The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ARRIVAL OF THE, ANNUALS

I

The unprecedented success of Irving's The Sketch Book and of Cooper The Spy, which appeared a year later, brought a pressure upon the literary vehicles of America that is often overlooked by students of the period. A new literary generation was coming on. J. K. Paulding, G. C. Verplanck, R. H. Dana, Edward Everett, Bryant, and John P. Kennedy already had won literary recognition; Miss Sedgwick, Prescott, Robert C. Sands, Grenville Mellen, Robert Montgomery Bird, and William G. Simms were just beginning to write, and Longfellow, Hawthorne, Willis, and Poe, still in school or college, were dreaming of literature as a lifework. All of them had been touched by the magic of Scott, and all of them had been stimulated by the almost unbelievable success of their two young countrymen. As to whether Irving or Cooper was the greater influence upon this group is an open question. Griswold in 1846 was inclined toward Cooper: "The Spy gave an extraordinary impulse to literature in the country. More than anything that had occurred, it aroused the people from their feeling of intellectual dependence." Concerning the influence of Irving a volume of testimony might be collected. His effect upon Longfellow may be cited as typical:

Every reader has his first book; I mean to say, one book among all others which in early youth first fascinates imagination, and at once excites and satisfies the desires of his mind. To me, this first book was The Sketch Book of Washington Irving. I was a schoolboy when it was published, and read each succeeding number with ever-increasing wonder and delight, spellbound by its pleasant humor, its melancholy tenderness, its atmosphere of revery,--nay, even by its gray-brown covers, the shaded letters of its titles, and the fair clear type, which seemed an outward symbol of its style.

As a result of these influences came all at once a flood of Irving- like sketches, essays, tales, and an increasing number of Scott

-27-

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