The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 3. The Sections Celebrated by the Romancers
As late as 1825 Jared Sparks thought ten American novels a striking output for one year, but during the second quarter of the century Cooper had many helpers in his great task. In New England Neal, Miss Sedgwick, Mrs. Child, and D. P. Thompson had already set outposts before Hawthorne came to capture that section for classic ground. Paulding and Hoffman assisted Cooper in New York, and Paulding took Swedish Delaware for himself; for Pennsylvania Bird was Brown’s chief successor; Maryland had Kennedy; Virginia, without many native novels, began to undergo, in the hands of almost every romancer who dealt with the founders of the republic, that idealization which has made it, especially since the Civil War, the most romantic of American states; South Carolina passed into the pages of Simms; Georgia and the lower South brought forth a school of native humorists who abounded in the truth as well as in the fun of that border; the Mississippi and the Ohio advanced to a place in the imagination with the Hudson, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James. North of the Ohio romance achieved relatively little, but on the southern bank Kentucky, “Dark and Bloddy Ground,” rivalled its mother Virginia. Bird ventured into Mexico at a time when Irving and Prescott were writing romantic histories of the Spanish discovery and conquest. Melville, the most original and perennial of Cooper’s contemporaries, concerned himself with the wonders of the Pacific and the deeds of Yankee whalers. Some of these novels dealt with contemporary life, but the large majority used history to lend depth to the picture which was being filled in. This was the age during which there grew up the heroic conceptions of the first settlements and of the Revolution which still prevail; the novelists stand side by side with the orators and the popular biographers in the creation of those powerful legends. Crude style and bombastic characters abound, but so do great vigour and idealism. Although such romances do not present a solid record of actual life in America at the time they were written, they offer important evidence regarding the life of the imagination, its aims, methods, and conventions, as it existed in those formative years.