Western Literature in American Literary Movement

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      THE NEWNESS OF THE WEST.-It is difficult for the young of to-day to realize that Wisconsin and Iowa were not states when Hawthorne published his Twice Told Tales (1837), that Lowell's The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848) was finished ten years before Minnesota became a state, that Longfellow's Hiawatha (1855) appeared six years before the admission of Kansas, and Holmes's The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), nine years before the admission of Nebraska. In 1861 Mark Twain went to the West in a primitive stagecoach. Bret Harte had finished The Luck of Roaring Camp (1868) before San Francisco was reached by a transcontinental railroad.

Western Literature in American Literary Movement
Western Literature of American

      Even after the early pioneers had done their work, the population of the leading states of the West underwent too rapid a change for quick assimilation. Between 1870 and 1880 the population of Minnesota increased 77 per cent; Kansas, 173 per cent; Nebraska, 267 per cent. This population was mostly agricultural, and it was busy subduing the soil and getting creature comforts.

      Mark Twain says of the advance guard of the pioneers who went to the far West to conquer this new country:—

 "It was the only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together, and it is not likely that the world will ever see its like again. For, observe, it was an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men—not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves, brimful of push and energy, and royally endowed with every attribute that goes to make up a peerless and magnificent manhood—the very pick and choice of the world's glorious ones." [Footnote: Roughing It.]

      In even as recent a period as the twenty years from 1880 to 1900, the population of Minnesota increased 124 per cent; Nebraska, 135 per cent; and Colorado, 177 per cent. This increase indicates something of the strenuous work necessary on the physical side to prepare comfortable permanent homes in the country, town, and city, and to plan and execute the other material adaptations necessary for progressive civilized life and trade. It is manifest that such a period of stress is not favorable to the development of literature. Although the population of California increased 60 per cent and that of the state of Washington 120 per cent between 1900 and 1910, the extreme stress, due to pioneer life and to rapid increase in population, has already abated in the vast majority of places throughout the West, which is rapidly becoming as stable as any other section of the country.

      THE DEMOCRATIC SPIRIT.—In settling the West, everybody worked shoulder to shoulder. There were no privileged classes to be excepted from the common toils and privations. All met on common ground, shared each other's troubles, and assisted each other in difficult work. All were outspoken and championed their own opinions without restraint. At few times in the history of the civilized world has the home been a more independent unit. Never have pioneers been more self-reliant, more able to cope with difficulties, more determined to have their rights.

      This democratic spirit is reflected in the works of western authors. It made Mark Twain the champion of the weak, the impartial upholder of justice to the Maid of Orleans, to a slave, or to a vivisected dog. It made him join the school of Cervantes and puncture the hypocrisy of pretension in classes or individuals. The Clemens family had believed in the aristocracy of slavery, but the great democratic spirit of the West molded Mark Twain as a growing boy. All the characters of worth in the great stories of his young life are democratic. The son of the drunkard, the slave mother, the crowds on the steamboats, the far western pioneers, belong to the great democracy of man.

      Abraham Lincoln owes his fame in oratory to this democratic spirit, to the feeling that prompted him to say, "With malice toward none; with charity for all." Bret Harte's world-famous short stories picture the rough mining camps. Eugene Field is a poet of that age of universal democracy, the age of childhood. The poetry of James Whitcomb Riley is popular because it speaks directly to the common human heart.

      Although the West has already begun a period of greater repose, she has been fortunate to retain an Elizabethan enthusiasm and interest in many-sided life. This quality, so apparent in much of the work discussed in this chapter, is full of virile promise for the future.

      Lincoln spoke to the common people in simple virile English, which serves as a model for the students of Oxford University. Bret Harte wrote stories filled with the humor and the pathos of the rough mining camps of the far West. Eugene Field's simple songs appeal to all children. The virtues of humble homes, the smiles and tears of everyday life, are presented in James Whitcomb Riley's poems. Mark Twain, philosopher, reformer of the type of Cervantes, and romantic historian, has, largely by means of his humor, made a vivid impression on millions of Americans. Every member of this group had an unusual development of humor. Each one was imbued with the democratic spirit and eager to present the elemental facts of life. For these reasons, the audiences of this group have been numbered by millions.

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