Renaissance in The New England American Literature

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      THE NEW ENGLAND RENAISSANCE.—The stern theology of the Puritans may have been absolutely necessary to make them work with a singleness and an inflexibility of purpose to lay the foundations of a mighty republic; but this very singleness of aim had led to a narrowness of culture which had starved the emotional and aesthetic nature. Art, music, literature, and the love of beauty in general had seemed reprehensible because it was thought that they took away the attention from a matter of far graver import, the salvation of the immortal soul. Now there gradually developed the conviction that these agencies not only helped to save the soul, but made it more worth saving. People began to search for the beautiful and to enjoy it in both nature and art. Emerson says:—

 "… if eyes were made for seeing,
 Then Beauty is its own excuse for being."


Renaissance in The New England American Literature
Renaissance in American Literature

      The first half of the nineteenth century saw the New Englanders engaged in a systematic attempt at self-culture, to an extent never before witnessed in America and rarely elsewhere. Many with an income barely sufficient for comfortable living set aside a fund for purchasing books before anything else. Emerson could even write to Carlyle that all the bright girls in New England wanted something better than morning calls and evening parties, and that a life of mere trade did not promise satisfaction to the boys.

      In 1800 there were few foreign books in Boston, but the interest in them developed to such an extent that Hawthorne's father-in-law and sister-in-law, Dr. and Miss Peabody, started a foreign bookstore and reading room. Longfellow made many beautiful translations from foreign poetry. In 1840 Emerson said that he had read in the original fifty-five volumes of Goethe. Emerson superintended the publication in America of Carlyle's early writings, which together with some of Coleridge's works introduced many to German philosophy and idealism.

      In this era, New England's recovery from emotional and aesthetic starvation was rapid. Her poets and prose writers produced a literature in which beauty, power, and knowledge were often combined, and they found a cultivated audience to furnish a welcome.

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