The New England Renaissance
(1800 - 1860)
American literature, in its most basic structure, has it roots in British literature. The earlier writers knew Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Spenser, Donne, and Bacon. Most families had copies of the Authorized Version of the Bible of 1611, commonly known as the King James Version. As time went on, American writers continued to be influenced by Dickens, the Bronte sisters , Austen and Shelley. The separation of British and American literature began from the first step onto what is now American soil, but rejoins more so in this present era, as the ability to communicate and purchase books internationally increases. The American literary scene today was built on many years of metamorphosis, as much of a melting pot as the rest of American culture. The literary achievements of the Knickerbocker group of writers were practically accomplished by 1850. During the larger part of that first half century, there had been no question of the literary predominance of New York; New England had played, comparatively, an inconspicuous part in the field of national literature. A few of Longfellow's earliest poems were published previous to 1830, and some of Whittier's also; but it was really nearer 1840 than 1830 that either obtained general recognition as a poet. Emerson's first series of Essays was published in 1841, and Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse in 1846. The Scarlet Letter did not appear until 1850. It was, nevertheless, a period of intellectual activity. In Boston and Cambridge, new ideas were stirring the minds of the thinkers, and throughout the New England States, which were advancing rapidly in material prosperity by the establishment of manufacturing interests and the building up of a rich trade with the East Indies, the intellectual life of the people was feeling the stimulus of its own energy in rather remarkable degree. The first phase of this new awakening is recognized in the Unitarian movement which spread over New England during the early years of the century. Opposition to the Calvinistic doctrines of the Presbyterian and other orthodox denominations had existed in the colonies even in Revolutionary times, but it was not till near the end of the eighteenth century that this opposition assumed the aspect of an important religious controversy. The arena in which John Cotton and his grandson, Cotton Mather, Roger Williams, and the many lesser controversialists of the colonial period had waged their theological battles was again the scene of an intellectual and religious agitation which in its immediate effects and subsequent influence was more far reaching even than that celebrated movement of the preceding century, -- the Great Awakening of 1734-44. In 1805, Harvard College -- the fountain-head of New England literature -- elected a Unitarian as professor of Divinity. By the end of the first decade, nearly every prominent Congregational pulpit in eastern Massachusetts was held by a preacher of Unitarian doctrine. The theological seminary at Andover was founded in 1807 to combat the new teaching. Moses Stuart (1780- 1852) and Leonard Woods (1774-1854) became famous as teachers in this institution and as defenders of the orthodox creed. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), the father ofHenry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the ablest and best-known champion of orthodoxy in New England. In 1826, he was called from his church in Litchfield, Connecticut, to a prominent Boston pulpit, that he might have a position on the firing-line. The recognized leader of the Unitarians was William Ellery Channing, who was born at Newport, Rhode Island, and received his education at Harvard. He became the minister of a Boston parish in 1803. Cultured, eloquent, and a persuasive writer, he became famed throughout New England for his oratorical gifts and as a theologian. In seriousness of purpose and in purity of...
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