The Periodicals of American Transcendentalism

By Clarence L. F. Gohdes | Go to book overview
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It is altogether fitting, since The Western Messenger, the first of the transcendental periodicals, had appeared in the Ohio Valley, that one of the last journals devoted to the cause of the New Spirit and its adherents should likewise have been established in the same section of the country. The Dial, the magazine referred to, was founded and edited by Moncure Conway in Cincinnati during the year of 1860; and its twelve monthly issues constitute an important episode in the history of the transcendental movement. It may be desirable again in this connection to call attention to the fact that the development of the ideas of the New School in the Middle West was an integral part of the general evolution of the peculiar religious and literary philosophy that has now come to be identified chiefly with New England. The surprising interest in literary activities manifested by the people who followed the course of empire across the Appalachians supplied a ready soil for the seed that Emerson and his fellows were sowing by means of books and lectures.1 Moreover,

In 1818 a public library was opened in Cincinnati, and in 1821 the Apprentices' Library was founded. In 1826 the former contained 1300 "well selected" volumes, while the latter had 1200 ( B. Drake and E. D. Mansfield, Cincinnati in 1826, Cin., 1827, pp. 46-47). In 1827 the Queen City had nine bookstores, and each of the military posts in the neighboring country had a library and reading room, where "regular files of the best newspapers published in the U. S." were received and read "with care" ( Caleb Atwater, Indians of the Northwest, Columbus, 1850, pp. 6 and 179). In 1834 Charles Fenno Hoffman was astonished at a "literary soirée" in Cincinnati ( A Winter in the West, 1835, II, 133). In 1840 the same city had twenty-five publishers of books and periodicals, and the value of their products was estimated at 158,500 ( Charles Cist, Cincinnati in 1841, Cin., 1841, p. 56). Howells wrote of the hamlets of Northern Ohio as he knew them in his youth: "If our villages were not religious, they were, in a degree which I still think extraordinary, literary. Old and young, they talked about books . . . and any American author who made an effect in the East became promptly known in that small village of the Western Reserve" ( Years of My Youth, 1926, p. 106). See also R. L. Rusk, The Literature of the Middle Western Frontier, 1925, I, 67ff.


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