Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 49. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Oliver Wendell Holmes

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

XXIII. Education

§ 49. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Oliver Wendell Holmes

If American literature is not rich in materials chosen from the schools, probably no other literature is so enriched by casual references to the school. Perhaps no evidence of the practical efficiency and worth of the American public schools is more significant than the frequent reference in public speech, in the daily press, in ephemeral or permanent literature, to “the little red schoolhouse.” This conventional phrase typifies the simple and somewhat forbidding form of our education of the past, and at the same time the sturdy activities and high ideals of our moral life from which the generations of the past have drawn their sustenance. If our theme were the contribution of educators to literature a most fruitful subject would here be presented. For the mid-century productive period in American literature was closely associated with college life, particularly in New England. The period when Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, and Agassiz were members of the Harvard faculty was an epoch-making one in our American literature. Holmes’s Professor at the Breakfast Table and Longfellow’s Outre-Mer give the flavour of this life and make the nearest approach to the subject of the technical educator; perhaps by the same measure they fall below the literary standard of the other writings of these professors.