Historical Facts: of The New England American Literature

Also Read

      As might be inferred from the literature of this period—from Whittier's early poems, Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Lowell's The Biglow Papers, and from emphatic statements in Emerson and Thoreau—the question of slavery was the most vital one of the time. From 1849, when California, recently settled by gold seekers, applied for admission as a state, with a constitution forbidding slavery, until the end of the Civil War in 1865, slavery was the irrepressible issue of the republic. The Fugitive Slave Law, which was passed in 1850 to secure the return of slaves from any part of the United States, was very unpopular at the North and did much to hasten the war, as did also the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case (1857), affirming that slaves were property, not persons, and could be moved the same as cattle from one state to another. Various compromise measures between the North and the South were vainly tried. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, South Carolina led the South in seceding from the Union. In 1861 began the Civil War, which lasted four years and resulted in the restoration of the Union and the freeing of the slaves.

Historical Facts: of The New England American Literature
Historical Facts: of The New England Literature

      Before Holmes, the last member of this New England group, died in 1894, both North and South had more than regained the material prosperity which they had enjoyed before the war. The natural resources of the country were so great and the energy of her sons so remarkable that not only was the waste of property soon repaired, but a degree of prosperity was reached which would probably never have been possible without the war. More than one million human beings perished in the strife. Many of these were from the more cultured and intellectual classes on both sides. Centuries will not repair that waste of creative ability in either section. France, after the lapse of more than two hundred years, is still suffering from the loss of her Huguenots. It is impossible to compute what American literature has lost as a result of this war, not only from the double waste involved in turning the energies of men to destruction and subsequently to the necessary repairs, but also from the sacrifice of life of those who might have displayed genius with the pen or furnished an encouraging audience to the gifted ones who did not speak because there were none to hear.

      The development of inventions during this period revolutionized the world's progress. Cities in various parts of the country had begun to communicate with each other by electricity, when Thoreau was living at Walden; when Emerson was writing the second series of his Essays; Longfellow, his lines about cares "folding their tents like the Arabs and as silently stealing away"; Lowell, his verses To the Dandelion; and Holmes, his complaint that his humor was diminishing his practice. By the time that Longfellow had finished The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Holmes The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, messages had been cabled across the Atlantic. A comparison with an event of the preceding period will show the importance of this method of communication. The treaty of peace to end the last war with England was signed in Belgium, December 24, 1814. On January 8, 1815, the bloody battle of New Orleans was fought. News of this fight did not reach Washington until February 4. A week later information of the treaty of peace was received at New York. A new process of welding the world together had begun, and this welding was further strengthened by the invention of that modern miracle, the telephone, in 1876.

      The result of the battle between the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimac (1862), led to a change in the navies of the entire world. Alaska was bought in 1867, and added an area more than two thirds as large as the United States comprised in 1783. The improvement and extension of education, the interest in social reform, the beginning of the decline of the "let alone doctrine," the shortening of the hours of labor, and the consequent increase in time for self-improvement,—are all especially important steps of progress in this period.

      Authors could no longer complain of small audiences. At the outbreak of the Civil War the United States had a population of thirty-one millions, while the combined population of Great Britain and Ireland was then only twenty-nine millions. Before Holmes passed away in 1894 the population of 1860 had doubled. The passage of an international copyright law in 1891 at last freed American authors from the necessity of competing with pirated editions of foreign works.

Previous Post Next Post