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American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the age of Emerson and Whitman—F.O. Matthiessen

I. Method and Scope
a. Noticed that a great number of our past masterpieces were produced in one concentrated moment of expression.
i. Authors (at that time) considered this to be a rebirth or rebirth by America coming into its maturity and affirming its rightful heritage in the expanse of art and culture

b. Matthiessen’s focus for the study is to study what these books were as works of art, with evaluating their fusions of form and content
i. subject has become the conceptions held by five of our major writers concerning the function and nature of literature and the degree to which their practice bore out their theories.
ii. The literary accomplishment of those years could be judged most adequately if approached both in the light of its authors’ purposes and in that of our own developing conceptions of literature.

c. One way of understanding the abundance of our mid-nineteenth century is through its intellectual history from Puritan orthodoxy into Utilitarianism and then the quickening of Utilitarianism into the spiritual and emotional fervor of transcendentalism.

d. All five authors being studied have similar devotions to democracy

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e. Matthiessen’s aim is to follow these books through their implications, to observe them as the culmination of their authors’ talents, to assess them in relation to one another and to the drift of our literature and to evaluate them in accordance with the enduring requirements of great art

f. also wants to describe the critic’s chief responsibility

I. Book One: From Emerson to Thoreau
a. In the Optative Mood

i. Emerson is difficult because of his habit of stating things in opposites

ii. Another issue with Emerson is because of the multiplicity of his conflicting statements, we miss the wholeness of character lying behind them

iii. He was in reaction against the formal logic of the eighteenth century since he believed it not merely to confine but to distort

iv. When Emerson swam away into generalizations about the ideal, he showed at once the devastating consequences of the split between his Reason and his Understanding between the two halves of his nature

b. Consciousness

i. Shortly after the close of the civil war he set down his “Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England,” his remembrances of the transcendental era, probably the most illuminating account of the intellectual movements of our eighteen thirties and forties which has yet been written

ii. Emerson thought the key to this period was because the fact that “the mind had become aware of itself.”

1. Men grew reflective and intellectual—there was a new consciousness.

a. Modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man.

2. Emerson thought the individual was the world.

I. Book One: From Emerson to Thoreau
iii. Emerson thought the age needed a reflective poet.

iv. Coleridge was the most immediate force behind American transcendentalism

1. He brought with him certain terms: subjective, objective, aesthetic, intuitive, idealize, intellectualize, organic, organization, and self-conscious.

v. Emerson waged battle against the formulas of eighteenth century rationalism in the name of the fuller resources of men

vi. One of Emerson’s recurrent themes comes from Coleridge “the all in each of human nature”

1. A single man contains within himself, through his intuition, the whole range of experience

2. The development of American romanticism lay behind this doctrine of knowledge and made a particular appeal to isolated provincial America.

vii. Emerson celebrated the kind of consciousness that can be described as being “the individual is the world.”

viii. Emerson’s contrast between perception and notion

1. “thoughtless people contradict as readily the statements of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical but fatal.”

ix. One factor that separates Emerson’s work from that of all these others is that his initial preoccupation with Unitarian and transcendental thought made the origin of his conception of art almost exclusively intellectual.

1. Those of his associates who were concerned with poetry felt the limitation in approaching it so purely through the mind.

I. Book One: From Emerson to Thoreau
c. Eloquence

i. One of the most absorbing themes to follow through the early volumes of Emerson’s journal is his search for a form that would express the content ever latent in his mind.

ii. To explain man to himself, to be a naturalist of the soul, remained henceforth his resolve.

iii. Such an explanation demanded both moral philosophy and the most exacting scrutiny of his own experience

iv. An exquisitely modulated human voice, uttering man’s convictions, seemed to E, God’s gift to man.

v. He believed the orator could speak most directly and most deeply to men, breaking down their resolves, tugging them through the barriers of

themselves, bringing to articulation their own confused thoughts, flooding them with the sudden surprise that the moment of their life is so rich.

vi. He believed the truly eloquent man was “inwardly and desperately drunk” with conviction

vii. A man speaking to men first unlocked their primitive awareness of themselves in such a conception of consciousness.

viii. Through the inspired orator, “a man possessed with mania and yet as firm as marble,” the hearer loses any sense of dualism, of hearing from another. He enters immediately into universal truth

ix. Oratory, moving with the revolution from the pulpit to the political forum was the one branch of literature in which America then had a formed tradition

d. Expression

i. Emerson’s doctrine asserts the superiority both of nature over art, and of content over its vehicle.

ii. His belief in the idea as the essence of art followed naturally from the great stress he put on the sublime.

iii. His doctrine of art is also one of religion, that it assumes the superiority of soul to matter

1. “I believe in the existence of the material world as the expression of the spiritual or real.”

iv. Emerson was thinking about literature when he maintained that “when we have lost our God of tradition and ceased from our God of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence.”

v. Believed the artist was simply the mouthpiece of the soul

vi. Emerson called genius “that redundancy or excess of life which in conscious beings we call ecstasy”

1. Genius was not merely the affirmation of super abundant personal force; it was likewise reception, the openness of man to his deepest impulse, the maximum influx of the divine mind into his own.

a. Also asserts that man, in the act of expression, became a facet of the Over-Soul, that genius did not ‘increased the individuality but the community of his mind’

vii. As he explained the creative process, expression was inseparable from intuition which came, in turn, from a reality beyond the reach of the understanding.

1. Only thing that writers must obey is genius

viii. The diffusion of the theoretical mind into discussion was what Emerson called the American blight

ix. Because of our “naked unatmospheric land” that genius should come to condensed expression

x. Thought that man enough was an artist whose hands could execute what his mind had conceived.

xi. To genius must always go two gifts—the thought and the publication

xii. Talent consists in the poet’s control over his experience, in his ability to seize both the thought and the image

xiii. Admired organic wholeness most

I. Book One: From Emerson to Thoreau
e. The Word One with the Thing

i. The aim is not to merely understand Emerson’s conception of art but also to consider whether the conception was capable of bearing good fruit.

1. So, we should come directly to his specific observations on language

ii. Because language is the only clay the writers can model his theory of how it can be shaped enters inevitably into his practice

iii. No American author before Emerson had dedicated such searching attention to his medium

iv. Emerson was concerned with not only choosing his words and arranging them but also probing the origins of speech in order to find out the sources of its mysterious powers

v. The epitome of Emerson’s belief is that “in good writing, words become one with things.”

vi. Matthiesen’s purpose in this section is to elucidate wherein this dramatic hyperbole served to challenge the writers of Emerson’s day to bring their art as close as possible to nature.

vii. The transcendental theory of art is a theory of knowledge and religion as well.

viii. Thought great art must unite the solid with the ethereal

ix. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts. Nature is the symbol of the spirits

x. The state of belief in Emerson’s time made the need for the symbol especially pressing

xi. It seemed to Emerson the best way to express what he always wanted to was by means of the symbol

xii. The power is in the image because this power is in Nature.

f. The Light of the Body is the Eye

i. Since we have already covered his content as well as the search for the best form to convey it, the final section is composed of seeing what he could do with his tools to test his theory

ii. The tiny sea shell symbol occurs often: it is the aptest illustration for his belief that the secret of the universe could be read in a single manifestation, that the whole code of the laws might be written “on the thumbnail”

iii. For the utterance of spiritual truths, he knew himself fated to be a poet.

iv. He was deeply interested in oratory only in so far as it approximated the poetic, the only medium where he felt really at home.

v. Novel meant nothing to him

vi. He thought it was the first responsibility of the artist to record adequately what he had observed & he was reassured by the thought that our American character is marked by more than average delight in accurate perception.

I. Book One: From Emerson to Thoreau
g. A Few Herbs and Apples

i. Whitman, Emerson, and Thoreau all considered themselves poets although judged strictly by form none of them were

ii. They were sure that their content outran the earlier boundaries of earlier conventions of expression

iii. The want in continuity of Emerson’s form was a natural product of the confusing alteration of his experience.

iv. Whitman thought, “For such the expression of the American poet is to be transcendent and new. It is to be indirect and not direct or descriptive or epic.”

v. For Emerson, the value of indirection was more heavily weighed still, since he secured by means of it, the one kind of continuity that he knew

vi. Emerson’s belief in the ballast of experience and his belief that experience is illusory

h. The Flowing

i. All of Emerson’s books can be diluted down to the same pattern: they are collections of essays, written originally as lectures. Every lecture, in turn, was made up of grouping together sentences from his journals

ii. His works corresponds so naturally in his life that it constitutes the purest example of what individualism could produce

iii. The sentence was his unit.

iv. He talked about metaphor and symbol, but his staple device was analogies: “All thinking is analogizing, and it is the use of life to learn metonymy.”

v. All of his mature work proceeded from a priori deductive assertion. This sort of assertion relies more on analogy than on the fresh discovery of metaphor.

vi. Had a love for maxims or “sentenia” that he obtained from Bacon because of its “swift, pithy compression of a thought.”

vii. The problem with Emerson’s prose was the same problem his philosophy had: how to reconcile the individual with society, how to join his sentences into a paragraph

viii. His formula for an essay was an abstraction instanced by an indefinite number of embodiments.

ix. Thought the best poem of the poet is his own mind

x. Nature was a meditation with some kinship to what the seventeenth century recognized as such

1. Emerson gave its structure logical divisions, but they were somewhat stiff and arbitrary in contrast to his lyric unity of tone.

i. Self-Portrait of Saadi

i. Emerson wrote a number of commemorative addresses/short biographies

1. Best one written was his tribute to Thoreau

2. His other attempts showed brilliant brush work but no final organization

ii. in America, the protestant drive had carried to further extremes, and both Emerson and Hawthorne showed the result of long Puritan conditioning in

habits toward scrutiny. Neither of them had marked ability in representing outward solidness.

iii. Only character Emerson succeeded in portraying at full length was his own.

iv. Said in 1834, “Henceforth, I design not to utter any speech, poem, or book that is not entirely and peculiarly my work.

II. The Actual Glory
a. Expected Unexpectedness

i. Thoreau has normally not been approached as an artist; some considered him a naturalist though they criticized him for his want of a severe method and his crotchety inaccuracies.

ii. Did not want too exact knowledge because he said “a man sees only what concerns him.”

iii. Sought balance: “see not with the eye of science, which is barren, nor of youthful poetry which is impotent. But taste the world and digest it.”

iv. The shift of senses from sight to taste was fundamental to his organic grasp of life

v. Thought “man is all in all, Nature nothing, but as she draws him out and reflects him.”

vi. Warns readers not to take Walden as a reformer’s manual

vii. Emerson thought that “Thoreau was in his own person a practical answer, almost a refutation, to the theories of the socialists.”

viii. Before looking at the meaning and value of Week and Walden it is important to note Thoreau’s political context, to see why his natural direction was that of the left-wing individualism.

ix. He is generally remembered for his two most extreme acts: that he went to live in a hut & that he refused to pay a poll-tax to a corrupt state in protest against the Mexican-American War.

1. These acts were imitative: Alcott, Sterns Wheeler, Ellery Channing

x. Thoreau’s contribution to social thought lies in his thoroughgoing criticism of the narrow materialism of his day

xi. Also is important to note that when Thoreau objected to the division of labor, he was writing from an agrarian and craft economy where industrialism was an encroaching minority.

xii. He objected to the division of labor since it divided the worker and not merely the work—reduced him from a man to an operative and enriched the few at the expense of the many

xiii. He had the advantage at being near the primary levels of society—he came as close to a proletariat writer as was possible (only Whitman in this volume becomes closer to the common man)

xiv. The social standards Thoreau knew and protested were dominated by New England mercantilism

xv. Thought that the life of a civilized people was an “institution, in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the race.”

xvi. Thought it was also important to reexamine the terms under which the absorption was being made, to see whether the individual was not being ruthlessly sacrificed to the dictates of a mean-spirited commercialism

xvii. The heart of his revolt was his continual assertion that the only true America is that the country where you are able to pursue life without encumbrances.

xviii. Did not want freedom for his private self alone. He disliked the starvation of the minds and spirits of the citizens

xix. Thought that the community was responsible for providing a more adequate cultural life, good libraries, distinguished lectures of the lyceum, encouragement of for the practice of all arts

xx. Thought all great products should be as public as light

xxi. He was opposed to private hoarding of our spiritual resources as he was to the lust for ownership in our rapacious economy

xxii. We can judge his contribution most adequately if we heed his single remark, “My work is writing,” and come to what he created through examining his own process of creation

xxiii. he believed that the best works of art spring out of man’s struggle for freedom, out of the effort to apprehend and control the forces that shape his life

xxiv. he turned to the open road of untried experience as Whitman also did

xxv. thought that no valuable work is accomplished except at the expense of a life.

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xxvi. Thoreau’s distinction was that he had “few ideas.”

II. The Actual Glory
b. What music shall we have?

i. Essay was rejected in 1840

ii. He was trying his hand in the cloudy air of transcendental symbolism

iii. Though essay was not well received by Fuller, Emerson, or Lowell, it is useful because it lets us follow the very process by which Thoreau found what he wanted to do with language.

iv. His theory of language is similar to Emerson’s in that he held the origin of words to be in nature and that they were symbols of the spiritual

v. He spoke of the difficulty in finding the word that will exactly name and so release the thing but he had more respect for the thing than his contemporaries

vi. Thoreau knew that the farmer’s lingo surpassed the scholar’s labored sentences

vii. He liked old sayings and rural slang

viii. Hated writers who did not speak out of a full experience

ix. He did not rate language as superior to other mediums of expressions on the ground that it was produced solely by the mind and thence could share more perfectly the ideal

x. Thought a truth of every mind is the most perfect work of human art

xi. Thought that sight alone was too remote for the kind of language he wanted, that we do not learn by the eyes, they merely introduce us and we learn after we converse with things

xii. Thought that scent was a more primitive inquisition and was more trustworthy

xiii. He gave his most rapt attention to sound—dedicated a chapter in Walden to it, cannot find enough verbs to describe what sounds do to him, he feels bathed in their surge

xiv. He wanted to study his senses because he believed that it is only through their concrete reports could project his inner life.

xv. Thoreau was in constant in his dislike of sensuality—his desire was for “no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life.”

xvi. He was never really talking about the art of music, of which he knew next to nothing, but about his own coordination, which alone made him feel his pulse was beating in unison with the pulse of nature and that he could reproduce it in words

xvii. Thought resilient rhythms comes from restfulness—preached the gospel of leisure

II. The Actual Glory
c. Thinking in images

i. Despite his keenness for the senses, Thoreau remained wholly the child of his age in regarding the material world as a symbol of the spiritual world

ii. Even when he is affirming his faith, Thoreau does not disappear into the usual transcendental vapor.

iii. His grip remains fully on this world

iv. His success as an artist is directly related to the balance between the ends and the means

v. He was not especially equipped for abstract theorizing or strictly scientific observation

vi. Thoreau projected his conception between the harmonious interaction between man and nature without which he did not believe that man could be adequately described

vii. Thoreau never wavered in his belief that steady labor with the hands, which engrosses the attention also is unquestionably the best method of removing palaver and sentimentality out of one’s style

viii. The root of Thoreau’s hatred for the division of labor was that it destroyed the potential balance of his agrarian world, one of the main ideals of which was the union of labor and culture.

ix. Thought the brain and body should always work and rest together.

III. Metaphysical Strain
a. Man Thinking

i. Thoreau was concerned not with the isolated detail in nature but with the effect of it upon his sensibility and how every fact became “a type of the order and beauty of the whole.”

ii. First we must discern what qualities were common to the various seventeenth century authors who fed the New England renaissance

iii. Do not want to examine their “literary influence,” but rather because the writers whom an age most admires provide a frame of reference against which its own contours can be sharply defined.

iv. The seventeenth century frame is of the greatest relevance for the practice of Thoreau’s, Melville’s, and Emerson’s art.

v. It is important to note, with Emerson, that it is the image of himself that he believed he found mirrored in the idealists (The Platonists)

vi. Milton influenced many 19th century authors because his conception of the struggle between passion and reason remained an integral part of American ethics & can be seen in both Hawthorne and Melville

vii. In brief sketches of contrasting types the basis for the description of transcendentalism as “romanticism in a Puritan setting” can be seen

viii. What drew Emerson most to Renassaince individualism was its increased awareness of the self

III. Metaphysical Strain
b. The Mingling of Walden and Ganges

i. One aspect of seventeenth century that Emerson and Thoreau did not have to modify was the metaphysical poet’s use of language

ii. Emerson’s use of conceits harkens back to these metaphysical poets (Donne, Marvell, etc)

iii. Emerson was not able to compete with the m.p. in keeping the truth at once to the senses and to the intellect—there are only occasional passages that approach their intense concentration

iv. Emerson’s poems do not have the structure of the m.p.s either.

1. Not because he lacked cohesive rhetoric but because the poetic structure the m.p.s strove for corresponded to their sense of wholeness in the cosmic structure, very different than his own

v. The struggles between doubt and belief, the tensions of their religious belief, made their utterances dramatic where Emerson’s are simply ejaculatory

vi. Thoreau also had difficulty meeting the m.p.s standards

1. Evil had become identifiable with external restraint with whatever false barriers in society kept man from fully realizing himself

2. He was indifferent to any theology

c. Ishmael’s Loom of Time

i. Emerson knew that the secret of language is mixture, that the male principle is the new Saxon, the female, the Latin and that they are married in every great style. No sentence is made of Roman words alone, without loss of strength

ii. Melville was influenced by Browne and grew into possession of the secret of his metaphysical style and so gaining the ability to create his own

iii. Some of Melville’s most memorable passages are those in which you feel that you are sharing in the very process of his developing consciousness

IV. The Organic Principle
a. From Coleridge to Emerson

i. Both Emerson and Thoreau would have objected to have their work evaluated in approximation to other art instead of to nature.

ii. The manifest risks for art is that its exclusive emphasis on the inner urge rather than the created shape can quickly run into formlessness particularly when it insists on the same spontaneous growth for a poem as for a plant.

iii. The various degrees of formlessness in Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman were owing to the varying length to which they carried this analogy.

iv. Emerson thoughts explained how art is organic for him in a double center; not merely is the appropriate form an expressive growth from the poet’s intuition but that intuition in turn is an outwelling from the universal mind.

v. Once Emerson focused on this second sense, he passed on to a realm beyond technical discussion—thought that since the universal mind is the sole creator of both the useful and the beautiful, the only way for the individual to partake in the creative act is by subjecting himself entirely to this primal source beyond understanding.

vi. Emerson also thought that beauty in art springs from man’s response to forms in nature.

vii. Emerson was uneasy with any display of mere virtuosity and thought of EAP as “the jingle man.”

viii. Emerson dealt on the action and reaction of pairs of elementary opposites of the universe in his eagerness to prove the organic relation of metrical forms to nature.

ix. Emerson wanted to catch nature’s powers

x. Emerson’s doctrine can be dangers if misconceived literally—Yvor Winter’s the fallacy of imitative form.

xi. The more characteristic danger for Emerson was not his immersion in material nature but leaving it behind altogether.

xii. His most fruitful work resulted from a poise in attitude between the two extremes, when the organic analogy between art and nature gave substance to his lines without causing him to lose sight of the fact that it was simply an analogy.

IV. The Organic Principle
xiii. Thoreau

1. In Walden, Thoreau makes his sharpest argument against the division of labor

2. Wherever Thoreau turned for fresh confirmation of his belief that true beauty reveals necessity, he saw that “Nature is a greater and more perfect art,” and that there is a similarity between her operations and man’s even in the details and trifles.

3. Like Emerson, he thought that “man’s art has wisely imitated those forms into which all matter is most inclined to run, as foliage and fruit.”

4. When applying the same principles to literature, Thoreau said, “True art is but the expression of our love of nature.”

5. He often pushed to a rigorous extreme not merely the supremacy of nature over art and of content over form, but also the artist’s life over his work

6. Thought that the real poem was what the poet himself has become.

xiv. New England Landscapes

1. One reason why Emerson & Thoreau thought instinctively of art as a natural fruit was that they had chosen visible nature for so much of their subject matter.

2. Both thought that their interest was subordinate to their concern with a man.

3. One way of distinguishing between Emerson’s and Thoreau’s handling of the organic style is by appraising the differing qualities of their landscapes.

4. The nature to which Emerson gives utterance to is more etherealized—as if writing from some fancied realm.

5. His landscapes are composed not of tangible material but from the evanescent light of reflections.

6. The quality of Thoreau’s landscapes depends on his belief that “man identifies himself with earth or the material.”

7. Alcott thought that Thoreau revealed secrets of nature “older than fields and gardens,” that he seems alone, of all of the men I have known to be a native New Englander.”

8. Alcott also regretted that Thoreau was so “earthbound”

IV. The Organic Principle
xv. Walden: Craftsmanship vs. technique

1. On one level Walden is the record of a personal experience but does not fit in with other similar works

2. Its process of composition is why it represents a richer accumulation than other works of contemporary history

3. The sequence of Walden is arranged a good deal more subtly, perhaps because its subject constituted a more central symbol for Thoreau’s accruing knowledge of life

4. The organization of essay comes into play—chronologically or thematically gathered?

5. Uses lots of repetition to remind the reader of the time sequence that knits together all of the chapters after the building of the cabin in the spring.

6. Afterward the structure become cyclical

7. The construction of the book involved deliberate rearrangement of material

8. The chief clue to how it was transformed into something else lies in Thoreau’s extension of his remark that he did not believe himself to be “wholly involved in Nature.”

9. Walden has spoken to men of wildly differing convictions who have in common only the intensity of their devotion to life

10. Thoreau’s revolt was bound up with a determination to do all he could to prevent the dignity of common labor from being degraded by the idle tastes of the rich.

11. The structural wholeness of Walden makes it stand as the firmest product in our literature of such life-giving analogies between the processes of art and daily work

12. Thoreau demonstrated what Emerson had merely observed that the function of the artist in society is always to renew the primitive experience of the race

13. Thoreau understood that in the act of expression a man’s whole being and his natural and social background as well, functions organically together.

V. Hawthorne
a. The Vision of Evil

i. We have in Emerson and Thoreau a thesis, in Hawthorne & Melville an antithesis, and in Whitman, a synthesis

ii. The creation of tragedy demands of its author a mature understanding of the relation of the individual to society and of the nature of good and evil.

1. Must have a coherent grasp of social forces or at least of mamn as a social being, otherwise he will possess no frame of reference within which to make actual his dramatic conflicts

2. Hero of tragedy is not just an individual, he is a man in action, in conflict with other individuals in a definite social order.

3. Any conflicts he creates will not give the illusion of human reality

4. He must be as far away from the chaos of despair as he is from ill-founded optimism

iii. There are some considerations which lie behind treatment of Hawthorne and Melville.

1. The transcendentalists were few in number but their convictions that human nature should not be regarded as corrupt but should be encouraged to trust itself, to embark on the opening road of freedom

iv. Emerson was not unconscious that evil existed but the significant thing to determine is his tone.

v. Emerson was sure that good was positive and evil was merely privative not absolute and that in the physical and moral spheres alike the ugly facts are merely partial and can be transcended

vi. No matter how black appearances might be there could always be found a small excess of good—all fragmentary sorrow and suffering would disappear in the radiance of good.

vii. Emerson declared that the soul refuses limits and always affirms an optimism not a pessimism

viii. Henry James and others had issue with Emerson’s views

ix. Emerson could not accept the confines of a single attitude.

V. Hawthorne
x. Melville felt a strong attraction in the transcendental beliefs but was against certain metaphysical assumptions

xi. Emerson’s perceptions about art evoked Melville’s warmest assent such as the belief in organic expression

xii. Melville’s efflorescence came as an immediate response of his imagination to the possibilities that Hawthorne’s had opened before him

xiii. Melville mediated on Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama which brought to him his first profound comprehension of the nature of tragedy—this was the charge that released Moby Dick and Pierre

xiv. Melville could already perceive in Hawthorne the same kind of short, quick probings that impressed him in Shakespeare

xv. Melville became fixed and fascinated by the haunting blackness in Hawthorne’s tales—also discovered that it is often the least part of genius that attracts popular admiration

xvi. Melville was sure that Hawthorne’s sketches could not have been produced by mere technical skill—thought H had a depth of tenderness, such a boundless sympathy with all forms of being such an omnipresent love that we must needs say that Hawthorne is alone in his generation

xvii. M thought that the power to sympathize with humanity could not exist in the high form called genius with a deep intellect which drops down into the universe

xviii. M also thought that H must have suffered in his life—cannot write suffering without experiencing it

VI. Problem of the Artist as a New Englander
a. Starting point

i. Few realized that Hawthorne’s thought bore an immediate relation to the issues of his own day—he may have been regarded as a dweller in the shadows of history, weaving his art out of the haunted memories of Puritanism but scarcely conscious of real life in the 19th century.

ii. The reputation of The Scarlet Letter has obscured the fact that H’s three other novels all deal with contemporary material.

iii. In passing from Emerson and Thoreau to Hawthorne we have moved to a life with a very different orientation to an artistic career that was faced with far more difficult problems

iv. Emerson thought poorly of Hawthorne’s work: “Hawthorne’s reputation as a writer is a very pleasing fact because his work is not good for anything, and this is a tribute to the man.”

v. Hawthorne felt himself in fuller sympathy with him than with Emerson

vi. For his part, Thoreau was noncommittal—he liked Hawthorne’s occasional company though he shared to the full the transcendental prejudice against fiction and his journals never mention Hawthorne’s work

vii. To what extent Hawthorne himself believed any dogma would be hard to ascertain—many passages in his notebooks indicate a reliance upon Providence, and he was explicit that Divine Intelligence is not merely a reflection of human reason

viii. He was hostile to all religious controversy and never joined any church

ix. The only earlier American writer whose work bore any inner resemblance to Hawthorne’s was Brockden Brown

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x. Hawthorne thought that a special onus was attached to practicing the craft of fiction in New England.

b. The First Tales

i. Hawthorne’s desire to probe spiritual reality beneath all manner of guises made him willing to suspend disbelief concerning whatever human hearts had held to be true but his hard critical sense equipped him to see through the distortions and delusions of puritanism but also through the contemporary “sciences” like phrenology and mesmerism & was able to occupy a more serious domain than Poe.

ii. His name did not appear in print until 1836.

iii. Longfellow, Poe & Melville all gave Hawthorne good reviews

VI. Problem of the Artist as a New Englander
c. To Open an Intercourse with the world

i. Hawthorne observed that his Tales had none of the profundity that characterizes the written communications of a solitary mind with itself.

ii. What terrified Hawthorne most about the isolate individual was the cold inability to respond to ordinary life whether it was owing to the fact that since he had never suffered other people seemed to him only shadows or whether it was because their minds lost touch with the magnetic chain of humanity

d. The Haunted Mind

i. Hawthorne’s inordinate attachment could sometimes amount to an asset.

ii. Another means of self-protection was Hawthorne’s generous strain of indolence.

iii. A phase of his indolence was his indifference to nearly everything that did not concern the medium in which he lived.

iv. Within Hawthorne’s provincial limitations, there was a wholeness, a desire to record whatever he knew of human nature both from observations and from thought and not to let himself be distracted by the transcendentalists’ frequent confusions between what life was and what they hoped it to be.

v. Hawthorne diverged significantly from Emerson in not trying to make his work an act of will. It was not a product of determination to lift better up to best but a record of unconscious depths whose source was beyond his control.

vi. Hawthorne’s half-waking sensations so possessed him that he could not him “running a doubtful parallel” between them and the rest of human life, for “in both you emerge from mystery, pass through a vicissitude that you can but imperfectly control and are borne onward to another mystery.

vii. His haunted mind made him write not as he would but as he must

viii. The frequent disproportion between the weight of what Hawthorne wanted to say and the flimsiness of the vehicle he could devise to carry it suggests the nature of the problem to be met by a man of his time who was not content with taking over conclusions from Europe but was determined to grasp the usable truth the actual meaning of civilization as it had existed in America.

ix. Hawthorne visited nature in order to return, refreshed, to the world of men

x. He often felt caught up in influences beyond his determining

xi. He came to know ever more deeply that life was larger than himself

xii. He was always concerned with not only the individual but the collective existence in his stories

xiii. He hoped to make his art a bridge between man and society.

VII. Allegory and Symbolism
a. The American Bias and Background

i. No art that sprang from American roots in this period could fail to show the marks of abstraction

ii. The tendency of American idealism to see a spiritual significance in every natural fact was far more broadly diffused than transcendentalism

iii. Hawthorne was never inclined to the metaphysical speculation that absorbed Melville

iv. He typified the process from which his art rose by describing what he found symbolic of the letter A

v. Hawthorne used symbolism in his works

vi. Melville is also interested in spiritual significance

vii. We now shy away from the bare personifications that throng some works

viii. Both allegory and symbolism can arise from the same thinking

ix. Symbolism expresses a mysterious connection between two ideas, allegory gives a visible form to the conception of such a conception

x. The differentiation between symbolism and allegory, between Melville and Hawthorne at their most typical, is thus seen to be allied to Coleridge’s fundamental distinction between imagination and fancy

xi. Symbolism is eemplastic since it shapes new wholes; allegory deals with fixities and definites that it basically does not modify

xii. Melville did not discriminate between the two modes

b. The imagination as mirror

i. Hawthorne thought the gross fatality of earth exulted in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which demands the completeness of a higher state

1. These distinctions were fundamental to Hawthorne’s and Melville’s awareness both of the mixed nature of life and of the sources of human good and evil

ii. H thought that man can be both in time and out of it, part of the flux yet penetrating to the external because the heart that has been touched by love embraces the paradoxical—the true conception of eternity, timeless existence within time and above it

iii. The tragic loss involved when a young man of generous heart but with no experience of the world plunged headlong into the resolve to live out an impossible ideal became the subject for Melville’s Pierre

iv. The ideal that Hawthorne wanted to project in art was the real: not actuality transformed into an impossible perfection but actuality disengaged from appearance

VII. Allegory and Symbolism
c. The Crucial definition of romance

i. Hawthorne’s desire to prove a neutral ground where the actual and imaginary may meet happens to contrast significantly with a note of Whitman’s that imagination and actuality must be united.

ii. Hawthorne’s use of the term romance was peculiar in its own practice

iii. Hawthorne about romance: “as a work of art it must rigidly subject itself to laws” and that “it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart.”

iv. Important to remember that though the major swift of literature towards realism, the term had not yet been applied to the novel in English

v. H was taking advantage of the unsettled standards of taste to make a plea for the assumptions that came to him from his past for what could not be expressed by the direct effort for the freeing of the inner life through the mode of symbolism

vi. The sense of the almost giddy vertiginous gulf between human finiteness and the infinity of the Absolute is the particular Northern or Gothic sensibility.

vii. Melville and Hawthorne’s shared conviction that art should present another world and yet one to which we feel the tie their roots were in the deepest Christian experience

viii. Melville became a tragic writer because his widening sense of the gulf between the ideal and actuality between the professions and practice of both democracy and religion

1. This is what separated between both him and Hawthorne from the transcendentalists who bridged their the gap between the finite and the Absolute by their assurance of the infinitude of the private man

ix. Had fewer living characters than other contemporary authors of this time because the American authors were more concerned with human destiny than with every man in his humor

x. For the main concern of the romance was not external details exactly presented settings, turns of speech, or characterizing gestures—it was the life within the life.

VIII. A Dark Necessity
a. Hawthorne’s politics with the economic structure of The Seven Gables

i. Two chief demands that the creation of tragedy makes upon its author: a firm conception of the relation of ma to society and of the nature of good and evil

ii. Felt slavery was wrong but could not see any wisdom in the violent view and remedies of the abolitionists

iii. Hawthorne’s distrust of purposive action presents a wide-open target

iv. Hawthorne expressed nothing but contempt for the professional politicians he encountered at the customhouse

v. Hawthorne felt the past heavily weighing on the present’s back

vi. Hawthorne’s objections to the encumbrance of property ran close to Thoreau’s

vii. Hawthorne could conceive evil in the world but not an evil world

b. Hawthorne’s Psychology: the Acceptance of Good and Evil

i. Hawthorne declared that human nature can be more truly represented in the wishes of its heart than in its actions

c. From Hawthorne to James to Eliot

XIII. The world’s a ship on its passage out: Melville
a. Melville had arrived at a more thoroughgoing conception of human evil than Hawthorne had embodied in the conclusion to The Seven Gables since he knew that both individuals and contemporary society itself were tainted with it

b. The bias of Melville’s mind was determined by his religious background is disclosed in the predominant tendency of all his ponderings

c. Melville’s tragedies are more concerned with spiritual and metaphysical issues even than with the economic and social

d. Melville voiced his divergence in the transcendental conclusion in many of the condensed parables of Moby Dick

e. Melville had gone further than Emerson in his realization that when you find in nature whether you consider a phenomenon angelic or demonic depends greatly on your own mood

f. What differentiates Melville most from Whitman is that he was never satisfied with what delighted the poet, with immersion in nature, in pure sensation, with the return to elemental life unblemished by the strivings of thought

g. In the struggle between Ahab and the white whale he embodies his growing sense that evil was an integral element of life itself

h. Melville must devise a structure that could combine the story of whaling, Ahab’s tragedy, and his own speculation on human destiny

XIV. Structure: Melville
a. The structure Melville had hit upon in White Jacket was more useful to his purpose in Moby Dick than that of Merdi

b. In Moby Dick, in focusing on man’s primitive struggle against nature, he solved the problem of plentitude by presenting a succession of levels of experience, distinct and yet skillfully integrated

c. In considering the effectiveness of MD, we can hardly exaggerate the importance of the elementary level, the accumulated lore of the whale man’s craft—it prevents the drama from gliding off into a world to which we would feel no normal tie whatsoever.

d. The apparent ubiquity of MD is put in the realm of reasonably credible facts.

e. The wealth of traditional lore that Melville picked up in the Pacific thus joined with his Goethean appetite for all knowledge for its own sake, and provided a solid context even for his most outlandish improbabilities

f. Almost 1/5th of the novel is made up of the account of new Bedford & Nantucket. 1/5th of the proclamation of the dignity of whaling in general, antiquarian lore, Ahab, crew, and his purpose, the horror that awaits them (the narrative and drama are interweaved), detailed itemization of the trade, the three days of the chase that make up the longest episode of the book is also considered the finest piece of dramatic writing of American lit.

XV. A bold and nervous lofty language: Melville
XV. A bold and nervous lofty language

a. His liberation in MD through the agency of Shakespeare was almost an unconscious reflex—unlike Emerson, he discussed at no point the origins and nature of language.

b. He did not find a way to express the hidden life of men until he encountered the vitality of Shakespeare’s language

c. Other writers conditioned his liberation—Browne taught him that musical properties of prose could help increase its symbolic richness, Carlyle’s rhetoric had the value of helping him rediscover that rhetoric did not necessarily involve a mere barren formalism but that it could also be constructed as to carry a full freight of emotions

d. His obsession with Shakespeare went above all of that.

e. Melville awakened his own full strength through the challenge of the most abundant imagination in history

f. He was so hypnotized by Shakespeare’s phrasing that he often seems to have reproduced it involuntarily

g. The most important effect of Shakespeare’s use of language was to give Melville a range of vocabulary for expressing passion far beyond any that he had previously possessed.

h. The accidental reading of Shakespeare had been a catalytic agent, indispensable in releasing his work from limited reporting to the expression of profound natural forces

i. Melville’s practice of tragedy, though it gained force from Shakespeare, had real freedom—it did not base itself upon Shakespeare but upon men and nature as Melville knew them

j. Melville mastered Shakespeare’s secret of how to make language itself dramatic—he learned to depend more and more upon verbs of action which lend their dynamic pressure to both movement and meaning.

XVI. The Matching of the Forces: Melville
XVI. The Matching of the Forces

a. Melville was much more adept at handling some of Shakespeare’s serious devices since these were more in tune with his own temper.

b. Shakespeare’s conception of tragedy had so grown into the fibre of Melville’s thought that much of his mature work became a recreation of its themes in modern terms

c. The preponderating stress on evil in MD is sometimes loosely romantic

d. Aware of the mixed nature of life, he does not make the oversimplification of considering man good and the whale evil

e. In telling what Moby Dick had signified for other mariners before Ahab, Melville reiterates what separates him from the rest of the species is that intelligent malignity which he had over and over again evinced in his assaults

f. The far range of Melville’s symbols are carrying him into a different world from Hawthorne’s—Hawthorne was concerned with depicting the good and evil within man’s heart. Melville is not so concerned with individual sin as with titanic uncontrollable forces which seem to dwarf man altogether

g. The extreme to which he pushes his symbols involves reversals of values that are not always easy to understand

h. As Melville examined man’s lot, he was impressed by the terrifying consequences of an individual’s separation from his fellow beings.

i. Through such symbolic figures, Melville discloses what wealth of suffering humanity he believed to be pitted in the dynamic struggle against evil.

Melville cont
XVII. Fate of the ungodly god-like man

a. Melville knew the strength of the contrast between the great individual and the inert mass—expressed it in Ahab’s power to coerce all the rest—M was also caught and fascinated with his hero

b. Ahab is both a hero and a villain—ordinary men are no match for him

XVIII. The levels beyond

a. The passages of Moby Dick that stay with the reader longest are not the dialogue and soliloquies—it was when Melville arouse to the Homeric level.

b. Melville had learned how to make beauty out of natural strength—he had also learned to make it functional because he did not let his Homeric similes remain mere ornaments

c. The controlled accumulations of such similes were the prime source for both his volume and variety in the narrative of the final chase.

d. Melville makes more allusions to the Old Testament to the New Testament in MD

e. It is significant of Melville’s difference from Emerson that he did not conceive of art as an ever higher and more refined ascent of the mind

XXI. Words! Book-words! What are you?: Whitman
XXI. Words! Book-words! What are you?

a. Whitman often though Leaves of Grass was just a language experiment

b. Whitman thought language was not an abstract construction made by the learned but that it had arisen out of the work and needs, the joys and struggles and desires of long generations of humanity and that it had its bases broad and low, close to the ground

c. Words were not arbitrary devices, but the product of human events and customs, the progeny of folkways.

d. Also believed that the fresh opportunities for the English tongue were immense, offering themselves in the whole range of American facts.

e. His poems could therefore release new potentialities for expression to our native character

f. For Whitman there was no chasm between the real and the ideal.

g. Thought living speech could come to a man only through his absorption in the life surrounding him.
XXII. Vision and attitude

a. No matter how far Whitman’s sensuality took him from anything remotely acceptable to believers in the doctrine of the Quakers—its presence as a shaping force in his background does much to account for his freedom from the pale cast of intellectualism that bothered him in Emerson

b. Whitman avowed that his poetry was not productions of his conscious intellect—he mistrusted intellect—thought that it was best to be inspired as one divinely possessed.

c. Whitman’s confidant vision led him to fulfill the most naïve and therefore most natural kind of romanticism for America—the romanticism of the future.

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American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the age of Emerson and Whitman—F.O. Matthiessen
Artscolumbia
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I. Method and Scope
a. Noticed that a great number of our past masterpieces were produced in one concentrated moment of expression. i. Authors (at that time) considered this to be a rebirth or rebirth by America coming into its maturity and affirming its rightful heritage in the expanse of art and culture b. Matthiessen's focus for the s
2017-09-07 11:44:47
American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the age of Emerson and Whitman—F.O. Matthiessen
$ 13.900 2018-12-31
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