Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

By Preface to the Final Volume

IN the original Preface to this work a general design was announced, upon lines adopted at the outset, and, as the end makes clear, with a correct prevision of its main features. But the editors could not foresee the time and labor it would consume. Had we realized the disabilities under which such an enterprise was undertaken by the original projector, neither our ambition nor our sense of duty could have induced us to assume its editorial conduct. Once pledged to this, we could not bring ourselves to slight or scamp the materials, rich and abundant in certain periods, and in others where less suggestive demanding for that very reason our most painstaking attention.

The successive periods cover a space of nearly three centuries; that is, from Shakespeare’s time to our own. For every author quoted at least five others have been under consideration, and probably a larger average number of books has been examined for each selection made. Until the “Library” passed into the ownership of the present publishers, who enlarged its limits, and supplied an office and ample means for its completion, not only the critical editing, but the proof-reading and other routine labor, were performed by us in our own homes, to the exclusion of original work and needful recreation. It was thought by the business projector that the volumes could be made up with speed and ease, after the manner of various compilations for the subscription-trade. But we finally accepted his advances, because there seemed a chance to do something of real service, and only upon condition that we should work in our own way,—and thus doubled the labor and postponed our remuneration. The projector, for reasons extraneous to this enterprise, was unable to complete it; after three years only five volumes were stereotyped. Some delay ensued before it was taken up by Messrs. Charles L. Webster & Co., who have enabled us to extend and beautify the work, and who now issue it complete within two years from the publication of Volumes I.–III., in May, 1888. The compilation of the series began in 1883. During the intervening seven years a notable increase of literary activity has been observed, new and successful writers appearing in all portions of the country. Our original design, planned in a week’s time, has been unchanged—but somewhat extended. Notwithstanding the progressive increase, in size and scope, of Volumes VI.–X. (without increase of cost to the subscribers), it became necessary to compile the present and still larger volume, devoted to new authors and to the General Index, and with the addition of an important feature—the “Short Biographies” of all writers represented in the compilation.

These Biographies, added in response to many suggestions from the press and the public, have been prepared by Mr. Arthur Stedman, who from the beginning of our labors has given his close attention to the technical detail of the work.

The early disadvantages mentioned, however unwelcome to the editors, may not have resulted adversely to their undertaking. For we can fairly claim that the outcome is a “handmade” Library; that it is not a piece of “machine-work”; that it is the product of the individual effort of two editors, consulting for years in harmony, and as cheerfully as possible whether the labor was agreeable or trying. No accessory judgment has interfered to produce a confusion of tastes and methods. With less than a half-dozen exceptions, every author in the series has been read by the editors themselves, and each selection examined by both of them. Their powers and labors have been equal, and there has been no duty too high or too low for either of them to perform. In considering the scope of this compilation, proud as we are of the showing made by our country, we understood quite well that we should often endure a conflict with our personal taste, and that our object could be gained only by such endurance. Against this, there have been enjoyable compensations. The spirit of the work was indicated by the titles given to the early Colonial selections, and such diversions have added zest to our duties throughout the series.

With respect to the contents of these volumes several requirements have been kept in mind. In the first place, the “Library” must be made interesting,—attractive to the general reader,—otherwise no publisher would be recompensed for the outlay involved. We believed that from the home-field of literature a standard of worth and interest could be maintained, justifying the announcement of the Preface that the work was “made for popular use and enjoyment,” and recompensing both the scholar and the layman for money expended at the sacrifice, perhaps, of other things desired.

Next, we have respected our title, which is neither a “Thesaurus” nor a “Valhalla,” but “A Library” of American literature, and thus denotes a compilation varied in subject, treatment, and merit, and above all—inclusive, often waiving a severe adherence to perfection in style or thought. It is not confined to masterpieces, though not a few of them can be found within it. To prepare an eclectic and exclusive miscellany from the writings of the greatest divines, statesman, historians, poets, and romancers of America, would be a pleasant office and withal a light one. Seven weeks might serve for its editing, instead of seven years, and our eleven volumes might readily have been occupied with less than fifty authors, provided that great publishers were sufficiently altruistic to yield the copyright of their best stock in trade. The familiar eminent names have not absorbed our time, but the class whose name is legion. Yet minor authors, singly or in groups, reflect the tendencies of a period even more clearly than their more original compeers. We trust that no great writer has been neglected in the “Library,” and that few will object to the representation of one of humble cast by a single poem or page, when fifty times as much tribute is paid to an Emerson or a Hawthorne. We have troubled ourselves very little concerning the obscurity of any “forgotten author” from whose writings we have selected something to illustrate a special phase, or because it merited preservation. Moreover, there is truth in Sainte-Beuve’s remark upon out-of-date works: “Their very faults become representative, and are not without charm, as the once-admired expression of a taste that has given place to another, which in its turn will likewise pass away.” Sometimes a non-professional writer has afforded the clearest statement of an important matter: such, for instance, as the law of copyright. The multitude of those who write enlarges as their grade decreases, therefore some authors whom we include are not chosen as superior to others who are omitted; for every class and period we have tried simply to give fair representation within our limits of room; and occasionally some extract, that we liked better than one previously included, has been ruled out because we could not devote any more space to its topic. Except, however, in the cases of the most eminent authors, it would be unjust to measure our estimate of their relative importance by the number of pages allotted to them respectively. Poetry, for example, is precious for its condensation; besides, it may be difficult to obtain even a couple of pages suited to this compilation from the works of some noble scholar, while a young and promising novelist, if represented at all, needs room for a chapter, or an episode, or a short and complete tale.

Lastly, it has been our aim to compile for professional readers a copious and trustworthy Reference Book, suited to the needs of working American authors, teachers, journalists, and public men. We have striven to give correct texts (sometimes differing from those usually accepted) of significant and historic sermons, speeches, public documents, and declarations. Few very notable short poems have been omitted, scarcely one that has justly preserved the name of a “single-poem” poet. The ballads of the nation, in times of public excitement, lend to this “Library” a meaning fully as important, we believe, as that which Macaulay derived from the rudest catches of his own people. Various poems less known, but worth preservation in such a compendium, have been inserted, especially in the present volume—another of its features being the section devoted to our continuation of the “Noted Sayings,” many of which are here first collected for reference and quotation. In pursuance of our scheme, American journalism is represented by a few able leaders; but in fact some of our strongest writers have devoted, from choice or necessity, their abilities to newspaper-service. During the late period, frequent credit is given to the magazines and reviews, wherein nowadays a large portion of our noteworthy literature appears before its republication in book-form. It should be mentioned that, owing to the preponderance of theology, history, and politics in our early volumes, it was thought advisable to occupy the later chiefly with an exhibition of the modern rise of “literature proper”—with essays, history, fiction, and poetry. Consequently the great concourse of recent savants, economists, and divines, eminent in the faculties of our colleges and institutes,—among them many near and honored friends of the editors,—is for the most part unrepresented. “Juvenile” books, of which kind there are several “little classics,” are excluded, beyond a few selections made for specific reasons.

The gist of the foregoing remarks has been so tersely stated by an able critic, who has reviewed our successive issues with nice discrimination, that it is a pleasure to accept his very language as a summary of the ends which the editors have had in view. He justly says: “It was not their intention merely to indicate by excerpts the masterpieces of American literature, or even to commit themselves to the assertion that at a given period the American people possessed a literature properly so called. Their design, in other words, was historical rather than critical. They meant to exhibit the kind of composition which at this or that period was supposed by the American people, or a section of it, to belong to literature. A searching light would thus be thrown on the stage of taste and cultivation attained by our countrymen at a particular time.” Let us confess, for our own part, that in progressing with the “Library” we realized, after a while, that we had builded better than we knew; that our National Gallery was presenting a rare conspectus of American life,—yes, of American history, in all departments of imagination, action, and opinion. Our hope is now a belief, that in the homestead and the school-library this compilation will make for patriotism. There is a picture of the boy Lincoln reading by the embers of a cabin-fire. What he hungered for in youth, A LIBRARY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE now places at the disposal of our young people henceforth; and the assurances that many thinkers share our view embolden us to claim a measure of disinterestedness in the wish that this compilation may soon be found in every school, at every army-post, on board our ships, and frequent throughout the public and private libraries of our Republic.

In truth, what more vivid panorama of our national procession could be devised by artist or historian? To Mr. Atkinson’s scheme of making the Exposition of 189– an object-lesson of New World growth in science, art, and industry, an intellectual accompaniment, so far as these States are concerned, might well be supplied by the present volumes. Do they not reveal, indeed, the national qualities which Milton, in the Areopagitica, portrayed, when he found the strength of the Motherland to consist in “a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to”?

It is not our province to comment upon the writings displayed in this compilation. Two things, however, will be observed upon a survey of the field: First, the literary activity manifest upon the coming to the front of a generation reared since the civil war; secondly, as respects the characteristics of American literature, that its begetters usually have had something which they wished to say, and therefore have said it with much spontaneity and freedom from affectation. Their works have largely appertained to subjects of interest to the public mind, in their several periods. This is illustrated by the Analysis of the personal and topical Index that has been editorially prepared and placed at the end of this volume. This titulary Analysis is arranged in such a manner as to show not only the variety of topics presented, but the changing character of those predominant at different stages. As our editorial method has not been to regard a period from the point of view of our requirements, but to construct each volume insubordination to its period, the outcome displayed in this Analysis has proved as novel and instructive to the editors as it must be to our readers. A treatise on the progress of national thought and life might be suggested by it.

The attention of subscribers to our early editions is invited to the “Note” and list of revised dates, etc., following the “Summary of Acknowledgments.”

For the accuracy of the text in Vols. VI.–XI. we are greatly indebted to the friendship and professional skill of Mr. John H. Boner, of the Century Dictionary staff, who has given much of his spare time to the correction of our page-proofs, and in other ways has been of service to this Work.

Our obligations to others who have promoted our efforts are so abundant that it becomes necessary to detail them in the pages immediately following this Preface. But we can here extend our thanks to the authors of America, who have assisted us so loyally, with an expressed belief in our fairness, and with a good-natured acceptance of judgments which often must seem to them very fallible. Nor are we unappreciative of the hearty interest taken in the “Library,” since its publication began, by the American press,—of the long and frequent reviews and the encouraging welcome it has received, and of many useful suggestions and corrections, to which we gladly have lent attentive consideration.

In conclusion, our renewed acknowledgments are tendered to the powerful and widely-distributed guild of American publishers, who control the usufruct of nearly all works issued here within the last forty-two years, and without whose consent the reproduction of so much of the matter presented in this “Library” would have been impossible. Every publisher whose authors are quoted therein has placed, without exception and with courteous and friendly assurances, his entire “list” at the disposal of the editors, in answer to their personal solicitation. The large and the lesser houses alike have given us this vantage, confiding in our promise that it should be used and not abused. We have realized the great value of such a trust, never before extended on this scale to American compilers, and have endeavored to avail ourselves of it in such wise as to secure a reflex benefit to the liberal donors. A full list of these firms, with their addresses, follows close upon this Preface; and if, in the acknowledgment pages at the end of each volume, there has been any failure to give credit for a certain book or other copyrighted matter, the omission has been from oversight, or from inability to discover an existing proprietor.

NEW YORK, May, 1890.