote Howells in 1899 throws a white light on the man. "I have been reading the morning paper," he said. "I do it every morning--well knowing that I shall find in it the usual depravities and basenesses and hypocrisies and cruelties that make up civilization, and cause me to put in the rest of the day pleading for the damnation of the human race."
Yet granting so much, and granting also a morbid conscience that harassed him with self-condemnation-"What a man sees in the human race is merely himself in the deep and honest privacy of his own heart"-it still remains true that the bleakness of his later years was due in part, at least, to the insubstantial dwelling he chose to live in. The architects of the Gilded Age were jerry-builders, and Mark Twain found his jerry-built house a poor protection against the winter winds. It was perhaps not greatly his fault that he built so flimsily. He was too willing to be caught in the web of material things. He could not reach out for companionship with the great earth. Hamlin Garland in a bleak Dakota shack found help and comfort in the philosophy of Taine, but Mark Twain could not get outside his own skin. He could not break a path through the provincialism of his environment. He was held prisoner to his own thoughts and his only release was through the window of imagination. When harassed beyond endurance he sought release in writing that hid the evidence of his rebellion. What would Livy say, what would the American public say, if they knew he had come to deny all the tribal gods!
There is no more pathetic figure in American literature than Mark Twain, alone and solitary amid the blatant American crowd, living in a dreary wash of speeches and banquets, spinning the threads of a rebellious philosophy out of his own bowels, unaware of what others were spinning, regarding himself as a dangerous fellow and stowing away in his strong-box intellectual bombs that he thought too explosive for the Gilded Age to play with. In his intellectual isolation he could not take the measure of his speculations and he did not realize how common were such conclusionsthat his own generation indeed, under the tutelage of the physical sciences, was fast drifting in the same direction, and that the clouds of pessimism were obscuring for many the brighter horizons of an earlier day. If he had known Henry Adams as intimately as he knew Henry H. Rogers, very likely his eyes would have been opened to many things that would have done him good. As it was he knew only that his speculations ran counter to the formal creed of his middle-class neighbors and friends. To deny the dogmas of the conventional orthodoxy and in the face of a smug optimism to assert a mechanistic pessimism, was an unpleasant business that he would have avoided if he could.
But he couldn't avoid it wholly, and in that fact is to be found the thread that runs through his later life, giving to it such unity and coherence as it possessed. It is this: here was a thoroughly honest mind, that hated all sham and quackery and humbug, and a singularly warm heart, that hated all wrong and cruelty and injustice; and this honest mind and chivalrous heart, deceived and led astray by the mass mores, espoused and defended such fragments of ideals, such bits of truth, as he came upon in his solitary brooding, until driven from one stronghold after another he came to doubt the adequacy of all strongholds and took refuge in a black pessimism--God is a malignant being, the universe is a machine, and man is a creature of determinism. It was a fierce and stark reaction from the emotionalism of the fiftiesfrom Beecher's God of love and Whitman's religion of democracy. His earlier loyalty to half-gods had brought him at last to deny all the gods. And so a maimed giant, stumbling and uncertain, he made such way as he could; and his journeyings wrung from him many a fierce comment that his generation did not understand.
When the milk of western humor curdled in his veins, a Mark Twain emerged who was a puzzle to the Gilded Age. A humorist who was a good Republican and business man, the Gilded Age could understand; but a satirist who launched his shafts at sacred things -at evangelical religion, the Republican party, the government at Washington, the damned human race itself--it could not understand. The professional fun-maker had outgrown his audience. Expecting the familiar exaggeration, they accounted his bitterest sally a characteristic whimsy, and laughed when he commented bitterly on "this plodding sad pilgrimage, this pathetic drift between the eternities," or when he exclaimed, "Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven." But the significant thing is that in the end the tyrannizing mores did not conquer, they did not destroy him wholly; but such convictions as he had hewn from puzzling experience, however bleak or repellent they might be, he clung to firmly, desperately, and at last flung them in the face of the Gilded Age that had kept him prisoner.
The slow drift of Mark Twain's thought from humor to satireit smacks of Philistinism to call it progress with its many false alarums and excursions and its huge frontier wastefulness--is plain enough to anyone who will take the trouble to chart his course. Roughly it falls into definite stages: the swaggering gayety of western youth in Innocents Abroad and Roughing It--the mood of flush times, down-grade with the brakes off; then a gay plunge into satire inThe Gilded Age; then the West recalled in middle life--Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn-living over again a youth that is gone; then an excursion into the Middle Ages--The Prince and the Pauperand A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court--a romantic flare-up of the democratic passions of the Enlightenment; then the search for the ideal in Joan of Arc--the dream of the perfect woman, the Domnei of James Branch Cabell; and finally The Mysterious Stranger and What is Man?--a fierce satire of disillusion, the cry of an idealist who realizes at last how greatly he has been cheated by his dreams.
That he should have begun by burlesquing life was itself a broad sign of his frontier origins. Since the first crossing of the Allegheny Mountains a swaggering extravagance of speech had been a hallmark of the Westerner. In part this swagger was an unconscious defense-mechanism against the drabness of frontier life; and in part it was the spontaneous expression of new experiences in an untrammeled world, the spirit of wilderness-leveling. Its procreative source would seem to have been the Ohio River where the rough flatboatmen bequeathed the Mike Fink legend to literature; and it expanded in the huge Davy Crockett hoaxa hoax that would have tickled the ribs of Mark Twain had he traced its genesis and progress, as a colossal example of how the damned human race loves to be humbugged. It developed further in Gus Longstreet's Georgia Scenes with its grotesque Ransy Sniffle -sorriest of backwoods heroes, too mean-spirited to ruffle like Canebrake Davy; and in Joseph Baldwin's Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi, with its greasy frontier blackguard, Colonel Simon Suggs.
This earliest backwoods humor had been done in realistic colors and bears the impress of authenticity. But the school that succeeded--John Phoenix, Artemus Ward, Petroleum V. Nasbyquickly conventionalized its technique, relying on burlesque, tall lying, distorted spelling, genial philosophy. The picaresque strain was softened and perverted by deliberate human-interest touches-a better case must be made out for the untutored children of nature. It was this humor that Mark Twain inherited, and he enriched it with a wealth dug from his own large and generous nature. An incorrigible idealist, as all great humorists must be, he recreated some of the earlier types, translating Colonel Simon Suggs into Colonel Sellers, and Ransy Sniffle into Huck Finn. It was a glorious transformation, but the result lacked something of the soiled reality of the earlier blackguards. Yet underneath his idealism was a generous deposit of the common mud of life. The spirit of Mike Fink was never far from Mark Twain. It haunted him like an evil genius, refusing to be exorcised by Olivia Clemens, and it found vent in sly literary sprees that begot offspring to be handed about furtively and chuckled over by the sons of Adam; but for the most part it was kept in strict subjection to the proprieties of Elmira and Hartford.
Roughing It and The Gilded Age are brilliant complementary pictures of the gaudy frontier spirit that was washing in upon the staid realm of the genteel, to the vast concern of such genteelists as Thomas Bailey Aldrich. The former is a buoyant chronicle of the West of Captain Carver and Wild Bill Hickok, the West of the Pony Express, the Comstock lode, the bad man and the lynch law; a land of young men in red flannel shirts, heavy boots, and six-shooters, who feared neither God nor the devil. Bret Harte in San Francisco first realized the literary possibilities of this picturesque world, and his tales of life in the mining-camps were received with a shout of approval. But Bret Harte had never been a miner. He was not realist enough, nor honest enough, to portray the West in its stark, grotesque reality. He was only a literary middleman who skillfully purveyed such wares as his eastern readers wanted. In consequence he coated his tales with a sentimental picaresque--pandered to the common taste by discovering nuggets of pure gold in the dregs and outcasts of the miningcamps. But Mark Twain was too honest for that. He had been a part of the flush times and had seen the economic process work itself out. He had seen the grub-stake prospector succeeded by the wild-cat speculator, and him in turn. followed by the eastern capitalist. He had seen the mining frontier become a thing of the past in a single decade, with the Comstock lode in the hands of competent exploiters and the pick-and-shovel miners plunging deeper into the mountains to pursue their feverish hopes. From that experience he had learned a lesson he was to carry East with him. "Because we judged that we had learned," he said, "the real secret of success in silver mining, which was, not to mine the silver ourselves by the sweat of our brows and the labor of our hands, but to sell the ledges to the dull slaves of toil and let them do the mining."51
It was the great lesson of his generation, and thus instructed he proposed to sell his brains in the best market. Exploitation was the royal road to wealth and he was eager to exploit both himself and his fellows. Yet not all of Mark Twain was thus eager. Deep in his heart was another Mark Twain, the artist, the chivalrous lover of justice, the simple child puzzled at life--and this Mark Twain was already plotting treason against the exploiting Mark Twain. For the first time this deeper self got out of hand in The Gilded Age. As he contemplated the common scoundrelism at Washington and elsewhere, his anger exuded in scathing satire. He hated the dirty thing, yet he seems never to have realized that such scoundrelism was only the backwash of the spirit of exploitation and that he himself was riding on its waves. With the soap-bubble dreams of Colonel Sellers he dealt lovingly, for he was sketching his own origins; the Colonel and the Hawkinses were his own flesh and blood and the Tennessee lands were an old investment about which the family dreams of wealth had been woven for years. He delighted in the Colonel's childlike faith that prosperity only awaited a vote of Congress--with adequate appropriations, of course. He asked no questions about unearned increment; to question that would have been treason to the frontier philosophy. So into Colonel Sellers he put all that was naive and lovable in the Gilded Age. But Senator Dillworthy was another matter. Hypocrite and corruptionist, he was laying obscene hands on sacred things, betraying his high trust for sordid ends. Mark Twain hated graft--the word had not been coined but the ugly thing was there--and with the innocence of his generation he damned the agent and overlooked the principal. It was not his fault. The economics of history was a closed book to Americans of the seventies, and even Henry Adams in his analysis of the current corruption in his novel Democracy was no better than a mole nosing blindly underground.
He had opened another door to his genius and discovered the satirist. There lay the real Mark Twain. But the wares of the satirist were not in demand at the barbecue, so he closed the door and fell to purveying what the public wanted. Tom Sawyer was in part a malicious thrust at the Sunday School tale, and in part a whimsical pronouncement of the natural rights of the small boy. But it is in Huckleberry Finn--the one great picaresque tale of the frontier--that the western philosophy of Mark Twain, a philosophy that derives straight from the old naturistic school, crops out most sharply. It is a drama of the struggle between the individual and the village mores, set in a loose picturesque framework, and exemplifying the familiar thesis that the stuff of life springs strong and wholesome from the great common stock. Huck Finn is a child of nature who has lived close to the simple facts of life, unperverted by the tyrannies of the village that would make a good boy of him. He had got his schooling from the unfenced woods, from the great river that swept past him as he idly fished, from the folk-tales of negroes and poor whites, from queer adventures with Tom Sawyer; and from such experiences he had got a code of natural ethics. Then he found himself on the raft with Jim the runaway nigger, and his little pagan soul felt the stirrings of the problem of right and wrong. The village code and the natural code clashed and the conflict was terrifying. The village code warned him that hell yawned for one who helped a slave escape, and the human code warned him that betrayal was a blackguardly thing. With the fear of hell upon him he wrote to Miss Watson, and then his sense of the kindliness of Jim, the honest humanity under the black skin, rose up in fierce protest.
It was a close place. I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hands. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied for a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, I'll go to hell"-and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.52
It was a triumph over the sacred tribal law of conformity--the assertion of the individual will in opposition to society--and it reveals the heart of Mark Twain's philosophy. The rebel Huck is no other than the rebel Mark Twain whose wrath was quick to flame up against the unrighteous customs and laws of caste. If men were only honest realists--that is, if they were men and not credulous fools--how quickly the stables might be cleansed and life become decent and humane. If only the good brains could be segregated and trained in a real "man-factory," the history of civilization might become something the angels need not weep over as they read it. It all comes back to an honest realism that in accepting fact will clear away the superstitious fogs in which men have floundered and suffered hitherto. The one sacred duty laid on every rational being is the duty of rebellion against sham--to deny the divinity of clothes, to thrust out quack kings and priests and lords, to refuse a witless loyalty to things. This creed of the rebel is written all through Mark Twain's later work, edging his satire and lending an Emersonian note to his individualism. In such a passage as this it emerges sharply:
You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags--that is a loyalty to unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose Constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such manner as they may think expedient."
Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.53
In the Middle Ages clothes-worship had been exalted to a religion, he believed, and he turned with gusto to reply to the aristocratic romanticism of Sir Walter, who, delighting in the picturesque company gathered in the great hall, forgot to penetrate to the oubliettes--is not the word commentary enough on the ways of the seigneur?-where nameless wretches were rotting under the walls of the castle. He had small patience with the cult of medievalism that was turning such men as Henry Adams and William Morris back to the Middle Ages as to their lost home. He had the frontier contempt for medieval ways, and for the ancien régime that was the last rags of the Middle Ages. The French Revolution had thrust the abomination away forever, and he thanked God for that "ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of . . . villainy away in one swift tidal wave of blood." He had no tears for Marie Antoinette. What was the Terror but "a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell . . . that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves."54 The past that had been consumed in that fierce conflagration had been a brutal, tyrannical, superstitious past, and not till king and priest had been flung out on the dungheap did the people walk their native soil as free men. The whole king business was preposterous to him; with Freneau he cried, "Kings are the choicest curse that man e'er knew." The battle against medievalism had been fought and won and why go maundering back over past battlefields, when other battles await?55
Mark Twain's passionate republicanism was a product of the Enlightenment as it had passed into the psychology of western Americans, and it retained the militant idealism of Jeffersonian times. It is shot through with the nature philosophy. In The Prince and the Pauper, the heir of Offal Court and the heir of the Tudors are both children of nature, endowed with warm hearts, generous sympathies, and clever wits. Put rags on the prince and robes on the pauper and their own kin cannot tell them apart. The latter, indeed, promises to make the better king, for he has suffered the lot of the subject, and not till the prince has put on rags does he come to know his people. It is caste that breeds cruelty and wrong; the brutalities of the English criminal code were deviltries devised by king and nobles to safeguard their stealings. Only when the laws spring from the people are they just. "The world is made wrong," cried the young king when he was brought out of prison to watch the burning at the stake of two women who had befriended him--women whose only crime was that of being Baptists--"the world is made wrong, kings should go to school to their own laws, at times, and so learn mercy." And this great lesson of mercy is exemplified in the acts of the pauper king, who during his brief reign tempers the harshness of the law with a sense of justice learned, like Huck Finn's, from sharp contact with reality.
It is in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court--a curious medley, half philippic and half farce--that Mark Twain's passion for justice rises to white heat. The book has been grossly misunderstood. It is not an attack on chivalry--at least not primarily; it is rather an attack on thirteen centuries of reputed Christian civilization that under pretense of serving God has enslaved and despoiled the children of God. The keen satire is given point and edge by the long tragic perspective. Thirteen centuries heavy with sorrow and misery and frustrated hopes--a meaningless succession of foolish and futile generations, wandering in fogs of their own brewing, hagridden by superstitions, deceived and exploited by priest and noble, with no will to be free--here is a perspective to correct our callow enthusiasms, our revolutionary hopes! Why indeed should we expect men to possess the will to freedom, seeing that each generation is molded after the likeness of the past and none has been free? There is change, advance and recession, but the story of the generations is no more than a "sad drift between the eternities," without purpose or meaning.In the brain of The Connecticut Yankee are secrets hidden from the children of King Arthur's time--a curious ability to use the forces of nature, some glimmerings of social justice.But to what purpose have Hartford and the nineteenth century used their knowledge? It is a world of slaves still as it was in King Arthur's day. The human animal cannot lift himself to heaven by his own bootstraps, and heaven will not stoop to lift him. For a "clammy atmosphere of reverence, respect, deference," it has substituted smartness, vulgarity, irreverence.
As one slips back and forth between the two worlds the satire takes on vaster perspectives; it cuts deep into all civilizations, for all alike are sham, all have issued from the conquest of man's native intelligence by his superstitions that are too useful to his masters to be dissipated. Clearly in Mark Twain's philosophy of history the hopes of the Enlightenment are fading. Passionately dedicated to the program of the Enlightenment--freedom, individuality, humanitarianism, democracy--his faith in reason, free will, progress, was burning low, in presence of the historical record. The determinism that lurked at the bottom of John Locke's psychology, unperceived by the French idealists, was revealing itself to Mark Twain and he was already trimming his sails to the chill winds blowing from the outer spaces of a mechanistic cosmos.
More immediately of course A Connecticut Yankee is an attack on the aristocratic romanticism of Sir Walter. There is little loitering in the great hall--except to comment on the coarseness of the knights and ladies--and much poking about in unlovely secret places where one comes upon a rare collection of human animals thrust away in the oubliettes or pigging together in mean huts. Few chapters in American literature are so noble in their saeva indignatio, so beautiful in their stern simplicity, as certain sketches of the king's progress through his realm--not a royal progress but a peasant's. There are no tears in them, they go far beyond that. The scene in the smallpox but where the wife is glad her husband and daughters are dead--they are either in heaven or hell, it makes little difference, for they are no longer in Britain and so are happy; and the scene of the young mother hanged for stealing a piece of cloth of an ell's length or so, hanged that property in Britain might be safe--such pictures reveal how far he had traveled from the days of Roughing It. He was no longer a good Federalist-Whig concerned about exploitation and the safeguards of property. Although he voted the Republican ticket he made merry over the tariff56 and he frankly hated the dominant Republican property-consciousness. Like Lincoln he was for the man rather than the dollar when the rights of the two clashed. In these later years he was steadily drifting to the left, on the side of the social underling, sympathetic with those who do the work of the world. "He never went so far in socialism, as I have gone," said Howells, "if he went that way at all . . . but from the first he had a luminous vision of organized labor as the only present help for workingmen. . . . There was a time when I was afraid that his eyes were a little holden from the truth; but in the very last talk I heard from him I found that I was wrong, and that this great humorist was as great a humanist as ever."57
It is good for an American to read A Connecticut Yankee--and Joan of Arc as well; for in them is a flame that sears and shrivels the mean property-consciousness which lays a blight on every civilization. In the peasant girl of Domremy, the rapt mystic led by her Voices, Mark Twain found his ideal, the lily that bloomed out of the muck of medieval times; and as he contemplated her life and work he was lifted to the plane of worship. She had waged heroic warfare against the embattled lies and shams and treacheries of a sordid age, and that she should have died at the stake was inevitable. What other reward was to be expected from bishops and kings and suchlike spawn of the devil? Not till the people grow to manhood can any savior help them, and in that day they will need no savior but themselves. The Sieur Louis de Conte struggles with the idea confusedly.
I believe that some day it will be found out that peasants are people. Yes, beings in a great many respects like ourselves. And I believe that some day they will find this out, too--and then! Well, then I think they will rise up and demand to be regarded as a part of the race, and that by consequence there will be trouble. Whenever one sees in a book or in a king's proclamation those words `the nation,' they bring before us the upper classes; only those; we know no other `nation;' for us and the kings no other `nation' exists. But from the day I saw old D'Arc the peasant acting and feeling just as I should have acted and felt myself, I have carried the conviction in my heart that our peasants are not merely animals, beasts of burden put here by the good God to produce food and comfort for the `nation,' but something more and better. You look incredulous. Well, that is your training; it is the training of everybody; but as for me, I thank that incident for giving me a better light, and I have never forgotten it.58
No Bayard ever did his devoir more knightly to his lady than Mark Twain to Joan, finding in the noble drama of her life the romance he had not found at Arthur's court. The knights of the Round Table were "but ghosts fighting in the fog," but Jeanne D'Arc was human and lovable and divine. And then the outlet through which his idealism had found release slowly closed in, and he was left alone with his comfortless speculations. What profits it to rail at the damned human race when man has about as much chance for happiness as a blind puppy in a sack? The bitter lot of humanity is due not to institutions alone or chiefly, it is a part of the mad plan of a bleak mechanical universe. For Mark Twain the solid earth was dissolving, leaving only a rack behind. It is futile to lament. A sympathetic heart, indeed, is the last and bitterest irony--for why weep over an evil exhalation! "Life itself is only a vision, a dream . . . Nothing exists save empty spaceand you."
In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever--for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane--like all dreams . . . the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks-in a word that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. . . .59
So, like Cabell, Mark Twain asserts that man must build within and by letting his dreams flow out create for himself such shelter as he can against the chill of the eternal void. A flea on the epidermis of earth, nevertheless he is thought and thought is deathless. To such a conclusion did the buoyant youth of Roughing It arrive in the dun twilight years. The Mysterious Stranger is only Tom Sawyer retold in the midnight of his disillusion.
What an ending for a child of the Gilded Age! In his youth a complete frontiersman, with vast potential wealth within him, he hewed and hacked at his genius, working the easiest veins, exploiting the most accessible resources, wasting much tc cash in on a little. And when in the end the fool's gold turned to ashes in his mouth, as a frontiersman still he pursued his way alone, a solitary pioneer exploring the universe, seeking a homestead in an ironical cosmos, until overwhelmed by the intolerable solitude he made mock at all the gods. What a commentary on the Gilded Age!
1 The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy, University of California Chronicle, Vol. XIII, Number 4.
2 Poetical Works, Vol. I, p. 45.
3 "At the Funeral of a Minor Poet," Ibid., Vol. II, p. 94.
4 Ferris Greenslet, Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, p. 215.
5 Ibid., p.200.
6 Poetical Works, Vol. II, p. 72.
7 Ferris Greenslet, Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, pp. 168-169.
8 Ibid., p. 176.
9 Ibid., p. 205.
10 Fred Lewis Pattee, The Development of the American Short Story, pp. 171-172, See the entire chapter for a discussion of early realism in the Atlantic.
11 Preface, p. 5.
12 Chapter VIII, p. 183.
13 Chapter IX, p. 100.
14 Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett, pp. 46-47.
15 Ibid., pp. 38-39.
16 Ibid., pp. 186-187.
17 Ibid., p. 23.
18 Chapter XXXV, p. 350.
19 Chapter LVII, pp. 519-520.
20 Ibid., p. 563.
21 See Mabbott, Short Stories by Walt Whitman, Columbia University Press, 1927.
22 For his late views see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Vol. I, p. 99, and elsewhere.
23 Cleveland Rogers and John Black, The Gathering of the Forces, Vol. I, p. 12.
24 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 53, 54, 57.
25 Traubel, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 215.
26 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 65.
27 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 79-80.
8 Leaves of Grass, inclusive edition ed. by Emory Halloway, Garden City, N. Y., 1927. Hereafter called Leaves. "To the States," p. 8.
29 Ibid., "By Blue Ontario's Shore," p. 297, ll. 21-23.
30 Constance Mayfield Rourke,Trumpets of Jubliee, p. 171
31 Ibid., p. 172.
32 Leaves, "One's-Self I Sing," p. 1, ll. 1-2.
3 3Autobiographia, p. 73. See also Democratic Vistas, p. 74.
34 Leaves, "Roaming in Thought," p. 233.
35 "Carlyle from the American Point of View," in Specimen Days, Prose Works, pp. 174-I75.
36 Rourke, op. cit., p. 173.
37 Leaves, "Starting from Paumanok," p. 14, 11. 22-26; p. 15, ll. 1, 13, 19, 22-23; p. 16,ll. 2, 5-11; p. 17, ll. 7-10.
38 Leaves, p. 349, ll. 18-19.
39 Leaves, p. 43, ll. 9-17.
40 Democratic Vistas, Prose Works, pp. 254-255.
41 Traubel, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 174.
42 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 285.
43 Leaves, " Song of the Broad Axe," p. 160,ll. 7, 14-20, 21-22; p. 161,ll. 1-2, 6-7, 10.
44 Traubel, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 101.
45 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 193, 215.
46 Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 223.
47 Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 363.
48 See Norman Foerster, American Criticism, pp. 211-222; Lucy Lockwood Hazard, The Frontier in American Literature, pp. 170-177.
49 Leaves, "Thanks in Old Age," p. 435.
50 Lucy Lockwood Hazard, The Frontier in American Literature, p. 223.
51 Vol. I, Chapter XXXIII, p. 237.
52 Chapter 31.
53 The Connecticut Yankee, N. Y., 1917, p. 107.
54 Ibid., Chapter XIII, pp. 105-106.
55 Cf. Whitman's view,The Gathering of the Forces, Vol. II, pp. 284-286.
56 See Chapter 33.
57 W. D. Howells, My Mark Twain, p. 43.
58 Joan of Arc, Chapter 37, p. 290.
59 The Mysterious Stranger, p. 151.