EMERSON, using the true tone of the oracle, began his oral and communal monologues about the time when that plain, Yankee figure, Jack Downing, assumed the role. He used the familiar homely imagery, "the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan." His "Hitch your wagon to a star" has been linked with western hyperbole; and indeed lie showed western influences, but he kept ties with his own region, even with the country prophets there. The Yankee comedians had stressed the homely experience; in the Yankee portraits lay a first promise of that native, homelyart which Emerson sought to encourage. "I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is Greek art, or Provencal minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low." Like the Yankee of the fables he tended to stress the nationalistic when be touched upon the American strain. His American Scholar was not a pursuit of truths which might belong to the scholar or artist anywhere. A national literature--not merely an ample literature--was to be evoked. He spoke of "the sere remains offoreign harvests." "We have listened too long to the courtly Muses of Europe." "Our age is retrospective," he insisted in admonition, trying to create that disseverance from the past which had long been a dominant purpose in American comedy.
Broadly he touched this comedy again in an upswerving and resilient faith akin to that of the cults and revivals; his alliance with these was strong even while he noted them with detachment; he has even been considered a kind of wellspring for beliefs which in his time and later have been transmuted into extreme and absurd forms. A full philosophy, full persuasion, a critique of American life, Emerson never offered. His communications were broken, lyrical, rhapsodic; his writing and speech had the air of improvisation. Even his poetry has the same air of incompletion: it is that of a born lyrist struggling with a strange language in a new country of the mind, and unable to find an unpremeditated freedom.
The lyrical strain had sounded in the midst of the Yankee lingo; the air of wonder, the rhapsodic speech were appearing in western tall talk. There too incompletion had prevailed as if a world of the imagination were being invaded for the first time. There too the major scene, with all its approach to immediate circumstance, had been that of fancy. Emerson, in spite of his plea for the humble, the immediate, seldom touched the real world at all. "Reality eluded him," said Santayana. "He was far from being, like a Plato or an Aristotle, past master in the art and the science of life. But his mind was endowed with unusual plasticity, with unusual spontaneity and liberty of movement?it was a fairyland of thoughts and fancies. He was like a young god making experiments in creation: he blotched the work, and always began on a new and better plan. Every day he said, 'Let there be light,' and every day the light was new. His sun, like that of Heraclitus, was different every morning.
Emotion had a large place in Emerson's writing, but it was seldom a personal emotion, most often the revelation of some common happy mood. "I read with joy some of the auspicious signs of the coming days." He followed the form of the native monologue, in which the first person had been steadily used, the personal ?revelation of fact or feeling consistently avoided, which had moved toward the generic, including the many experiences rather than the one. So far as the shell of the monologue had been broken at all this was by some slight echo of the interior voice, brimming over in sound and rhythm rather than in direct statement, tending toward the soliloquy. Yankee Hill had verged toward this tone in his gentle drawling talks, Jack Downing in mild reminiscences. In Emerson the interior voice was beard unmistakably in reverie or soliloquy, He hag often been linked with the Puritan divines by way of the pulpit, but these men attempted to unroll the voice of God; their own part was impersonal. In Emerson the personal inner voice spoke; and this belonged not to the realm of introspection cultivated by the Puritan, but to that other realm of the plain Yankee, who consciously listened to his own mind, whose deliberate speech had room for undertones and further meanings. Emerson was aware of thetendency: he even saw it elsewhere. "Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion," he said in 1837. "Must this needs be an evil?"
Thoreau carried the inner tone even further. "In most books, the I, or the first person, is omitted," he declared in the opening passages of Walden. "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else I knew so well." The monologue remained his persistent form even though he expressed a contradictory theory as to literary quality, "In writing," he said, "conversation should be folded many times thick." Thoreau seldom or never attained that delicately balanced consideration of other thought and feeling which produces conversation. Dimension belongs to his writing, but this came from a mind closely bound within itself and woven with the filaments of its native surroundings--the mirroring pond, the lichen, the swamps, the green plumes and white heart of pine.
In his Yankee in Canada Thoreau revealed the direct flavor of the native monologue, grown a little drier. "I fear I have not got much to say about Canada, not having seen much; what I got by going to Canada was a cold.
I will not stop to tell the reader the names of my fellow?travelers; there were said to be fifteen hundred of them. . . . It would indeed be a serious bore to touch your hat several times a day. A Yankee has not leisure for it." In the lingo of the time Thoreau was "quirky," that is, obstinate and headstrong and full of notions. With all his aversion to distant movement he was not unrelated to the mythical figure of the Yankee peddler, he made the same calculations, many of them close and shrewd, often in the area of bargaining. He had that air of turning the tables on listeners or observers which had long since belonged to the Yankee of the comic mythologies; he used a wry humor in slow prose argument; he kept the habitual composure. Whoever might be his companion Thoreau seemed always alone, like the legendary Yankee. His tough and sinuous reveries were unbroken. "In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch ?it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line." Here was the essence of self?consciousness, revealed in Yankee speech. Yet this always verged toward the abstract, slipping aside from personal revelation, and moving with increasing frequency toward another theme which had engrossed the Yankee, the land. That sense of wild land which had infused the Yankee monologues, creating a spare imagery and metaphor, was pressed by Thoreau back to its source until he obtained a whole subject.
Thoreau greatly deepened the figurative Yankee speech, and soared occasionally into allegory. "I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle?dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken to concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and had even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves." This beautiful and cryptic poetry was cast into Thoreau's discourse a little awry: he suddenly stopped, as if unable to pursue further the theme or its implications. It has the partial and fragmentary air which has been seen elsewhere in native fable and figure, rising as from hidden sources, then pausing as though the ?underlying inspiration were insecure or incomplete.
Whole passages of Thoreau's writing will have an unmistakable native authority, the true sound of native speech; others follow that are close and studied, narrow and purely literary. He produced no philosophy, though he obviously intended to construct a philosophy. His experience at Walden remains a singular experience; he is read for the aphorism or the brief description, for the Yankee character inadvertently revealed, for the shadowy impersonal soliloquy sounding even through the more prosaic talk like water underground.
WHITMAN stressed the personal intention, insisting that it belonged to all his poetry. "Leaves of Grass indeed (I cannot too often reiterate) has been mainly the outcropping of my own emotional and other personal nature--an attempt, from first to last, to put a Person, a human being (myself, in the latter half of the nineteenth century of America) freely, fully and truly on record." Yet Whitman's emotion was rarely the personal emotion; it always included others who swiftly become the subject or even in a sense the singer, The "I" or "Me" of Whitman is no more personal in final content than was that of the rhapsodic backwoodsman: it has the urgency of many people. The gesture is open?handed, the framework that of autobiography: yet this poetry constantly slips into another realm. Once he acknowledged this escape or evasion.
In the end Whitman went far beyond that transcending of the merely personal which must occur if poetry is to be created. For the first time in American literature, perhaps for the first time in all literature, he created a generic and inclusive "I" who embraces many minds and many experiences.
Passage after passage in his poems begins with the personal experience or mood only to drop these for the generic. In the first few lines of Starting from Paumanok Whitman is briefly himself: he then quickly becomes that being who was his great subject, that mythical American who had not only known Manhattan but had been a pioneer in Dakota and a miner in California, who had roamed the entire continent and had comprised all its typical experiences.
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant
A Yankee bound my own way ready for my trade, my
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in any deerskin
A boatman over lakes and bays or along coasts, a Hoosier,
He was a Yankee sailor aboard a clipper; he was a fanner in a country barn, among the dried grasses of harvest?time. Whitman was not only full of this great theme but aware of queries which might arise in relation to it, often humorously aware--
Do I contradict myself?
His inclusions might be grossly made: but by the scope of his view and the urgency of his consideration he evoked a large and comprehensive figure not unlike that inclusive character toward which the types of popular comedy had seemed to merge.
Often this figure went beyond the bounds of nationalism, as in portions of the Song of Myself and in Children of Adam. Whitman could leave the nationalistic for the purelyhuman. Yet the body of his thought was nationalistic: his iterated theme was the American--was the nation. "The ambitious thought of any song is to help the forming of a great aggregate Nation," be declared, frankly leaving the purpose to transcribe a Person altogether. With an exuberance like that of the fable of the contrast he shouted, "I chant America the mistress, I chant a greater supremacy., His notions of the older countries Were closely linked with those of the fable. Whitman's warmest conception of the older nations was that of pity. "Once powerful," he called them, "now reduced, withdrawn or ? desolate." In a less temperate mood he could talk of "Europe's old dynastic slaughter?house, Area of murder?plots of thrones, with scent yet left of wars and scaffolds everywhere."' In a nobler measure he queried--
Have the elder races halted?
Pioneers! 0 Pioneers!
He carried the theme into a hitherto untouched sphere, the consideration of poetry--
He passed to a visionary scheme for perfection which America was to crown--
And thou, America,
Whitman was filled as well with themes which he might have caught from those strolling exponents of the divine comedy who reached a crest of their ecstasy in the decade before he began to write. Like them he declared that he meant to "inaugurate a religion." They had often denied evil, announcing that perfection was at hand. "I say in fact there is no evil." He declared that "only the good is universal," and that he meant "to formulate a poem whose every thought or fact should directly or indirectly be or connive at the implicit belief in the wisdom, health, mystery, beauty of every process, every concrete object, every human or other existence. . ." He was constantly occupied with the theme of perfection--
In this broad earth of ours,
In America he expected to find "a world primal again." From America "in vistas of glory incessant and branching" he expected perfection to spread.
Some of Whitman's convictions may have been gained from austere statements of similar themes by Emerson: but his large impetus seems to have come from popular sources, particularly in the West. In that highly sensitized period just before he began the writing of Leaves of Grass Whitman went over the Cumberland Gap by the wagon-road which many pioneers had followed, and down the Ohio and the Mississippi by boat. The physical imprint of the West appears throughout his poetry. Even in that long soliloquy in which he considers the place of his birth on the Atlantic shore he is soon "singing in. the West," singing "chants of the prairies, chants of the long?running Mississippi. He mentions the mocking?bird again and again. "Flatboatmen make fast toward dusk near cotton-wood or pecantrees." He wrote of soft afternoon airs that blow from the southwest. "I saw in Louisiana a live oak growing." "0 magnet South!" be cried--the South which was the old Southwest. The imagery in the phrase Leaves of Grass may have come from the prairie lands and great meadows of the West. His stress upon physical prowess and strength was western, as was his resilient good humor. "Henceforth I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune."
At times Whitman achieved a serene and ineffaceable and tender strain of feeling which seemed a final residuum of humor; this belonged to his finest poetry. At others he followed only the wildest of western. comic boastings--often with unconscious comedy. The rhapsodic, leaping, crowing backwoodsman had long since come into the popular view, adopting the phrase "child of nature." Whitman in turn celebrated "spontaneous me," or described himself as an acutely self?conscious "child of nature" under the title Me Imperturbe--
Me Imperturbe, standing at case in Nature,
His famous "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" might have been shouted by the gamecock of the wilderness, even though the image belongs to the cities. In his early Boston Ballad Whitman joined in the classic comic warfare between the backwoodsman and the Yankee. Half gravity, half burlesque, in its swift slipping from the foothold of reality the poem is not far from the pattern of the tall tales or from the familiar extravagant form of mock?oratory.
In later years Whitman could fall into that rough-hewn grotesquerie of language which the backwoodsman had exhibited in moments of exhilarated comedy. "In fact, here I am these current years 1890 and '91 (each successive year getting stiffer and stuck deeper) much like some dilapidated grim ancient shell?fish or time-banged conch (no legs, utterly non?locomotive) cast up high and dry on the shore sands, hopeless to move anywhere--nothing left but to behave myself quiet." He noted the Negro dialect, and found there hints of "a modification of all words of the English language, for musical purposes, for a native grand opera in America." He theorized about language. In America an immense number of new words are needed," he declared. "This subject of language interests me--interests me: I never quite get it but of my mind. I sometimes think the Leaves is only a language experiment--that it is an attempt to give the spirit, the body, the man, new words, new potentialities of speech--an American, a cosmopolitan (the best of America is the best cosmopolitanism) range of expression. The new world, the new times, the new peoples, the new vista, need a tongue according--yes, what is more will have such a tongue--will not be satisfied until it is evolved." He freely used plain words, "farmer's words," "sea words," "the likes of you," and much of the jargon of the time. Whitman, in short, used language as a new and plastic and even comical medium, as it had long since been used in native folk-lore.
To enter the world of Whitman is to touch the spirit of American popular comedy, with its local prejudices, its national prepossessions, its fantastic beliefs; many phases of comic reaction are unfolded there. Nothing is complete, nothing closely wrought; often Whitman's sequences are incoherent, like sudden movements of undirected thought or feeling. "No one will get at my verses who insists upon viewing them as literary performances," he said. The scale was large; Whitman possessed that sense of a whole civilization which must belong to the epic; his sweeping cadences could have held the heroic form; and though he lacked the great theme of gods and men his awareness of the country had a stirring animism, and his prototypical American was of far greater than human stature. Yet Whitman did not achieve the heroic, or only rarely, in broken or partial passages. Like those popular story-tellers who had often seemed on the verge of wider expression, he failed to draw his immeasurable gift into the realm of great and final poetry. For the most part he remained an improviser of immense genius, unearthing deep-lying materials in the native mind, in a sense "possessed" by the character of that mythical and many-sided American whom he often evoked. He was indeed the great improviser of modem literature. He had turned the native comic rhapsody, abundant in the backwoods, to broad poetic forms.
Whitman achieved the epical scale; at the same time he remained within a sphere which, along with a movement toward the epical, had been defined in popular comedy--that of the acutely self-aware. At the end of Me Imperturbe he uttered a brief prayer that the supreme naturalness which he desired might be achieved, as if he knew that the shadow of himself stood in his way. Elsewhere he was revealed as acutely self?conscious, when like any backwoodsman on the rivers and levees he picturized himself in a costume conspicuous by its negation of color. He was selfaware in the promotion of his own work, in his summaries of purpose. But with all this, with all his forced awkwardness and flamboyance, he achieved an ultimate culmination of the conscious in the richness and fullness of his finer soliloquies. The free mind was there, turned inward, truly conscious and indwelling, yet flowing naturally into speech. That movement toward the soliloquy which had appeared in popular modes and again in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau reached a culmination in Whitman. His finest poems are cast in the deep and delicate form: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, the rhapsodic Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, the long and sometimes cryptic Starting from Paumanok, the reflective songs in Children of Adam, The monologue or rhapsody was turned inward, without analysis or introspection: moods, shades of feeling, fragments of thought, pour out in an untrammeled stream which is often not far from the so-called stream of consciousness. Whitman anticipated by many years the modem mode of inner revelation with its broken sequences, its irrelevant changes, its final move into the realm of soliloquy.
It was on this level that Whitman touched the great theme which had so deeply underlain the experience of the pioneer, the theme of death, touched it with an emotion that belongs to the finer aspects of comedy. "And to die is different from what any?one supposed, and luckier,"' he said. "And I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful than death." When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed is a poem of reconcilement with death of profound tenderness, embracing the widening theme of the farm?lands and the cities, "the large unconscious scenery of MY land with its lakes and forests," as if there in warmth and sunlight and a common life lay an ultimate answer. The simplest flow of feeling is kept, like that of some archaic ceremonial--
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls,Always this feeling deepens, so that the poem becomes a poem of reconcilement not only for the death of Lincoln but for all death within a beloved land.
Whitman had circled from the generic and inclusive and nationalistic "I" to the realm of inner feeling; and the inner world which he discovered was that which had been opened by comedy; it was of the mind; that is, it was reflective rather than emotional. Sorrow occupied him greatly only once, in When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed. The verses in Drum Taps were written less in sorrow than in tenderness or assuagement. Emotion in Whitman most often meant deep tenderness; its quality was indwelling. With all his direct improvisation and outpouring the simple emotions were far from belonging to him. His most ardent feelings were those which he could share with a crowd; his sense of identity with other human beings seemed to stir him more deeply than any other experience. On the theme of sexual passion he was sometimes direct, but the emotion which be expressed was likely to be strange and inverted, or to move quickly outside the realm of feeling altogether into a consideration of the many divergent forms of passion, or to sweep into argument. Again the conscious superseded the emotional.
In literature the scope was new and strange which could include the. epical scale in free expression and at the same time reveal the conscious and indwelling mind. To these biases, which had belonged to American popular comedy, was added another, likewise of that province. Neither Whitman--nor Thoreau--for all their inclusions of the outer world was primarily concerned with outer circumstance. Thoreau stood, as he said, at the meeting of two eternities; Whitman's true world was wholly visionary even when it included the touch and color of earth.
3OF all American writers Poe has become a symbol for the type of genius which rises clear from its time, nourished mainly from hidden inner sources. Poe himself would have delighted in that theory, for he fostered the conviction that he ranged over only the rarest and most esoteric materials. But Poe came from that Scotch-Irish stock with its heritage of unsettlement from which were drawn the scouts and myth-makers and many strollers of the West; the theatrical strain that had been strong among them was his by birth; and he began to write at the end of the '20's when American myth-making was passing into its great popular diffusion. Essential foreign influences on Poe have been dis covered, but in general the influences which weigh most with any writer are those which are akin to his own feeling and purposes. Poe drew upon German and French romanticism: but a homely romantic movement of native origin was making itself felt nearer at hand; and Poe both by temperament and environment was susceptible to the native forces.
The impact of popular comic story?telling in America must have reached Poe. At his foster-father's house Negro legends were surely current among the slaves; he must have heard the exploits of those adventurers by land and sea who drifted into the office of Allan and Company. Since this firm were agents for subscriptions to newspapers Poe no doubt had access to the current almanacs, which even in an early day were beginning to print compact stories of wild adventure. He may have seen tales of buccaneering and of buried treasure there, preparing him for The Gold Bug, or of hazards at sea, which suggested Arthur Gordon Pym. At the University of Virginia a few of his companions were accomplished in the western art of biting and gouging; probably story-telling was exhibited as another form of prowess. Poe himself gained a reputation as an amusing story-teller in these years. At Baltimore in 1831 and 1832 he could hardly have missed echoes of western story-telling, for Baltimore was a point of convergence for travelers from all that wide circle known as the Southwest; they came on horseback or by stage over the mountains, by boat from Savannah or New Orleans. Their appearance was striking: their talk and tales were caught fragmentarily by many observers. At the theaters the backwoods. man was being portrayed in the semblance of Crockett; and the new stage character was creating a highly novel sensation.
That broad grotesque myth?making which had to do with corn?crackers and country rapscallions Poe surely encountered, for in 1835 he reviewed Longstreet's Georgia Scenes, with enthusiasm. When Poe went to Philadelphia, always a center for the comic theater, the larger pattern of native figures must again have moved before him, and surely his association with Burton on the Gentleman's Magazine gave an impetus to his sense of native comedy, for though Burton's alliance with Brougham lay in the future, he had long been a comedian and had compiled comic joke-books and songbooks. Poe possessed besides what Woodberry has called "a contemporaneous mind." He quickly turned to matters of current interest, exploration, treasure-hunting, mesmerism, Masonry, balloons, topics that crowded the newspapers and were being discussed by popular lecturers. He turned to comedy; as by instinct returned to the hoax. His early Journal of Julius Rodman purported to give a literal account of a western journey and was essentially a hoax, as was his Arthur Gordon Pym with its studied effort to produce an effect of truth. His Hans Pfall was in the vanguard of a long sequence of hoaxes, anticipating by only a brief space Locke's famous Moon Hoax, which made a great stir in 1835, With its carefully prepared verisimilitude even to effects of costuming, with its intense stress of all outwardd sensation, Hans Pfall bore a close resemblance to the more elaborate and finished tall tales of the West, which were scrupulous as to detail, and which often gave--as it happened--a particularly keen attention to costume. His Balloon Hoax in 1844 had its brief day of acceptance as fact. One of Poe's last stories, Von Kempelen and His Discovery, was essentially a hoax; and his talent for comic fantasy was shown in still another form in a topsy-turvy extravaganza, The Angel of the Odd.
Poe never used native legends directly except perhaps in The Gold Bug; yet in creative bent he was perhaps one of those major writers who instinctively turn toward long-established traditions. Unrooted in any region--if indeed any American of those years could be called rooted--he found no long and substantial accumulation of native materials, even though the comic myth?making faculty was abroad in force during his later youth. None the less Poe followed a course habitually followed by traditional writers and myth-makers: he did not invent, he borrowed and recreated. His King Pest was built upon a scene from Vivian Gray; he borrowed indeed at every turn.
Even if native legends had been strewn about with unmistakable richness one cannot be sure that Poe would have used them. That restless impulse which had driven other story-tellers farther and farther a field might have moved him. But the patterns, if not the substance of his tales, were those of a native story-telling. The gamut of his moods might have been drawn from the West, plumbing horror, yet turning also to a wild contrived comedy. Because of his own dark fate, and because Poe himself often stressed the frisson, terror has overtopped comedy in the general apprehension of his tales. His designations of "grotesque" and "arabesque" and his later "tales of terror" have created a further submergence of the comic. Yet King Pest, with its background of the plague and the night, is one of the most brilliant pure burlesques in the language, transmuting terror into gross comedy, as it had often been transmuted in the western tall tales.
According to Poe's original plan for the Tales of the Folio Club each member of the Club was to be satirically described; after the telling of each tale they were to criticize it, their comments forming a burlesque of criticism. The tales run through a wide range of humor, from the sheer absurdity of Lionising to the hoax of Hans Pfall. The Duc in The Duke de l'Omelette bore some relation to those derisive portraits of foreigners which were steadily gaining American favor; he was even given a not inharmonious touch of diabolism. Poe's command of verbal humor was uncertain; his puns often fall below tolerable levels. Yet these too are part of the mode of the time--a time when language was being carelessly and comically turned upside down and even re-created, as if to form a new and native idiom.
His laughter was of a single order: it was inhuman, and mixed with hysteria. His purpose in the hoaxes was to make his readers absurd, to reduce them to an involuntary imbecility. His objective was triumph, the familiar objective of popular comedy. To this end, in his burlesques and extravaganzas he showed human traits or lineaments in unbelievable distortion, using that grotesquerie which lies midway between the comic and the terrible; with Poe the terrible was always within view. There are touches of chilly barbarity even in Hans Phall. The fantasy-making of the West had swung from an impinging terror to a gross and often brutal comedy; Poe also stressed black moods and emotions, embracing a dark and ghostly melodrama, employing themes bordering upon those in the romantic tragedy of the day. In the midst of burlesque in Tales of the Folio Club he reached an antithetical horror, in Bernice.
Western story-telling had often been callous: in callousness Poe could pass beyond human limits, in the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. He used the magnified scale in rooms, corridors, draperies, in the accumulation of detail, in sensation. He enjoyed mystification; his tone and level throughout were those of legend; and if his scope in storytelling was brief he verged toward larger forms. His Tales of the Folio Club were made to follow in a prismatic sequence, and other stories fall into loosely united cycles.
Poe entered another area marked out by the popular comic tradition: that of the inner mind or consciousness. Not only Emerson approached this, or Thoreau in the delicate exemplification of inner states, or Whitman in his outpourings. Poe--and also, Hawthorne, and even Melville--invaded this area and in some measure conquered it. Poe used the first person continually, adopting it in part perhaps to gain an impulse toward an exploration of states of mind or feeling which were often undoubtedly his own. Beyond direct transcriptions, which may have been unconscious, he clearly attempted to explore the character of the inner, even the sub-conscious, mind. In The Black Cat he dwelt on "the spirit of PERVERSIVENESS. . . . Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heartone of the indivisible primary faculties or sentiments which give direction to the character of Man . . . ... He mentioned the "unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself--to offer violence to its own nature." He made notations on small crises of the mind, speaking in Ligeia of the endeavor to recall to memory something forgotten when "we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able in the end to remember." These fragmentary touches and others like them scattered through Poe's tales culminated in his story of double identity in William Wilson, in which memory--its obscure envelopments, its buried treasures--made a recurrent theme. Half symbolical, half factual, filled by 'Intimations of a complex and warring inner state, William Wilson stands as a fresh creation in an almost untouched field, a prelude to the so-called psychological novel, and a further revelation of a native bias.
In Critical theory, the psychological strain has sometimes been linked with the Puritan influences; but surely no tic with the Puritan faith and its habit of introspection can be found for Poe. By birth and upbringing and sympathy be was wholly alien to the Puritan strain. Nothing remotely moralistic can be found in his observation, no identity with religious feeling, no judgments. Instead, Poe seems near those story-tellers of the West who described wild and perverse actions with blank and undisturbed countenances, and whose insistent use of the first person brought them to the brink of inner revelation.
4HAWTHORNE, like Poe, was a writer who would naturally have worked best within a thoroughly established tradition; his predilections are shown in his care for style as well as by his choice of themes that were at least partially worked over and defined. His natural inclinations seem to have been toward comedy; his notebooks provide a singular contrast with his tales. They contain, it is true, many notes outlining poetical or abstract themes: but side by side with these are acute linear sketches of individuals, of groups, caught with immediacy and the fresh daylight upon them, seen with no veil of distance or of time. Throughout most of his years Hawthorne was on the outlook for odd and salient characters; he often enveloped them with humor in his brief notes; he had a gift for slight inflation in drawing, and even for the touch of caricature. From his boyhood at Salem when he was near the wharves with their changing crew of seafaring men, he had seen something of the rough fabric of a common and immediate life. As a youth at Bowdoin he had been on the fringe of the eastern backwoods with its inevitable small filtration of adventurers. Even in later years be betrayed a tic with this popular and common and often comic existence by his alliance with the invincible Peter Parley.
But that uncouth, unassimilated life about him, those casual aggregations of seamen and day-laborers and vagabonds--what after all did he know of them? His ignorance was not his alone: what did any one of his time know of them? Even his brief notes were adventures in recognition. Close elements of the native character had remained unstudied except for scattered and casual sketches, outlined mainly by unconcerned travelers impressed for the moment. Only prototypal drawings existed, of a few of the larger figures in American life, and in Hawthorne's formative years these provided no rich accumulation ?upon which to draw, which he might use for intensification.
Hawthorne turned toward a form which comedy more than any other native impulse was shaping within the popular consciousness, that of legend, which permitted a fantastic or narrow or generalized handling of character. The materials which he found were not comic; the older and more deeply established lore of New England was darkly tinged; his tales reveal a gamut of the more violent or terrible feelings, rage, terror, the sense of guilt, greed, strange regional fantasies, like that in Ethan Brand, witchcraft, ghosts. The scarlet letter was said to glow in the dark; Hawthorne suggested that the tale had come to him as lore; certainly much of The House of the Seven Gables came to him as tradition. In such works as The Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales he again found the remote and legendary.
Even when his narratives were lengthened their scope was the brief scope of the tale; and though they did not join in cycles the tales were loosely linked. In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables Hawthorne disclaimed the purpose to write a novel, declaring that "the latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary Course of man's experience." He called his narrative a romance, and insisted upon the right to mingle "the Marvellous" in its course, even though this might be only as "a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor." Again, he spoke of the story as "a legend . . . from an epoch now gray in the distance . . . and bringing with it some of its legendary mist." Writing of some scenes from The Scarlet Letter which had been performed as an opera in New York, he said, "I should think it might possibly succeed as an opera, though it would certainly fail as a play." The Scarlet Letter had indeed the bold and poetic and legendary outline which may belong to opera; and the same qualities inhered in all of Hawthorne's finer work.
Though he drew upon a traditional material, Hawthorne could not rest at case as the great English poets have rested within the poetic tradition that came to them through the ballads and romances, or as the great English novelists have drawn upon rich local accumulations of character and lore. The materials at his hand were not rich or dense or voluminous: time had not enriched but had scattered them. The effort to create imaginative writing out of such a groundwork must inevitably have been disruptive for an artist like Hawthorne; it was making bricks with only wisps of straw. The scantness of his natural sources may. account for the meagerness of his effort, rather than some obscure inner maladjustment of his own; indeed, for a highly sensitive and traditional writer the constantly thwarted search for a richly established material could have caused a fundamental disarrangement of creative energy.
Yet if the result was small, Hawthorne's writing had freshness of accomplishment. In The Scarlet Letter a woman was drawn as a full and living figure for the first time in American literature. The semblance of a society was depicted; the Puritan settlement becomes a Protagonist in the tale. This attempt toward a new and difficult portrayal was still slight and partial; the society appears mainly as a mob under strong emotion; and in The House of the Seven Gables, where a small group is imaged, its members filter one by one out of the shop door or are mentioned from a distance. Hawthorne entered an even more difficult area. In The Scarlet Letter, for the first time in an American narrative, emotion played a prevailing and simple part, restrained though it was by barriers which seemed persistently set against the expression of deep feeling. There can be no doubt of the love that existed between Dimmesdale and Hester; yet this is never expressed in a word, scarcely by a sign: it is shown only by a kind of running emotional shorthand in their brief exchanges. Their meeting in the Wood was the first scene created by the American imagination in which emotion is all but overwhelming; some may call it the single great scene in American literature where love is dominant: but even here there is no direct revelation.
Hawthorne was deeply engaged by the consideration of lost or submerged emotion. In The Scarlet Letter this makes the basic theme: it was Dimmesdale's concealment of the bond with Hester which appears as his great wrong. It was warmth of affection, mingled with grief, which at last gave humanity to the elfin Pearl. Again and again in Hawthorne's briefer tales--sometimes only by allusion--he makes clear his conviction that the sin against the heart is the unpardonable sin. That suppression of individualized feeling, conspicuous in the American temper, was in a sense his major subject. Yet except in the one 'instance he seemed unable to reveal a deeply felt and simple emotion. The feelings which Hawthorne portrayed were for the most part complex or distorted; they were indeed, as in the writings of Poe, and in the romantic tragedy abroad in this period, mirrorings of those harsher feelings which had often belonged to a pioneer existence.
But these--rage, greed, terror, the sense of guilt--are only half lighted in Hawthorne's writing; they no longer take on the full fury which they had exercised on the frontier. He too plumbed the inner mind; he too was concerned with "introversion." For the Most Part his discoveries appeared in terms of pure fantasy; Hawthorne even transmuted regional legends into inner moods. Again and again in The Scarlet Letter the flow of the tale seems sensitively adapted to the flow of inner and secret feelings. In the passage describing the minister's impulses as he passes among his people after the meeting with Hester in the wood, Hawthorne reached a final and even prophetic discernment: here was a brief and effortless exposure of a grotesque inner license. Poe may have surpassed him in the discernment of subtle thoughts or impulses or in the definition of these: but Hawthorne portrayed the natural movement of a mind in a form which was to develop in modern literature, as direct revelation. No doubt Puritan influences created something of the bent toward inner scrutiny in Hawthorne. The Puritan element of judgment was often clear in his writings, though, as he said, it was sometimes deliberately added. But Hawthorne at his finest never used the abstract formulations of the Puritan: he chose the direct and earthy mode, as in the passage on Dimmesdale's fantasies: and there at least he slipped into an irreverent rude comedy far from the conscious Puritan habit. With all the delicacy of his approach, with all the invention which fairly transformed style into a means of revealing phases of buried thought or feeling, Hawthorne like Poe was close to the rude fantasy-making of the pioneer.
INSTEAD Of moving against the American temper in his greater works Melville moved with this temper and was supported by it. Without those lusty undirected energies which had persistently maintained the sense of legend he could hardly have created Moby-Dick at all, for the primitive legend-making faculty lies at its base, with something conscious and involved that was not primitive inwoven with it, that had also appeared on popular levels. Popular comedy had run a long course when Melville began to write in the late '40's; its characters, its temper, even its verbal ingenuities, were established, in Tall tales of the West had overspread the entire country; the abundant sea-lore which had grown up at the same time was fully created. These would have reached Melville not only through the common channels of the almanacs and popular journals but through primary adventures of his own. On the wharves at New Bedford and as a sailor to far seas he must have known characters who overflowed with such stories; he would have heard them, for he was himself a master of oral story-telling: the art inevitably draws forth examples in kind.
In Typee and Omoo Melville was close to a simple sealore: the fate of the mutineer who escaped to a submarine cave with a girl from the Tonga Islands roughly suggests that of the heroes of these tales, even though Melville's sources for his stories were his own. He was linked with the native comic temper of the time, particularly that of the West, with its strong bias toward a naturalistic existence, its lyricism, its continual revelation of the movement toward the farther West and the western sea. Comedy appears in the idyllic temper of these two tales, a comedy temperate and sweet, like that which had sometimes seemed an underply for popular humor, shown in the more idyllic passages in the life of the cults, with their wreaths and garlands. But in the midst of a rich light-heartedness, Melville was aware of a latent dynamic emotion which had also found expression, in the West, either shooting up geyserlike into wild travesty or plunging into dark emotion, full of brutal natural force. "He must be possessed by a devil," said Mohi of the young prince Tribonnora in the later Mardi. "Then," said Babbalanja, "he is only like all of us?" Diabolism raised its head in the midst of the idyll with comic gusto; the narrative is a fairy-tale plumbed by the opposing spirits of comedy and terror.
In Moby-Dick this many-sided diabolism reached an ultimate culmination. Its concern is with one of those illusory marked creatures of the natural world, magic and powerful, which had often appeared in western legends of the jet-black stallion or the white deer. In one of his descriptions of the whale Melville spoke of the White Steed of the Prairies, "most famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions."' Among the tall tales of the West was one which ran close to the main outline of Moby-Dick, describing the comic adventures of a backwoodsman who sought a fabulously large bear, the Big Bear of Arkansas, in revenge for depredations. Legends concerning Mocha Dick were known before Melville used them, As early as 1839 J. B. Reynolds, to whom Poe turned for strange material, had written an account of this white whale of prodigious size, strength, and cunning. For the rest Melville used the familiar method of the? legend??maker, drawing an accumulation of whaling lore from many sources, much of it from New England, some of it hearsay, some from books, including stories of the adventures of other ships encountered at sea, or further tales suggested by episodes within the main sequence of his story.
Tragic though the theme was, comedy mapped the outlines of Moby-Dick and shaped its forms. Passage of comic fantasy are strewn through the narrative. The first encounter of Ishmael with Queequeeg is pitched to the key of hilarious comedy, though penetrated by the gruesome and terrible. The comic touch is repeated again and again. "Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish?bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam?shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebrae; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin." There are passages that echo the comic interchanges of the current joke-books and of the stage, as in the talk about the harpooner, with its punning on "being green" and being "done brown," underlined as was usual in printed puns of the day. "A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey? But that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?" A series of chapters on fish is headed "Schools and Schoolmasters," "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish," "Heads or Tails."
Comedy belonged to such names as Hosea Hussey and to the liberal designation of other characters by the names of the prophets, a comedy that was close to the use of biblical names in the Yankee fables, though here the implication was often ironical or tragic. Names like Stubb and Flask were frankly comic, "This imperial negro, Ahasuerus Daggoo, was the squire of little Flask, who looked like a chessman beside him." "Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men," said Bildad, in the Yankee vein, "but don't miss a fair chance, either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts." The ship seemed to contain representatives of all those major characters who had figured largely in American comedy. There were Yankees from Ahab down; the teller of the tale was one of those wanderers over the globe who had told and dominated many a Yankee story. There was a Negro, an Indian, and a mountaineer six feet tall with "a chest like a coffer dam," in the shadows of whose eyes "floated some reminiscences that did not seem to give him much joy." A member of one of the cults appeared on board the Jeroboam, a sailor who had been a Shaker prophet. Captain Ahab is described as though he were a comic, elementary creature of the sea. "Over his ivory-inlaid table Ahab presided like a mute maned sea-lion on the white coral beach, surrounded by his war-like but still deferential cubs."
Comedy remains in Moby-Dick like the strong trace of an irresistible mood. Even the movement of the narrative is that of comic travesty: it soars, circles, and rises to the persistent native form of rhapsody. But this primary resilience is stripped to its core. Humor becomes sardonic; that terror and sense of evil and im.pending death which had often been part of the comic legends of the country are relentlessly uncovered. Melville broke through the mask of comedy to find its ultimate secret and gave to Moby-Dick the final element which creates the epic: an encounter between gods and men. In that vast and prototypical creature, the white whale, evil is concentered--"that intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; . . . all that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the Ices of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought--all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled on the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it." Animistic fantasy in fuses Moby-Dick, even at the Inn with its heathenish array of clubs and spears set with glittering teeth, adorned with knots of human hair--weapons with legends attached to them. The Pequod was "a cannibal of a craft," tricked out with the bones and teeth of her chosen enemy, the sperm whale; Moby-Dick was said to possess supernatural powers, and inspired the strange legend of an underground sea passage through the world. Strange sights were seen, the great white squid, and the "spirit spout." "Stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab had his humanities!" said Peleg; but for the most part Ahab moves outside the human and becomes a prototypical figure, engaged in a titanic and inhuman struggle. The basic physical struggle was age-old; it had reappeared in fresh forms as small schooners set out from the Atlantic coast bent upon wresting treasures from the sea. It had been seen in the untouched lands of the West, where the pioneer had been pitted against the natural world in a primary and engrossing contest, often to conquer, in the end most often to be conquered.
Perhaps Moby-Dick could never have been written except in a land where Puritanism had largely prevailed. The consciousness of an abstract evil--"that tangible malignity which has been from the beginning"--surely belonged to the Puritan; and Melville, who came in part from New England stock, may have been swayed by Puritan prepossessions. Yet the abstract speculation of the Puritan appears hardly at all in Moby-Dick; figure and fantasy make the medium through which the theme is revealed. Soliloquy, reverie, "supernatural surmisings" are mingled with outer happenings. The voyage of the Pequod is determined by the obsession of Captain Ahab; and the obsession spreads through the consciousness of its men, even--within the fantastic range of the narrative--giving shape and color to the natural world. It is always the mind that is dominant in this struggle and quest; bitterness exists, and rage, and even a lyrical response to beauty, but these belong to a supermundane sphere; they never become the humble human portion. Even the fate of little Pip, afloat upon the waters and then afterward forever mindless, strikes below the human or above it.
In this strange realm magnitude is created by the assembling of the strange crew, by the sense of an unknown quest, by the extended vision of the sea, by touches such as that describing the Nantucketer, who "out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him down to rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales." But the greater magnitude arises from the basic encounter of the human mind with the forces of evil. Though Moby-Dick borders at times upon that theatrical rhapsody abroad in the land when Melville was a youth and even while he was writing, its tone is true to its multifarious themes, which also belonged to the time; it is transmuted into. poetry; the book rises to the heroic semblance. The achievement was immense, for if Melville found a native sealore at his hand there had been none of those partial transmutations of brief tales into larger poetic forms which may provide a creative impetus. In the sphere of inner fantasy Melville worked not quite alone, for Poe and Hawthorne had made adventures there: but nothing in heroic literature had contained the deep and passionate stress upon adventures of the mind.
Melville felt his book to be imperfect with something more than that profound dissatisfaction which may beset the greatest writers. He dreaded its completion. "God help me from completing anything," he exclaimed in the midst of the writing. "This whole book is but a draught--nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" He worked as though the book were draining his powers; he felt indeed that in Moby-Dick he reached an end, and he wrote in the midst of its composition to Hawthorne, "I am like one of those seeds taken out of the Egyptian Pyramids, which, after being three thousand years a seed and nothing but a seed, being planted in English soil, it developed itself, grew to greenness, and then fell into mold. So I. Until I was twenty-five, I had no development at all. From my twenty-fifth year I date my life. Three weeks have scarcely passed, at any time between then and now, that I have not unfolded within myself. But I now feel that I am come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shortly the flower must come to the mold."
The end of Melville's imaginative force had indeed come with the completion of Moby-Dick, though complex fantasies continued to engage him, joined with moods as perverse as any conceived by Poe. These stalk through Pierre and rise again in shrouded outlines in the briefer tales of his later years? Almost invariably they assume the familiar shapes of legend, fable, allegory--forms which were half poetry--but they seldom attain unmistakable power. Pierre is the book of a man who has lost his way, perhaps because of its theme of incest with the implications within mind and feeling was too difficult for encompassment within Melville's time, perhaps because in choosing the materials of common society he moved outside his natural made altogether. Such a voyage as that of the Pequod could never be undertaken again. To have turned to the land--the western land--for heroic materials would have meant for Melville an unfamiliar element, even though a rich legendary material awaited him there. With the writing of his one great book Melville's work was finished.
The heroic outline had been approached more than once, in popular comedy as on the levels of literature; the epical form seemed like a vessel waiting to be filled. Audubon had approached it, in his voluminous journals which were a wide portrait of the country, in the sequences of his Ornithological Biography, in his great Birds of America. Cooper, Bird, Simms, 11ompson of Vermont, and Kennedy of Maryland, plotting out nearly every area of the older America, viewing almost every significant passage in the American past, used a scope that roughly approached the epical scale. Stilted as their narratives often were, they tended to revert to the simple and cumulative forms that had belonged to the popular stories of the taverns and the almanacs: these were tales; and one tale was piled upon another. The longer narratives ran in cycles. Strictly speaking, they were riot novels but romances, with that infusion of the marvelous upon which Hawthorne had insisted. Legends were striated through them, with touches of myth, as the Indian became a figure there, or as the situations belonged to dim earlier years. Whatever their locale, they had to do with the frontier; and their living characters were comic: scouts, bee-bunters, hotse-thieves, wandering ne'er do-wells, Negroes. In the tales of Simms the Negro was drawn for the first time at full length. Bird tapped a deep fund of western comic talk and character. At times the terror and tragedy of the wilderness was drawn, as in Nick of the Woods, but the comic tone was insurgent, and portrayals of nobler characters grew dry or sterile. Even Simms, with his loving absorption in all phases of southern society, could give life only to such figures as had engaged the popular fancy and had been subjects for a broad popular drawing.
The groundwork of feeling in pioneer life had been seized and re-created in subtle forms by Melville, Poe, Hawthorne; the lesser writers seemed moved by a romantic nostalgia for the past. It is as if when the first dread and desperation of pioneering began to recede, when conquest seemed assured, a purpose was abroad to capture and maintain those lost elements and make of them a treasure-house, however bleak or coarse or comic they might be. Here and there literary forces from abroad had influence upon this effort; yet these gained power only as they coincided with a native intention. Romanticism had developed in Europe, but this new romanticism possessed a homely texture and sprang from the native character.
An imaginative force was loosed, powerful enough to attempt wide inclusions, but not to complete them in abundance. Large modes had been created; yet their looming outlines had often only been approached. The prevailing forms of the new American literature had remained primitive or anterior forms, the monologue, the rhapsody, the tale, the legend, the romance. They were full of astringencies and ellipses, with a tone that was archaic and young, and a conspicuous lack of color; Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, can be described in blacks, grays, cold whites, Whitman in terms of light rather than of color. Half designs, cartoons, sketches, were drawn and left incomplete. Hawthorne's voluminous note-books were a symbol, as was Whitman's perpetual re-writing of his poems, and the single great achievement of Melville. Nor did these writers attract those pursuant groups of minor artists who usually follow in the wake of a great movement and give it amplitude and variation. They stood alone; and strange hiatuses appeared within their literature. It was bound by no rich unconscious sense of the land, its contours, its beauty, its inalterable character, as English literature is closely bound. No deeply cut, enduring types were drawn, no living society fully evoked. A young people might have been expected to produce a literature greatly concerned with the present and the tangible; but this expression was often concerned with the highly intangible; it turned continually toward the illusive province of inner fantasy. Gusto it certainly showed, even in its colder moments.
The outcome was not quite a literature but the bold outlines of one, a kind of rich urspriinglich accumulation. Its direction was its own, in the mingling of primitive elements with the indwelling and self-aware. If it failed of direct portrayals it still belonged in a large sense to poetry. The move toward the heroic, not only once, but in a whole aspect of expression, was a radical accomplishment in a modern world. Most literatures have had slowly accumulated sources upon which to draw; but the comedy which here had been a source was only broadly sketched when the first of these primary writers arose; much of their accomplishment ran parallel to the expansion of a comic poetry. It was only Melville and Whitman, coming last, who could touch this with unconscious freedom; even they fairly matched it in point of time. None of these writers could be deeply grounded in a popular lore as other literatures had been grounded in such sources. Their quick drafts, the breathless haste, may have been a final cause of incompletion. Yet comedy had deepened on the levels of literature. The touch of revolution in popular comedy was there, in the purpose to find new convictions voiced by Emerson and Whitman, in the preoccupation with strange or rebellious types who left tradition behind, belonging to all these writers. Hawthorne had it even when his approach was somber; Poe and Melville were obsessed by it. A homogeneous world of the imagination had been created in which popular fancies and those of genius were loosely knit together.