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

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

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

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

Synopsis

From its founding in 1857 until its sale by Houghton Mifflin in 1908, the Atlantic Monthly was the most respected literary periodical in the United States. This study focuses on the magazine's first seven editors: James Russell Lowell, James T. Fields, William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Horace Scudder, Walter Hines Page, and Bliss Perry. Ellery Sedgwick examines their personalities, editorial policies, and literary tastes, and shows how each balanced his role as advocate of "high" culture with the demands of the literary marketplace and American democracy. Although the Atlantic was rooted in the Yankee humanism of Boston, Cambridge, and Concord, its scope was national. Sedgwick points out that while the magazine spoke for high culture, its tradition was one of intellectual tolerance and of moderate liberalism on social and political issues. It supported abolition, women's rights, and religious tolerance, and published incisive criticism of unregulated industrial capitalism. The Atlanticalso played an important role in the rise of American literary realism, and published early work not only by such authors as James, Jewett, and Howells, but also by Chesnutt, Du Bois, Cahan, and Zitkala-Sa.

Excerpt

This book is a history of the first half century of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, from its founding in 1857 through the end of Bliss Perry's editorship in 1909. The Atlantic still thrives, but its first half century marked the period of its greatest cultural influence, particularly in literature. Those years also reflect most fully its expression of the humanist tradition of the New England cultural elite and the dialectic between that tradition and the developing democratic mass culture.

The history of the Atlantic Monthly during the nineteenth century is partly the story of its first seven editors: James Russell Lowell, James T. Fields, William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Horace Elisha Scudder, Walter Hines Page, and Bliss Perry. The Atlantic's editors are worth the attention of readers of nineteenth- century cultural history because it was their business to be unusually sensitive to the intellectual currents of their times. Their editorial decisions dramatize major American cultural values and conflicts. They are of further interest because each has had an authoritative voice in shaping what was published and read, what authors and ideas gained influence among a significant cultural minority of Americans. Each has impressed his own personality, values, and vision of the magazine's purpose on his incarnation of the Atlantic.

Editors, however, like politicians, are supposed to be simultaneously leaders and surrogates for their public's values. Emerson declared at the Atlantic's founding that its editors must be ready to defy the public and accept only what they believed to be of permanent worth, and nineteenth-century Atlantic editors took their function as cultural leaders seriously (Journals 14: 167). But most were also pragmatists, attuned not only to the intellectual currents of the time but also to the tastes and values of their readership. Their sensitivities to their public and their ability to articulate and represent the responses of relatively educated, middle-class nineteenth-century readers make them of further interest.

In addition to evaluating the Atlantic's editors, and through them its readership . . .

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