The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 22, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER XXII
NEW YORK AS A LITERARY CENTER

Nothing could be more erroneous than the common assumption that the early colonists of New York came of a race backward in literary production. The wise, the learned, the humane and witty Eramus (1466-1534) is till the delight of scholars. The indefatigable and prolific Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), had laid the foundations of that still chaotic branch of jurisprudence, the law of nations. Baruch Spinoza (1632-77), enjoyed a liberty of expression that would not have been tolerated in many European countries. These men wrote in Latin, and Balthazar Bekker (1633-1698), might have spared himself a life of martyrdom by following their example, for his "Betoverde Wereld," which quickly appeared in French translation, and then in English as "The World Bewitched," in which he attacked the witchcraft delusion, caused his deposition from the ministry. True there was no press in the New Netherland, but when New Amsterdam became New York, in 1664, its population was only 1,500, and the Elzavirs, of Amsterdam and Leyden (1592-1681), were publishing their beautiful editions of the classics, and every bookseller in Amsterdam was a published in a small way. There were men of literary culture in New Amsterdam; Van der Donck, Megapolensis and De Vries, historians; Stuyvesant, Beeckman and Van Rensselaer, whose letters are still valuable to students of colonial affairs, as is Danckert's Journal; and Van Dimphlagen and Van Schelluyne, who were learned in the law; the poets Jacob Steendam, Henricus Selyns and Nicarius de Sille.

"Den Distelvink," a volume of verse by Steendam, published in Amsterdam, in 1649, came into competition with the growing vernacular literature of the mother country as represented by Vondel, "Father" Cats, and others, but while mainly amatory, contained lyric praise of New Amsterdam. His memorials to the Dutch East India Company urging the expansion of the African slave trade was less interesting than such lines as these, addressed to the unnamed damsels of the New Netherland:

Minnaars Toegevring

Lover's Complaint

Segt mijn bekje

Tell me, dearest

Hartens Diefje

Thief of my heart

Waarum gekje

Why trifle so

Met-je-liefje?

He gives thee all his love

Segn hart bemind

And false will never prove

Nimmer vals

.

Guhem bevind.

.

De Vries' "Voyage from Holland to America" was also published in Amsterdam, and was probably the second book to be written in New Amsterdam. Daniel Denton's "Brief Description of New York," the next important book of the colonial period, was published in London, in 1670, for the same reason that earlier works had appeared in Amsterdam--there was no press in New York. The author, who had lived in New York for 1640, was the son of a Connecticut clergyman, and his very evident intention was to encourage immigration. The most prolific early writer on America was Captain John Smith, whose "True Relation" was published in London in 1608, and who asserted that all subsequent works were but "pigs of his own sow." This characteristic could hardly have applied to the State papers of Lewis Morris, of Morrisania (1671-1746), sometimes royal governor of new Jersey, nor to the "History of the Five Indian Nations," by Cadwallader Colden, 1727, nor to the essays of William Smith, or the "Philosophic Solitude" of William Livingston, in 1747, nor to the diaries of Mrs. Sarah Kemple Knight, who wrote a sprightly account of a journey she took on horseback from Boston to New York, in 1704.

During this early period New York was distinctly behind Boston and Philadelphia as a literary center. True, New Yorkers were thereby spared much polemical literature, and such books as John cotton's "Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes. In either England: Drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments for their souls Nourishment. But may be of like use to any Children." This appeared in 1684, but was less popular than the Rev. James Janeway's "A Token for Children, being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyous Deaths of several Young Children," which, being amplified by Cotton Mather, was brought out in Philadelphia in 1749 as a best seller by Benjamin Franklin. With the arrival in New York of William Bradford, 1693, came the real dawn of literature in New York.

The life and adventures of Bradford are described with some detail in the chapter on the Newspapers of New York, but it should be added that he was not only the fist book publisher in New York, issuing works in Dutch and French as well as in English, but one of the most enterprising. His first publications were naturally of a governmental character, such as "An Act for the Restraining and Punishing of Privateers and Pyrates," dated 1693, but his "Acts. Fifth Assembly, third sessions. Beginning at the 25th day of March and ending the 24th day of April," may be regarded as the first actual book published in New York.

Catalogues of his publications, too long for inclusion here, may be found in the public libraries. The apparent poverty of native authorship for many years, may, however easily be explained. The early newspaper and periodical press not only afforded ample outlet for the professional activity of the literary fold of New York, but the competition of the authors and publishers in London was sufficiently formidable to frighten the boldest against attempts at book publication, and the independence of the United States proved an even more difficult handicap. The copyright laws of the Untied States have never afforded adequate protection to the foreign author, and in the first century of the Republic his rights were nil. With the demand for books increasing, it was cheaper for the publishers to pirate the works of English, French or German authors than to pay for the labors of American writers. The literature of England was, moreover, the most glorious in Europe.

Necessarily the first American books were utilitarian. There were both Royal and New England Primers printed in the colonies in the seventeenth century, but the earliest example that has survived is dated 1727. Of the enlarged New England Primer brought out by Benjamin Franklin and his partner, David hall, 37,100 copies were sold between the years 1749 and 1766. No early New York books eve reached such a figure.

Among the most powerful influences in America during the colonial period were the works of the French Encyclopaedists, 1751065; Thomas Paine, an Englishman, 1737-1809; Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1712-78; Voltaire, 1694-1778.

Germs of the Revolution, the ideas of freedom, liberty, equality, were to be found in the French composite work, and in Rousseau's "Social Contract," while Voltaire aided in destroying the reverence to established and royal authority. But for his "Age of Reason," which offended Christians of every sect, Paine would doubtless have been accorded the highest honors, such as Lafayette received, for this "Common Sense" and "Rights of Man," staunchly defending publicanism at a time when many American still believed in monarchy. In these days he deserves to be remembered for the utterances of his old age: "The world is my country; to do good is my religion," if for no other reason than as an antidote to Commodore Decatur's "but still my country," which, however admirable as the viewpoint of a professional military man, would hardly lead to civic progress.

During the American Revolution almost the only works of literary merit to be produced were "The Contrast, " Royall Tyler's play, and the first American comedy of importance; and the first contributions to lexicography and grammar by Noah Webster and Lindley Murray. No sooner was the young republic at peace than it undertook to encourage the "infant industry" of letter by a tariff of eighteen per cent on importations, and to exercise a censorship on books. Thomas Jefferson, who rightly said that he could not live without books, was roused to action in both cases. De Becourt's "Sur le creation du Monde" was attacked on the same ground that the State of Tennessee later objected to Darwin's theories. "I am mortified to be told," wrote Mr. Jefferson, "that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry, too, as an offence against religion; that a question like this came be carried before the civil magistrates." In opening he duty on books, Mr. Jefferson painted an interesting picture of the condition of the book publishing business in the early days of the republic:

"The government of the United States at a very early period, when establishing its tariff on importations, were very much guided in their selection of objects by a desire to encourage manufactures within themselves. Among other articles when selected were books, on the importation of which a duty of fifteen per cent, was imposed, which, by ordinary custom house charges, amounts to about eighteen per cent, and adding the importing booksellers' profit on this, becomes about twenty-seven per cent. This was useful at first, perhaps, toward exciting our printers to make a beginning in that business here, but it is found inexperience that the home demand is not sufficient to justify the reprinting of any but the most popular English works, and cheap editions of a few classics for the schools. For the editions of value, enriched by notes, commentaries, etc., and for books in foreign living languages, the demand here is too small and sparse to reimburse the expense of reprinting them. None of these, therefore, are reprinted here, and the duty on them becomes consequently not a protecting, but rally a prohibitory one. . . . . . .to prohibit us from foreign light, is to consign us to long darkness." More than one hundred years after Mr. Jefferson penned that protest, the still infant industry was still further protected by duties ranging up to twenty-five per cent.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, William Dunlap wrote his "History of the American Stage,' and the "Portfolio" of Joseph Dennie, a writer of a mildly Addisonian type, foreshadowed with the contemporaneous established of the New York "Evening Post" (1801), the great aid that journalism would give to literature throughout the new century. The appearance of Washington Irving's "Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York" in the first decade of the century was almost the first of the signs that marked the rise of New York as the literary center of the country before the birth of New England Transcendentalism.

The First Classic Writers.--James K. Paulding, Fenimore cooper, and Irving were the conspicuous names in the opening decades. Between Paulding and cooper there were many strong points of resemblance; between the author of "the Backwoodsman" and his lifelong friend and literary partner, Irving, very few. In addition to a great many novels and a popular "Life of Washington," Paulding was the writer of now forgotten verse.

"Knickerbockers 's History of New York," was published in December, 1809. It was begun by Irving (1783-1859) in company with his brother, Dr. peter Irving, with the purpose of parodying a handbook which had just appeared, entitled, "A Picture of New York." Dr. Irving's departure for Europe left it in the hands of his brother, Washington, by whom it was completed. Of Irving's other well-known writings, a series fitly closed by his noble "Life of Washington," it is hardly necessary to speak. Of his work, including his well-known life of his nephew, Pierre M. Irving, millions of volumes have been distributed here and abroad. "Amiableness," remarks Richard H. Dana, "is so strongly marked in all Mr. Irving's writings as never to let you forget the man; and the pleasure is doubled in the same happy manner as it is in a lively conversation with one for whom you have a deep attachment and esteem."

Paulding and Washington Irving were joint writers of "Salmagundi, Or, The Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq., and Others," a work which appeared in fortnightly numbers from the Shakespeare Gallery of Longworth. It was continued through twenty parts. In "Salmagundi" the humors of the day are travestied in good-natured essays and with a skill so charming that the work is still read with interest. The few poems which appear on its pages were written by William Irving, an elder brother of Washington Irving, and the brother-in-law of Paulding, whose sister he had married. "Cockloft Hall," which figures conspicuously in "Salmagundi," is a mansion on the Passiac River, and received its name from Irving. It was at that time a favorite resort of its owner , Gouverneur Kemble, Paulding, the Irvings, Captain Porter (father of the admiral), Henry Brevoort, and others of the high-spirited youth of the time. Kemble in a note dated February 6, 1872, remarks: "The old place near Newark, in New Jersey, christened 'Cockloft Hall' by Mr. Irving, was called Mount Pleasant. The house was built by Nicholas Gouverneur, grandson of Abraham Gouverneur, who married the daughter of Governor Jacob Leisler."

Paulding was almost the first of American writers to find inspiration for his literary representations in the American scene. Nationality is a prominent characteristic in all his writings, which appeared almost continuously during more than half a century until his death in 1860, and ending with a volume of American comedies. The author of "The Dutchman's Fireside" and "Westward Ho!" found inspiration at home for his earlier works, when neither American scenes nor American society were supposed to furnish attractive material. No man ever stood up more stoutly in defense of that "mother of a mighty race," when assailed from abroad, than did James K. Paulding; nor did nay author born on American soil ever entertain greater contempt for foreign example or criticism.

Woodworth, Poet and Historian.--Samuel Woodworth, (1785-1842), who maybe called a single-song poet, was the youngest son of one of the patriot band that achieved American independence. He moved from Massachusetts, his native State, after serving an apprenticeship as a printer in Boston, and established a weekly newspaper in New York, entitled "The War," in 1812, to the columns of which he contributed patriotic songs and odes on the victories won on land and sea by the Americans. These and other poetical pieces were published in a volume in 1818, and a second collection, including his most popular poem, "the Old Oaken bucket," appeared in 1826. At this time Woodworth was one of the notable citizens of New York, and his house in Duane Street was the resort of the leading literary men of the day, such as Cooper, Halleck, and Verplanck.

In 1823 Woodworth, with George P. Morris, established the "New York Mirror." In this popular literary journal there appeared, in 1827, after his retirement, a fine steel engraving containing a group of portraits of the most popular American poets of that period, in which appear the amiable features of Samuel Woodworth, while among the others are James G. Brooks, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Washington Irving, James G. Percival, John Pierpont, Edward C. Pinckney, and Charles Sprague, the last survivor of this group.

Woodworth was the author of a "history of the War of 1812-14," and of several dramatic pieces, chiefly operatic. Of these, perhaps, the most popular was "the Forest Rose." In 1861 his son edited and issued an edition of his father's poetical writings, accompanied by a memoir from the pen of George P. Morris. Woodworth's fame rests chiefly upon his fine lyric of "The Old Oaken Bucket," which has preserved so many of the touching recollections of rural childhood.

Gulian C. Verplanck.--Gulian Crommelin Verplanck (1786-1870), for sixty years prominent in American literary circles, began his literary life by the delivery in New York of the first of the series of scholarly addressed on which his fame is mainly founded. As early as 1814 he wrote a dozen or more articles against the way with England then in progress, followed by a volume of essays on the "Nature and Uses of the Various Evidences of Revealed Religion." In 1827, in connection with William C. Bryant and Robert C. Sands, he engaged in the production of an annual called the "Talisman," which was illustrated with engraving on steel from paintings by American artists. Three annual volumes of the "Talisman" were issued for the years 1828, 1829, and 1830, to all of which Verplanck was a contributor. Verplanck is described as an indolent man, and his mode of composition was singular. Nearly all his contributions to the "Talisman" were written in Sand's library. There, seated in a chair, with his arm resting on another, while his feet were supported by a third, he dictated to one of his confreres. All the articles and poems in the second of the series were written by Verplanck, Sands, or Bryant, with three exceptions: "The Little Old Man of Coblentz" is from the pen of John Inman, a brother of Henry, the painter; "Red Jacket" was written by Halleck; and the sonnet beginning:

"Beautiful streamlet by my dwelling side"

is by John Howard Bryant, an Illinois farmer, and the only surviving brother of William Cullen. The preface of the volumes, signed "Francis Herbert," is the joint production of the three literary partners.

In 1847 Verplanck completed his scholarly illustrated edition of Shakespeare, which was issued by the Harpers in three handsome royal octavo volumes. His labors consisted in a thorough revision of the text, which was done with independence as well as carefulness. An excellent feature of this work is the pointing out of colloquial expression, often called Americanisms, which, obsolete in England, are yet preserved in this country. He gives original prefaces to the p lays, characterized by the finish common to all his compositions. Verplanck divided his time between the city of New York and his ancestral home at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson, an old mansion in which was founded the Society of the Cincinnati, an order established in 1783, by officers of the Revolutionary Army, "to perpetuate their friendship and to raise a fund for relieving the widows and orphans of those who had fallen during the war."

As a young man, Verplanck, it is recorded by Bryant, took no part in the Cockloft Hall and other frolics of his friends Irving, Paulding and Kemble; but, on the contrary, was held by the elder men of the period as an example of steady, studious, spotless youth. To the "Analetic Magazine," edited by Irving, he contributed articles on Commodore Stewart, General Scott, Barlow the poet and diplomat, and other distinguished Americans. Verplanck married, in 1811, Mary Eliza Fenno, the aunt of Matilda and Charles Fenno Hoffman, who bore him two sons, and died in Paris in 1817. "She sleeps," says Bryant, "in the cemetery of Pere la Chaise, among monuments inscribed with words strange to her childhood, while he, after surviving her for fifty-three years, yet never forgetting her, is laid in the ancestral burying ground at Fishkill, and the Atlantic Ocean rolls between their graves."

Cooper, the American Walter Scott.--James Fenimore Cooper, (1789-1851) represents the high-water mark of achievement by American novelists in that era, and his reputation became world-wide at an early date. "The empire of the sea" remarked the "Edinburgh Review," "has been conceded to Cooper by acclamation; and in the lonely desert or untrained prairie, among the savage Indians or scarcely less savage settlers, all equally acknowledge his dominion."

Cooper had been at Yale College, and had been a sailor six years before the publication of his first novel, "Precaution." His second work, "the Spy," (1821), displayed more skill and power. This charming story, founded on incidents of the American Revolution, appealed strongly to the sympathies of his countrymen, and became a general favorite. It was speedily transleted and reissued in several European languages, including the Russian and made the name of Cooper almost as well known in the Old World as in the New. His reputation was confirmed by the appearance, in 1823, of "The Pioneers" and "The Pilot," works which shared public attention at home and abroad with the Waverly novels. From that time until the publication, in 1850, of his twenty-eighth and last work of fiction one more then Scott wrote, Cooper enjoyed an uninterrupted career of literary prosperity. Several years after his death, a noble uniform edition of his novels was issued in thirty-two octavo volumes, with illustrations by Darley, of which, it is said, that for some years 50,000 copies were sold annually. Many other editions have since appeared in this country and in Europe, where his novels are still popular.

In 1827 cooper visited Europe, the fruit of which visit was a manly vindication of the land of his birth from malevolent misrepresentations in England and elsewhere, in his "Notions of Americans." Halleck, in his admirable poem, "Red Jacket," refers in his wise to this work and its author:

Cooper, whose name is with its country's woven,
First in her fields, her pioneer of mind;
A wanderer now in other lands has proven
His love for the young land he left behind.

Cooper also wrote, while abroad, "Gleanings in Europe," "Sketches of Switzerland," and several other similar works, which enjoyed a large measure of popularity, American books of Old World travel being less common at that period that the present. Soon after his return from Europe, cooper gave to the world his elaborate work on the "United States Navy," which passed through numerous editions, and remained for along time the standard. Besides this valuable work, which was republished in England and led to considerable controversy, he published two volumes of the "Lives of American naval Officers." Cooper died at his residence, Cooperstown, in his sixty-second year, and some years after his death a public meeting was held in honor of his memory in New York City, the presiding officer being Daniel Webster, with Irving and Bryant seated by his side. The illustrious statesman addressed the large assembly, speaking for the last time in New York, and he was followed by Bryant in an appreciative and poetical discourse, now included in his volume of public addresses.

Of that American age of American literature, perhaps Irving and cooper are the best known of American authors in the Old World. There are few foreign libraries in which works by Coopers and Irving are not found.

Fitz-Greene Halleck, Popular Poet.--Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) enjoys the distinction of being the first American poet to be honored by a public statute. He left Guilford, Connecticut, where he was born, for New York, in 1811, residing for forty years in the metropolis, and becoming in time the most popular poet in the country. During the second war with Great Britain, Halleck joined a New York infantry company, "Swartout's gallant corps, the Iron Grays." As he afterwards described the company in "Fanny," and excited their martial ardor by the composition of a spirited ode. This and occasional poems which appeared in the papers were Halleck's only claim for poetic fame, till the appearance of "The Croakers," in 1819, electrified the town. Of this series of satirical and quaint chronicles of New York life as it existed more than a century ago, Halleck, in 1866, said "that they were good-natured verses, contributed anonymously to the columns of the New York 'Evening Post,' from March to June, 1819, and occasionally afterwards." The writers continued, like the author of the Junius letters, the sole depositories of their own secret, and apparently wished, with the minstrel in Leyden's "Secedes of Infancy," to "Save others' names, but leave their own unsung."

Halleck's longest poem, "Fanny," was written during the summer and autumn of 1819, while the poet was residing for a brief period at Bloomingdale. It was listed anonymously and in December of that year "Fanny" enjoyed the unusual distinction of being printed in full in a London journal. A second edition, enlarged by the addition of about fifty stanzas, for which the poet was paid $500, appeared early in 1821. The following year, Halleck visited Europe, carrying with him letters to Lord Byron, Campbell, Moore, Scott, Southey, and Wordsworth, and the manuscript of his friend Fenimore Cooper's "Pioneers" for publication in London. While abroad he wrote "Alnwick Castle," and the song he sang in praise of his brother bard, Burns. "Nothing finer has been written about Robert than Mr. Halleck's poem," said Isabella, the youngest sister of the Scottish minstrel. In 1827 the first collection of Halleck's poems was published, containing, among others, his immortal lines, "Marco Bozzaris." Other editions followed, and in 1832 he appeared as the editor of a complete edition of Byron's poems, for which he wrote an admirable memoir. Halleck died at the age of seventy-seven, and was buried in his native town, where a noble obelisk, erected by New York friends and admirers, marks the grave. In 1867 his biography, prepared by his literary executor, was published; ten years later his statute, in Central Park, New York, was unveiled by President Hayes in the presence of 50,000 spectators. A memorial volume was issued, containing the addresses and poems read at the dedication by Bryant,

William Allen Butler, Bayard Taylor, John G. Whittier, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. One critic has remarked that Halleck, who never studied the classics in their original form, was yet in some cases severely classical, while his Connecticut contemporary, Percival (1795-1856), who was steeped in the classics, often followed the romantic school.

William Cullen Bryant.--William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) is one of the great American examples of a mind of a high order remaining unimpaired till the end of a long and fruitful life. Though born in Massachusetts he was a citizen of New York for fifty-three years. Having early in the century written "Thanatopsis," after an interval of nearly seventy years, he enriched the world with such noble lines as "The Flood of Years," and the sonnet in memory of his friend, John Lothrop Motley. Ten years before his death Bryant expressed to General James Grant Wilson a wish that he might not survive the loss of his mental faculties like Southey, Scott, Wilson, Lockhart and the Ettrick shepherd, and mentioned his hope that he be permitted to complete his translation of Homer before death, mental imbecility, or failure of physical strength should overtake him. On another occasion he said, "If I am worthy, I would wish for sudden death, with no interregnum between the times I cease to exercise reason and I cease to exist." In these wishes he was happily gratified.

Drake and "the Culprit Fay".--Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), author of "The Culprit Fay," was born in New York in the year that gave birth also to the eccentric poet, James G. Percival, and John P/ Kennedy, the author of "Horseshoe Robinson." At eighteen he abandoned merchandise and began the study of medicine. It was at this time that Drake and Halleck first met and formed a friendship that was only severed by death. When the young physician married, in 1816, it was Halleck who acted as groomsman; when their only child was born she was christened Halleck; when he went to Europe, it was to his brother poet that Drake addressed several amusing poetical epistles; as premonitions of his early death gathered and he grew feebler each day, it was his faithful friend "Fitz," who, with more than a brother's love, soothed his dying hours; and when the grave closed over Drake, and his sorrowing friend had said, as Scott did when standing by the last resting-place of Johnnie Ballantyne, "there will be less sunshine for me hereafter," it was the sorrow-stricken friend who wrote those now familiar tender lines:

Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named three but to praise.

The exquisite poem, "The Culprit Fay," on which Drake's reputation as a poet chiefly rests, was written in his twenty-first year, and not, as has sometimes been asserted, in the summer of 1819. It was in this year that the two literary partners produced the "Croaker Papers," a signature adopted from an amusing character in Goldsmith's comedy of "The Good-natured Man." The poems were copied from the original by Langstaff, Drake's partner, that heir handwriting should not betray them, and were either sent through the mail or delivered by Daniel Embury or Benjamin R. Winthrop, then follow-clerks with Halleck in the counting-house, in Wall Street, of Jacob Baker, the Quaker banker and merchant. So carefully did they keep the secret of the authorship, that these amusing jeux d'esprit were generally attributed to the Salmagundi set--the Irvings, Duers, Pauldings, Hoffmans, and Verplancks. They were many years afterwards collected and included in the latest editions of Halleck's poems, and the author of each indicated for the first time. Sixteen years after Drake's death his poetical writings were first published in a handsome octavo volume, dedicated to his devoted friend, Fits-Greene Halleck.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

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