History of Literature









American literature

 

CONTENTS:

The 17th century

The 18th century

Early 19th-century literature

From the Civil War to 1914

The 20th century. Writing from 1914 to 1945

The 20th century. After World War II



 

 


American literature
 

 


From the Civil War to 1914
 

 

 

 

Bret Harte
Harriet Beecher Stowe
William Sydney Porter ("O. Henry")

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
"The Prince and the Pauper"
Chapter I-IV, Chapter V-VII, Chapter VIII-XI,
Chapter XII-XIV, Chapter XV-XVII, Chapter XVIII-XXI,
Chapter XXII-XXVI, Chapter XXVII-XXXI, Chapter XXXII-XXXIII


William Dean Howells
Hamlin Garland
Theodore Dreiser

Jack London
Stephen Crane
Frank Norris
Henry James
Upton Sinclair
Henry Adams

Emily Dickinson "Poems"

Charles Sanders Peirce
William James
Bordon Parker Bowne
John Dewey

 

 

 

 

 


 

From the Civil War to 1914


Like the Revolution and the election of Andrew Jackson, the Civil War was a turning point in U.S. history and a beginning of new ways of living. Industry became increasingly important, factories rose and cities grew, and agrarian preeminence declined. The frontier, which before had always been an important factor in the economic scheme, moved steadily westward and, toward the end of the 19th century, vanished. The rise of modern America was accompanied, naturally, by important mutations in literature.



Literary comedians

Although they continued to employ some devices of the older American humorists, a group of comic writers that rose to prominence was different in important ways from the older group. Charles Farrar Browne, David Ross Locke, Charles Henry Smith, Henry Wheeler Shaw, and Edgar Wilson Nye wrote, respectively, as Artemus Ward, Petroleum V. (for Vesuvius) Nasby, Bill Arp, Josh Billings, and Bill Nye. Appealing to a national audience, these authors forsook the sectional characterizations of earlier humorists and assumed the roles of less individualized literary comedians. The nature of the humour thus shifted from character portrayal to verbal devices such as poor grammar, bad spelling, and slang, incongruously combined with Latinate words and learned allusions. Most that they wrote wore badly, but thousands of Americans in their time and some in later times found these authors vastly amusing.
 



Fiction and local colourists

The first group of fiction writers to become popular—the local colourists—took over to some extent the task of portraying sectional groups that had been abandoned by writers of the new humour. Bret Harte, first of these writers to achieve wide success, admitted an indebtedness to prewar sectional humorists, as did some others; and all showed resemblances to the earlier group.

Within a brief period, books by pioneers in the movement appeared: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Oldtown Folks (1869) and Sam Lawson’s Oldtown Fireside Stories (1871), delightful vignettes of New England; Harte’s Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches (1870), humorous and sentimental tales of California mining camp life; and Edward Eggleston’s Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871), a novel of the early days of the settlement of Indiana. Down into the 20th century, short stories (and a relatively small number of novels) in patterns set by these three continued to appear. In time, practically every corner of the country had been portrayed in local-colour fiction. Additional writings were the depictions of Louisiana Creoles by George W. Cable, of Virginia blacks by Thomas Nelson Page, of Georgia blacks by Joel Chandler Harris, of Tennessee mountaineers by Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock), of tight-lipped folk of New England by Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, of people of New York City by Henry Cuyler Bunner and William Sydney Porter (“O. Henry”). The avowed aim of some of these writers was to portray realistically the lives of various sections and thus to promote understanding in a united nation. The stories as a rule were only partially realistic, however, since the authors tended nostalgically to revisit the past instead of portraying their own time, to winnow out less glamorous aspects of life, or to develop their stories with sentiment or humour. Touched by romance though they were, these fictional works were transitional to realism, for they did portray common folk sympathetically; they did concern themselves with dialect and mores; and some at least avoided older sentimental or romantic formulas.
 


Bret Harte



 

Bret Harte, original name Francis Brett Harte (b. Aug. 25, 1836, Albany, N.Y., U.S.—d. May 5, 1902, London, Eng.), American writer who helped create the local-colour school in American fiction.

Harte’s family settled in New York City and Brooklyn in 1845. His education was spotty and irregular, but he inherited a love of books and managed to get some verses published at age 11. In 1854 he left for California and went into mining country on a brief trip that legend has expanded into a lengthy participation in, and intimate knowledge of, camp life. In 1857 he was employed by the Northern Californian, a weekly paper. There his support of Indians and Mexicans proved unpopular; after a massacre of Indians in 1860, which he editorially deplored, he found it advisable to leave town.

Returning to San Francisco, he was married and began to write for the Golden Era, which published the first of his Condensed Novels, brilliant parodies of James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and others. He then became a clerk in the U.S. branch mint, a job that allowed freedom for editorship of the Californian, for which he engaged Mark Twain to write weekly articles.

In 1868, after publishing a series of Spanish legends akin to Washington Irving’s Alhambra, he was named editor of the Overland Monthly. For it he wrote “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Following The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches (1870), he found himself world famous. He furthered his reputation with “Plain Language from Truthful James” (1870), better known as “The Heathen Chinee,” a poem that attracted national attention. On it he based his best play, Ah Sin (1877), a collaboration with Twain.

Flushed with success, Harte in 1871 signed with The Atlantic Monthly for $10,000 for 12 stories a year, the highest figure offered an American writer up to that time. Resigning a professorship at the University of California, Harte left for the East, never to return. In New England he was greeted as an equal by the writers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William Dean Howells, and was lionized and toasted to the point of spiritual and moral breakdown. With personal and family difficulties, his work slumped. After several years of indifferent success on the lecture circuit, Harte in 1878 accepted consulships in Crefeld, Ger., and later in Glasgow, Scot. In 1885 he retired to London. His wife and family joined him at wide intervals, but he never returned to the United States.

He found in England a ready audience for his tales of a past or mythical California long after American readers had tired of his formula. “Ingénue of the Sierras” and “A Protégée of Jack Hamlin’s” (both 1893) are perhaps better than his earlier stories.
 

 

 


Harriet Beecher Stowe



 

Harriet Beecher Stowe, née Harriet Elizabeth Beecher (b. June 14, 1811, Litchfield, Conn., U.S.—d. July 1, 1896, Hartford, Conn.), American writer and philanthropist, the author of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which contributed so much to popular feeling against slavery that it is cited among the causes of the American Civil War.

Harriet Beecher was a member of one of the 19th century’s most remarkable families. The daughter of the prominent Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher and the sister of Catharine, Henry Ward, and Edward, she grew up in an atmosphere of learning and moral earnestness. She attended her sister Catharine’s school in Hartford, Conn., in 1824–27, thereafter teaching at the school. In 1832 she accompanied Catharine and their father to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became president of Lane Theological Seminary and she taught at another school founded by her sister.

In Cincinnati she took an active part in the literary and school life, contributing stories and sketches to local journals and compiling a school geography, until the school closed in 1836. That same year she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a clergyman and seminary professor, who encouraged her literary activity and was himself an eminent biblical scholar. She wrote continually and in 1843 published The Mayflower; or, Sketches of Scenes and Characters Among the Descendants of the Pilgrims.

Stowe lived for 18 years in Cincinnati, separated only by the Ohio River from a slave-holding community; she came in contact with fugitive slaves and learned about life in the South from friends and from her own visits there. In 1850 her husband became professor at Bowdoin College and the family moved to Brunswick, Maine.

There Harriet Stowe began to write a long tale of slavery, based on her reading of abolitionist literature and on her personal observations in Ohio and Kentucky. Her tale was published serially (1851–52) in the National Era, an antislavery paper of Washington, D.C.; in 1852 it appeared in book form as Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. The book was an immediate sensation and was taken up eagerly by abolitionists while, along with its author, it was vehemently denounced in the South, where reading or possessing the book became an extremely dangerous enterprise. With sales of 300,000 in the first year, the book exerted an influence equaled by few other novels in history, helping to solidify both pro- and antislavery sentiment. The book was translated widely and several times dramatized (the first time, in 1852, without Stowe’s permission), where it played to capacity audiences. Stowe was enthusiastically received on a visit to England in 1853, and there she formed friendships with many leading literary figures. In that same year she published A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a compilation of documents and testimonies in support of disputed details of her indictment of slavery.

In 1856 she published Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, in which she depicted the deterioration of a society resting on a slave basis. When The Atlantic Monthly was established the following year, she found a ready vehicle for her writings; she also found outlets in the Independent of New York City and later the Christian Union, of which papers her brother Henry Ward Beecher was editor.

She thereafter led the life of a woman of letters, writing novels, of which The Minister’s Wooing (1859) is best known, many studies of social life in both fiction and essay, and a small volume of religious poems. An article she published in The Atlantic in 1869, in which she alleged that Lord Byron had had an incestuous affair with his half-sister, created an uproar in England and cost her much of her popularity there, but she remained a leading author and lyceum lecturer in the United States. Late in her life she assisted her son Charles E. Stowe on a biography of her, which appeared in 1889. Stowe had moved to Hartford in 1864, and she largely remained there until her death.
 

 

 



William Sydney Porter (“O. Henry”)


O. Henry, pseudonym of William Sydney Porter (b. Sept. 11, 1862, Greensboro, N.C., U.S.—d. June 5, 1910, New York, N.Y.), American short-story writer whose tales romanticized the commonplace—in particular the life of ordinary people in New York City. His stories expressed the effect of coincidence on character through humour, grim or ironic, and often had surprise endings, a device that became identified with his name and cost him critical favour when its vogue had passed.

Porter attended a school taught by his aunt, then clerked in his uncle’s drugstore. In 1882 he went to Texas, where he worked on a ranch, in a general land office, and later as teller in the First National Bank in Austin. He began writing sketches at about the time of his marriage to Athol Estes in 1887, and in 1894 he started a humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone. When that venture failed, Porter joined the Houston Post as reporter, columnist, and occasional cartoonist.

In February 1896 he was indicted for embezzlement of bank funds. Friends aided his flight to Honduras. News of his wife’s fatal illness, however, took him back to Austin, and lenient authorities did not press his case until after her death. When convicted, Porter received the lightest sentence possible, and in 1898 he entered the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio; his sentence was shortened to three years and three months for good behaviour. As night druggist in the prison hospital, he could write to earn money for support of his daughter Margaret. His stories of adventure in the southwest U.S. and Central America were immediately popular with magazine readers, and when he emerged from prison W.S. Porter had become O. Henry.

In 1902 O. Henry arrived in New York—his “Bagdad on the Subway.” From December 1903 to January 1906 he produced a story a week for the New York World, writing also for magazines. His first book, Cabbages and Kings (1904), depicted fantastic characters against exotic Honduran backgrounds. Both The Four Million (1906) and The Trimmed Lamp (1907) explored the lives of the multitude of New York in their daily routines and searchings for romance and adventure. Heart of the West (1907) presented accurate and fascinating tales of the Texas range.

Then in rapid succession came The Voice of the City (1908), The Gentle Grafter (1908), Roads of Destiny (1909), Options (1909), Strictly Business (1910), and Whirligigs (1910). Whirligigs contains perhaps Porter’s funniest story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

Despite his popularity, O. Henry’s final years were marred by ill health, a desperate financial struggle, and alcoholism. A second marriage in 1907 was unhappy. After his death three more collected volumes appeared: Sixes and Sevens (1911), Rolling Stones (1912), and Waifs and Strays (1917). Later seven fugitive stories and poems, O. Henryana (1920), Letters to Lithopolis (1922), and two collections of his early work on the Houston Post, Postscripts (1923) and O. Henry Encore (1939), were published. Foreign translations and adaptations for other art forms, including films and television, attest his universal application and appeal.
 





Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
was allied with literary comedians and local colourists. As a printer’s apprentice, he knew and emulated the prewar sectional humorists. He rose to prominence in days when Artemus Ward, Bret Harte, and their followers were idols of the public. His first books, The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Roughing It (1872), like several of later periods, were travel books in which affiliations with postwar professional humorists were clearest. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), his best works, which re-created the life of the Mississippi valley in the past, were closest to the work of older humorists and local colourists. Even in his best work, however, he succumbed now and then to the temptation to play the buffoon or sink into burlesque. Despite his flaws, he was one of America’s greatest writers. He was a very funny man. He had more skill than his teachers in selecting evocative details, and he had a genius for characterization.
 

Born and raised in Ohio, William Dean Howells was an effective advocate of a new realistic mode of fiction writing. At the start, Howells conceived of realism as a truthful portrayal of ordinary facets of life—with some limitations; he preferred comedy to tragedy, and he tended to be reticent to the point of prudishness. The formula was displayed at its best in Their Wedding Journey (1872), A Modern Instance (1882), and The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885). Howells preferred novels he wrote after he encountered Tolstoy’s writings and was persuaded by them, as he said, to “set art forever below humanity.” In such later novels as Annie Kilburn (1888) and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), he chose characters not only because they were commonplace but also because the stories he told about them were commentaries upon society, government, and economics.
 


Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

"The Prince and the Pauper"
Chapter I-IV, Chapter V-VII, Chapter VIII-XI,
Chapter XII-XIV, Chapter XV-XVII, Chapter XVIII-XXI,
Chapter XXII-XXVI, Chapter XXVII-XXXI, Chapter XXXII-XXXIII





 

American writer
pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens

born Nov. 30, 1835, Florida, Mo., U.S.
died April 21, 1910, Redding, Conn.

Main
American humorist, journalist, lecturer, and novelist who acquired international fame for his travel narratives, especially The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), and Life on the Mississippi (1883), and for his adventure stories of boyhood, especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). A gifted raconteur, distinctive humorist, and irascible moralist, he transcended the apparent limitations of his origins to become a popular public figure and one of America’s best and most beloved writers.

Youth
Samuel Clemens, the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Moffit Clemens, was born two months prematurely and was in relatively poor health for the first 10 years of his life. His mother tried various allopathic and hydropathic remedies on him during those early years, and his recollections of those instances (along with other memories of his growing up) would eventually find their way into Tom Sawyer and other writings. Because he was sickly, Clemens was often coddled, particularly by his mother, and he developed early the tendency to test her indulgence through mischief, offering only his good nature as bond for the domestic crimes he was apt to commit. When Jane Clemens was in her 80s, Clemens asked her about his poor health in those early years: “I suppose that during that whole time you were uneasy about me?” “Yes, the whole time,” she answered. “Afraid I wouldn’t live?” “No,” she said, “afraid you would.”

Insofar as Clemens could be said to have inherited his sense of humour, it would have come from his mother, not his father. John Clemens, by all reports, was a serious man who seldom demonstrated affection. No doubt his temperament was affected by his worries over his financial situation, made all the more distressing by a series of business failures. It was the diminishing fortunes of the Clemens family that led them in 1839 to move 30 miles (50 km) east from Florida, Mo., to the Mississippi River port town of Hannibal, where there were greater opportunities. John Clemens opened a store and eventually became a justice of the peace, which entitled him to be called “Judge” but not to a great deal more. In the meantime, the debts accumulated. Still, John Clemens believed the Tennessee land he had purchased in the late 1820s (some 70,000 acres [28,000 hectares]) might one day make them wealthy, and this prospect cultivated in the children a dreamy hope. Late in his life, Twain reflected on this promise that became a curse:

It put our energies to sleep and made visionaries of us—dreamers and indolent.…It is good to begin life poor; it is good to begin life rich—these are wholesome; but to begin it prospectively rich! The man who has not experienced it cannot imagine the curse of it.

Judging from his own speculative ventures in silver mining, business, and publishing, it was a curse that Sam Clemens never quite outgrew.

Perhaps it was the romantic visionary in him that caused Clemens to recall his youth in Hannibal with such fondness. As he remembered it in Old Times on the Mississippi (1875), the village was a “white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning,” until the arrival of a riverboat suddenly made it a hive of activity. The gamblers, stevedores, and pilots, the boisterous raftsmen and elegant travelers, all bound for somewhere surely glamorous and exciting, would have impressed a young boy and stimulated his already active imagination. And the lives he might imagine for these living people could easily be embroidered by the romantic exploits he read in the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Sir Walter Scott, and others. Those same adventures could be reenacted with his companions as well, and Clemens and his friends did play at being pirates, Robin Hood, and other fabled adventurers. Among those companions was Tom Blankenship, an affable but impoverished boy whom Twain later identified as the model for the character Huckleberry Finn. There were local diversions as well—fishing, picnicking, and swimming. A boy might swim or canoe to and explore Glasscock’s Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River, or he might visit the labyrinthine McDowell’s Cave, about 2 miles (3 km) south of town. The first site evidently became Jackson’s Island in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; the second became McDougal’s Cave in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the summers, Clemens visited his uncle John Quarles’s farm, near Florida, Mo., where he played with his cousins and listened to stories told by the slave Uncle Daniel, who served, in part, as a model for Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

It is not surprising that the pleasant events of youth, filtered through the softening lens of memory, might outweigh disturbing realities. However, in many ways the childhood of Samuel Clemens was a rough one. Death from disease during this time was common. His sister Margaret died of a fever when Clemens was not yet four years old; three years later his brother Benjamin died. When he was eight, a measles epidemic (potentially lethal in those days) was so frightening to him that he deliberately exposed himself to infection by climbing into bed with his friend Will Bowen in order to relieve the anxiety. A cholera epidemic a few years later killed at least 24 people, a substantial number for a small town. In 1847 Clemens’s father died of pneumonia. John Clemens’s death contributed further to the family’s financial instability. Even before that year, however, continuing debts had forced them to auction off property, to sell their only slave, Jennie, to take in boarders, even to sell their furniture.

Apart from family worries, the social environment was hardly idyllic. Missouri was a slave state, and, though the young Clemens had been reassured that chattel slavery was an institution approved by God, he nevertheless carried with him memories of cruelty and sadness that he would reflect upon in his maturity. Then there was the violence of Hannibal itself. One evening in 1844 Clemens discovered a corpse in his father’s office; it was the body of a California emigrant who had been stabbed in a quarrel and was placed there for the inquest. In January 1845 Clemens watched a man die in the street after he had been shot by a local merchant; this incident provided the basis for the Boggs shooting in Huckleberry Finn. Two years later he witnessed the drowning of one of his friends, and only a few days later, when he and some friends were fishing on Sny Island, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, they discovered the drowned and mutilated body of a fugitive slave. As it turned out, Tom Blankenship’s older brother Bence had been secretly taking food to the runaway slave for some weeks before the slave was apparently discovered and killed. Bence’s act of courage and kindness served in some measure as a model for Huck’s decision to help the fugitive Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

After the death of his father, Sam Clemens worked at several odd jobs in town, and in 1848 he became a printer’s apprentice for Joseph P. Ament’s Missouri Courier. He lived sparingly in the Ament household but was allowed to continue his schooling and, from time to time, indulge in boyish amusements. Nevertheless, by the time Clemens was 13, his boyhood had effectively come to an end.


Apprenticeships
In 1850 the oldest Clemens boy, Orion, returned from St. Louis, Mo., and began to publish a weekly newspaper. A year later he bought the Hannibal Journal, and Sam and his younger brother Henry worked for him. Sam became more than competent as a typesetter, but he also occasionally contributed sketches and articles to his brother’s paper. Some of those early sketches, such as The Dandy Frightening the Squatter (1852), appeared in Eastern newspapers and periodicals. In 1852, acting as the substitute editor while Orion was out of town, Clemens signed a sketch “W. Epaminondas Adrastus Perkins.” This was his first known use of a pseudonym, and there would be several more (Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Quintius Curtius Snodgrass, Josh, and others) before he adopted, permanently, the pen name Mark Twain.

Having acquired a trade by age 17, Clemens left Hannibal in 1853 with some degree of self-sufficiency. For almost two decades he would be an itinerant labourer, trying many occupations. It was not until he was 37, he once remarked, that he woke up to discover he had become a “literary person.” In the meantime, he was intent on seeing the world and exploring his own possibilities. He worked briefly as a typesetter in St. Louis in 1853 before traveling to New York City to work at a large printing shop. From there he went to Philadelphia and on to Washington, D.C.; then he returned to New York, only to find work hard to come by because of fires that destroyed two publishing houses. During his time in the East, which lasted until early 1854, he read widely and took in the sights of these cities. He was acquiring, if not a worldly air, at least a broader perspective than that offered by his rural background. And Clemens continued to write, though without firm literary ambitions, occasionally publishing letters in his brother’s new newspaper. Orion had moved briefly to Muscatine, Iowa, with their mother, where he had established the Muscatine Journal before relocating to Keokuk, Iowa, and opening a printing shop there. Sam Clemens joined his brother in Keokuk in 1855 and was a partner in the business for a little over a year, but he then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work as a typesetter. Still restless and ambitious, he booked passage in 1857 on a steamboat bound for New Orleans, La., planning to find his fortune in South America. Instead, he saw a more immediate opportunity and persuaded the accomplished riverboat captain Horace Bixby to take him on as an apprentice.

Having agreed to pay a $500 apprentice fee, Clemens studied the Mississippi River and the operation of a riverboat under the masterful instruction of Bixby, with an eye toward obtaining a pilot’s license. (Clemens paid Bixby $100 down and promised to pay the remainder of the substantial fee in installments, something he evidently never managed to do.) Bixby did indeed “learn”—a word Twain insisted on—him the river, but the young man was an apt pupil as well. Because Bixby was an exceptional pilot and had a license to navigate the Missouri River and the upper as well as the lower Mississippi, lucrative opportunities several times took him upstream. On those occasions, Clemens was transferred to other veteran pilots and thereby learned the profession more quickly and thoroughly than he might have otherwise. The profession of riverboat pilot was, as he confessed many years later in Old Times on the Mississippi, the most congenial one he had ever followed. Not only did a pilot receive good wages and enjoy universal respect, but he was absolutely free and self-sufficient: “a pilot, in those days, was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth,” he wrote. Clemens enjoyed the rank and dignity that came with the position; he belonged, both informally and officially, to a group of men whose acceptance he cherished; and—by virtue of his membership in the Western Boatman’s Benevolent Association, obtained soon after he earned his pilot’s license in 1859—he participated in a true “meritocracy” of the sort he admired and would dramatize many years later in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Clemens’s years on the river were eventful in other ways. He met and fell in love with Laura Wright, eight years his junior. The courtship dissolved in a misunderstanding, but she remained the remembered sweetheart of his youth. He also arranged a job for his younger brother Henry on the riverboat Pennsylvania. The boilers exploded, however, and Henry was fatally injured. Clemens was not on board when the accident occurred, but he blamed himself for the tragedy. His experience as a cub and then as a full-fledged pilot gave him a sense of discipline and direction he might never have acquired elsewhere. Before this period his had been a directionless knockabout life; afterward he had a sense of determined possibility. He continued to write occasional pieces throughout these years and, in one satirical sketch, River Intelligence (1859), lampooned the self-important senior pilot Isaiah Sellers, whose observations of the Mississippi were published in a New Orleans newspaper. Clemens and the other “starchy boys,” as he once described his fellow riverboat pilots in a letter to his wife, had no particular use for this nonunion man, but Clemens did envy what he later recalled to be Sellers’s delicious pen name, Mark Twain.

The Civil War severely curtailed river traffic, and, fearing that he might be impressed as a Union gunboat pilot, Clemens brought his years on the river to a halt a mere two years after he had acquired his license. He returned to Hannibal, where he joined the prosecessionist Marion Rangers, a ragtag lot of about a dozen men. After only two uneventful weeks, during which the soldiers mostly retreated from Union troops rumoured to be in the vicinity, the group disbanded. A few of the men joined other Confederate units, and the rest, along with Clemens, scattered. Twain would recall this experience, a bit fuzzily and with some fictional embellishments, in The Private History of the Campaign That Failed (1885). In that memoir he extenuated his history as a deserter on the grounds that he was not made for soldiering. Like the fictional Huckleberry Finn, whose narrative he was to publish in 1885, Clemens then lit out for the territory. Huck Finn intends to escape to the Indian country, probably Oklahoma; Clemens accompanied his brother Orion to the Nevada Territory.

Clemens’s own political sympathies during the war are obscure. It is known at any rate that Orion Clemens was deeply involved in Republican Party politics and in Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for the U.S. presidency, and it was as a reward for those efforts that he was appointed territorial secretary of Nevada. Upon their arrival in Carson City, the territorial capital, Sam Clemens’s association with Orion did not provide him the sort of livelihood he might have supposed, and, once again, he had to shift for himself—mining and investing in timber and silver and gold stocks, oftentimes “prospectively rich,” but that was all. Clemens submitted several letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and these attracted the attention of the editor, Joseph Goodman, who offered him a salaried job as a reporter. He was again embarked on an apprenticeship, in the hearty company of a group of writers sometimes called the Sagebrush Bohemians, and again he succeeded.

The Nevada Territory was a rambunctious and violent place during the boom years of the Comstock Lode, from its discovery in 1859 to its peak production in the late 1870s. Nearby Virginia City was known for its gambling and dance halls, its breweries and whiskey mills, its murders, riots, and political corruption. Years later Twain recalled the town in a public lecture: “It was no place for a Presbyterian,” he said. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added, “And I did not remain one very long.” Nevertheless, he seems to have retained something of his moral integrity. He was often indignant and prone to expose fraud and corruption when he found them. This was a dangerous indulgence, for violent retribution was not uncommon.

In February 1863 Clemens covered the legislative session in Carson City and wrote three letters for the Enterprise. He signed them “Mark Twain.” Apparently the mistranscription of a telegram misled Clemens to believe that the pilot Isaiah Sellers had died and that his cognomen was up for grabs. Clemens seized it. (See Researcher’s Note: Origins of the name Mark Twain.) It would be several years before this pen name would acquire the firmness of a full-fledged literary persona, however. In the meantime, he was discovering by degrees what it meant to be a “literary person.”

Already he was acquiring a reputation outside the territory. Some of his articles and sketches had appeared in New York papers, and he became the Nevada correspondent for the San Francisco Morning Call. In 1864, after challenging the editor of a rival newspaper to a duel and then fearing the legal consequences for this indiscretion, he left Virginia City for San Francisco and became a full-time reporter for the Call. Finding that work tiresome, he began contributing to the Golden Era and the new literary magazine the Californian, edited by Bret Harte. After he published an article expressing his fiery indignation at police corruption in San Francisco, and after a man with whom he associated was arrested in a brawl, Clemens decided it prudent to leave the city for a time. He went to the Tuolumne foothills to do some mining. It was there that he heard the story of a jumping frog. The story was widely known, but it was new to Clemens, and he took notes for a literary representation of the tale. When the humorist Artemus Ward invited him to contribute something for a book of humorous sketches, Clemens decided to write up the story. Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog arrived too late to be included in the volume, but it was published in the New York Saturday Press in November 1865 and was subsequently reprinted throughout the country. “Mark Twain” had acquired sudden celebrity, and Sam Clemens was following in his wake.


Literary maturity
The next few years were important for Clemens. After he had finished writing the jumping-frog story but before it was published, he declared in a letter to Orion that he had a “ ‘call’ to literature of a low order—i.e. humorous. It is nothing to be proud of,” he continued, “but it is my strongest suit.” However much he might deprecate his calling, it appears that he was committed to making a professional career for himself. He continued to write for newspapers, traveling to Hawaii for the Sacramento Union and also writing for New York newspapers, but he apparently wanted to become something more than a journalist. He went on his first lecture tour, speaking mostly on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1866. It was a success, and for the rest of his life, though he found touring grueling, he knew he could take to the lecture platform when he needed money. Meanwhile, he tried, unsuccessfully, to publish a book made up of his letters from Hawaii. His first book was in fact The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867), but it did not sell well. That same year, he moved to New York City, serving as the traveling correspondent for the San Francisco Alta California and for New York newspapers. He had ambitions to enlarge his reputation and his audience, and the announcement of a transatlantic excursion to Europe and the Holy Land provided him with just such an opportunity. The Alta paid the substantial fare in exchange for some 50 letters he would write concerning the trip. Eventually his account of the voyage was published as The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was a great success.

The trip abroad was fortuitous in another way. He met on the boat a young man named Charlie Langdon, who invited Clemens to dine with his family in New York and introduced him to his sister Olivia; the writer fell in love with her. Clemens’s courtship of Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a prosperous businessman from Elmira, N.Y., was an ardent one, conducted mostly through correspondence. They were married in February 1870. With financial assistance from Olivia’s father, Clemens bought a one-third interest in the Express of Buffalo, N.Y., and began writing a column for a New York City magazine, the Galaxy. A son, Langdon, was born in November 1870, but the boy was frail and would die of diphtheria less than two years later. Clemens came to dislike Buffalo and hoped that he and his family might move to the Nook Farm area of Hartford, Conn. In the meantime, he worked hard on a book about his experiences in the West. Roughing It was published in February 1872 and sold well. The next month, Olivia Susan (Susy) Clemens was born in Elmira. Later that year, Clemens traveled to England. Upon his return, he began work with his friend Charles Dudley Warner on a satirical novel about political and financial corruption in the United States. The Gilded Age (1873) was remarkably well received, and a play based on the most amusing character from the novel, Colonel Sellers, also became quite popular.

The Gilded Age was Twain’s first attempt at a novel, and the experience was apparently congenial enough for him to begin writing Tom Sawyer, along with his reminiscences about his days as a riverboat pilot. He also published A True Story, a moving dialect sketch told by a former slave, in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly in 1874. A second daughter, Clara, was born in June, and the Clemenses moved into their still-unfinished house in Nook Farm later the same year, counting among their neighbours Warner and the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. Old Times on the Mississippi appeared in the Atlantic in installments in 1875. The obscure journalist from the wilds of California and Nevada had arrived: he had settled down in a comfortable house with his family; he was known worldwide; his books sold well, and he was a popular favourite on the lecture tour; and his fortunes had steadily improved over the years. In the process, the journalistic and satirical temperament of the writer had, at times, become retrospective. Old Times, which would later become a portion of Life on the Mississippi, described comically, but a bit ruefully too, a way of life that would never return. The highly episodic narrative of Tom Sawyer, which recounts the mischievous adventures of a boy growing up along the Mississippi River, was coloured by a nostalgia for childhood and simplicity that would permit Twain to characterize the novel as a “hymn” to childhood. The continuing popularity of Tom Sawyer (it sold well from its first publication, in 1876, and has never gone out of print) indicates that Twain could write a novel that appealed to young and old readers alike. The antics and high adventure of Tom Sawyer and his comrades—including pranks in church and at school, the comic courtship of Becky Thatcher, a murder mystery, and a thrilling escape from a cave—continue to delight children, while the book’s comedy, narrated by someone who vividly recalls what it was to be a child, amuses adults with similar memories.

In the summer of 1876, while staying with his in-laws Susan and Theodore Crane on Quarry Farm overlooking Elmira, Clemens began writing what he called in a letter to his friend William Dean Howells “Huck Finn’s Autobiography.” Huck had appeared as a character in Tom Sawyer, and Clemens decided that the untutored boy had his own story to tell. He soon discovered that it had to be told in Huck’s own vernacular voice. Huckleberry Finn was written in fits and starts over an extended period and would not be published until 1885. During that interval, Twain often turned his attention to other projects, only to return again and again to the novel’s manuscript.

Twain believed he had humiliated himself before Boston’s literary worthies when he delivered one of many speeches at a dinner commemorating the 70th birthday of poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Twain’s contribution to the occasion fell flat (perhaps because of a failure of delivery or the contents of the speech itself), and some believed he had insulted three literary icons in particular: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The embarrassing experience may have in part prompted his removal to Europe for nearly two years. He published A Tramp Abroad (1880), about his travels with his friend Joseph Twichell in the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps, and The Prince and the Pauper (1881), a fanciful tale set in 16th-century England and written for “young people of all ages.” In 1882 he traveled up the Mississippi with Horace Bixby, taking notes for the book that became Life on the Mississippi (1883). All the while, he continued to make often ill-advised investments, the most disastrous of which was the continued financial support of an inventor, James W. Paige, who was perfecting an automatic typesetting machine. In 1884 Clemens founded his own publishing company, bearing the name of his nephew and business agent, Charles L. Webster, and embarked on a four-month lecture tour with fellow author George W. Cable, both to raise money for the company and to promote the sales of Huckleberry Finn. Not long after that, Clemens began the first of several Tom-and-Huck sequels. None of them would rival Huckleberry Finn. All the Tom-and-Huck narratives engage in broad comedy and pointed satire, and they show that Twain had not lost his ability to speak in Huck’s voice. What distinguishes Huckleberry Finn from the others is the moral dilemma Huck faces in aiding the runaway slave Jim while at the same time escaping from the unwanted influences of so-called civilization. Through Huck, the novel’s narrator, Twain was able to address the shameful legacy of chattel slavery prior to the Civil War and the persistent racial discrimination and violence after. That he did so in the voice and consciousness of a 14-year-old boy, a character who shows the signs of having been trained to accept the cruel and indifferent attitudes of a slaveholding culture, gives the novel its affecting power, which can elicit genuine sympathies in readers but can also generate controversy and debate and can affront those who find the book patronizing toward African Americans, if not perhaps much worse. If Huckleberry Finn is a great book of American literature, its greatness may lie in its continuing ability to touch a nerve in the American national consciousness that is still raw and troubling.

For a time, Clemens’s prospects seemed rosy. After working closely with Ulysses S. Grant, he watched as his company’s publication of the former U.S. president’s memoirs in 1885–86 became an overwhelming success. (For an explanation of why Grant’s memoirs were so successful, see Sidebar: Translating Thought into Action: Grant’s Personal Memoirs.) Clemens believed a forthcoming biography of Pope Leo XIII would do even better. The prototype for the Paige typesetter also seemed to be working splendidly. It was in a generally sanguine mood that he began to write A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, about the exploits of a practical and democratic factory superintendent who is magically transported to Camelot and attempts to transform the kingdom according to 19th-century republican values and modern technology. So confident was he about prospects for the typesetter that Clemens predicted this novel would be his “swan-song” to literature and that he would live comfortably off the profits of his investment.

Things did not go according to plan, however. His publishing company was floundering, and cash flow problems meant he was drawing on his royalties to provide capital for the business. Clemens was suffering from rheumatism in his right arm, but he continued to write for magazines out of necessity. Still, he was getting deeper and deeper in debt, and by 1891 he had ceased his monthly payments to support work on the Paige typesetter, effectively giving up on an investment that over the years had cost him some $200,000 or more. He closed his beloved house in Hartford, and the family moved to Europe, where they might live more cheaply and, perhaps, where his wife, who had always been frail, might improve her health. Debts continued to mount, and the financial panic of 1893 made it difficult to borrow money. Luckily, he was befriended by a Standard Oil executive, Henry Huttleston Rogers, who undertook to put Clemens’s financial house in order. Clemens assigned his property, including his copyrights, to Olivia, announced the failure of his publishing house, and declared personal bankruptcy. In 1894, approaching his 60th year, Samuel Clemens was forced to repair his fortunes and to remake his career.


Old age
Late in 1894 The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins was published. Set in the antebellum South, Pudd’nhead Wilson concerns the fates of transposed babies, one white and the other black, and is a fascinating, if ambiguous, exploration of the social and legal construction of race. It also reflects Twain’s thoughts on determinism, a subject that would increasingly occupy his thoughts for the remainder of his life. One of the maxims from that novel jocularly expresses his point of view: “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Clearly, despite his reversal of fortunes, Twain had not lost his sense of humour. But he was frustrated too—frustrated by financial difficulties but also by the public’s perception of him as a funnyman and nothing more. The persona of Mark Twain had become something of a curse for Samuel Clemens.

Clemens published his next novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (serialized 1895–96), anonymously in hopes that the public might take it more seriously than a book bearing the Mark Twain name. The strategy did not work, for it soon became generally known that he was the author; when the novel was first published in book form, in 1896, his name appeared on the volume’s spine but not on its title page. However, in later years he would publish some works anonymously, and still others he declared could not be published until long after his death, on the largely erroneous assumption that his true views would scandalize the public. Clemens’s sense of wounded pride was necessarily compromised by his indebtedness, and he embarked on a lecture tour in July 1895 that would take him across North America to Vancouver, B.C., Can., and from there around the world. He gave lectures in Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and points in-between, arriving in England a little more than a year afterward. Clemens was in London when he was notified of the death of his daughter Susy, of spinal meningitis. A pall settled over the Clemens household; they would not celebrate birthdays or holidays for the next several years. As an antidote to his grief as much as anything else, Clemens threw himself into work. He wrote a great deal he did not intend to publish during those years, but he did publish Following the Equator (1897), a relatively serious account of his world lecture tour. By 1898 the revenue generated from the tour and the subsequent book, along with Henry Huttleston Rogers’s shrewd investments of his money, had allowed Clemens to pay his creditors in full. Rogers was shrewd as well in the way he publicized and redeemed the reputation of “Mark Twain” as a man of impeccable moral character. Palpable tokens of public approbation are the three honorary degrees conferred on Clemens in his last years—from Yale University in 1901, from the University of Missouri in 1902, and, the one he most coveted, from Oxford University in 1907. When he traveled to Missouri to receive his honorary Doctor of Laws, he visited old friends in Hannibal along the way. He knew that it would be his last visit to his hometown.

Clemens had acquired the esteem and moral authority he had yearned for only a few years before, and the writer made good use of his reinvigorated position. He began writing The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899), a devastating satire of venality in small-town America, and the first of three manuscript versions of The Mysterious Stranger. (None of the manuscripts was ever completed, and they were posthumously combined and published in 1916.) He also started What Is Man? (published anonymously in 1906), a dialogue in which a wise “Old Man” converts a resistant “Young Man” to a brand of philosophical determinism. He began to dictate his autobiography, which he would continue to do until a few months before he died. Some of Twain’s best work during his late years was not fiction but polemical essays in which his earnestness was not in doubt: an essay against anti-Semitism, Concerning the Jews (1899); a denunciation of imperialism, To the Man Sitting in Darkness (1901); an essay on lynching, The United States of Lyncherdom (posthumously published in 1923); and a pamphlet on the brutal and exploitative Belgian rule in the Congo, King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905).

Clemens’s last years have been described as his “bad mood” period. The description may or may not be apt. It is true that in his polemical essays and in much of his fiction during this time he was venting powerful moral feelings and commenting freely on the “damn’d human race.” But he had always been against sham and corruption, greed, cruelty, and violence. Even in his California days, he was principally known as the “Moralist of the Main” and only incidentally as the “Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope.” It was not the indignation he was expressing during these last years that was new; what seemed to be new was the frequent absence of the palliative humour that had seasoned the earlier outbursts. At any rate, even though the worst of his financial worries were behind him, there was no particular reason for Clemens to be in a good mood.

The family, including Clemens himself, had suffered from one sort of ailment or another for a very long time. In 1896 his daughter Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy, and the search for a cure, or at least relief, had taken the family to different doctors throughout Europe. By 1901 his wife’s health was seriously deteriorating. She was violently ill in 1902, and for a time Clemens was allowed to see her for only five minutes a day. Removing to Italy seemed to improve her condition, but that was only temporary. She died on June 5, 1904. Something of his affection for her and his sense of personal loss after her death is conveyed in the moving piece Eve’s Diary (1906). The story chronicles in tenderly comic ways the loving relationship between Adam and Eve. After Eve dies, Adam comments at her grave site, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.” Clemens had written a commemorative poem on the anniversary of Susy’s death, and Eve’s Diary serves the equivalent function for the death of his wife. He would have yet another occasion to publish his grief. His daughter Jean died on Dec. 24, 1909. The Death of Jean (1911) was written beside her deathbed. He was writing, he said, “to keep my heart from breaking.”

It is true that Clemens was bitter and lonely during his last years. He took some solace in the grandfatherly friendships he established with young schoolgirls he called his “angelfish.” His “Angelfish Club” consisted of 10 to 12 girls who were admitted to membership on the basis of their intelligence, sincerity, and good will, and he corresponded with them frequently. In 1906–07 he published selected chapters from his ongoing autobiography in the North American Review. Judging from the tone of the work, writing his autobiography often supplied Clemens with at least a wistful pleasure. These writings and others reveal an imaginative energy and humorous exuberance that do not fit the picture of a wholly bitter and cynical man. He moved into his new house in Redding, Conn., in June 1908, and that too was a comfort. He had wanted to call it “Innocents at Home,” but his daughter Clara convinced him to name it “Stormfield,” after a story he had written about a sea captain who sailed for heaven but arrived at the wrong port. Extracts from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven was published in installments in Harper’s Magazine in 1907–08. It is an uneven but delightfully humorous story, one that critic and journalist H.L. Mencken ranked on a level with Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi. Little Bessie and Letters from the Earth (both published posthumously) were also written during this period, and, while they are sardonic, they are antically comic as well. Clemens thought Letters from the Earth was so heretical that it could never be published. However, it was published in a book by that name, along with other previously unpublished writings, in 1962, and it reinvigorated public interest in Twain’s serious writings. The letters did present unorthodox views—that God was something of a bungling scientist and human beings his failed experiment, that Christ, not Satan, devised hell, and that God was ultimately to blame for human suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. Twain was speaking candidly in his last years but still with a vitality and ironic detachment that kept his work from being merely the fulminations of an old and angry man.

Clara Clemens married in October 1909 and left for Europe by early December. Jean died later that month. Clemens was too grief-stricken to attend the burial services, and he stopped working on his autobiography. Perhaps as an escape from painful memories, he traveled to Bermuda in January 1910. By early April he was having severe chest pains. His biographer Albert Bigelow Paine joined him, and together they returned to Stormfield. Clemens died on April 21. The last piece of writing he did, evidently, was the short humorous sketch Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine (first published in full in 1995). Clearly, Clemens’s mind was on final things; just as clearly, he had not altogether lost his sense of humour. Among the pieces of advice he offered Paine, for when his turn to enter heaven arrived, was this: “Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in.” Clemens was buried in the family plot in Elmira, N.Y., alongside his wife, his son, and two of his daughters. Only Clara survived him.


Reputation and assessment
Shortly after Clemens’s death, Howells published My Mark Twain (1910), in which he pronounced Samuel Clemens “sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature.” Twenty-five years later Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Green Hills of Africa (1935), “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Both compliments are grandiose and a bit obscure. For Howells, Twain’s significance was apparently social—the humorist, Howells wrote, spoke to and for the common American man and woman; he emancipated and dignified the speech and manners of a class of people largely neglected by writers (except as objects of fun or disapproval) and largely ignored by genteel America. For Hemingway, Twain’s achievement was evidently an aesthetic one principally located in one novel. For later generations, however, the reputation of and controversy surrounding Huckleberry Finn largely eclipsed the vast body of Clemens’s substantial literary corpus: the novel has been dropped from some American schools’ curricula on the basis of its characterization of the slave Jim, which some regard as demeaning, and its repeated use of an offensive racial epithet.

As a humorist and as a moralist, Twain worked best in short pieces. Roughing It is a rollicking account of his adventures in the American West, but it is also seasoned with such exquisite yarns as Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral and The Story of the Old Ram; A Tramp Abroad is for many readers a disappointment, but it does contain the nearly perfect Jim Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn. In A True Story, told in an African American dialect, Twain transformed the resources of the typically American humorous story into something serious and profoundly moving. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is relentless social satire; it is also the most formally controlled piece Twain ever wrote. The originality of the longer works is often to be found more in their conception than in their sustained execution. The Innocents Abroad is perhaps the funniest of all of Twain’s books, but it also redefined the genre of the travel narrative by attempting to suggest to the reader, as Twain wrote, “how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes.” Similarly, in Tom Sawyer, he treated childhood not as the achievement of obedience to adult authority but as a period of mischief-making fun and good-natured affection. Like Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, which he much admired, Huckleberry Finn rang changes on the picaresque novel that are of permanent interest.

Twain was not the first Anglo-American to treat the problems of race and racism in all their complexity, but, along with that of Herman Melville, his treatment remains of vital interest more than a hundred years later. His ability to swiftly and convincingly create a variety of fictional characters rivals that of Charles Dickens. Twain’s scalawags, dreamers, stalwarts, and toughs, his solicitous aunts, ambitious politicians, carping widows, false aristocrats, canny but generous slaves, sententious moralists, brave but misguided children, and decent but complicitous bystanders, his loyal lovers and friends, and his fractious rivals—these and many more constitute a virtual census of American types. And his mastery of spoken language, of slang and argot and dialect, gave these figures a voice. Twain’s democratic sympathies and his steadfast refusal to condescend to the lowliest of his creations give the whole of his literary production a point of view that is far more expansive, interesting, and challenging than his somewhat crusty philosophical speculations. Howells, who had known most of the important American literary figures of the 19th century and thought them to be more or less like one another, believed that Twain was unique. Twain will always be remembered first and foremost as a humorist, but he was a great deal more—a public moralist, popular entertainer, political philosopher, travel writer, and novelist. Perhaps it is too much to claim, as some have, that Twain invented the American point of view in fiction, but that such a notion might be entertained indicates that his place in American literary culture is secure.

Thomas V. Quirk
 

 

 


William Dean Howells


 

William Dean Howells, (b. March 1, 1837, Martins Ferry, Ohio, U.S.—d. May 11, 1920, New York City), U.S. novelist and critic, the dean of late 19th-century American letters, the champion of literary realism, and the close friend and adviser of Mark Twain and Henry James.

The son of an itinerant printer and newspaper editor, Howells grew up in various Ohio towns and began work early as a typesetter and later as a reporter. Meanwhile, he taught himself languages, becoming well read in German, Spanish, and English classics, and began contributing poems to The Atlantic Monthly. His campaign biography of Abraham Lincoln (1860) financed a trip to New England, where he met the great men of the literary establishment, James Russell Lowell, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hawthorne, and Emerson. On Lincoln’s victory he was rewarded with a consulship at Venice (1861–65), which enabled him to marry. On his return to the U.S. he became assistant editor (1866–71), then editor (1871–81), of The Atlantic Monthly, in which he began publishing reviews and articles that interpreted American writers. He was a shrewd judge of his contemporaries. He immediately recognized the worth of Henry James, and he was the first to take Mark Twain seriously as an artist.

Their Wedding Journey (1872) and A Chance Acquaintance (1873) were his first realistic novels of uneventful middle-class life. There followed some international novels, contrasting American and European manners. Howells’ best work depicts the American scene as it changed from a simple, egalitarian society where luck and pluck were rewarded to one in which social and economic gulfs were becoming unbridgeable, and the individual’s fate was ruled by chance. He wrote A Modern Instance (1882), the story of the disintegration of a marriage, which is considered his strongest novel. His best known work, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), deals with a self-made businessman’s efforts to fit into Boston society. In 1887 he risked both livelihood and reputation with his plea for clemency for the condemned Haymarket anarchists on the grounds that they had been convicted for their political beliefs. In 1888 he left Boston for New York.

His deeply shaken social faith is reflected in the novels of his New York period, such as the strongly pro-labour Annie Kilburn (1888) and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), generally considered his finest work, which dramatizes the teeming, competitive life of New York, where a representative group of characters try to establish a magazine.

Howells’ critical writings of this period welcomed the young Naturalistic novelists Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris and promoted the European authors Turgenev, Ibsen, Zola, Pérez Galdós, Verga, and above all Tolstoy.

Long before his death Howells was out of fashion. Later critics have more fairly evaluated his enormous influence, and readers have rediscovered the style, humour, and honesty of his best works.
 





The naturalists

Other American writers toward the close of the 19th century moved toward naturalism, a more advanced stage of realism. Hamlin Garland’s writings exemplified some aspects of this development when he made short stories and novels vehicles for philosophical and social preachments and was franker than Howells in stressing the harsher details of the farmer’s struggles and in treating the subject of sex. Main-Travelled Roads (1891) and Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly (1895) displayed Garland’s particular talents. These and a critical manifesto for the new fiction, Crumbling Idols (1894), were influential contributions to a developing movement.

Other American authors of the same period or slightly later were avowed followers of French naturalists led by Émile Zola. Theodore Dreiser, for instance, treated subjects that had seemed too daring to earlier realists and, like other Naturalists, illustrated his own beliefs by his depictions of characters and unfolding of plots. Holding that men’s deeds were “chemical compulsions,” he showed characters unable to direct their actions. Holding also that “the race was to the swift and the battle to the strong,” he showed characters defeated by stronger and more ruthless opponents. His major books included Sister Carrie (1900), Jennie Gerhardt (1911), The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and—much later—An American Tragedy (1925).


Jack London was was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone. He is best remembered as the author of Call of the Wild, set in the Yukon Gold Rush, as well as the short stories "To Build a Fire", "An Odyssey of the North", and "Love of Life". He also wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as "The Pearls of Parlay" and "The Heathen", and The Sea Wolf, of the San Francisco Bay area.
 

Dreiser did not bother with—or did not care for—niceties of style or elaborate symbolism such as were found in French naturalistic works; but Stephen Crane and Frank Norris were attentive to such matters. In short novels, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and The Red Badge of Courage (1895), and in some of his short stories, Crane was an impressionist who made his details and his setting forth of them embody a conception of man overwhelmed by circumstance and environment. Frank Norris, who admired Crane’s “aptitude for making phrases—sparks that cast a momentary gleam upon whole phases of life,” himself tried to make phrases, scenes, and whole narratives cast such gleams in McTeague (1899), The Octopus (1901), and The Pit (1903). Both Crane and Norris died young, their full abilities undeveloped but their experiments foreshadowing later achievements in the 20th-century novel.
 


Hamlin Garland


Hamlin Garland, (b. Sept. 14, 1860, West Salem, Wis., U.S.—d. March 4, 1940, Hollywood, Calif.), American author perhaps best remembered for his short stories and his autobiographical “Middle Border” series of narratives.

As his farming family moved progressively westward from Wisconsin to Iowa and then to the Dakotas, Garland rebelled against the vicissitudes of pioneering and went to Boston for a career in 1884. Self-educated there, he gradually won a place for himself in the literary set of Boston and Cambridge and was influenced by the novelist William Dean Howells. Garland recorded the physical oppression and economic frustrations of pioneer life on the Great Plains in the short stories that were collected in Main-Travelled Roads (1891), one of his best works. The short stories he published in Prairie Folk (1892) and Wayside Courtships (1897) were later combined in Other Main-Travelled Roads (1910). In 1892 Garland published three lacklustre novels. His next novel, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly (1895), tells the story of a sensitive young woman who rebels against the drudgery of farm life and goes to Chicago to pursue her talent for literature. Garland’s critical theory of “veritism,” set forth in the essay collection Crumbling Idols (1894), called for the use of socially conscious realism combined with more individualistic and subjective elements.

Garland next turned to the “high country” of the American West and to romantic melodrama for materials, producing a series of mediocre novels that were serialized in the popular “slick magazines.” He grew increasingly critical of the “excesses” of the naturalists, and in 1917 in a mellow autobiographical mood wrote A Son of the Middle Border, in which he described his family background and childhood as the son of pioneer farmers. This book won immediate and deserved acclaim. Its sequel, A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), was less successful, as were Trail-Makers of the Middle Border (1926) and his last historical and autobiographical novels.
 

 

 


Theodore Dreiser



 

American author

born Aug. 27, 1871, Terre Haute, Ind., U.S.
died Dec. 28, 1945, Hollywood, Calif.

Main
novelist who was the outstanding American practitioner of naturalism. He was the leading figure in a national literary movement that replaced the observance of Victorian notions of propriety with the unflinching presentation of real-life subject matter. Among other themes, his novels explore the new social problems that had arisen in a rapidly industrializing America.

Life.
Dreiser was the ninth of 10 surviving children in a family whose perennial poverty forced frequent moves between small Indiana towns and Chicago in search of a lower cost of living. His father, a German immigrant, was a mostly unemployed millworker who subscribed to a stern and narrow Roman Catholicism. His mother’s gentle and compassionate outlook sprang from her Czech Mennonite background. In later life Dreiser would bitterly associate religion with his father’s ineffectuality and the family’s resulting material deprivation, but he always spoke and wrote of his mother with unswerving affection. Dreiser’s own harsh experience of poverty as a youth and his early yearnings for wealth and success would become dominant themes in his novels, and the misadventures of his brothers and sisters in early adult life gave him additional material on which to base his characters.

Dreiser’s spotty education in parochial and public schools was capped by a year (1889–90) at Indiana University. He began a career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago in 1892 and worked his way to the East Coast. While writing for a Pittsburgh newspaper in 1894, he read works by the scientists T.H. Huxley and John Tyndall and adopted the speculations of the philosopher Herbert Spencer. Through these readings and his own experience, Dreiser came to believe that human beings are helpless in the grip of instincts and social forces beyond their control, and he judged human society as an unequal contest between the strong and the weak. In 1894 Dreiser arrived in New York City, where he worked for several newspapers and contributed to magazines. He married Sara White in 1898, but his roving affections (and resulting infidelities) doomed their relationship. The couple separated permanently in 1912.

Dreiser began writing his first novel, Sister Carrie, in 1899 at the suggestion of a newspaper colleague. Doubleday, Page and Company published it the following year, thanks in large measure to the enthusiasm of that firm’s reader, the novelist Frank Norris. But Doubleday’s qualms about the book, the story line of which involves a young kept woman whose “immorality” goes unpunished, led the publisher to limit the book’s advertising, and consequently it sold fewer than 500 copies. This disappointment and an accumulation of family and marital troubles sent Dreiser into a suicidal depression from which he was rescued in 1901 by his brother, Paul Dresser, a well-known songwriter, who arranged for Theodore’s treatment in a sanitarium. Dreiser recovered his spirits, and in the next nine years he achieved notable financial success as an editor in chief of several women’s magazines. He was forced to resign in 1910, however, because of an office imbroglio involving his romantic fascination with an assistant’s daughter.

Somewhat encouraged by the earlier response to Sister Carrie in England and the novel’s republication in America, Dreiser returned to writing fiction. The reception accorded his second novel, Jennie Gerhardt (1911), the story of a woman who submits sexually to rich and powerful men to help her poverty-stricken family, lent him further encouragement. The first two volumes of a projected trilogy of novels based on the life of the American transportation magnate Charles T. Yerkes, The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914), followed. Dreiser recorded his experiences on a trip to Europe in A Traveler at Forty (1913). In his next major novel, The ‘Genius’ (1915), he transformed his own life and numerous love affairs into a sprawling semiautobiographical chronicle that was censured by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. There ensued 10 years of sustained literary activity during which Dreiser produced a short-story collection, Free and Other Stories (1918); a book of sketches, Twelve Men (1919); philosophical essays, Hey-Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1920); a rhapsodic description of New York, The Color of A Great City (1923); works of drama, including Plays of the Natural and Supernatural (1916) and The Hand of the Potter (1918); and the autobiographical works A Hoosier Holiday (1916) and A Book About Myself (1922).

In 1925 Dreiser’s first novel in a decade, An American Tragedy, based on a celebrated murder case, was published. This book brought Dreiser a degree of critical and commercial success he had never before attained and would not thereafter equal. The book’s highly critical view of the American legal system also made him the adopted champion of social reformers. He became involved in a variety of causes and slackened his literary production. A visit to the Soviet Union in 1927 produced a skeptical critique of that communist society entitled Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928). His only other significant publications in the late 1920s were collections of stories and sketches written earlier, Chains (1927) and A Gallery of Women (1929), and an unsuccessful collection of poetry, Moods, Cadenced and Declaimed (1926).

The Great Depression of the 1930s ended Dreiser’s prosperity and intensified his commitment to social causes. He came to reconsider his opposition to communism and wrote the anticapitalist Tragic America (1931). His only important literary achievement in this decade was the autobiography of his childhood and teens, Dawn (1931), one of the most candid self-revelations by any major writer. In the middle and late ’30s his growing social consciousness and his interest in science converged to produce a vaguely mystical philosophy.

In 1938 Dreiser moved from New York to Los Angeles with Helen Richardson, who had been his mistress since 1920. There he set about marketing the film rights to his earlier works. In 1942 he began belatedly to rewrite The Bulwark, a novel begun in 1912. The task was completed in 1944, the same year he married Helen. (Sara White Dreiser had died in 1942.) One of his last acts was to join the American Communist Party. Helen helped him complete most of The Stoic, the long-postponed third volume of his Yerkes trilogy, in the weeks before his death. Both The Bulwark and The Stoic were published posthumously (1946 and 1947, respectively). A collection of Dreiser’s philosophical speculations, Notes on Life, appeared in 1974.


Works
Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), is a work of pivotal importance in American literature despite its inauspicious launching. It became a beacon to subsequent American writers whose allegiance was to the realistic treatment of any and all subject matter. Sister Carrie tells the story of a rudderless but pretty small-town girl who comes to the big city filled with vague ambitions. She is used by men and uses them in turn to become a successful Broadway actress while George Hurstwood, the married man who has run away with her, loses his grip on life and descends into beggary and suicide. Sister Carrie was the first masterpiece of the American naturalistic movement in its grittily factual presentation of the vagaries of urban life and in its ingenuous heroine, who goes unpunished for her transgressions against conventional sexual morality. The book’s strengths include a brooding but compassionate view of humanity, a memorable cast of characters, and a compelling narrative line. The emotional disintegration of Hurstwood is a much-praised triumph of psychological analysis.

Dreiser’s second novel, Jennie Gerhardt (1911), is a lesser achievement than Sister Carrie owing to its heroine’s comparative lack of credibility. Based on Dreiser’s remembrance of his beloved mother, Jennie emerges as a plaster saint with whom most modern readers find it difficult to empathize. The novel’s strengths include stinging characterizations of social snobs and narrow “religionists,” as well as a deep sympathy for the poor.

The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914) are the first two novels of a trilogy dealing with the career of the late-19th century American financier and traction tycoon Charles T. Yerkes, who is cast in fictionalized form as Frank Cowperwood. As Cowperwood successfully plots monopolistic business coups first in Philadelphia and then in Chicago, the focus of the novels alternates between his amoral business dealings and his marital and other erotic relations. The Financier and The Titan are important examples of the business novel and represent probably the most meticulously researched and documented studies of high finance in first-rate fiction. Cowperwood, like all of Dreiser’s major characters, remains unfulfilled despite achieving most of his apparent wishes. The third novel in the trilogy, The Stoic (1947), is fatally weakened by Dreiser’s diminished interest in his protagonist.

The ‘Genius’ (1915) is artistically one of Dreiser’s least successful novels but is nonetheless indispensable to an understanding of his psychology. This book chronicles its autobiographical hero’s career as an artist and his unpredictable pursuit of the perfect woman as a source of ultimate fulfillment.

Dreiser’s longest novel, An American Tragedy (1925), is a complex and compassionate account of the life and death of a young antihero named Clyde Griffiths. The novel begins with Clyde’s blighted background, recounts his path to success, and culminates in his apprehension, trial, and execution for murder. The book was called by one influential critic “the worst-written great novel in the world,” but its questionable grammar and style are transcended by its narrative power. Dreiser’s labyrinthine speculations on the extent of Clyde’s guilt do not blunt his searing indictment of materialism and the American dream of success.

Dreiser’s next-to-last novel, The Bulwark (1946), is the story of a Quaker father’s unavailing struggle to shield his children from the materialism of modern American life. More intellectually consistent than Dreiser’s earlier novels, this book also boasts some of his most polished prose.


Assessment.
Dreiser’s considerable stature, beyond his historic importance as a pioneer of unvarnished truth-telling in modern literature, is due almost entirely to his achievements as a novelist. His sprawling imagination and cumbersome style kept him from performing well in the smaller literary forms, and his nonfiction writing, especially his essays, are marred by intellectual inconsistency, a lack of objectivity, and even bitterness. But these latter traits are much less obtrusive in his novels, where his compassion and empathy for human striving make his best work moving and memorable. The long novel gave Dreiser the prime form through which to explore in depth the possibilities of 20th-century American life, with its material profusion and spiritual doubt. Dreiser’s characters struggle for self-realization in the face of society’s narrow and repressive moral conventions, and they often obtain material success and erotic gratification while a more enduring spiritual satisfaction eludes them. Despite Dreiser’s alleged deficiencies as a stylist, his novels succeed in their accumulation of realistic detail and in the power and integrity with which they delineate the tragic aspects of the American pursuit of worldly success. Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy are certainly enduring works of literature that display a deep understanding of the American experience around the turn of the century, with its expansive desires and pervasive disillusionments.

Lawrence E. Hussman
 

 

 


Jack London





Jack London, pseudonym of John Griffith Chaney (b. Jan. 12, 1876, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.—d. Nov. 22, 1916, Glen Ellen, Calif.), American novelist and short-story writer whose works deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. He is one of the most extensively translated of American authors.

Deserted by his father, a roving astrologer, London was raised in Oakland, Calif., by his spiritualist mother and his stepfather, whose surname, London, he took. At 14 he quit school to escape poverty and gain adventure. He explored San Francisco Bay in his sloop, alternately stealing oysters or working for the government fish patrol. He went to Japan as a sailor and saw much of the United States as a hobo riding freight trains and as a member of Kelly’s industrial army (one of the many protest armies of unemployed born of the panic of 1893). He saw depression conditions, was jailed for vagrancy, and in 1894 became a militant socialist. London educated himself at public libraries with the writings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, usually in popularized forms, and created his own amalgam of socialism and white superiority. At 19 he crammed a four-year high school course into one year and entered the University of California at Berkeley, but after a year he quit school to seek a fortune in the Klondike gold rush of 1897. Returning the next year, still poor and unable to find work, he decided to earn a living as a writer.

London studied magazines and then set himself a daily schedule of producing sonnets, ballads, jokes, anecdotes, adventure stories, or horror stories, steadily increasing his output. The optimism and energy with which he attacked his task are best conveyed in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909), perhaps his most enduring work. Within two years stories of his Alaskan adventures, though often crude, began to win acceptance for their fresh subject matter and virile force. His first book, The Son of the Wolf (1900), gained a wide audience. During the remainder of his life he produced steadily, completing 50 books of fiction and nonfiction in 17 years. Although he became the highest-paid writer in the United States, his earnings never matched his expenditures, and he was never freed of the urgency of writing for money. He sailed a ketch to the South Pacific, telling of his adventures in The Cruise of the Snark (1911). In 1910 he settled on a ranch near Glen Ellen, Calif., where he built his grandiose Wolf House. He maintained his socialist beliefs almost to the end of his life.

Jack London’s hastily written output is of uneven quality. His Alaskan stories Call of the Wild (1903), White Fang (1906), and Burning Daylight (1910), in which he dramatized in turn atavism, adaptability, and the appeal of the wilderness, are outstanding. In addition to Martin Eden, he wrote two other autobiographical novels of considerable interest: The Road (1907) and John Barleycorn (1913). Other important works are The Sea Wolf (1904), which features a Nietzschean superman hero, and The Iron Heel (1907), a fantasy of the future that is a terrifying anticipation of fascism. London’s reputation declined in the United States in the 1920s when a brilliant new generation of postwar writers made the prewar writers seem lacking in sophistication, but his popularity has remained high throughout the world, especially in Russia, where a commemorative edition of his works published in 1956 was reported to have been sold out in five hours. A three-volume set of his letters, edited by Earle Labor et al., was published in 1988.

 

 

 


Stephen Crane



 

Stephen Crane, (b. Nov. 1, 1871, Newark, N.J., U.S.—d. June 5, 1900, Badenweiler, Baden, Ger.), American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, best known for his novels Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and The Red Badge of Courage (1895) and the short stories “The Open Boat,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Blue Hotel.”

Stephen’s father, Jonathan Crane, was a Methodist minister who died in 1880, leaving Stephen, the youngest of 14 children, to be reared by his devout, strong-minded mother. After attending preparatory school at the Claverack College (1888–90), Crane spent less than two years at college and then went to New York City to live in a medical students’ boardinghouse while freelancing his way to a literary career. While alternating bohemian student life and explorations of the Bowery slums with visits to genteel relatives in the country near Port Jervis, N.Y., Crane wrote his first book, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), a sympathetic study of an innocent and abused slum girl’s descent into prostitution and her eventual suicide.

At that time so shocking that Crane published it under a pseudonym and at his own expense, Maggie left him to struggle as a poor and unknown freelance journalist, until he was befriended by Hamlin Garland and the influential critic William Dean Howells. Suddenly in 1895 the publication of The Red Badge of Courage and of his first book of poems, The Black Riders, brought him international fame. Strikingly different in tone and technique from Maggie, The Red Badge of Courage is a subtle impressionistic study of a young soldier trying to find reality amid the conflict of fierce warfare. The book’s hero, Henry Fleming, survives his own fear, cowardice, and vainglory and goes on to discover courage, humility, and perhaps wisdom in the confused combat of an unnamed Civil War battle. Crane, who had as yet seen no war, was widely praised by veterans for his uncanny power to imagine and reproduce the sense of actual combat.

Crane’s few remaining years were chaotic and personally disastrous. His unconventionality and his sympathy for the downtrodden aroused malicious gossip and false charges of drug addiction and Satanism that disgusted the fastidious author. His reputation as a war writer, his desire to see if he had guessed right about the psychology of combat, and his fascination with death and danger sent him to Greece and then to Cuba as a war correspondent.

His first attempt in 1897 to report on the insurrection in Cuba ended in near disaster; the ship Commodore on which he was traveling sank with $5,000 worth of ammunition, and Crane—reported drowned—finally rowed into shore in a dinghy with the captain, cook, and oiler, Crane scuttling his money belt of gold before swimming through dangerous surf. The result was one of the world’s great short stories, “The Open Boat.”

Unable to get to Cuba, Crane went to Greece to report the Greco-Turkish War for the New York Journal. He was accompanied by Cora Taylor, a former brothel-house proprietor. At the end of the war they settled in England in a villa at Oxted, Surrey, and in April 1898 Crane departed to report the Spanish-American War in Cuba, first for the New York World and then for the New York Journal. When the war ended, Crane wrote the first draft of Active Service, a novel of the Greek war. He finally returned to Cora in England nine months after his departure and settled in a costly 14th-century manor house at Brede Place, Sussex. Here Cora, a silly woman with social and literary pretensions, contributed to Crane’s ruin by encouraging his own social ambitions. They ruined themselves financially by entertaining hordes of spongers, as well as close literary friends—including Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, H.G. Wells, Henry James, and Robert Barr, who completed Crane’s Irish romance The O’Ruddy.

Crane now fought a desperate battle against time, illness, and debts. Privation and exposure in his Bowery years and as a correspondent, together with an almost deliberate disregard for his health, probably hastened the disease that killed him at an early age. He died of tuberculosis that was compounded by the recurrent malarial fever he had caught in Cuba.

After The Red Badge of Courage, Crane’s few attempts at the novel were of small importance, but he achieved an extraordinary mastery of the short story. He exploited youthful small-town experiences in The Monster and Other Stories (1899) and Whilomville Stories (1900); the Bowery again in George’s Mother (1896); an early trip to the southwest and Mexico in “The Blue Hotel” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”; the Civil War again in The Little Regiment (1896); and war correspondent experiences in The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure (1898) and Wounds in the Rain (1900). In the best of these tales Crane showed a rare ability to shape colourful settings, dramatic action, and perceptive characterization into ironic explorations of human nature and destiny. In even briefer scope, rhymeless, cadenced and “free” in form, his unique, flashing poetry was extended into War Is Kind (1899).

Stephen Crane first broke new ground in Maggie, which evinced an uncompromising (then considered sordid) realism that initiated the literary trend of the succeeding generations—i.e., the sociological novels of Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and James T. Farrell. Crane intended The Red Badge of Courage to be “a psychological portrayal of fear,” and reviewers rightly praised its psychological realism. The first nonromantic novel of the Civil War to attain widespread popularity, The Red Badge of Courage turned the tide of the prevailing convention about war fiction and established a new, if not unprecedented, one. The secret of Crane’s success as war correspondent, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and poet lay in his achieving tensions between irony and pity, illusion and reality, or the double mood of hope contradicted by despair. Crane was a great stylist and a master of the contradictory effect.
 

 

 


Frank Norris


Frank Norris, byname of Benjamin Franklin Norris (b. March 5, 1870, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.—d. October 25, 1902, San Francisco, California), American novelist who was the first important naturalist writer in the United States.

Norris studied painting in Paris for two years but then decided that literature was his vocation. He attended the University of California in 1890–94 and then spent another year at Harvard University. He was a news correspondent in South Africa in 1895, an editorial assistant on the San Francisco Wave (1896–97), and a war correspondent in Cuba for McClure’s Magazine in 1898. He joined the New York City publishing firm of Doubleday, Page, and Company in 1899. He died three years later after an operation for appendicitis.

Norris’s first important novel, McTeague (1899), is a naturalist work set in San Francisco. It tells the story of a stupid and brutal dentist who murders his miserly wife and then meets his own end while fleeing through Death Valley. With this book and those that followed, Norris joined Theodore Dreiser in the front rank of American novelists. Norris’s masterpiece, The Octopus (1901), was the first novel of a projected trilogy, The Epic of the Wheat, dealing with the economic and social forces involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of wheat. The Octopus pictures with bold symbolism the raising of wheat in California and the struggle of the wheat growers there against a monopolistic railway corporation. The second novel in the trilogy, The Pit (1903), deals with wheat speculation on the Chicago Board of Trade. The third novel, Wolf, unwritten at Norris’s death, was to have shown the American-grown wheat relieving a famine-stricken village in Europe. Vandover and the Brute, posthumously published in 1914, is a study of degeneration. McTeague was filmed by Erich von Stroheim in 1924 under the title Greed and staged as an opera by composer William Bolcom and director Robert Altman in 1992.

After the example of Émile Zola and the European naturalists, Norris in McTeague sought to describe with realistic detail the influence of heredity and environment on human life. From The Octopus on he adopted a more humanitarian ideal and began to view the novel as a proper agent for social betterment. In The Octopus and other novels he strove to return American fiction, which was then dominated by historical romance, to more serious themes. Despite their romanticizing tendencies, his novels present a vividly authentic and highly readable picture of life in California at the turn of the 20th century.
 





Henry James

In the books of
Henry James, born in New York but later an expatriate in England, fiction took a different pathway. Like realists and naturalists of his time, he thought that fiction should reproduce reality. He conceived of reality, however, as twice translated—first, through the author’s peculiar experiencing of it and, second, through his unique depicting of it. Deep insight and thorough experience were no more important, therefore, than the complicated and delicate task of the artist. The Art of Fiction (1884), essays on novelists, and brilliant prefaces to his collected works showed him struggling thoroughly and consciously with the problems of his craft. Together, they formed an important body of discussion of fictional artistry.

An excellent short-story writer, James nevertheless was chiefly important for novels in which his doctrines found concrete embodiment. Outstanding were The American (1877), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). The earliest of these were international novels wherein conflicts arose from relationships between Americans and Europeans—each group with its own characteristics and morals. As time passed, he became increasingly interested in the psychological processes of his characters and in a subtle rendering of their limited insights, their perceptions, and their emotions.
 


Henry James


American writer

born April 15, 1843, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Feb. 28, 1916, London, Eng.

Main
American novelist and, as a naturalized English citizen from 1915, a great figure in the transatlantic culture. His fundamental theme was the innocence and exuberance of the New World in clash with the corruption and wisdom of the Old, as illustrated in such works as Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), and The Ambassadors (1903).

Early life and works.
Henry James was named for his father, a prominent social theorist and lecturer, and was the younger brother of the pragmatist philosopher William James. The young Henry was a shy, book-addicted boy who assumed the role of quiet observer beside his active elder brother. They were taken abroad as infants, were schooled by tutors and governesses, and spent their preadolescent years in Manhattan. Returned to Geneva, Paris, and London during their teens, the James children acquired languages and an awareness of Europe vouchsafed to few Americans in their times. On the eve of the American Civil War, the James family settled at Newport, R.I., and there, and later in Boston, Henry came to know New England intimately. When he was 19 years of age he enrolled at the Harvard Law School, but he devoted his study time to reading Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Honoré de Balzac, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His first story appeared anonymously two years later in the New York Continental Monthly and his first book reviews in the North American Review. When William Dean Howells became editor of The Atlantic Monthly, James found in him a friend and mentor who published him regularly. Between them, James and Howells inaugurated the era of American “realism.”

By his mid-20s James was regarded as one of the most skillful writers of short stories in America. Critics, however, deplored his tendency to write of the life of the mind, rather than of action. The stories of these early years show the leisurely existence of the well-to-do at Newport and Saratoga. James’s apprenticeship was thorough. He wrote stories, reviews, and articles for almost a decade before he attempted a full-length novel. There had to be also the traditional “grand tour,” and James went abroad for his first adult encounter with Europe in 1869. His year’s wandering in England, France, and Italy set the stage for a lifetime of travel in those countries. James never married. By nature he was friendly and even gregarious, but while he was an active observer and participant in society, he tended, until late middle age, to be “distant” in his relations with people and was careful to avoid “involvement.”


Career—first phase.
Recognizing the appeal of Europe, given his cosmopolitan upbringing, James made a deliberate effort to discover whether he could live and work in the United States. Two years in Boston, two years in Europe, mainly in Rome, and a winter of unremitting hackwork in New York City convinced him that he could write better and live more cheaply abroad. Thus began his long expatriation—heralded by publication in 1875 of the novel Roderick Hudson, the story of an American sculptor’s struggle by the banks of the Tiber between his art and his passions; Transatlantic Sketches, his first collection of travel writings; and a collection of tales. With these three substantial books, he inaugurated a career that saw about 100 volumes through the press during the next 40 years.

During 1875–76 James lived in Paris, writing literary and topical letters for the New York Tribune and working on his novel The American (1877), the story of a self-made American millionaire whose guileless and forthright character contrasts with that of the arrogant and cunning family of French aristocrats whose daughter he unsuccessfully attempts to marry. In Paris James sought out the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, whose work appealed to him, and through Turgenev was brought into Gustave Flaubert’s coterie, where he got to know Edmond de Goncourt, Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Guy de Maupassant. From Turgenev he received confirmation of his own view that a novelist need not worry about “story” and that, in focusing on character, he would arrive at the life experience of his protagonist.

Much as he liked France, James felt that he would be an eternal outsider there, and late in 1876 he crossed to London. There, in small rooms in Bolton Street off Piccadilly, he wrote the major fiction of his middle years. In 1878 he achieved international renown with his story of an American flirt in Rome, Daisy Miller, and further advanced his reputation with The Europeans that same year. In England he was promptly taken up by the leading Victorians and became a regular at Lord Houghton’s breakfasts, where he consorted with Alfred Tennyson, William Gladstone, Robert Browning, and others. A great social lion, James dined out 140 times during 1878 and 1879 and visited in many of the great Victorian houses and country seats. He was elected to London clubs, published his stories simultaneously in English and American periodicals, and mingled with George Meredith, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edmund Gosse, and other writers, thus establishing himself as a significant figure in Anglo-American literary and artistic relations.

James’s reputation was founded on his versatile studies of “the American girl.” In a series of witty tales, he pictured the “self-made” young woman, the bold and brash American innocent who insists upon American standards in European society. James ended this first phase of his career by producing his masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), a study of a young woman from Albany who brings to Europe her narrow provincialism and pretensions but also her sense of her own sovereignty, her “free spirit,” her refusal to be treated, in the Victorian world, merely as a marriageable object. As a picture of Americans moving in the expatriate society of England and of Italy, this novel has no equal in the history of modern fiction. It is a remarkable study of a band of egotists while at the same time offering a shrewd appraisal of the American character. James’s understanding of power in personal relations was profound, as evinced in Washington Square (1881), the story of a young American heroine whose hopes for love and marriage are thwarted by her father’s callous rejection of a somewhat opportunistic suitor.


Career—middle phase.
In the 1880s James wrote two novels dealing with social reformers and revolutionaries, The Bostonians (1886) and The Princess Casamassima (1886). In the novel of Boston life, James analyzed the struggle between conservative masculinity embodied in a Southerner living in the North and an embittered man-hating suffragist. The Bostonians remains the fullest and most rounded American social novel of its time in its study of cranks, faddists, and “do-gooders.” In The Princess Casamassima James exploited the anarchist violence of the decade and depicted the struggle of a man who toys with revolution and is destroyed by it. These novels were followed by The Tragic Muse (1890), in which James projected a study of the London and Paris art studios and the stage, the conflict between art and “the world.”

The latter novel raised the curtain on his own “dramatic years,” 1890–95, during which he tried to win success writing for the stage. His dramatization of The American in 1891 was a modest success, but an original play, Guy Domville, produced in 1895, was a failure, and James was booed at the end of the first performance. Crushed and feeling that he had lost his public, he spent several years seeking to adapt his dramatic experience to his fiction. The result was a complete change in his storytelling methods. In The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw and In the Cage (1898), and The Awkward Age (1899), James began to use the methods of alternating “picture” and dramatic scene, close adherence to a given angle of vision, a withholding of information from the reader, making available to him only that which the characters see. The subjects of this period are the developing consciousness and moral education of children—in reality James’s old international theme of innocence in a corrupting world, transferred to the English setting.


Career—final phase.
The experiments of this “transition” phase led James to the writing of three grandiose novels at the beginning of the new century, which represent his final—his “major”—phase, as it has been called. In these novels James pointed the way for the 20th-century novel. He had begun as a realist who describes minutely his crowded stage. He ended by leaving his stage comparatively bare, and showing a small group of characters in a tense situation, with a retrospective working out, through multiple angles of vision, of their drama. In addition to these technical devices he resorted to an increasingly allusive prose style, which became dense and charged with symbolic imagery. His late “manner” derived in part from his dictating directly to a typist and in part from his unremitting search for ways of projecting subjective experience in a flexible prose.

The first of the three novels was The Ambassadors (1903). This is a high comedy of manners, of a middle-aged American who goes to Paris to bring back to a Massachusetts industrial town a wealthy young man who, in the view of his affluent family, has lingered too long abroad. The “ambassador” in the end is captivated by civilized Parisian life. The novel is a study in the growth of perception and awareness in the elderly hero, and it balances the relaxed moral standards of the European continent against the parochial rigidities of New England. The second of this series of novels was The Wings of the Dove, published in 1902, before The Ambassadors, although written after it. This novel, dealing with a melodramatic subject of great pathos, that of an heiress doomed by illness to die, avoids its cliche subject by focusing upon the characters surrounding the unfortunate young woman. They intrigue to inherit her millions. Told in this way, and set in London and Venice, it becomes a powerful study of well-intentioned humans who, with dignity and reason, are at the same time also birds of prey. In its shifting points of view and avoidance of scenes that would end in melodrama, The Wings of the Dove demonstrated the mastery with which James could take a tawdry subject and invest it with grandeur. His final novel was The Golden Bowl (1904), a study of adultery, with four principal characters. The first part of the story is seen through the eyes of the aristocratic husband and the second through the developing awareness of the wife.

While many of James’s short stories were potboilers written for the current magazines, he achieved high mastery in the ghostly form, notably in The Turn of the Screw (1898), and in such remarkable narratives as “The Aspern Papers” (1888) and “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903)—his prophetic picture of dissociated 20th-century man lost in an urban agglomeration. As a critic James tended to explore the character and personality of writers as revealed in their creations; his essays are a brilliant series of studies, moral portraits, of the most famous novelists of his century, from Balzac to the Edwardian realists. His travel writings, English Hours (1905), Italian Hours (1909), and A Little Tour in France (1884), portray the backgrounds James used for his fictions.

In his later years, James lived in retirement in an 18th-century house at Rye in Sussex, though on completion of The Golden Bowl he revisited the United States in 1904–05. James had lived abroad for 20 years, and in the interval America had become a great industrial and political power. His observation of the land and its people led him to write, on his return to England, a poetic volume of rediscovery and discovery, The American Scene (1907), prophetic in its vision of urban doom, spoliation, and pollution of resources and filled with misgivings over the anomalies of a “melting pot” civilization. The materialism of American life deeply troubled James, and on his return to England he set to work to shore up his own writings, and his own career, against this ephemeral world. He devoted three years to rewriting and revising his principal novels and tales for the highly selective “New York Edition,” published in 24 volumes. For this edition James wrote 18 significant prefaces, which contain both reminiscence and exposition of his theories of fiction.

Throwing his moral weight into Britain’s struggle in World War I, James became a British subject in 1915 and received the Order of Merit from King George V.


Assessment.
Henry James’s career was one of the longest and most productive—and most influential—in American letters. A master of prose fiction from the first, he practiced it as a fertile innovator, enlarged the form, and placed upon it the stamp of a highly individual method and style. He wrote for 51 years—20 novels, 112 tales, 12 plays, several volumes of travel and criticism, and a great deal of literary journalism. He recognized and helped to fashion the myth of the American abroad and incorporated this myth in the “international novel,” of which he was the acknowledged master. His fundamental theme was that of an innocent, exuberant, and democratic America confronting the worldly wisdom and corruption of Europe’s older, aristocratic culture. In both his light comedies and his tragedies, James’s sense of the human scene was sure and vivid; and, in spite of the mannerisms of his later style, he was one of the great prose writers and stylists of his century.

James’s public remained limited during his lifetime, but, after a revival of interest in his work during the 1940s and ’50s, he reached an ever-widening audience; his works were translated in many countries, and he was recognized in the late 20th century as one of the subtlest craftsmen who ever practiced the art of the novel. His rendering of the inner life of his characters made him a forerunner of the “stream-of-consciousness” movement in the 20th century.

Leon Edel
 




Critics of the gilded age

Writers of many types of works contributed to a great body of literature that flourished between the Civil War and 1914—literature of social revolt. Novels attacked the growing power of business and the growing corruption of government, and some novelists outlined utopias. Political corruption and inefficiency figured in
Henry Adams’s novel Democracy (1880). Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) was both an indictment of the capitalistic system and an imaginative picturing of a utopia achieved by a collectivist society in the year 2000. Howells’s Traveler from Altruria (1894) pleaded for an equalitarian state in which the government regimented men’s lives. The year 1906 saw the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, first of many works by him that criticized U.S. economic and political life and urged socialism as the remedy.

Two poets embodied criticisms in songs. Edwin Markham’s Man with the Hoe (1899) was a protest against the exploitation of labour and vaguely threatened revolution; it immediately stimulated nationwide interest. A year later William Vaughn Moody’s Ode in Time of Hesitation denounced growing U.S. imperialism as a desertion of earlier principles; his On a Soldier Fallen in the Philippines (1901) developed the same theme even more effectively.

With the rise of journalistic magazines, a group of journalists became notable as critics of America—the group dubbed “the muckrakers” by Theodore Roosevelt. Ida M. Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) and Lincoln Steffens’s The Shame of the Cities (1904) were typical contributions by two members of a large group of journalistic crusaders.
 


Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair, in full Upton Beall Sinclair (b. Sept. 20, 1878, Baltimore, Md., U.S.—d. Nov. 25, 1968, Bound Brook, N.J.), American novelist and polemicist for socialism and other causes; his The Jungle is a landmark among naturalistic, proletarian novels.

Sinclair graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1897 and did graduate work at Columbia University, supporting himself by journalistic writing. The Jungle (1906), his sixth novel and first popular success, was written when he was sent by the socialist weekly newspaper Appeal to Reason to Chicago to investigate conditions in the stockyards. Though intended to create sympathy for the exploited and poorly treated immigrant workers in the meat-packing industry, The Jungle instead aroused widespread public indignation at the quality of and impurities in processed meats and thus helped bring about the passage of federal food-inspection laws. Sinclair ironically commented at the time, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” The Jungle is the most enduring of the works of the “muckrakers” (see muckraker). Published at Sinclair’s own expense after several publishers rejected it, it became a best-seller, and Sinclair used the proceeds to open Helicon Hall, a cooperative-living venture in Englewood, N.J. The building was destroyed by fire in 1907 and the project abandoned.

A long series of other topical novels followed, none as popular as The Jungle; among them were Oil! (1927), based on the Teapot Dome Scandal, and Boston (1928), based on the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Sinclair’s works were highly popular in Russia both before and immediately after the Revolution of 1917. Later his active opposition to the communist regime caused a decline in his reputation there, but it was revived temporarily in the late 1930s and ’40s by his antifascist writings. Sinclair again reached a wide audience with the Lanny Budd series, 11 contemporary historical novels beginning with World’s End (1940) that were constructed around an implausible antifascist hero who happens to be on hand for all the momentous events of the day.

During the economic crisis of the 1930s, Sinclair organized the EPIC (End Poverty in California) socialist reform movement; in 1934 he was defeated as Democratic candidate for governor. Of his autobiographical writings, American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences (1932; also published as Candid Reminiscences: My First Thirty Years) was reworked and extended in The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962); My Lifetime in Letters (1960) is a collection of letters written to Sinclair.
 




Henry Adams

One of the most devastating and most literate attacks on modern life was an autobiography of a scion of an ancient New England family, the Adamses. Educated at Harvard and abroad,
Henry Adams was a great teacher and historian (History of the United States [1889–91] and Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres [1904]). The Education of Henry Adams (printed privately 1906; published 1918), however, complained that a lifelong hunt for some sort of order in the world, some sort of faith for man, left him completely baffled. The quiet, urbane style served well to underline, in an ironic way, the message of this pessimistic book.
 


Henry Adams


American historian
in full Henry Brooks Adams

born Feb. 16, 1838, Boston
died March 27, 1918, Washington, D.C.

Main
historian, man of letters, and author of one of the outstanding autobiographies of Western literature, The Education of Henry Adams.

Adams was the product of Boston’s Brahmin class, a cultured elite that traced its lineage to Puritan New England. He was the great-grandson of John Adams and the grandson of John Quincy Adams, both presidents of the United States. The Adams family tradition of leadership was carried on by his father, Charles Francis Adams (1807–86), a diplomat, historian, and congressman. His younger brother, Brooks (1848–1927), was also a historian; his older brother, Charles Francis, Jr. (1835–1915), was an author and railroad executive. Through his mother, Abigail Brown Brooks, Adams was related to one of the most distinguished and wealthiest families in Boston. Tradition ingrained a deep sense of morality in Adams. He never escaped his heritage and often spoke of himself as a child of the 17th and 18th centuries who was forced to come to terms with the new world of the 20th century.

Adams was graduated from Harvard in 1858 and, in typical patrician fashion, embarked upon a grand tour of Europe in search of amusement and a vocation. Anticipating a career as an attorney, he spent the winter of 1859 attending lectures in civil law at the University of Berlin. With the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861, Pres. Abraham Lincoln appointed Adams’ father minister to England. Henry, age 23, accompanied him to London, acting as his private secretary until 1868.

Returning to the United States, Adams travelled to Washington, D.C., as a newspaper correspondent for The Nation and other leading journals. He plunged into the capital’s social and political life, anxious to begin the reconstruction of a nation shattered by war. He called for civil service reform and retention of the silver standard. Adams wrote numerous essays exposing political corruption and warning against the growing power of economic monopolies, particularly railroads. These articles were published in Chapters of Erie and Other Essays (1871). The mediocrity of the nation’s “statesmen” constantly irritated him. Adams liked to repeat Pres. Ulysses S. Grant’s remark that Venice would be a fine city if it were drained.

Adams continued his reformist activities as editor of the North American Review (1870–76). Moreover, he participated in the Liberal Republican movement. This group of insurgents, repelled by partisanship and the scandals of the Grant administration, bolted the Republican Party in 1872 and nominated the Democrat Horace Greeley for president. Their crusade soon foundered. Adams grew disillusioned with a world he characterized as devoid of principle. He was disgusted with demagogic politicians and a society in which all became “servant[s] of the powerhouse.” Americans, he wrote, “had no time for thought; they saw, and could see, nothing beyond their day’s work; their attitude to the universe outside them was that of the deep-sea fish.” His anonymously published novel Democracy, an American Novel (1880) reflected his loss of faith. The heroine, Madeleine Lee, like Adams himself, becomes an intimate of Washington’s political circles. As confidante of a Midwestern senator, Madeleine is introduced to the democratic process. She meets the President and other figures who are equally vacuous. After her contact with the power brokers, Madeleine concluded: “Democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces.”

In 1870 Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard College, appointed Adams professor of medieval history. He was the first American to employ the seminar method in teaching history. In 1877 he resigned to edit the papers of Thomas Jefferson’s treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin. Pursuing his interest in U.S. history, Adams completed two biographies, The Life of Albert Gallatin (1879) and John Randolph (1882). He continued to delve into the nation’s early national period, hoping to understand the nature of an evolving American democracy. This study culminated in his nine-volume History of the United States of America during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, a scholarly work that received immediate acclaim after its publication (1889–91). In this work he explored the dilemma of governing an egalitarian society in a political world in which the predominant tendency was to aggrandize power. In 1884 Adams wrote another novel, Esther. Published under a pseudonym, Esther dealt with the relationship between religion and modern science, a theme that engaged Adams throughout his life.

Adams was stunned when, in 1885, his wife of 13 years, Marian Hooper, committed suicide. Distraught, he arranged for the sculpture of a mysterious, cloaked woman to be placed upon her grave. The union had produced no children, and Adams never remarried. After his wife’s death, Adams began a period of restless wandering. He travelled the globe from the South Sea islands to the Middle East. Gradually the circuit narrowed to winters in Washington and summers in Paris.

Though Adams referred to his existence during this period as that of a “cave-dweller,” his life was quite the opposite. From the 1870s until his last years, intellectuals gravitated to his home to discuss art, science, politics, and literature. Among them were the British diplomat Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice, the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge. His closest friends were the geologist Clarence King and the diplomat John Hay. Adams and King were inseparable. Their letters remain a rich source of information on everything from gossip to the most current trends of thought.

While in France, Adams pushed further into the recesses of history in search of “a fixed point . . . from which he might measure motion down to his own time.” That point became medieval Christendom in the 13th century. In Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (printed privately, 1904; published, 1913) he described the medieval world view as reflected in its cathedrals. These buildings, he believed, expressed “an emotion, the deepest man ever felt—the struggle of his own littleness to grasp the infinite.” Adams’ attraction to the Middle Ages lay in the era’s ideological unity; a coherence expressed in Catholicism and symbolized by the Virgin Mary.

The Education of Henry Adams (printed privately, 1906; published 1918) was a companion volume to Chartres. The Education remains Adams’ best known work and one of the most distinguished of all autobiographies. In contrast to Chartres, the Education centred upon the 20th-century universe of multiplicity, particularly the exploding world of science and technology. In opposition to the medieval Virgin, Adams saw a new godhead—the dynamo—symbol of modern history’s anarchic energies. The Education recorded his failure to understand the centrifugal forces of contemporary life. The book traced Adams’ confrontations with reality as he moved from the custom-bound world of his birth into the modern, existential universe in which certainties had vanished.

Neither history nor education provided an answer for Henry Adams. Individuals, he believed, could not face reality; to endure, one adopts illusions. His attempt to draw lines of continuity from the 13th to the 20th century ended in futility. Adams concluded that all he could prove was change.

In 1908 Adams edited the letters and diary of his friend John Hay, secretary of state from 1898 to 1905. His last book, The Life of George Cabot Lodge, was published in 1911. In two speculative essays, “Rule of Phase Applied to History” (1909) and Letter to American Teachers of History (1910), Adams calculated the demise of the world. Basing his theory on a scientific law, the dissipation of energy, he described civilization as having retrogressed through four stages: the religious, mechanical, electrical, and ethereal. The cataclysm, he prophesied, would occur in 1921. How literally Adams intended his prediction remains a point of dispute.

In 1912, at the age of 74, Adams suffered a stroke. His haunting fear of senility became real for a short time. For three months he lay partially paralyzed, his mind hovering between reason and delirium. He recovered sufficiently, however, to travel to Europe once again. When he died, in his sleep in his Washington home, he was, according to his wish, buried next to his wife in an unmarked grave. In 1919 he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the Education.

Adams is noted for an ironic literary style coupled with a detached, often bitter, tone. These characteristics have led some critics to view him as an irascible misfit. They contend that his fascination with the Middle Ages and his continuous emphasis upon failure were masks behind which he hid a misanthropic alienation from the world. More sympathetic commentators see Adams as a romantic figure who sought meaning in the chaos and violence of the 20th century. As Adams described it, he was in pursuit of “. . . a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.”

Christine McHugh
 




Poets of the era

The later 19th century and early years of the 20th century were a poor period for American poetry; yet (in addition to William Vaughn Moody) two poets of distinction wrote songs that survived long after scores of minor poets had been forgotten. One was Southern-born Sidney Lanier, a talented musician who utilized the rhythms of music and the thematic developments of symphonies in such fine songs as Corn (1875), The Symphony (1875), and The Marshes of Glynn (1878). Distressed, like many of his contemporaries, by changes in American life, he wove his doubts, fears, and suggestions into his richest poems.

The other poet was a New Englander, Emily Dickinson. A shy, playful, odd personality, she allowed practically none of her writings to be published during her lifetime. Not until 1890, four years after her death, was the first book of her poems published, to be followed at intervals by other collections. Later poets were to be influenced by her individual techniques—use of imperfect, or eye, rhymes, avoidance of regular rhythms, and a tendency to pack brief stanzas with cryptic meanings. Like Lanier, she rediscovered the value of conceits for setting forth her thoughts and feelings. Such poems as The Snake, I Like to See It Lap the Miles, The Chariot, Farther in Summer than the Birds, and There’s a Certain Slant of Light represented her unusual talent at its best.
 


Emily Dickinson

"Poems"


American poet
in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

born Dec. 10, 1830, Amherst, Mass., U.S.
died May 15, 1886, Amherst

Main
American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.

Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.
Early years
The second of three children, Dickinson grew up in moderate privilege and with strong local and religious attachments. For her first nine years she resided in a mansion built by her paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, who had helped found Amherst College but then went bankrupt shortly before her birth. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a forceful and prosperous Whig lawyer who served as treasurer of the college and was elected to one term in Congress. Her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, from the leading family in nearby Monson, was an introverted wife and hardworking housekeeper; her letters seem equally inexpressive and quirky. Both parents were loving but austere, and Emily became closely attached to her brother, Austin, and sister, Lavinia. Never marrying, the two sisters remained at home, and when their brother married, he and his wife established their own household next door. The highly distinct and even eccentric personalities developed by the three siblings seem to have mandated strict limits to their intimacy. “If we had come up for the first time from two wells,” Emily once said of Lavinia, “her astonishment would not be greater at some things I say.” Only after the poet’s death did Lavinia and Austin realize how dedicated she was to her art.
As a girl, Emily was seen as frail by her parents and others and was often kept home from school. She attended the coeducational Amherst Academy, where she was recognized by teachers and students alike for her prodigious abilities in composition. She also excelled in other subjects emphasized by the school, most notably Latin and the sciences. A class in botany inspired her to assemble an herbarium containing a large number of pressed plants identified by their Latin names. She was fond of her teachers, but when she left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in nearby South Hadley, she found the school’s institutional tone uncongenial. Mount Holyoke’s strict rules and invasive religious practices, along with her own homesickness and growing rebelliousness, help explain why she did not return for a second year.
At home as well as at school and church, the religious faith that ruled the poet’s early years was evangelical Calvinism, a faith centred on the belief that humans are born totally depraved and can be saved only if they undergo a life-altering conversion in which they accept the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Questioning this tradition soon after leaving Mount Holyoke, Dickinson was to be the only member of her family who did not experience conversion or join Amherst’s First Congregational Church. Yet she seems to have retained a belief in the soul’s immortality or at least to have transmuted it into a Romantic quest for the transcendent and absolute. One reason her mature religious views elude specification is that she took no interest in creedal or doctrinal definition. In this she was influenced by both the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the mid-century tendencies of liberal Protestant orthodoxy. These influences pushed her toward a more symbolic understanding of religious truth and helped shape her vocation as poet.
 

Development as a poet
Although Dickinson had begun composing verse by her late teens, few of her early poems are extant. Among them are two of the burlesque “Valentines”—the exuberantly inventive expressions of affection and esteem she sent to friends of her youth. Two other poems dating from the first half of the 1850s draw a contrast between the world as it is and a more peaceful alternative, variously eternity or a serene imaginative order. All her known juvenilia were sent to friends and engage in a striking play of visionary fancies, a direction in which she was encouraged by the popular, sentimental book of essays Reveries of a Bachelor: Or a Book of the Heart by Ik. Marvel (the pseudonym of Donald Grant Mitchell). Dickinson’s acts of fancy and reverie, however, were more intricately social than those of Marvel’s bachelor, uniting the pleasures of solitary mental play, performance for an audience, and intimate communion with another. It may be because her writing began with a strong social impetus that her later solitude did not lead to a meaningless hermeticism.

Until Dickinson was in her mid-20s, her writing mostly took the form of letters, and a surprising number of those that she wrote from age 11 onward have been preserved. Sent to her brother, Austin, or to friends of her own sex, especially Abiah Root, Jane Humphrey, and Susan Gilbert (who would marry Austin), these generous communications overflow with humour, anecdote, invention, and sombre reflection. In general, Dickinson seems to have given and demanded more from her correspondents than she received. On occasion she interpreted her correspondents’ laxity in replying as evidence of neglect or even betrayal. Indeed, the loss of friends, whether through death or cooling interest, became a basic pattern for Dickinson. Much of her writing, both poetic and epistolary, seems premised on a feeling of abandonment and a matching effort to deny, overcome, or reflect on a sense of solitude.
Dickinson’s closest friendships usually had a literary flavour. She was introduced to the poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson by one of her father’s law students, Benjamin F. Newton, and to that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Susan Gilbert and Henry Vaughan Emmons, a gifted college student. Two of Barrett Browning’s works, A Vision of Poets, describing the pantheon of poets, and Aurora Leigh, on the development of a female poet, seem to have played a formative role for Dickinson, validating the idea of female greatness and stimulating her ambition. Though she also corresponded with Josiah G. Holland, a popular writer of the time, he counted for less with her than his appealing wife, Elizabeth, a lifelong friend and the recipient of many affectionate letters.
In 1855 Dickinson traveled to Washington, D.C., with her sister and father, who was then ending his term as U.S. representative. On the return trip the sisters made an extended stay in Philadelphia, where it is thought the poet heard the preaching of Charles Wadsworth, a fascinating Presbyterian minister whose pulpit oratory suggested (as a colleague put it) “years of conflict and agony.” Seventy years later, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, the poet’s niece, claimed that Emily had fallen in love with Wadsworth, who was married, and then grandly renounced him. The story is too highly coloured for its details to be credited; certainly, there is no evidence the minister returned the poet’s love. Yet it is true that a correspondence arose between the two and that Wadsworth visited her in Amherst about 1860 and again in 1880. After his death in 1882, Dickinson remembered him as “my Philadelphia,” “my dearest earthly friend,” and “my Shepherd from ‘Little Girl’hood.”
Always fastidious, Dickinson began to restrict her social activity in her early 20s, staying home from communal functions and cultivating intense epistolary relationships with a reduced number of correspondents. In 1855, leaving the large and much-loved house (since razed) in which she had lived for 15 years, the 25-year-old woman and her family moved back to the dwelling associated with her first decade: the Dickinson mansion on Main Street in Amherst. Her home for the rest of her life, this large brick house, still standing, has become a favourite destination for her admirers. She found the return profoundly disturbing, and when her mother became incapacitated by a mysterious illness that lasted from 1855 to 1859, both daughters were compelled to give more of themselves to domestic pursuits. Various events outside the home—a bitter Norcross family lawsuit, the financial collapse of the local railroad that had been promoted by the poet’s father, and a powerful religious revival that renewed the pressure to “convert”—made the years 1857 and 1858 deeply troubling for Dickinson and promoted her further withdrawal.

Mature career
In summer 1858, at the height of this period of obscure tension, Dickinson began assembling her manuscript-books. She made clean copies of her poems on fine quality stationery and then sewed small bundles of these sheets together at the fold. Over the next seven years she created 40 such booklets and several unsewn sheaves, and altogether they contained about 800 poems. No doubt she intended to arrange her work in a convenient form, perhaps for her own use in sending poems to friends. Perhaps the assemblage was meant to remain private, like her earlier herbarium. Or perhaps, as implied in a poem of 1863, This is my letter to the world, she anticipated posthumous publication. Because she left no instructions regarding the disposition of her manuscript-books, her ultimate purpose in assembling them can only be conjectured.
Dickinson sent more poems to her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, a cultivated reader, than to any other known correspondent. Repeatedly professing eternal allegiance, these poems often imply that there was a certain distance between the two—that the sister-in-law was felt to be haughty, remote, or even incomprehensible. Yet Susan admired the poetry’s wit and verve and offered the kind of personally attentive audience Dickinson craved. On one occasion, Susan’s dissatisfaction with a poem, Safe in their alabaster chambers, resulted in the drafting of alternative stanzas. Susan was an active hostess, and her home was the venue at which Dickinson met a few friends, most importantly Samuel Bowles, publisher and editor of the influential Springfield Republican. Gregarious, captivating, and unusually liberal on the question of women’s careers, Bowles had a high regard for Dickinson’s poems, publishing (without her consent) seven of them during her lifetime—more than appeared in any other outlet. From 1859 to 1862 she sent him some of her most intense and confidential communications, including the daring poem Title divine is mine, whose speaker proclaims that she is now a “Wife,” but of a highly unconventional type.
In those years Dickinson experienced a painful and obscure personal crisis, partly of a romantic nature. The abject and pleading drafts of her second and third letters to the unidentified person she called “Master” are probably related to her many poems about a loved but distant person, usually male. There has been much speculation about the identity of this individual. One of the first candidates was George Henry Gould, the recipient in 1850 of a prose Valentine from Dickinson. Some have contended that Master was a woman, possibly Kate Scott Anthon or Susan Dickinson. Richard Sewall’s 1974 biography makes the case for Samuel Bowles. All such claims have rested on a partial examination of surviving documents and collateral evidence. Since it is now believed that the earliest draft to Master predates her friendship with Bowles, he cannot have been the person. On balance, Charles Wadsworth and possibly Gould remain the most likely candidates. Whoever the person was, Master’s failure to return Dickinson’s affection—together with Susan’s absorption in her first childbirth and Bowles’s growing invalidism—contributed to a piercing and ultimate sense of distress. In a letter, Dickinson described her lonely suffering as a “terror—since September—[that] I could tell to none.” Instead of succumbing to anguish, however, she came to view it as the sign of a special vocation, and it became the basis of an unprecedented creativity. A poem that seems to register this life-restoring act of resistance begins “The zeroes taught us phosphorus,” meaning that it is in absolute cold and nothingness that true brilliance originates.
Though Dickinson wrote little about the American Civil War, which was then raging, her awareness of its multiplied tragedies seems to have empowered her poetic drive. As she confided to her cousins in Boston, apropos of wartime bereavements, “Every day life feels mightier, and what we have the power to be, more stupendous.” In the hundreds of poems Dickinson composed during the war, a movement can be discerned from the expression of immediate pain or exultation to the celebration of achievement and self-command. Building on her earlier quest for human intimacy and obsession with heaven, she explored the tragic ironies of human desire, such as fulfillment denied, the frustrated search for the absolute within the mundane, and the terrors of internal dissolution. She also articulated a profound sense of female subjectivity, expressing what it means to be subordinate, secondary, or not in control. Yet as the war proceeded, she also wrote with growing frequency about self-reliance, imperviousness, personal triumph, and hard-won liberty. The perfect transcendence she had formerly associated with heaven was now attached to a vision of supreme artistry.
In April 1862, about the time Wadsworth left the East Coast for a pastorate in San Francisco, Dickinson sought the critical advice of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, whose witty article of advice to writers, A Letter to a Young Contributor, had just appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. Higginson was known as a writer of delicate nature essays and a crusader for women’s rights. Enclosing four poems, Dickinson asked for his opinion of her verse—whether or not it was “alive.” The ensuing correspondence lasted for years, with the poet sending her “preceptor,” as she called him, many more samples of her work. In addition to seeking an informed critique from a professional but not unsympathetic man of letters, she was reaching out at a time of accentuated loneliness. “You were not aware that you saved my Life,” she confided years later.
Dickinson’s last trips from Amherst were in 1864 and 1865, when she shared her cousins Louisa and Frances Norcross’s boardinghouse in Cambridge and underwent a course of treatment with the leading Boston ophthalmologist. She described her symptoms as an aching in her eyes and a painful sensitivity to light. Of the two posthumous diagnoses, exotropia (a kind of strabismus, the inability of one eye to align with the other) and anterior uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, a part of the iris), the latter seems more likely. In 1869 Higginson invited the poet to Boston to attend a literary salon. The terms she used in declining his invitation—“I do not cross my Father’s ground to any House or town”—make clear her refusal by that time to leave home and also reveal her sense of paternal order. When Higginson visited her the next year, he recorded his vivid first impression of her “plain” features, “exquisitely” neat attire, “childlike” manner, and loquacious and exhausting brilliance. He was “glad not to live near her.”
In her last 15 years Dickinson averaged 35 poems a year and conducted her social life mainly through her chiselled and often sibylline written messages. Her father’s sudden death in 1874 caused a profound and persisting emotional upheaval yet eventually led to a greater openness, self-possession, and serenity. She repaired an 11-year breach with Samuel Bowles and made friends with Maria Whitney, a teacher of modern languages at Smith College, and Helen Hunt Jackson, poet and author of the novel Ramona (1884). Dickinson resumed contact with Wadsworth, and from about age 50 she conducted a passionate romance with Otis Phillips Lord, an elderly judge on the supreme court of Massachusetts. The letters she apparently sent Lord reveal her at her most playful, alternately teasing and confiding. In declining an erotic advance or his proposal of marriage, she asked, “Dont you know you are happiest while I withhold and not confer—dont you know that ‘No’ is the wildest word we consign to Language?”
After Dickinson’s aging mother was incapacitated by a stroke and a broken hip, caring for her at home made large demands on the poet’s time and patience. After her mother died in 1882, Dickinson summed up the relationship in a confidential letter to her Norcross cousins: “We were never intimate Mother and Children while she was our Mother—but…when she became our Child, the Affection came.” The deaths of Dickinson’s friends in her last years—Bowles in 1878, Wadsworth in 1882, Lord in 1884, and Jackson in 1885—left her feeling terminally alone. But the single most shattering death, occurring in 1883, was that of her eight-year-old nephew next door, the gifted and charming Gilbert Dickinson. Her health broken by this culminating tragedy, she ceased seeing almost everyone, apparently including her sister-in-law. The poet died in 1886, when she was 55 years old. The immediate cause of death was a stroke. The attending physician attributed this to Bright’s disease, but a modern posthumous diagnosis points to severe primary hypertension as the underlying condition.



Assessment
Dickinson’s exact wishes regarding the publication of her poetry are in dispute. When Lavinia found the manuscript-books, she decided the poems should be made public and asked Susan to prepare an edition. Susan failed to move the project forward, however, and after two years Lavinia turned the manuscript-books over to Mabel Loomis Todd, a local family friend, who energetically transcribed and selected the poems and also enlisted the aid of Thomas Wentworth Higginson in editing. A complicating circumstance was that Todd was conducting an affair with Susan’s husband, Austin. When Poems by Emily Dickinson appeared in 1890, it drew widespread interest and a warm welcome from the eminent American novelist and critic William Dean Howells, who saw the verse as a signal expression of a distinctively American sensibility. But Susan, who was well aware of her husband’s ongoing affair with Todd, was outraged at what she perceived as Lavinia’s betrayal and Todd’s effrontery. The enmity between Susan and Todd, and later between their daughters, Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Millicent Todd Bingham (each of whom edited selections of Dickinson’s work), had a pernicious effect on the presentation of Emily Dickinson’s work. Her poetic manuscripts are divided between two primary collections: the poems in Bingham’s possession went to Amherst College Library, and those in Bianchi’s hands to Harvard University’s Houghton Library. The acrimonious relationship between the two families has affected scholarly interpretation of Dickinson’s work into the 21st century.
In editing Dickinson’s poems in the 1890s, Todd and Higginson invented titles and regularized diction, grammar, metre, and rhyme. The first scholarly editions of Dickinson’s poems and letters, by Thomas H. Johnson, did not appear until the 1950s. A much improved edition of the complete poems was brought out in 1998 by R.W. Franklin. A reliable edition of the letters is not yet available.
In spite of her "modernism," Dickinson’s verse drew little interest from the first generation of “High Modernists.” Hart Crane and Allen Tate were among the first leading writers to register her greatness, followed in the 1950s by Elizabeth Bishop and others. The New Critics also played an important role in establishing her place in the modern canon. From the beginning, however, Dickinson has strongly appealed to many ordinary or unschooled readers. Her unmistakable voice, private yet forthright—"I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody—too?"—establishes an immediate connection. Readers respond, too, to the impression her poems convey of a haunting private life, one marked by extremes of deprivation and refined ecstasies. At the same time, her rich abundance—her great range of feeling, her supple expressiveness—testifies to an intrinsic poetic genius. Widely translated into Japanese, Italian, French, German, and many other languages, Dickinson has begun to strike readers as the one American lyric poet who belongs in the pantheon with Sappho, Catullus, Saʿdī, the Shakespeare of the sonnets, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Arthur Rimbaud.

Editions
The standard edition of the poems is the three-volume variorum edition, The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition (1998), edited by R.W. Franklin. He also edited a two-volume work, The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (1981), which provides facsimiles of the poems in their original groupings. The Letters of Emily Dickinson, in three volumes edited by Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward (1958), was reissued in one volume in 1986, and it is still the standard source for the poet’s letters. Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson (1998), edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, is a selection of the poet’s correspondence with her sister-in-law. Facsimiles of the letters to “Master” and Otis Phillips Lord are presented in The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson (1986), edited by R.W. Franklin, and Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing (1995), edited by Marta L. Werner. Emily Dickinson’s Reception in the 1890s: A Documentary History (1989), edited by Willis J. Buckingham, reprints all known reviews from the first decade of publication.

Alfred Habegger
 

 

 

APPENDIX

 


Charles Sanders Peirce




American philosopher and scientist

born Sept. 10, 1839, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.
died April 19, 1914, near Milford, Pa.

Main
American scientist, logician, and philosopher who is noted for his work on the logic of relations and on pragmatism as a method of research.

Life.
Peirce was one of four sons of Sarah Mills and Benjamin Peirce, who was Perkins professor of astronomy and mathematics at Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard College in 1859 and spending one year with field parties of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Peirce entered the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University, from which, in 1863, he graduated summa cum laude in chemistry. Meanwhile, he had reentered the Survey in 1861 as a computing aide to his father, who had undertaken the task of determining, from observations of lunar occultations of the Pleiades, the longitudes of American survey points with respect to European ones. Much of his early astronomical work for the Survey was done in the Harvard Observatory, in whose Annals (1878) there appeared his Photometric Researches (concerning a more precise determination of the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy).

In 1871 his father obtained an appropriation to initiate a geodetic connection between the surveys of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This cross-continental triangulation lent urgency to the need for a gravimetric survey of North America directed toward a more precise determination of the Earth’s ellipticity, a project that Charles was to supervise. In pursuit of this project, Peirce contributed to the theory and practice of pendulum swinging as a means of measuring the force of gravity. The need to make accurate measurements of lengths in his pendulum researches, in turn, led him to make a pioneer determination of the length of the metre in terms of a wavelength of light (1877–79). Between 1873 and 1886 Peirce conducted pendulum experiments at about 20 stations in Europe and the United States and (through deputies) at several other places, including Grinnell Land in the Canadian Arctic.

Though his experimental and theoretical work on gravity determinations had won international recognition for both him and the Survey, he was in frequent disagreement with its administrators from 1885 onward. The amount of time he took for the careful preparation of reports was ascribed to procrastination. His “Report on Gravity at the Smithsonian, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Cornell” (written 1889) was never published, because of differences concerning its form and content. He finally resigned as of the end of 1891, and, from then until his death in 1914, he had no regular employment or income. For some years he was a consulting chemical engineer, mathematician, and inventor.

Peirce was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1867 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1877. He presented 34 papers before the latter from 1878 to 1911, nearly a third of them in logic (others were in mathematics, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, and experimental psychology). He was elected a member of the London Mathematical Society in 1880.


Work in logic.
Though Peirce’s career was in physical science, his ambitions were in logic. By the age of 31, he had published a number of technical papers in that field, besides papers and reviews in chemistry, philology, the philosophy of history and of religion, and the history of philosophy. He had also given two series of Harvard University lectures and one of Lowell Institute lectures, all in logic. Though Peirce aspired to a university chair of logical research, no such chair existed, and none was created for him: the day of logic had not yet come. His nearest approach to this ambition occurred at Johns Hopkins University, where he held a lectureship in logic from 1879 to 1884 while retaining his position in the Survey.

Logic in its widest sense he identified with semiotics, the general theory of signs. He laboured over the distinction between two kinds of action: sign action, or semiosis, and dynamic, or mechanical, action. His major work, unfinished, was to have been entitled A System of Logic, Considered as Semiotic.

Although he made eminent contributions to deductive, or mathematical, logic, Peirce was a student primarily of “the logic of science”—i.e., of induction and of what he referred to as “retroduction,” or “abduction,” the forming and accepting on probation of a hypothesis to explain surprising facts. His lifelong ambition was to establish abduction and induction firmly and permanently along with deduction in the very conception of logic—each of them clearly distinguished from the other two, yet positively related to them. It was for the sake of logic that Peirce so diversified his scientific researches, for he considered that the logician should ideally possess an insider’s acquaintance with the methods and reasonings of all the sciences.


Work in philosophy
Peirce’s Pragmatism was first elaborated in a series of “Illustrations of the Logic of Science” in the Popular Science Monthly in 1877–78. The scientific method, he argued, is one of several ways of fixing beliefs. Beliefs are essentially habits of action. It is characteristic of the method of science that it makes its ideas clear in terms first of the sensible effects of their objects, and second of habits of action adjusted to those effects. Here, for example, is how the mineralogist makes the idea of hardness clear: the sensible effect of x being harder than y is that x will scratch y and not be scratched by it; and believing that x is harder than y means habitually using x to scratch y (as in dividing a sheet of glass) and keeping x away from y when y is to remain unscratched. By the same method Peirce tried to give equal clarity to the much more complex, difficult, and important idea of probability. In his Harvard lectures of 1903, he identified Pragmatism more narrowly with the logic of abduction. Even his evolutionary metaphysics of 1891–93 was a higher order working hypothesis by which the special sciences might be guided in forming their lower order hypotheses; thus, his more metaphysical writings, with their emphases on chance and continuity, were but further illustrations of the logic of science.

When Pragmatism became a popular movement in the early 1900s, Peirce was dissatisfied both with all of the forms of Pragmatism then current and with his own original exposition of it, and his last productive years were devoted in large part to its radical revision and systematic completion and to the proof of the principle of what he by then had come to call “pragmaticism.”

His “one contribution to philosophy,” he thought, was his “new list of categories” analogous to Kant’s a priori forms of the understanding, which he reduced from 12 to 3: Quality, Relation, and Representation. In later writings he sometimes called them Quality, Reaction, and Mediation; and finally, Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. At first he called them concepts; later, irreducible elements of concepts—the univalent, bivalent, and trivalent elements. They appear in that order, for example, in his division of the modalities into possibility, actuality, and necessity; in his division of signs into icons, indexes, and symbols; in the division of symbols into terms, propositions, and arguments; and in his division of arguments into abductions, inductions, and deductions. The primary function of the new list was to give systematic support to this last division.

Peirce was twice married: first in 1862 to Harriet Melusina Fay, who left him in 1876, and second in 1883 to Juliette Pourtalai (née Froissy). There were no children of either marriage. For the last 26 years of his life, he and Juliette lived on a farm on the Delaware River near Milford, Pa. He called himself a bucolic logician, a recluse for logic’s sake. He lived his last years in serious illness and in abject poverty relieved only by aid from such friends as William James.


 

 

 


William James



American psychologist and philosopher

born Jan. 11, 1842, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Aug. 26, 1910, Chocorua, N.H.

Main
American philosopher and psychologist, a leader of the philosophical movement of Pragmatism and of the psychological movement of functionalism.

Early life and education
James was the eldest son of Henry James, an idiosyncratic and voluble man whose philosophical interests attracted him to the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg. One of William’s brothers was the novelist Henry James. The elder Henry James held an “antipathy to all ecclesiasticisms which he expressed with abounding scorn and irony throughout all his later years.” Both his physical and his spiritual life were marked by restlessness and wanderings, largely in Europe, that affected the training of his children at school and their education at home. Building upon the works of Swedenborg, which had been proffered as a revelation from God for a new age of truth and reason in religion, the elder James had constructed a system of his own that seems to have served him as a vision of spiritual life. This philosophy provided the permanent intellectual atmosphere of William’s home life, to some degree compensating for the undisciplined irregularity of his schooling, which ranged from New York to Boulogne, Fr., and to Geneva and back. The habits acquired in dealing with his father’s views at dinner and at tea carried over into the extraordinarily sympathetic yet critical manner that William displayed in dealing with anybody’s views on any occasion.

When James was 18 years of age he tried his hand at studying art, under the tutelage of William M. Hunt, an American painter of religious subjects. But he soon tired of it and the following year entered the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University. From courses in chemistry, anatomy, and similar subjects there, he went to the study of medicine in the Harvard Medical School; but he interrupted this study in order to accompany the eminent naturalist Louis Agassiz, in the capacity of assistant, on an expedition to the Amazon. There James’s health failed, and his duties irked him. He returned to the medical school for a term and then during 1867–68 went to Germany for courses with the physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, who formulated the law of the conservation of energy; with Rudolf Virchow, a pathologist; with Claude Bernard, the foremost experimentalist of 19th-century medicine; and with others. At the same time he read widely in the psychology and philosophy then current, especially the writings of Charles Renouvier, a Kantian Idealist and relativist.

The acquaintance with Renouvier was a focal point in James’s personal and intellectual history. He seems from adolescence to have been a delicate boy, always ailing, and at this period of his stay in Germany he suffered a breakdown, with thoughts of suicide. When he returned home in November 1868, after 18 months in Germany, he was still ill. Though he took the degree of M.D. at the Harvard Medical School in June 1869, he was unable to begin practice. Between that date and 1872 he lived in a state of semi-invalidism in his father’s house, doing nothing but reading and writing an occasional review. Early in this period he experienced a sort of phobic panic, which persisted until the end of April 1870. It was relieved, according to his own statement, by the reading of Renouvier on free will and the decision that “my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.” The decision carried with it the abandonment of all determinisms—both the scientific kind that his training had established for him and that seems to have had some relation to his neurosis and the theological, metaphysical kind that he later opposed in the notion of “the block universe.” His revolutionary discoveries in psychology and philosophy, his views concerning the methods of science, the qualities of men, and the nature of reality all seem to have received a definite propulsion from this resolution of his poignant personal problem.


Interest in psychology
In 1872 James was appointed instructor in physiology at Harvard College, in which capacity he served until 1876. But he could not be diverted from his ruling passion, and the step from teaching physiology to teaching psychology—not the traditional “mental science” but physiological psychology—was as inevitable as it was revolutionary. It meant a challenge to the vested interests of the mind, mainly theological, that were entrenched in the colleges and universities of the United States; and it meant a definite break with what Santayana called “the genteel tradition.” Psychology ceased to be mental philosophy and became a laboratory science. Philosophy ceased to be an exercise in the grammar of assent and became an adventure in methodological invention and metaphysical discovery.

With his marriage in 1878, to Alice H. Gibbens of Cambridge, Mass., a new life began for James. The old neurasthenia practically disappeared. He went at his tasks with a zest and an energy of which his earlier record had given no hint. It was as if some deeper level of his being had been tapped: his life as an originative thinker began in earnest. He contracted to produce a textbook of psychology by 1880. But the work grew under his hand, and when it finally appeared in 1890, as The Principles of Psychology, it was not a textbook but a monumental work in two great volumes, from which the textbook was condensed two years later.

The Principles, which was recognized at once as both definitive and innovating in its field, established the functional point of view in psychology. It assimilated mental science to the biological disciplines and treated thinking and knowledge as instruments in the struggle to live. At one and the same time it made the fullest use of principles of psychophysics (the study of the effect of physical processes upon the mental processes of an organism) and defended, without embracing, free will.


Interest in religion
The Principles completed, James seems to have lost interest in the subject. Creator of the first U.S. demonstrational psychological laboratory, he disliked laboratory work and did not feel himself fitted for it. He liked best the adventure of free observation and reflection. Compared with the problems of philosophy and religion, psychology seemed to him “a nasty little subject” that he was glad to have done with. His studies, which were now of the nature and existence of God, the immortality of the soul, free will and determinism, the values of life, were empirical, not dialectical; James went directly to religious experience for the nature of God, to psychical research for survival after death, to fields of belief and action for free will and determinism. He was searching out these things, not arguing foregone conclusions. Having begun to teach ethics and religion in the late 1880s, his collaboration with the psychical researchers dated even earlier. Survival after death he ultimately concluded to be unproved; but the existence of divinity he held to be established by the record of the religious experience, viewing it as a plurality of saving powers, “a more of the same quality” as oneself, with which, in a crisis, one’s personality can make saving contact. Freedom he found to be a certain looseness in the conjunction of things, so that what the future will be is not made inevitable by past history and present form; freedom, or chance, corresponds to Darwin’s “spontaneous variations.” These views were set forth in the period between 1893 and 1903 in various essays and lectures, afterward collected into works, of which the most notable is The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897). During this decade, which may be correctly described as James’s religious period, all of his studies were concerned with one aspect or another of the religious question.

His natural interest in religion was reinforced by the practical stimulus of an invitation to give the Gifford Lectures on natural religion at the University of Edinburgh. He was not able to deliver them until 1901–02, and their preparation focussed his labours for a number of years. His disability, involving his heart, was caused by prolonged effort and exposure during a vacation in the Adirondacks in 1898. A trip to Europe, which was to have taken up a sabbatical year away from university duties, turned into two years of invalidism. The Gifford Lectures were prepared during this distressful period. Published as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), they had an even greater acclaim as a book than as articles. Cautious and tentative though it was, the rich concreteness of the material and the final summary of the evidence—that the varieties of religious experience point to the existence of specific and various reservoirs of consciousness-like energies with which we can make specific contact in times of trouble—touched something fundamental in the minds of religionists and at least provided them with apologetic material not in conflict with science and scientific method. The book was the culmination of James’s interest in the psychology of religion.


Career in philosophy
James now explicitly turned his attention to the ultimate philosophic problems that had been at least marginally present along with his other interests. Already in 1898, in a lecture at the University of California on philosophical conceptions and practical results, he had formulated the theory of method known as Pragmatism. Originating in the strict analysis of the logic of the sciences that had been made in the middle 1870s by Charles Sanders Peirce, the theory underwent in James’s hands a transforming generalization. He showed how the meaning of any idea whatsoever—scientific, religious, philosophical, political, social, personal—can be found ultimately in nothing save in the succession of experiential consequences that it leads through and to; that truth and error, if they are within the reach of the mind at all, are identical with these consequences. Having made use of the pragmatic rule in his study of religious experience, he now turned it upon the ideas of change and chance, of freedom, variety, pluralism, and novelty, which, from the time he had read Renouvier, it had been his preoccupation to establish. He used the pragmatic rule in his polemic against monism and the “block universe,” which held that all of reality is of one piece (cemented, as it were, together); and he used this rule against internal relations (i.e., the notion that you cannot have one thing without having everything), against all finalities, staticisms, and completenesses. His classes rang with the polemic against absolutes, and a new vitality flowed into the veins of American philosophers. Indeed, the historic controversy over Pragmatism saved the profession from iteration and dullness.

Meanwhile (1906), James had been asked to lecture at Stanford University, in California, and he experienced there the earthquake that nearly destroyed San Francisco. The same year he delivered the Lowell Lectures in Boston, afterward published as Pragmatism: A New Name for Old Ways of Thinking (1907). Various studies appeared—“Does Consciousness Exist?” “The Thing and Its Relations,” “The Experience of Activity”—chiefly in The Journal of Philosophy; these were essays in the extension of the empirical and pragmatic method, which were collected after James’s death and published as Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912). The fundamental point of these writings is that the relations between things, holding them together or separating them, are at least as real as the things themselves; that their function is real; and that no hidden substrata are necessary to account for the clashes and coherences of the world. The Empiricism was radical because until this time even Empiricists believed in a metaphysical ground like the hidden turtle of Hindu mythology on whose back the cosmic elephant rode.

James was now the centre of a new life for philosophy in the English-speaking world. The continentals did not “get” Pragmatism; if its German opponents altogether misunderstood it, its Italian adherents—among them, of all people, the critic and devastating iconoclast Giovanni Papini—travestied it. In England it was championed by F.C.S. Schiller, in the United States by John Dewey and his school, in China by Hu Shih. In 1907 James gave his last course at Harvard. In the spring he repeated the lectures on Pragmatism at Columbia University. It was as if a new prophet had come; the lecture halls were as crowded on the last day as on the first, with people standing outside the door. Shortly afterward came an invitation to give the Hibbert Lectures at Manchester College, Oxford. These lectures, published in 1909 as A Pluralistic Universe, state, in a more systematic and less technical way than the Essays, the same essential positions. They present, in addition, certain religious overbeliefs of James’s, which further thinking—if the implications of the posthumous Some Problems of Philosophy may be trusted—was to mitigate. These overbeliefs involve a panpsychistic interpretation of experience (one that ascribes a psychic aspect to all of nature) that goes beyond radical Empiricism and the pragmatic rule into conventional metaphysics.

Home again, James found himself working, against growing physical trouble, upon the material that was partially published after his death as Some Problems of Philosophy (1911). He also collected his occasional pieces in the controversy over Pragmatism and published them as The Meaning of Truth (1909). Finally, his physical discomfort exceeded even his remarkable voluntary endurance. After a fruitless trip to Europe in search of a cure, he returned, going straight to the country home in New Hampshire, where he died in 1910.


Significance and influence
In psychology, James’s work is of course dated, but it is dated as is Galileo’s in physics or Charles Darwin’s in biology because it is the originative matrix of the great variety of new developments that are the current vogue. In philosophy, his positive work is still prophetic. The world he argued for was soon reflected in the new physics, as diversely interpreted, with its resonances from Charles Peirce, particularly by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and the Danish quantum physicist Niels Bohr—a world of events connected with one another by kinds of next-to-next relations, a world various, manifold, changeful, originating in chance, perpetuated by habits (that the scientist calls laws), and transformed by breaks, spontaneities, and freedoms. In human nature, James believed, these visible traits of the world are equally manifest. The real specific event is the individual, whose intervention in history gives it in each case a new and unexpected turn. But in history, as in nature, the continuous flux of change and chance transforms every being, invalidates every law, and alters every ideal.

James lived his philosophy. It entered into the texture and rhythms of his rich and vivid literary style. It determined his attitude toward scientifically unaccepted therapies, such as Christian Science or mind cure, and repugnant ideals, such as militarism. It made him an anti-imperialist, a defender of the small, the variant, the unprecedented, the weak, wherever and whenever they appeared. His philosophy is too viable and subtle, too hedged, experiential, and tentative to have become the dogma of a school. It has functioned rather to implant the germs of new thought in others than to serve as a standard old system for others to repeat.

Horace M. Kallen

 

 

 


Bordon Parker Bowne




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

Borden Parker Bowne (1847-1910) was an American Christian philosopher and theologian in the Methodist tradition. In 1876 he became a professor of philosophy at Boston University for more than thirty years. He later served as dean of the graduate school. Bowne was an acute critic of positivism & naturalism. He categorized his views as Kantianized Berkeleyanism, transcendental empiricism and, finally, Personalism, a philosophical branch of liberal theology, of which Bowne is the dominant figure. His masterpiece, Metaphysics, appeared in 1882. Bowne was chiefly influenced by Lotze.

Early life
Borden Parker Bowne was born on 14 January, 1847, near Leonardville, NJ, and died in Boston on 1 April, 1910. He was one of six children of upright parents raised in rural New Jersey, near what is today called Atlantic Highlands. Notably, the father, Joseph Bowne was a Justice of the Peace, a farmer, a Methodist preacher and a vocal abolitionist at a time when such a stand was controversial. The mother was of a Quaker family and also an abolitionist. As a youth Bowne was able to observe the example of parents who were unbending on points of moral significance, and particularly regarding the dignity of all persons. Later Bowne was instrumental in supporting integration in higher education, and he presided over the dissertation of the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from a U.S. University, John Wesley Edward Bowen (1855-1933), in 1891. In demeanor and bearing Bowne was very formal, even with his own family members, business-like and orderly. He followed the manner of personal discipline from which the Methodists originally took their name.

Education
Bowne entered New York University in 1867 amidst the swirling new controversy of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Simultaneously in 1867 he was examined and licensed to preach in the Methodist Church. He worked his way through college employed at his uncle’s grocery in Brooklyn while preaching and pastoring part-time. He studied the standard curriculum and was graduated with the Bachelor of Arts in 1871. Bowne’s formal ordination as a Methodist deacon followed in 1872 and he was assigned a congregation of rural Long Island at Whitestone. In 1873 the opportunity came to continue his studies in Europe. He studied mainly at Paris, Halle, and Göttingen, being most deeply influenced at the last of these by the empirical strain of Kantian philosophy prevailing in that age under Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-1881). Bowne worked as a journalist in New York City from 1874 until 1876 when he completed the Master of Arts at New York University. He accepted a call to the philosophy department at Boston University in 1877, refusing in turn attractive offers from Yale and the new University of Chicago as his reputation grew. In 1888 Bowne became the first Dean of the Graduate School at Boston University and held that position until his death.

Career
Bowne’s most lasting contributions came in the philosophy of religion. His religious background is important in this regard. Bowne was a popular guest preacher throughout his career and a volume of his sermons was published posthumously under the title The Essence of Religion (1910). His constant stream of contributions to popular religious magazines and newspapers made him one of the foremost theological opinion leaders of his time. These voluminous popular writings were applications of his technical philosophical positions to the social and religious issues of the day. These writings bespeak an unusual mixture of progressive ideas, the guiding spirit of which is a devotion to clarity of thought and practicality of viewpoint. It will be worthwhile to make note of two theological and biographical points before moving to a summary of Bowne’s formal philosophy.

Bowne was able to negotiate a kind of theistic naturalism that enabled him to avoid much of the controversy over evolutionary theory during his career. His basic position was that there was no naturalistic or theological basis for treating nature, its changes, developments, and laws, as something over against God. The idea that a scientific description of nature could contradict the basic principles of theism betrayed a misunderstanding of both nature and theism. Thus, the reductive evolutionist misunderstands nature by assuming that the result of a process ought to be understood through its beginnings or origins, when in fact it is only from the practical survey of the results that the origins can be empirically approached or deduced. This same limiting principle applies to all human understanding and knowledge regardless of whether the question before us is natural, cultural or historical. In addition, whatever principles and trends may have prevailed regarding an origin, they are undeveloped in their original state and therefore not to be valued except as seen through a later accomplishment, i.e., their having produced a valuable result. There might be any number of trends and happenings in natural or human history which were dead-ends and no one is scandalized by their lack of issue, so why should any theist be scandalized where the issue of natural or historical processes is so immensely and obviously valuable as in the case of evolution? On the other side, the defenders of “special creation” err in assuming that God is something supernatural, something wholly apart from nature. Bowne points out that unless God is conceived as working immanently within each moment of experience, be it natural or human, the sustaining continuity of natural or human experience is wholly without an explanation. Thus, every event is a special creation in the sense that the complete explanation for its existence cannot be given by science, history, theology, or any other device of human understanding. Scientific explanations are incomplete, just as theological explanations are incomplete. One result of this view is that there is no reason to defend the idea of miracles in the traditional sense of the word, since a serviceable conception of the immanent activity of God in nature renders such traditional tales more suitable for children than persons of mature faith, according to Bowne. This latter view, in which Bowne denies the traditional view of miracles and argues against the blood atonement, and by implication the resurrection, led him into troubles with the conservative constituency of his church, and also led William James to remark to Bowne in a letter that he (James) was “a better Methodist than you, in spite of your efforts to persuade me to the contrary. If the ass and the blatherskite succeed in their efforts to weed you out of the body [of the church], I hope they will have the wisdom to get me voted in to fill the vacuum.” (December 29, 1903). Bowne’s standard answer to such charges was to remind his accusers that there was a difference between matters of knowledge in which human methods could expect some success, however limited, and in matters of faith which take up where investigation will avail nothing.

James’ remark about “weeding out” Bowne was a reference to the controversy brewing in 1903 which resulted in Bowne’s heresy trial in the spring of 1904. In addition to the issues described above, Bowne had defended the teaching of the controversial higher criticism of the Bible at Boston University, where a religion professor had been dismissed for teaching this approach. Having had the example of his own parents, Bowne was unintimidated by those who pointed fingers and threw epithets his way. He calmly defended himself and was acquitted of all charges, unanimously, by a council of Methodist bishops (some of whom were his former students). In many ways this episode served to bring Methodist theology into an influential role in the forging of what has since been called the “liberal Protestant consensus,” with other mainline denominations, which was so influential in 20th century philosophical theology and social ethics. The Bowne heresy trial was one of many turning points in the creation of that important perspective.

Among important philosophical associations in Bowne’s environment, William James was perhaps the most notable. Bowne was part of a group that met every two weeks for some years in the rooms of Thomas Davidson in Boston. The group included not only Davidson and James, but George Holmes Howison (until his permanent departure from Boston in 1882), J.E. Cabot, W.T. Harris, and C.C. Everett. A close examination of the philosophies of those who were part of this group suggests that this pleasant fortnightly meeting might have been the birthplace of pluralistic philosophy in America, in the rich exchanges particularly among Howison, James and Bowne.

Philosophy
Bowne’s method was a descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive or formalist or logical) version of Kantian philosophy, similar to Lotze’s, but with a greater emphasis upon the empirical roots of our descriptions. In describing experience we are enjoined to remember always the difference between our conceptual suppositions and our genuine evidence. Conceptual clarity is to be sought and self-contradiction to be avoided not because a clear description is certain to provide access to the structures of the real (be they mental or material), but because conceptual confusion is likely to cloud our judgments about what exists and what we know. Therefore, the primary function of logic is the normative clarification of thought, and the function of clear thinking is to bring to the fore knowledge, understanding or appreciation of what we value. Abstractions are tools, not principles of the real. The following passage from Bowne’s 1899 treatise on method, Theory of Thought and Knowledge, exemplifies his outlook: “The root thought of this work is that thought is an organic activity which unfolds from within, and can never be put together mechanically from without . . . . Knowledge is no longer something originating outside the mind, possibly in the nerves, and passed along ready-made into the mind; it is rather something built up by the mind within itself in accordance with principles immanent in the mental nature. Nothing is nearer to us than thought, and yet nothing is harder to grasp. The reason is that spontaneous thought deals with its objects rather than with itself, and the work of reflection is difficult.” (pp. iii-iv) Thus Bowne’s approach is a kind of phenomenology that is governed not by an ontologically grounded pure logic, but by a supposition that careful reflection can reveal some portion of its own origins and structures, and can be more clearly described as greater care is given to the refinement of our descriptions. However, ontological knowledge is not the result of this process any more than it is the ground; more or less useful guides for action are the most we can expect in our endeavors, and epistemology is the critical treatment of the processes by which valuable knowledge is acquired.

Regarding the limits of description and philosophical knowledge, Bowne warns against the twin pitfalls of epistemology –warnings that characterize much of American philosophy in Bowne’s time: “I have emphasized two points the knowledge of which is of great importance, if not absolutely necessary, for our intellectual salvation. The first point is the volitional and practical nature of belief. Persons living on the plane of instinct and hearsay have no intellectual difficulty here, or anywhere else; but persons entering upon the life of reflection without insight into this fact are sure to lose themselves in theoretical impotence and practical impudence. The impotence manifests itself in a paralyzing inability to believe, owing to the fancy that theoretical demonstration must precede belief. The impudence shows itself in ruling out with an airy levity the practical principles by which men and nations live, because they admit of no formal proof. These extremes of unwisdom can be escaped only by an insight into the volitional and practical nature of belief.” Hence Bowne embraces what is better known under the aegis of pragmatism as “the will to believe,” in James’ terminology, or alternately as “the scientific method of fixing belief” in C.S. Peirce’s vocabulary. Whether Bowne ought to be called a pragmatist is a matter of some debate, but that his method can be characterized as pragmatic seems very clear. James did not regard Bowne as a radical empiricist, but a case might be made that Bowne was such.

Bowne continues: “The second point . . . is the almost universal illusion arising from what I have called the structural fallacies of uncritical thought. Spontaneous thought is pretty sure to take itself as the double of reality. Thus arises the fallacy of the universal, the parent of a very large part of popular speculation. And when to this are added the omnipresent imposture and deceit of language, there results a great world of abstract and verbal illusion against which we cannot be too much on our guard, seeing that it is the source both of so much theoretical error and of so much practical menace and aberration.” (p. v) Here is a statement of method that is hard to distinguish from pragmatism or from process philosophy. Bowne’s consistency in adhering to these methodological principles is exemplary, and his writing itself is clever, pithy, economical and insightful. His prose bears up well to the contemporary eye.

In metaphysics Bowne was an early proponent of process philosophy. In the first edition of his Metaphysics (1882), Bowne attacked the traditional notion of “substance” and “being” and suggested that it be replaced with a notion of process. His idea of God as the “world ground” is similar to A. N. Whitehead’s idea of God in the succeeding century. This move rendered “time” and “space” as they had appeared in Kantian and Aristotleian philosophies phenomenal as opposed to either noumenal or ontological. This and other such positions of Bowne in metaphysics labeled him as an idealist, but Bowne insisted that his brand of pluralistic objective idealism was entirely consistent with the conviction of the reality of an order quite beyond our mental processes, although such a reality cannot be conceived as wholly independent, since nothing is wholly independent of anything else at the level of existence. What was required in order to provide consistent and usable descriptions in metaphysics was a central principle which provided a reliable and fruitful clue to the place we hold in the broader reality. Bowne found this “clue” in the idea of the person. Whatever else we might suppose about the nature of reality, we can be assured that it is compatible with or not entirely hostile to the personal mode of existence. In addition, it seems that a pervasive and indeed inevitable feature of all our philosophical descriptions is that they express the perspective and values of personal beings. Thus, person is a mode of relation that we may safely take as clue to the structure of objective reality and a feature of all philosophical description. Accordingly, Bowne brings his critical acumen to bear against the various “impersonalist” philosophies of his time. Absolute idealism errs by sacrificing the clear empirical plurality of persons in our experience to an impersonal Absolute. Materialism errs in reducing a personal reality to an impersonal principle which can only be abstract. Impersonalist versions of naturalism and psychologism suffer from similar errors, according to Bowne. Ultimately his claim is that philosophies that eliminate the personal principle fall into the “structural fallacies of uncritical thought” or the fallacy of the universal, what James called “the philosopher’s fallacy” and Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”

This trajectory in metaphysics culminated in the expression of Bowne’s mature philosophy in his book Personalism (1908). Although Bowne’s philosophical system bore several names along the way, including “objective idealism” and “transcendental empiricism,” its final moniker was “personalism.” Whether this is a very good label can be questioned, but it has stayed with philosophy in the tradition of Bowne in subsequent generations. Personalism was an important force in mainstream philosophy until the decline of idealistic philosophies in America became a marked phenomenon in the 1930s. In theology and social ethics personalism exerted greater influence through Bowne’s student Edgar Sheffield Brightman, and Brightman’s student Martin Luther King, Jr., who was perhaps the most important social, political and ethical thinker in the personalist tradition. In the philosophy of religion personalism continues to exercise some influence in the circles that take philosophical theology seriously. The term “personalism” has gained greater currency in these circles in recent years due to the espousal of this view by Pope John Paul II. Due to the importance of this philosopher Pope it is likely that the term “personalism” will be in use for the foreseeable future, and with the same basic meaning that Bowne gave it.

Regarding the mature expression of Bowne’s philosophy in Personalism, James, upon reading it, remarked in a letter to Bowne: “It seems to me that you and I are now aiming at exactly the same end . . . . The common foe of us both is the dogmatist-rationalist-abstractionist. Our common desire is to redeem the concrete personal life which wells up in us from moment to moment, from fastidious (and really preposterous) dialectic contradictions, impossibilities and vetoes.” (August 17, 1908) Arguably, then, Bowne’s personalism is a kind of pragmatism that insists upon “person” in a way analogous to the way that John Dewey, for example, insists upon “organism.”

The idea that “person” is both a fundamental modality of existence and a reliable descriptive principle in philosophy supplies a needed bridge between metaphysics, method, and ethics. Accordingly, Bowne wrote extensively in moral philosophy, arguably his most important writings, in terms of subsequent impact on the world. Bowne’s ethical philosophy is characterized by its guarded meliorism; an emphasis on practicality and on learning to be circumspect about human nature and possibilities. Bowne tends to take a fairly dim view of the prospects for improving human behavior, but he is convinced that we may find exemplars of freedom well employed in our midst. He is a progressive, arguing that ethical philosophy ought to learn from its past, but exists for the sake of the present and future and must not be tied down to tradition. Freedom is a given in moral philosophy in the sense that it is implied by the very notion of personal existence. An unfree being cannot be a personal being, and a personal being cannot fail to be free in some sense. Thus, the idea of freedom is not a postulate for Bowne, but an ontological requirement of meaningful existence and a presupposition of all descriptions. The dignity and equality of all persons thus becomes part and parcel of their ontological freedom, and seeking to develop the freedom of persons is an ethical imperative beside which none other can compare. Hence, Bowne favored the equality of women and non-white races at a time when these views were controversial. He did not limit the notion of personal existence to human beings, recognizing as early as 1882 that other beings, including animals, must be described as having a personal form of existence.

However, while Bowne was an uncompromising apologist of progressive morality, it led him to disparage the ways of life of “savages” and “Indians,” not because of their race or natural inferiority, but because he saw “primitive” ways of life as morally inferior to the ways of “civilized men.” Today this sort of cultural triumphalism is called "colonialism," and it does harbor many racist and sexist presuppositions. In this regard Bowne was very much a man of the Victorian age. He did not credit the idea of an ascent of man as either naturalized or divinely ordained, but he did hold without apology the idea that not all ways of life have achieved the same level of moral excellence, and some ways of life, principally "sub-European" ways, deserved our round condemnation. His model of a morally advanced life was that of city-dwelling Anglo-Europeans wherever they might be found. Yet, Bowne was anti-imperialist and regarded nationalism and even patriotism as an indication of stunted moral growth on the part of those who defended them. While he took a dim view of human nature, Bowne still believed there was reason to hope that we might become less self-destructive, and clarity of thought could only help.

In particular Bowne thought that the mode of relating in the family unit probably holds our best clues to moral progress. While the situation of the family in Bowne’s age, as in our own, was nothing to praise, Bowne argued that it was the best set of moral relations we have, and that moral progress will be achieved by the expansion of the sphere of moral concern to include the consideration of wider and wider circles of individuals, a “family of humankind” rather than a “kingdom of ends.”
 

 

 


John Dewey




American philosopher and educator

born Oct. 20, 1859, Burlington, Vt., U.S.
died June 1, 1952, New York, N.Y.

Main
American philosopher and educator who was one of the founders of the philosophical school of pragmatism, a pioneer in functional psychology, and a leader of the progressive movement in education in the United States.

Early life
The son of a grocer in Vermont, Dewey attended the public schools of Burlington and there entered the University of Vermont. After graduating from the university in 1879, Dewey taught high school for three years. In the fall of 1882 he entered Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, for advanced study in philosophy. There he came under the influence of George Sylvester Morris, who was a leading exponent of Neo-Hegelianism, a revival of the thought of the early-19th-century German philosopher Hegel. Dewey found in this philosophy, with its emphasis on the spiritual and organic nature of the universe, what he had been vaguely groping for, and he eagerly embraced it.

After being awarded the Ph.D. degree by Johns Hopkins University in 1884, Dewey, in the fall of that year, went to the University of Michigan, where, at the urging of Morris, he had been appointed an instructor in philosophy and psychology. With the exception of the academic year 1888–89, when he served as professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Dewey spent the next 10 years at Michigan. During this time his philosophical endeavours were devoted mainly to an intensive study of Hegel and the British Neo-Hegelians and to the new experimental physiological psychology then being advanced in the United States by G. Stanley Hall and William James.

Dewey’s interest in education began during his years at Michigan. His readings and observations revealed that most schools were proceeding along lines set by early traditions and were failing to adjust to the latest findings of child psychology and to the needs of a changing democratic social order. The search for a philosophy of education that would remedy these defects became a major concern for Dewey and added a new dimension to his thinking.


Philosophical thought
Dewey left Michigan in 1894 to become professor of philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy at the University of Chicago. Dewey’s achievements there brought him national fame. The increasing dominance of evolutionary biology and psychology in his thinking led him to abandon the Hegelian theory of ideas, which views them as somehow mirroring the rational order of the universe, and to accept instead an instrumentalist theory of knowledge, which conceives of ideas as tools or instruments in the solution of problems encountered in the environment. These same disciplines contributed somewhat later to his rejection of the Hegelian notion of an Absolute Mind manifesting itself as a rationally structured, material universe and as realizing its goals through a dialectic of ideas. Dewey found more acceptable a theory of reality holding that nature, as encountered in scientific and ordinary experience, is the ultimate reality and that man is a product of nature who finds his meaning and goals in life here and now.

Since these doctrines, which were to remain at the centre of all of Dewey’s future philosophizing, also furnished the framework in which Dewey’s colleagues in the department carried on their research, a distinct school of philosophy was in operation. This was recognized by William James in 1903, when a collection of essays written by Dewey and seven of his associates in the department, Studies in Logical Theory, appeared. James hailed the book enthusiastically and declared that with its publication a new school of philosophy, the Chicago school, had made its appearance.

Dewey’s philosophical orientation has been labeled a form of pragmatism, though Dewey himself seemed to favour the term “instrumentalism,” or “experimentalism.” William James’s The Principles of Psychology early stimulated Dewey’s rethinking of logic and ethics by directing his attention to the practical function of ideas and concepts, but Dewey and the Chicago school of pragmatists went farther than James had gone in that they conceived of ideas as instruments for transforming the uneasiness connected with the experience of having a problem into the satisfaction of some resolution or clarification of it.

Dewey’s preferred mode of inquiry was scientific investigation; he thought the experimental methods of modern science provided the most promising approach to social and ethical as well as scientific problems. He rejected the idea of a fixed and immutable moral law derivable from consideration of the essential nature of man, since such a traditional philosophical method denied the potential application and promise of newer empirical and scientific methods.

Dewey developed from these views a philosophical ground for democracy and liberalism. He conceived of democracy not as a mere form of government, but rather as a mode of association which provides the members of a society with the opportunity for maximum experimentation and personal growth. The ideal society, for Dewey, was one that provided the conditions for ever enlarging the experience of all its members.

Dewey’s contributions to psychology were also noteworthy. Many of the articles he wrote at that time are now accepted as classics in psychological literature and assure him a secure place in the history of psychology. Most significant is the essay “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” which is generally taken to mark the beginnings of functional psychology—i.e., one that focuses on the total organism in its endeavours to adjust to the environment.

Educational theory and practice. Dewey’s work in philosophy and psychology was largely centred in his major interest, educational reform. In formulating educational criteria and aims, he drew heavily on the insights into learning offered by contemporary psychology as applied to children. He viewed thought and learning as a process of inquiry starting from doubt or uncertainty and spurred by the desire to resolve practical frictions or relieve strain and tension. Education must therefore begin with experience, which has as its aim growth and the achievement of maturity.

Dewey’s writings on education, notably his The School and Society (1899) and The Child and the Curriculum (1902), presented and defended what were to remain the chief underlying tenets of the philosophy of education he originated. These tenets were that the educational process must begin with and build upon the interests of the child; that it must provide opportunity for the interplay of thinking and doing in the child’s classroom experience; that the teacher should be a guide and coworker with the pupils, rather than a taskmaster assigning a fixed set of lessons and recitations; and that the school’s goal is the growth of the child in all aspects of its being.

Among the results of Dewey’s administrative efforts were the establishment of an independent department of pedagogy and of the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, in which the educational theories and practices suggested by psychology and philosophy could be tested. The Laboratory Schools, the original unit of which began operation in 1896, attracted wide attention and enhanced the reputation of the University of Chicago as a foremost centre of progressive educational thought. Dewey headed the Laboratory Schools from 1903 to 1904.

Dewey’s ideas and proposals strongly affected educational theory and practice in the United States. Aspects of his views were seized upon by the “progressive movement” in education, which stressed the student-centred rather than the subject-centred school, education through activity rather than through formal learning, and laboratory, workshop, or occupational education rather than the mastery of traditional subjects. But though Dewey’s own faith in progressive education never wavered, he came to realize that the zeal of his followers introduced a number of excesses and defects into progressive education. Indeed, in Experience and Education (1938) he sharply criticized educators who sought merely to interest or amuse students, disregarded organized subject matter in favour of mere activity on the part of students, and were content with mere vocational training.

During the last two decades of Dewey’s life, his philosophy of education was the target of numerous and widespread attacks. Progressive educational practices were blamed for the failure of some American school systems to train pupils adequately in the liberal arts and for their neglect of such basic subjects as mathematics and science. Furthermore, critics blamed Dewey and his progressive ideas for what the former viewed as an insufficient emphasis on discipline in the schools.


Career at Columbia University
Disagreements between President William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago and Dewey led, in 1904, to Dewey’s resignation of his posts and to his acceptance of a professorship of philosophy at Columbia University in New York City. Dewey was associated with Columbia for 47 years, first as professor and then as professor emeritus of philosophy. During his 25 years of active teaching, his fame and the significance of what he had to say attracted thousands of students from home and abroad to his classes, and he became one of the most widely known and influential teachers in America. Dewey’s influence extended even further after he taught and lectured in countries such as Japan (1919), China (1919–21), Turkey (1924), Mexico (1926), and the Soviet Union (1928).

Dewey’s scholarly output at Columbia was enormous; one bibliography devotes approximately 125 pages to listing the titles of his publications during these years. His thought covered a wide range of topics, including logic and theory of knowledge, psychology, education, social philosophy, fine arts, and religion. Major works dealing with each of these fields appeared over the years and clearly established Dewey as the foremost philosopher in America and as one of the nation’s most productive scholars. His Experience and Nature, published in 1925, brings together in a systematic way the more important aspects of his philosophy and is generally regarded as his magnum opus.

His interest in current affairs prompted Dewey to contribute regularly to liberal periodicals, especially The New Republic. His articles focused on domestic, foreign, and international developments and were designed to reach a wide reading public. Because of his skill in analyzing and interpreting events, he soon was rated as among the best of American commentators and social critics.

Dewey also gave his time and energy to the support of organizations and causes in which he believed. In 1895 he was a founding member of the National Herbart Society (renamed the National Society for the Study of Education in 1902), and he served two terms as chairman (1903–05) of the National Society of College Teachers of Education, which he had helped establish in 1902. Dewey became one of the founders and the first president of the American Association of University Professors in 1915, and the next year he became a charter member of the first teachers’ union in New York City. He helped found the New School for Social Research in 1919 and the University-in-Exile in 1933, established for scholars being persecuted in countries under totalitarian regimes. In 1937, at age 78, he headed a commission of inquiry that went to Mexico City to hear Leon Trotsky’s rebuttal of the charges made against him in the Moscow show trials of 1936 and 1937.

Dewey retired from the Columbia faculty in 1930, after which he concentrated on public affairs while continuing to write. Among his books on psychology and philosophy are Psychology (1887), Ethics (cowritten with James Tufts; 1908), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Art as Experience (1934), Logic, the Theory of Inquiry (1938), and Freedom and Culture (1939). His chief later writings on education are Democracy and Education (1916) and Experience and Education (1938).

George Dykhuizen
Clarence Henry Faust

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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