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

XXVI. Patriotic Songs and Hymns

§ 7. Over There

There is a temptation to generalize on the passing favourite song of the World War—Over There. It does not contain great music or any kind of poetry. It meets only one of the requirements laid down for the fruitless competition of 1861; it is ”of the simplest form and most marked rhythm, the words easy to be retained by the popular memory, and the melody and harmony such as may be readily sung by ordinary voices.” In this respect George M. Cohan met the situation as Root and Work and Gilmore did fifty years ago, and, like them, he wrote music of the day. It belongs to the same public that delights in O. Henry, Walt Mason, Irvin S. Cobb, and Wallace Irwin, all in the main sane, wholesome, obvious people. It comes from Broadway, which supplies the populace with much of their fun. On the other hand The Star Spangled Banner belonged to the public of Francis and Joseph Hopkinson and John Copley and Gilbert Stuart. The artistic work of that day was well-turned and graceful; poetry and music lent themselves to dashes of magniloquent heroism and tender sentiment. The courtly traditions of manly strength, feminine grace, the cheering influence of the social glass, and a traditionally aristocratic point of view, were all implicit in them. What John Howard Payne’s patron called “the desolating effects of democracy” he would say were registered in the loss of these echoed gentilities. The same loss is apparent in the course of American hymnology; but there is no reason for considering it more than a cheap and temporary price for benefits received and in store.