Romantic Literature 1800-1865 The American Canon
Fireside Poets The Fireside Poets include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, and also Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. These poets gained their moniker through their popular poetry that was easy to read and included understandable, familiar themes. Although Nature and Natural themes were VERY prevalent, topics of these poets were wide ranging.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow One of the more prolific writers of the era, wrote extensively “The Children’s Hour”, “The Builders”, “The Day Is Done”, and “Paul Revere’s Ride” are the poems we read. “The Children’s Hour” is metaphorical for a man’s arrival home at the end of his work day, being greeted by his children. “The Builders” is a metaphor for the building of life. The comparison is that the body or the life is a temple. “The Day Is Done” may be a metaphor for the end of life but in the poem the day comes to close and the narrator relies on the poets to inspire and soothe him. “Paul Revere’s Ride” is an exaggeration of the historical event that began the Revolutionary War. Although many events were accurate, Longfellow chose to make a singular, national hero of his main character. It was published near the very beginning of the American Civil War.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Holmes was first a renowned physician who did not begin his writing career until later in his life. Once he began his writing career, he was prolific and is remembered for many of his short, lyrical, light poems. “Old Ironsides” was written as a protest to the scuttling of the USS Constitution, a famous US Naval Frigate. He made the ship into a valiant soldier, a war hero. His efforts saved the ship.
William Cullen Bryant Was published and prolific as a young writer, first published at ten. “Thanatopsis” was written when he was 17 and published within a year. The poem gives a Romantic view of death and more importantly the cycle of life. Its central theme is that in death all men are equal; earthly differences mean nothing as all men return to the earth.
James Fennimore Cooper Cooper’s family is at the forefront of Colonial America. His forbears founded the Cooperstown settlement. He was born in the 1789. Cooper stands at the head of the class among his Romantic era peers. He created a seminal character in Natty Bumppo or Hawkeye, and the series of novels about his adventures revolutionized American literature. His treatment of the American Native is parallel to that of many American Romantics. The sympathetic view is at odds with the more stereotyped savage. The Last of the Mohicans is one of five novels written about the adventures of and with Hawkeye as its protagonist. Hawkeye himself became the prototype of the American Romantic Heroand the inspiration for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Hawkeye represents the wild and untamed frontier but also the sensibility and resourcefulness of the new American spirit. He has high ideals but is not above acting (often times violently) in defense of those ideals. The characters of Chingachgook and Uncas show the Native that can pass through both the Native and “European” cultures and ideologies. Duncan Heyward and David Gamut (especially) represent the “fish out of water”. Heyward more easily adapts because he is more skilled and possesses a more advanced European sensibility while Gamut seems to more accidentally survive.
Washington Irving Irving was born in 1783 in New York City. His writing career began earnestly in 1809 when he began writing under the pseudonyms of Geoffrey Crayon and Dietrich Knickerbocker. His early tales normally referenced the early days of Colonial America and created a new folklore. His more famous works include Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with the memorable character of Ichabod Crane. In The Devil and Tom Walker, Irving once again creates a memorable protagonist in Tom Walker, a greedy miser who makes a deal with the Devil, Old Scratch. Tom becomes a model citizen when he realizes the gravity of his contract. Tom is a protagonist but also an anti-hero. His example is one in which we learn more what not to do. This story seems to straddle the line between Romantic and Dark Romantic themes.
Walt Whitman Born in Long Island, NY in 1819 to a stable although not tremendously wealthy Quaker family. He was early on interested and inspired by nature but also had a very urban viewpoint. The expansion of the country, the growth of eastern cities and the influence of a wide variety of people and cultures were all inspirational to Whitman the writer. He became one of America’s most prolific, noteworthy and influential authors. Leaves of Grass was his self-published collection of poems that celebrate man, Whitman himself, and man’s/his own relationship with Nature. The mundane elements of life were central to his poems. The simplest forms were inspiring.
Edgar Allan Poe Characters often reflect some internal problem—loss, anger, guilt, jealousy. Poetry follows many traditional forms including rhyme and rhythm (meter). Stories and poems often begin with a “sane” explanation of events (Annabelle Lee) or comedy (The Raven) before the mood changes to something more dark or sinister.