The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE WESTERN TRIBUTARY

I

The decade and a half after The Sketch Book and The Spy may be termed the period of flamboyant Americanism in our native literature. It was "the era of good feeling," the era of "Spread- eagle" Fourth-of-July oratory, the era of national expansion. The success of Scott with his native backgrounds, of Miss Edgeworth with her Irish fiction, of Irving with his American legends, and Cooper with his American historical romance, had suggested the idea of a native literature in America which should make use of the rich stores of legend and history that lay everywhere undeveloped. Sydney Smith's taunt had had its effect. On all sides were heard voices crying for distinctively American productions. In 1822, William H. Gardiner in a review of The Spy filled five pages of the conservative old North American Review with a resonant demand for native romance. Materials for it, he declared, lay all about in embarrassing profusion: "In no one country on the face of the globe can there be found a greater variety of specific character than is at this moment developed in this United States of America." Thereupon he proceeded to give a catalogue a page long of the various human types peculiar to America, from the Yankee peddler and the wild boatman of the Ohio to the aristocrat of the southern plantation and the cosmopolitan merchant of New York.

Irving, more than anyone else, had set Americans to thinking of legends. Quickly the collecting of old traditions, like the Peter Rugg legend for instance, became a fad. It was discovered that America was full of such picturesque material. "No inch of our ground," declared a contemporary reviewer, "is without its peculiar association, its appropriate legend; and it seems hardly more than filial affection to gather and garner up these little mementoes of our fathers' joys and trials before time shall have marked them as alms of oblivion." The annual edited by Willis

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