Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

VAN WYCK BROOKS ON THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD

The Times of Melville and Whitman is the fourth volume in order of appearance in Van Wyck Brooks's history of American literature, but in the chronology of the series it takes its place between the two New England volumes, The Flowering of New England and New England: Indian Summer. It is not quite so exciting, perhaps, as the volume published just before (chronologically, the first of the series), The World of Washington Irving, which revived the intellectual ferment of the period just after the Revolution, but it is distinguished by the same kind of qualities. These two volumes which do not deal with New England seem to me to have a freedom of movement and an exhilaration of spirit, as well as a brilliance of writing, that the New England volumes, remarkable though they are, do not display to the same degree. This is partly because Mr. Brooks has been growing more and more adept and partly because his story in these later-written installments ranges more widely and becomes more varied; but it is also, I believe, partly because the author, being himself a New Yorker, does better when he gets away from New England.

There has always been in American literature a New York tradition as well as a New England one, but it has

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