John Jay Chapman: An American Mind

John Jay Chapman: An American Mind

John Jay Chapman: An American Mind

John Jay Chapman: An American Mind

Excerpt

John Jay Chapman (1862-1933), critic and essayist, has been all but lost to American letters. But Chapman's, I am convinced, is another of those deferred reputations among American writers. To us today his value should be clearer and more meaningful than it possibly could have been during his lifetime. So often ahead of his times, Chapman, when he was sixty-two and in his final decade, had come to console himself with these words: "I am saying things which some day will be thought of, rather than trying to get the attention of anyone." The things he was saying are questions he put to the American mind-- questions that plague us still.

If in his own lifetime Chapman was little heeded, today he remains largely unknown, even to the class of readers for whom he wrote. Most writers of his generation have long since found their place in the history of American letters. But Chapman continues to be ignored or misrepresented in our literary histories and our anthologies. Since his death in 1933, there have appeared M. A. DeWolfe Howe excellent John Jay Chapman and His Letters (1937), a memorial sketch, three unpublished doctoral dissertations, and not so much as a half-dozen critical essays. Of these last, only two, those by Edmund Wilson and Jacques Barzun, are for their depth and comprehension really first-rate. As I write these lines, Dr. Barzun is putting to press a volume of Chapman selections. This at least should make Chapman more widely read. For his lack of recognition is not due to unkind criticism; but to the fact that most people have formed their impression of him through a partial or superficial reading of what the man has written--or perhaps from mere hearsay.

That he has been so much ignored by his countrymen might be considered--as it has been by one of his friendly critics--"a devastating commentary on the state of American culture." His matter and manner, his task as a critic, were of course almost guarantees against wide popularity. Among more educated readers--especially those of academic predilections--Chapman has been left alone, evidently because, like his . . .

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