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THE ERA OF NATIONAL EXPANSION.
The attempt to preserve a strictly chronological order must here be abandoned. About all the American literature in existence that is of any value as literature is the product of the past three quarters of a century, and the men who produced it, though older or younger, were still contemporaries. Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, 1809, was published within the recollection of some yet living, and the venerable poet Richard H. Dana—Irving's junior by only four years-survived to 1879, when the youngest of the generation of writers that now occupy public attention had already won their spurs. Bryant, whose Thanatopsis was printed in 1816, lived down to 1878. He saw the beginnings of our national literature, and he saw almost as much of the latest phase of it as we see to-day in this year 1891. Still, even within the limits of a single life-time, there have been progress and change. And so, while it will happen that the consideration of writers, a part of whose work falls between the dates at the head of this chapter, may be postponed to subsequent chapters, we may in a general way follow the sequence of time.
The period between the close of the second war with England, in 1815, and the great financial crash of 1837, has been called, in language attributed to President Monroe, “the era of good feeling.” It was a time of peace and prosperity, of rapid growth in population and rapid extension of territory. The new nation was entering upon its vast estates and beginning to realize its manifest destiny. The peace with Great Britain, by calling off the Canadian Indians and the other tribes in alliance with England, had opened up the North-west to settlement. Ohio had been admitted as a State in 1802; but at the time of President Monroe's tour, in 1817, Cincinnati had only seven thousand inhabitants, and half of the State was unsettled. The Ohio River flowed for most of its course through an unbroken wilderness. Chicago was merely a fort. Hitherto the emigration to the West had been sporadic; now it took on the dimensions of a general and almost a concerted exodus. This movement was stimulated in New England by the cold summer of 1816 and the late spring of 1817, which produced a scarcity of food that amounted in parts of the interior to a veritable famine. All through this period sounded the ax of the pioneer clearing the forest about his log-cabin, and the rumble of the canvas-covered emigrant-wagon over the primitive highways which crossed the Alleghanies or followed the valley of the Mohawk. S. G. Goodrich, known in letters as “Peter Parley," in his Recollections of a Life-time, 1856, describes the part of the movement which he had witnessed as a boy in Fairfield County, Connecticut: “I remember very well the tide of emigration through Connecticut, on its way to the West, during the summer of 1817. Some persons went in covered wagons-frequently a family consisting of father, mother, and nine small children, with one at the breast—some on foot, and some crowded together under the cover, with kettles, gridirons, feather-beds, crockery, and the family Bible, Watts's Psalms and Hymns, and Webster's Spelling-book—the lares and penates of the household. Others started in ox-carts, and trudged on at the rate of ten miles a day. . . . Many of these persons were in a state of poverty, and begged their way as they went. Some died before they reached the expected Canaan; many perished after their arrival from fatigue and privation; and others from the fever and ague, which was then certain to attack the new settlers. It was, I think, in 1818 that I published a small tract entitled, 'Tother Side of Ohio—that is, the other view, in contrast to the popular notion that it was the paradise of the world. It was written by Dr. Hand-a talented young physician of Berlin-who had made a visit to the West about these days. It consisted mainly of vivid but painful pictures of the accidents and incidents attending this wholesale migration. The roads over the Alleghanies, between Philadelphia and Pittsburg, were then rude, steep, and dangerous, and some of the more precipitous slopes were consequently strewn with the carcasses of wagons, carts, horses, oxen, which had made shipwreck in their perilous descents.”
But in spite of the hardships of the settler's life the spirit of that time, as reflected in its writings, was a hopeful and a light-hearted one.
" Westward the course of empire takes its way,"
runs the famous line from Berkeley's poem on America. The New Englanders who removed to the Western Reserve went there to better themselves; and their children found themselves the owners of broad acres of virgin soil in place of the stony hill pastures of Berkshire and Litchfield. There was an attraction, too, about the wild, free life of the frontiersman, with all its perils and discomforts. The life of Daniel Boone, the pioneer of Kentucky-that “ dark and bloody ground”-is a genuine romance. Hardly less picturesque was the old river life of the Ohio boatmen, before the coming of steam banished their queer craft from the water. Between 1810 and 1840 the center of population in the United States had moved from the Potomac to the neighborhood of Clarksburg, in West Virginia, and the population itself had increased from seven to seventeen millions. The gain was made partly in the East and South, but the general drift was westward. During the years now under review the following new States were admitted, in the order named: Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan. Kentucky and Tennessee had been made States in the last years of the eighteenth century, and Louisiana-acquired by purchase from France—in 1812.
The settlers, in their westward march, left large tracts of wilderness behind them. They took up first the rich bottomlands along the river courses, the Ohio and Miami and Licking, and later the valleys of the Mississippi and Missouri and the shores of the great lakes. But there still remained backwoods in New York and Pennsylvania, though the cities of New York and Philadelphia had each a population of more than one hundred thousand in 1815. When the Erie Canal was opened, in 1825, it ran through a primitive forest. N. P. Willis, who went by canal to Buffalo and Niagara in 1827, describes the houses and stores at Rochester as standing among the burnt stumps left by the first settlers. In the same year that saw the opening of this great water-way, the Indian tribes, numbering now about one hundred and thirty thousand souls, were moved across the Mississippi. Their power had been broken by General Harrison's victory over Tecumseh at the battle of Tippecanoe, in 1811, and they were in fact mere remnants and fragments of the race which had hung upon the skirts of civilization and disputed the advance of the white man for two centuries. It was not until some years later than this that railroads began to take an important share in opening up new country.
The restless energy, the love of adventure, the sanguine anticipation which characterized American thought at this time, the picturesque contrasts to be seen in each mushroom town where civilization was encroaching on the raw edge of the wilderness—all these found expression, not only in such well-known books as Cooper's Pioneers, 1823, and Irving's Tour on the Prairies, 1835, but in the minor literature which is read to-day, if at all, not for its own sake, but for the light that it throws on the history of national development: in such books as Paulding's story of Westward Ho! and his poem, The Backwoodsman, 1818; or as Timothy Flint's Recollections, 1826, and his Geography and History of the Mississippi Valley, 1827. It was not an age of great books, but it was an age of large ideas and expanding prospects. The new consciousness of empire uttered itself hastily, crudely, ran into buncombe, “spread-eagleism," and other noisy forms of patriotic exultation; but it was thoroughly democratic and American. Though literature—or at least the best literature of the time-was not yet emancipated from English models, thought and life, at any rate, were no longer in bondage—no longer provincial. And it is significant that the party in office during these years was the Democratic, the party which had broken most completely with conservative traditions. The famous “Monroe doctrine" was a pronunciamento of this aggressive democracy, and though the Federalists returned to power for a single term, under John Quincy Adams (1825–29), Andrew Jackson received the largest number of electoral votes, and Adams was only chosen by the House of Representatives in the ab. sence of a majority vote for any one candidate. At the close of his term “Old Hickory,” the hero of the people, the most characteristically democratic of our presidents, and the first backwoodsman who entered the White House, was borne into office on a wave of popular enthusiasm. We have now arrived at the time when American literature, in the higher and stricter sense of the term, really began to have an exist
S. G. Goodrich, who settled at Hartford as a bookseller and publisher in 1818, says, in his Recollections : “About this time I began to think of trying to bring out original American works. ... The general impression was that we had not, and could not have, a literature. It was the precise point at which Sidney Smith had uttered that bitter taunt