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NATIONALISM IN AMERICAN LITERATURE HARRY HAYDEN CLARK V ERY beautiful, within reasonable llmits, is man's love of the familiar and ~he local, and certainly American literature would be poor without those who have .ce1ebrated the forests and fields, the ·hearths and homes, the aspirations and victories, of th~ fatherland. Like everything else, however, this love of the local is a matter of proportion. And one rnay well raise the question whether, during the last half century, under the auspices of science, den1ocracy, and realistic literary theories, American literature has not continued to grow disproportionately national, disproportionately concerned with scenes and situations exclusively local and American. This tendency is evident in the work of such writers as Whitman, Howel1s, and Garland, not to mention contemporaries such as Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis; this tendency is ' encouraged, and its extension urged and prophesie~, by such critics as John . Macy, Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Lewis Mumford, Vernon Parrington, and Fred Lewis Pattee. Indeed, Dr. Pattee, surveying the last forty years, concludes , that illiterature 'during this single generation of marvellous change departed so widely from all that had gone before that it stands alone and unique, that the soul of it and the driving power of it were born in the new areas beyond the Alleganies." .What is the history of ' the problem whether Ameri-can Iiterature should be unique and distinctively national? VVhat are the advantages and disadvantages of this quest of the unique rather than the universal, of the changing Many rather than the 492 NATIONALISM IN Al\1ERICAN LITERATURE unchanging One, our common humanity? With regard to this question American liter'ary history appears to fall into three periods. Writers of and in1mediately following the Revolution agreed with Brockden Brown that "native writers" should deal with scenes "peculiar to ourselves ... growing out of the conditions of our own country." Writers of the 'Golden Day agreed with Longfellow that ({nationality is a good thing to a certain extent, but ~niversality is better." And contempo~aries of RamEn Garland agreed with him, for the mos't part, in holding that ','American literature, in order to be great, must be national; must deal with conditions peculiar t'o our own land and climate." , IIi short, one is tempted to raise the question whether, with certain qualifications, those recent critics who have masqueraded as prophets of a national culture have not led us back, essentially, to the provincialism which marked the adolescence of the nation. The wheel seems to have come full circle, and it may be time to look to other critical guides in our quest for a literature which wiil endure and for a way of life which will yield happiness. First, let us glan~e at the similarity between llterary theorizers of the Revolutionary Era and those of to-day. To eighteenth-century Europe~ America was a land of drean1s, promising, among other things, a new an'd greater literature: as George Berkdey wrote in 1726, The Muse, disgusted at an age and clime Barren of every glorious theme, In distant lands now waits a bette~ time, Producing subjects worthy fame. There shall be sung another golden age, The rise of empire and of arts, 493 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY The good and great, inspiring ,epic rage, The wisest heads and noblest hearts. Westward the course of empire takes its way. Since, as Crevecoeur said in defining an American, he is a "new man who acts, upon new principles," a member of "the most perfect society now existing in the world/' it was obvious that America must have a new · literature, untainted by the past. Thus Philip Freneau,. our first man-of-letters, exclaimed, with reference to the Mother Country, . Can we never be thought to have learning or grace Unless it be brought from that damnable place? And yet it was in part England's deistic faithI that divine revelation is found in physical nature-instead of in a book, as the Puritaris thought-which turned our first poet to the actual life of the American fields and forests, to the common man, and to our struggle far an independent democracy, glowingly envisaged in The·Rising Glory...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 492-519
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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