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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIII. Later Essayists

§ 16. Hamilton Wright Mabie

There can be no doubt that American literature has considerably suffered from the platitudinous didactic note. It is for this reason that, with sentiments of utmost civic respect, with full appreciation for the fluent diction of the most prolific of our later essay writers, we must regard Hamilton Wright Mabie (1845–1916) as a teacher of sweetness and sanity, as a fair-minded expositor of literature, as a friendly observer of nature, but not as an important man of letters. Lacking colour, sharpness of outline, light and shade,—all those qualities which the great stylists have as effectually at their command as have the greatest painters,—he represents perhaps more convincingly than any other of our essayists both the possibilities and limitations inherent in writers seeking to bring “sweetness and light” to a generation of readers whose early education comes from the public schools, and who, for later enlightenment, turn to innumerable magazines. As the editor of The Independent, as a lecturer, as an indefatigable author of volumes of essays, Mabie was a useful teacher in his own day, but there is little in his writings that those who are conversant with his European and American contemporaries cannot find expressed elsewhere with more force and originality.