The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
FOLLOWING THE CIVIL WAR

I

The first literary result of the Civil War was a sudden growth of new periodicals, which sprang up everywhere like poppies from a battlefield. Many were mere ephemeral growths which quickly gave place to others just as ephemeral; many persisted vigorously, but with little to commend them save their popularity; others became dominating influences in the new period. Of these last the New York Nation is the best example, founded in 1866, to quote from its salutatory, "to promote and develop a higher standard of criticism." The work of this influential journal really opened a new period in every branch of American literature. In its literary department it stood from the first for fixed standards, for seriousness, for careful workmanship. Criticism in America, it declared, had passed through its first "chaotic or embryonic period, when the whole energy of the people is employed in overcoming physical obstacles" and "when literature is an exotic"; it had almost emerged from its second stage, "the childish stage, or that of promiscuous and often silly admiration or indiscriminate censure"; and now it was entering upon its final stage, "orderly and scientific criticism without personal animosity or bias." For this last variety of criticism it proposed to be in America the leading organ, and for two or three decades at least it realized its ambition.

Viewing the literary field in 1866, The Nation found the new magazine situation on the whole a hopeful symptom:

The fact noticed by some old writer--Pliny, we believe--that literature flourishes immediately after great civil convulsions, is repeating itself here since the suppression of the rebellion--a brief period which has witnessed the commencement and projection of more newspapers and periodicals than the ten preceding years.

A new flourishing of literature, it declared, was certainly needed in America, since "the reading matter of this country is almost

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