The Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb

By Ellery Sedgwick | Go to book overview

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The Founding of the Atlantic (1 8 5 7) Boston's High Tide

"The founding of the Atlantic Monthly, in 1857," according to Van Wyck Brooks, "marked [the] high tide of the Boston mind" ( Flowering 483). In that year, Boston, with its outlying towns of Cambridge and Concord, was the capital of literary culture in the United States, a status it enjoyed only a generation. Until 1850, American literary and intellectual taste had been dominated by the writers, editors, and publishers of the New York -- Philadelphia axis, and by 1880, the tide had begun to shift back toward New York ( Charvat, Literary Publishing 37). But in the fifties, literary production, intellectual activity, and institutions for the publication and distribution of books combined to make Boston the major influence in a literary culture that was just beginning to be national as well as regional. The literate American public had not yet apotheosized the Olympians of the New England pantheon. But the relatively new rail lines through the Berkshires were carrying their works west, giving them a fully national audience, and from Cincinnati to San Francisco, as well as in London, they were beginning to be read with an enthusiasm and respect not often given to American authors. During the preceding decade, many of the writers living in and around Boston, including Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, Thoreau, Whittier, and the historians Prescott, Parkman, and Motley, had published major works, and most had achieved significant recognition. They, like posterity, were conscious of an "increasing volume, solidification, and diversity amid centralization" of New England literary and intellectual production centered in Boston (Buell 20).1

These and lesser-known writers within what has been loosely called intellectual

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