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Irving, Cooper, Sedgwick

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Thomas Ruys Smith

on 11 October 2015

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Transcript of Irving, Cooper, Sedgwick

Washington Irving
James Fenimore Cooper
Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Imagining America: "Who reads an American book?"
North American Review, 1822
‘The Americans are a brave, industrious, and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character [….] Their Franklins and Washingtons, and all the other sages and heroes of their revolution, were born and bred subjects of the King of England [….] And, since the period of their separation, a far greater proportion of their statesmen and artists and political writers have been foreigners, than ever occurred before in the history of any civilized and educated people. During the thirty or forty years of their independence, they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature [….] In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?’

(Sydney Smith. ‘Review of Adam Seybert’s Statistical Annals of the United States of America.’ Edinburgh Review. 33:65 (January, 1820): 69-80, 78-9.)
‘Our children’s books are English; […] our stage is supplied from England; […] Byron, Campbell, Southey, Scott, are as familiar to us as their own countrymen; […] we receive the first sheets of the new novel before the last one is thrown off at Edinburgh; […] we reprint every English work of merit […]; and […] the English version of the Scriptures is the great source whence the majority of Americans imbibe their English language.’

Edward Everett, North American Review, 1821.
William Ellery Channing: ‘it were better to have no literature, than form ourselves unresistingly on a foreign one’
G. Harrison Orians
Waverley, 1814
Walter Scott, Henry Raeburn, 1822
G. Harrison Orians
George Dekker, American Historical Romance
‘We are now tempted to notice it as a very remarkable publication, – and to predict that it will form an era in the literature of the nation to which it belongs. It is the work of an American, entirely bred and trained in that country [….] It is the first American work, we rather think, of any description, but certainly the first purely literary production, to which we could give this praise.’

(‘Review of The Sketch Book, by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.’ Edinburgh Review. 34:67 (August, 1820), 160-76, 160.)
The reading of Americans…is English; there being few native writers, and but a small number of these who possess the respect of even their own country men. Our novels and poetry [...] meet with an immediate reprint, and constitute practically the entire American library […] Notwithstanding this voluntary national dependence, there are, perhaps, no people, not even excepting the French, who are so vain as the Americans.

Henry Bradshaw Fearon, Sketches of America. A Narrative of a Journey of Five Thousand Miles Through the Eastern and Western States of America, (London, 1818), 365-68.
W. H. Gardiner, North American Review, 1822
Fisher Ames, 1808: ‘The time will come, when our liberties have been over thrown, and when our future emperor shall have killed off all his rivals and surrounded himself with a voluptuous court […] He will have art and literature to amuse his leisure.’

‘I visited various parts of my own country; and had I been merely a lover of fine scenery, I should have felt little desire to seek elsewhere its gratification, for on no country have the charms of nature been more prodigally lavished. Her mighty lakes, like oceans of liquid silver; her mountains, with their bright aerial tints; her valleys, teeming with wild fertility; her tremendous cataracts, thundering in their solitudes; her boundless plains, waving with spontaneous verdure; her broad deep rivers, rolling in solemn silence to the ocean; her trackless forests, where vegetation puts forth all its magnificence; her skies, kindling with the magic of summer clouds and glorious sunshine;—no, never need an American look beyond his own country for the sublime and beautiful of natural scenery.
Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon
But Europe held forth the charms of storied and poetical association. There were to be seen the masterpieces of art, the refinements of highly-cultivated society, the quaint peculiarities of ancient and local custom. My native country was full of youthful promise: Europe was rich in the accumulated treasures of age. Her very ruins told the history of times gone by, and every mouldering stone was a chronicle. I longed to wander over the scenes of renowned achievement—to tread, as it were, in the footsteps of antiquity—to loiter about the ruined castle—to meditate on the falling tower—to escape, in short, from the commonplace realities of the present, and lose myself among the shadowy grandeurs of the past.’

Irving, Sketch Book, 1820
Abigail Adams, 1784: England’s churches ‘look more like jails for criminals than places designed for the worship of the Deity […] They have a most gloomy appearance and really make me shudder.’
Byron, on the Sketch Book: “I know it by heart […] there is not a passage that I cannot refer to immediately […] His writings are my delight”
James Fenimore Cooper, Precaution (1820)
James Fenimore Cooper, The Spy (1821)
Jonathan Arac
Walter Scott, The Pirate (1822)
Wayne Franklin
‘There are several reasons why an American, who writes a novel, should choose his own country for the scene of his story – and there are more against it. To begin with the -- pros -- the ground is untrodden, and will have all the charms of novelty […] The very singularity of the circumstance, gives the book some small chance of being noticed abroad […] But there is still another class of critics, whose smiles we most covet, and whose frowns we most expect to encounter […] The truth is, that a woman is a bundle of sensibilities, and these are qualities which exist chiefly in the fancy. Certain moated castles, draw-bridges, and kind a of classic nature, are much required by these imaginative beings […] We would not be understood as throwing the gauntlet to our fair countrywomen, by whose opinions it is that we expect to stand or fall; we only mean to say, that if we have got no lords and castles in the book, it is because there are none in the country.’

James Fenimore Cooper, Preface to The Spy (1821)
Jane Austen
1823: James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers
The United States Magazine and Democratic Review:

‘We have no national literature. We depend almost wholly on Europe, and particularly England, to think and write for us, or at least to furnish materials and models after which we shall mould our own humble attempts. [….] Our mind is enslaved to the past and present literature of England [….] But we should not follow in her wake; a radiant path invites us forward in another direction. [….] There is an immense field open to us, if we would but enter it boldly and cultivate it as our own.’
1836: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
Mark Twain, b.1835
James Fenimore Cooper, 1821:

‘The task of making American Manners and American scenes interesting to an American reader is an arduous one’

1822: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, A New England Tale
1826: Last of the Mohicans
Joseph Jefferson III, Rip Van Winkle
Thomas Cole, Scene from Last of the Mohicans: Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 1827
William Channing, North American Review, 1815
Who reads an American book?
Maria Edgeworth
1824: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Redwood
1827: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie
Irving, on Scott
Scott, to Irving
John Neal, Blackwood's Magazine, 1824
Royall Tyler, The Algerine Captive, 1797:

"One of the first observations the author of the following sheets made upon his return to his native country, after an absence of seven years, was the extreme avidity with which books of mere amusement were purchased and perused by all ranks of his countrymen . . . In our inland towns of consequence, social libraries had been instituted, composed of books designed to amuse rather than to instruct; and country booksellers, fostering the new-born taste of the people, had filled the whole land with modern travels, and novels almost as incredible."
North American Review, 1833:

“When Waverley appeared, men beheld it with as much perplexity, as the out-break of a revolution; the more prudent held their peace, and waited to see what might come of it; the critics were in sad straits, having nothing wherewithal to measure it . . . but the public, without asking their opinion, gave decisive judgment in its favor”
Richard Teichgraeber, Sublime Thoughts / Penny Wisdom: Situating Emerson and Thoreau in the American Market:

“During the 1820s 128 American novels were published, almost forty more than had been published in the previous 50 years, and five times the number published during the previous decade—and yet more than double that number appeared in the 1830s; and the total more than doubles again in the 1840s, to nearly eight hundred. ”
Samuel Knapp, 1829
Philip Freneau, "To a New England Poet" (1823)

Why stay in such a tasteless land,
Where all must on a level stand,
(Excepting people, at their ease,
Who choose the level where they please:)

See Irving gone to Britain's court
To people of another sort,
He will return, with wealth and fame,
While Yankees hardly know your name.

Lo! he has kissed a Monarch's--hand!
Before a prince I see him stand,
And with the glittering nobles mix,
Forgetting times of seventy-six


Why pause?--like Irving, haste away,
To England your addresses pay;
And England will reward you well,
Of British feats, and British arms,
The maids of honor, and their charms.

Dear bard, I pray you, take the hint,
In England what you write and print,
Republished here in shop, or stall,
Will perfectly enchant us all
17 years
Edgar Allan Poe, 1836
"What would not the author of Waverley make of such materials?"
György Lukács, The Historical Novel, 1937:

"It was the French Revolution, the revolutionary wars and the rise and fall of Napoleon, which for the first time made history a mass experience [...] Hence the concrete possibilities for men to comprehend their own existence as something historically conditioned, for them to see in history something which deeply affects their daily lives and immediately concerns them"
George Dekker, The American Historical Novel, 1987:
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