Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 3. Detachment from Public Affairs

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

XIII. Later Essayists

§ 3. Detachment from Public Affairs

Before we leave Mitchell there is, however, to be noted one point which differentiates him from the majority of American essayists. Again like Irving, whose life Mitchell’s parallels in details of ill health, early travels abroad, the study and abandonment of law, and the tenure of official position in Europe, the author of Dream Life held to the belief that a writer is not called upon to take an active part in the great political and social questions of his day, if he feels that he can best express himself and, in the long run, most effectively serve mankind through adherence to his literary art along the lines of his own predilections. Irving, of course, was at one time most adversely criticized by his countrymen for just such an attitude, and his protracted stay abroad was misconstrued as a form of national renegadism. Mitchell escaped hostile comment for his general abstention from participation in those public topics, ranging from the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the Union to Civil Service reform, woman suffrage, national copyright, and other themes of social betterment that led Whittier,Lowell, Curtis, and Higginson, and indeed almost all the leading American poets and essayists for the last fifty years, to become, at times, propagandists. This absence of the outright didactic note is a decided characteristic of Ik Marvel, leaving him none the less creditably in the brotherhood of those authors whose message remains abidingly sweet and wholesome.