English Literature (American History Through Literature)
For inhabitants of Britain and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, the American War of Independence was only two generations past, roughly the same distance in time as the Second World War from those living at the turn of the twenty-first century. It was, in other words, still an active memory within the general culture as well as being an actual memory for the elderly. Furthermore there had been a series of conflicts between these two countries in the early nineteenth century, the most significant of which was the War of 1812 arising out of trade disputes and American anger at the Royal Navy's methods of impressment. These hostilities led to British troops entering Washington and burning the White House to the ground. Heated controversies also erupted over rights to the fur-trading territories of the Pacific Northwest, a saga described in Washington Irving's popular work Astoria; or, Anecdotes of an Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains (1836, first published with a slightly different title), and over the boundary between Maine and British Canada. Not only were the cultural fortunes of Britain and the United States closely interwoven in the early nineteenth century, then, but also much mutual antipathy existed between the two nations. As Britain was consolidating its own empire, it was becoming increasingly suspicious of the United States partly because of what it regarded as that nation's anarchic principles of democracy and liberty but also because of U.S. potential to become an imperial competitor, an increasingly significant player on the world stage.
In the 1820s Lord George Gordon Byron (1788824) was still noting how the republican sensibility had migrated west across the Atlantic, upbraiding George III before a celestial court in The Vision of Judgment (1822) in a manner that would have brought smiles to the faces of the Founding Fathers. Indeed Byron's well-known sympathies for American independence induced the London Times to complain on 6 November of 1822 that "Lord Byron, who hates his own countrymen and countrywomen, has a prodigious penchant for the men and women of America." This old spirit of libertarian radicalism, however, was superseded in the early years of the nineteenth century by more romantic forms of patriotic attachment that tended to use transatlantic comparisons in order to emphasize the superiority of the writer's native culture, either American or British. Accounts of travels to North America by English writers became very popular in Britain at this time, and the success of such narratives was predicated upon their predictability, their tendency to reinforce an existing set of national stereotypes or prejudices rather than to discover anything new. Typifying this conservative mentality was Captain Basil Hall (1788844), whose Travels in North America, in the Years 1827 and 1828 (1829) offers a severely critical account of the American political system, although, as Hall himself admitted: "I have often been so much out of humour with the people amongst whom I was wandering, that I have most perversely derived pleasure from meeting things to find fault with" (1:167).
Mocking Americans became something of a national sport for the British at this time, with Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), written by Frances Trollope (1779863), being perhaps the most famous work in this genre. Trollope's narrative is an account of the time she spent between 1827 and 1831 in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she moved with her family in an attempt to reestablish their wealth by selling imported luxury goods after her husband's business in England had failed. Domestic Manners represents America as a land of vulgarity and greed, and it concludes that the "total and universal want of manners" in the United States "is so remarkable, that I was constantly endeavouring to account for it" (pp. 390). The book also achieved a certain political notoriety among liberal circles in Britain by being published on 19 March 1832, three days before the Reform Bill to enlarge enfranchisement had its third and final reading in the House of Commons. Many Tories in England blamed the democratizing impulse of the electoral reformers on the pernicious effects and example of American republicanism, and the liberal Edinburgh Review was not alone in suspecting that Trollope had conspired with her publishers on the timing of her book to make it appear "an express advertisement against the Reform Bill" (July 1832). However this may be, Domestic Manners fits within a tradition of travel writing in the first half of the nineteenth century wherein English writers patronize their American cousins as uncouth upstarts who have failed fully to understand the codes of civilized behavior.
DICKENS AND AMERICA
For Charles Dickens (1812870), who well knew Trollope's work and its emphasized objection to New World manners, the more pressing reason for hostility toward America was financial in nature. During the depression of the late 1830s in the United States, many British companies that had invested heavily in America found the value of their state bonds collapsing, with British investors learning to their cost that neither the American federal government nor taxpayers regarded themselves as responsible for the financial affairs of individual states. One of Dickens's complaints about America in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (published serially in 1843 and 1844) is that, as its hero tells Elijah Pogram, from "disregarding small obligations" Americans "come in regular course to disregard great ones: and so refuse to pay their debts" (p. 508). This double-dealing is associated by Dickens not only with a personal breach of trust but also with the inherent financial instability of the country: one of Martin's English acquaintances tells the story of "Lummy Ned," a man who emigrated to New York to make his fortune but then "lost it all the day after, in six-and-twenty banks as broke" (pp. 21314). This sense of the United States as a den of financial iniquity would have merged in Dickens's mind with his bitterness regarding the absence of an international copyright agreement, an absence that meant he received no royalties at all from his vast sales in the United States. Indeed he went to America partly to campaign for a change in the law, an issue on which he was supported by Washington Irving and other American authors; but he underestimated the ferocity of the American popular press in defending its territory against what they saw as unjustified levies, particularly levies imposed by that old tax tyrant, Great Britain. Paradoxically, it was the widespread dissemination of Dickens's novels through unauthorized American reprints that brought his huge popularity in the United States during the late 1830s, a popularity he could turn to his financial advantage only through personal appearances and readings. Although the copyright question never surfaces overtly in Dickens's nonfictional American Notes for General Circulation (1842) or in Martin Chuzzlewit, this perception of the United States as a commercial predator is never far from the author's thoughts.
American Notes maps its version of the United States by constant comparison to English affairs, discovering parallels between the two countries all over the East Coasthe effect of Yale, for example, being "very like that of an old cathedral yard in England" (p. 125)ut finding the American West much more difficult to fit into Anglocentric perspectives. The prairies, complains Dickens, do not give the same "sense of freedom and exhilaration which a Scottish heath inspires, or even our English downs" because of their "very flatness and extent, which [leaves] nothing to the imagination" (p. 226). Since the American West appears not to
The negative portrayal of the United States in Martin Chuzzlewit is well known, and indeed the novel is dogmatically and compulsively anti-American in its overall style and structure as well as in those episodes actually set in the United States. The burden of the narrative is to expose what Dickens takes to be the hypocritical discrepancy between "saintly semblances" and corrupt self-interest, a discrepancy that manifests itself on a personal level in the characterization of Pecksniff and on a national level through the inflated American conception of its own destiny in the "Valley of Eden" (p. 347). With the relentless urge to crush self-aggrandizing delusions that typified the English Victorian moralist, Dickens seizes upon the fat target of slavery as a prime instance of the American tendency to preach liberty while practicing oppression, mocking that "air of Freedom which carries death to all tyrants, and can never (under any circumstances worth mentioning) be breathed by slaves" (p. 248). This satirical overthrow of constitutional idealism is conceptualized by the author through iconoclastic imagery, as he describes how the "great American eagle, which is always airing itself sky-high in purest aether . . . tumbles down, with draggled wings into the mud" (p. 485). Associated with this idiom of bathos is a thread running throughout the novel designed to interrogate the supposed primacy of "mind over matter," as the author puts it, and thus to elucidate what he takes to be the intellectual failure of transcendentalism and all its works. Dickens's empiricist perspective ridicules the way "Edeners were 'going' to build a superb establishment for the transaction of their business, and had already got so far as to mark out the site: which is a great way in America" (p. 338).
CLOUGH AND TRANSCENDENTALISM
While the more conservative Dickens was skeptical about the idealist aspects of American culture, in his poetry Arthur Hugh Clough (1819861) approaches transcendentalism much more sympathetically. Although born in England in 1819, Clough spent six years of his childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, after his father had taken the family to the United States in the winter of 1822823. The plan of Clough's father was to circumvent the economic depression that had followed the Napoleonic Wars in Europe by tapping sources of raw cotton in the American South and exporting it back to England. The family did not settle back in England until 1836, and, though Clough himself was sent back to England for his schooling in 1828, he retained early memories of living by the harbor at Charlestonouth Carolina was, of course, then still a slave states well as of three summers when the family sojourned in the milder climate of New York. Clough was nicknamed "Yankee" at Rugby School, and his American childhood also ensured that when he traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an adult in December 1852, Clough was aware in an important sense of returning to the United States rather than encountering that country for the first time. In the 1840s Clough had experienced a tense relationship with the English cultural establishment, resigning his Oxford fellowship in 1848 on the grounds that he felt himself unable in principle to subscribe to the Church of England's Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, a requirement at that time for all Oxford dons. Meanwhile Clough had met and spent some considerable time with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803882) when the latter visited England in 1848merson, the senior partner by sixteen years, noted in his private journal for 22 December 1848: "'Tis, I think, the most real benefit I have had from my English visit, this genius of Clough (Journals 11:64)nd, after Clough's trials and tribulations in English academe had led him to consider emigration, Emerson was quick to write encouraging him to come to Cambridge and assuring him of a plentiful supply of private tutorial work. Emerson, who was a great admirer of Clough's first major poem, The Bothie of Tober-na-fuosich (1848; later revised and retitled The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich), blamed the neglect of his friend on the narrow prejudices of English society, and he also hoped that Clough would assist him with "a catechism of details touching England" (1:316) in relation to his own work, English Traits (1856), which he was then writing.
At first Clough was generally enthusiastic about America. He met James Russell Lowell (1819891) and his wife on board the Canada en route to the United States, and in New England he was welcomed into the Emersonian circle, becoming quickly acquainted with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Parker, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Ellery Channing, and others. Clough also developed some important intellectual friendships, particularly with Lowell and with Charles Eliot Norton (1827908), and, even though he soon became weary of Massachusetts and chose to return to England in 1853, these associations were to have significant repercussions for his subsequent literary career. Clough was indebted to Lowell, in particular, for the first publication of his best-known poem, Amours de Voyage, which was written in 1849 but suppressed by the author until Lowell persuaded him to allow it to be published in installments in the new magazine he was editing, the Atlantic Monthly, between February and May 1858.
It is clear from Amours de Voyage that Clough's work is torn between English and American cultural influences and that his poetry involves a shuttling between alternative transatlantic points of view. The poem itself features a hero wandering forlornly through Europe who is unable ultimately to find within himself either human love or religious faith; and it might be described as a poem that interrogates the notion of transcendentalism since there is a debate here between idealism and materialism, between an idea of neoplatonic "affinity," wherein correspondences are predestined, and mere "juxtaposition," wherein all encounters are seen as random and haphazard. Though he generally admired Amours de Voyage, Emerson himself disliked what in a letter to Clough he described as "the baulking end or no end" of the poem, its structural anticlimax whereby the hero Claude and his prospective lover Mary Trevellyn miss each other on their travels; Emerson was appalled that Clough appeared to "waste such power on a broken dream," a sense of disappointment that the American sage deemed "bad enough in life, and inadmissible in poetry" (Clough 2:548). Clough answered indirectly by writing in a letter to Norton that he had "always meant" to organize the poem in this way, and that he "began it with the full intention of its ending so" (2:551). Clough's response here indicates how the English-born poet saw himself not, like Walt Whitman, as Emerson's acolyte or mere follower, but rather as his transatlantic rival and interlocutor.
THE CIVIL WAR
Such authorial dialogues give only an indication of the extent to which English literature and American literature in the mid-nineteenth century were intellectually intertwined. Anthony Trollope (1815882), son of Frances, wrote his own account of U.S. manners in North America (1862), during the course of which he mentions hearing Emerson lecture in Boston. Although Trollope had feared beforehand "how the star-spangled flag would look when wrapped in a mist of mystic Platonism," he actually found to his surprise that Emerson spoke "with admirable simplicity and truth," being "terse and perspicuous in his sentences, practical in his advice" (p. 223); for this new generation of visitors, the crude stereotypes promulgated by Trollope's mother no longer seemed sufficient. Anthony Trollope also met Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804864) at a dinner in Boston during this visit, and he later wrote a highly perceptive and complimentary critical essay on Hawthorne published in the North American Review in 1879.
Trollope's visit to America took place between August 1861 and May 1862, in the shadow of the American Civil War, which had broken out in April 1861. It is probably true to say that this war was the event that changed the cultural balance of power between Britain and the United States permanently. While Britain maintained an official position of neutrality during this conflict, the sympathies of Trollope himself, like those of other English liberals, lay with the North, even though he was suspicious of what he took to be the fanaticism of New England abolitionists. Elizabeth Gaskell, a friend and correspondent of Charles Eliot Norton, similarly supported the Northern states, as did John Stuart Mill and political advocates of free trade such as Richard Cobden and John Bright. There had been considerable support for the antislavery cause in Britain over the previous two decades, with Frederick Douglass (1818895) garnering much support during his successful tour of Britain between 1845 and 1847; indeed it was actually his English friends, led by Ellen and Anna Richardson of Newcastle, who raised the funds to purchase Douglass's freedom from Hugh Auld of Maryland in 1846. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811896) was also welcomed enthusiastically by Queen Victoria during a tour of Britain in 1853, when she was presented with a petition containing the signatures of over half a million British women against slavery. This experience later encouraged Stowe to write "A Reply" (1863), addressed to the women of Britain, urging them to raise their voices in protest against the British establishment's tacit support for the Confederacy.
Stowe's wrath was directed not only against open apologists for slavery such as Thomas Carlyle (1795881), but also against Lancashire industrialists protective of their vested interests who did not want to see their profitable cotton trade with the American South disrupted, and the London Times, which supported the social idea of a Southern aristocracy and feared how the emancipation of slaves in the American South might destabilize British colonial interests in the West Indies. The black uprising in Jamaica in October 1865, when nearly five hundred insurrection-ists were massacred by the army on the instructions of Governor E. J. Eyre, seemed to the Times to bear out its fears about "the original savageness of the African blood" (13 November 1865). After 1865 when the United States became in constitutional terms (in however problematic a way) a racially mixed and integrated society, the idea of a natural continuum between different branches of the Anglo-Saxon race on either side of the Atlantic became more difficult to sustain. In addition the reconciliation of the different regions of the United States into one strong federal nation marked a decisive stage in the shift of imperial power from Britain to America. The U.S. population had exceeded that of Britain for the first time in the 1840s, and, though Britain in the late nineteenth century remained strong politically and economically, the rapid growth in communications technologies and other forms of national standardization in America after 1865 led inexorably toward its establishment as the world's leading power.
AMERICAN RESPONSES TO ENGLAND
American writers of the mid-nineteenth century viewed their English counterparts with various degrees of enthusiasm, but in each case there was a strong sense of the two cultures being in dialogue with each other. For Washington Irving (1783859) in The Sketch Book (1819820) and Bracebridge Hall (1822), the English landscape existed in a continuum with its extension westward across the Atlantic, and he portrayed Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon as just as much a part of the American heritage as the Hudson River valley represented in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." Emerson famously declared in his 1837 address "The American Scholar" that his countrymen had "listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe" (p. 69), but the desire for such cultural independence arose not out of simple hostility toward England but from a desire to associate the spirit of nationalism with a home environment, a desire Emerson shared with William Wordsworth, Thomas Carlyle, and other British romantic writers by whom he was influenced. Emerson first wrote to Carlyle in 1834 expressing his delight that "one living scholar is self-centred & will be true to himself" (Slater, ed., p. 98) and the two men always remained on friendly terms despite Carlyle's complaint in a letter to his brother in 1862 that Emerson seemed to think of himself as "becoming celestial by emancipating Niggers" (Slater, ed., p. 537). "Each of the masters has some puerility," noted Emerson indulgently in his journal, "as Carlyle his pro-slavery whim" (Journals 10:52).
In English Traits, his account of a visit to England in 1847 and 1848, Emerson suggests that the British race has fragmented into two parts, with "her liberals in America, and her conservatives at London" (p. 28). This statement testifies to his sense of the vital genealogical continuities (as well as political differences) between the two nations, something mirrored in Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854), which similarly draws on and revises conventions of Elizabethan pastoral. Herman Melville (1819891), who was widely read in English literature, particularly that of the Renaissance era, deliberately conceived of Moby-Dick (1851) as a response to John Milton's Paradise Lost, a transgressive narrative in which vengeance is glorified as Captain Ahab unleashes the destructive potential that is implicit, but never fully licensed, in Milton's Satan. Melville is sometimes thought of as a specifically Anglophobic writer because of his involvement with Evert Duyckinck's Young America movement in the late 1840s and the wariness he expresses toward "alien" England in his famous essay "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (1850). In fact, Melville's enthusiasm for this nationalist program was short-lived and all of Melville's works after Moby-Dick treat the English literary inheritance in a respectful if quizzical manner. Melville met with Hawthorne, then serving as American consul in Liverpool, during his visit to Europe in the fall of 1856, and it is odd to think of them walking together on the beach in the unlikely surroundings of Stockport, Lancashire, exchanging views on Calvinist notions of predestination. Hawthorne's own account of English customs, Our Old Home, was published in 1863, and in the manuscripts to his unfinished novel about an American claimant, Hawthorne attempts to reconfigure transatlantically his style of romance, with the story turning upon an estate passing from the English to the American branch of a fictional family.
Since the publication in 1941 of F. O. Matthiessen's seminal work American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, American literature between 1820 and 1870 has normally been read within a nationalist context, with Emerson and his compeers conventionally said to have forged an independent culture that could stand apart from English models. However, more recent work on the extent to which English literature itself at this time was shaped by imperial and colonial designs has reintroduced the question of how relationships between English and American literature might be understood within a postcolonial framework, where different traditions develop in uneasy parallels. Such an emphasis was anticipated by the England volume of James Fenimore Cooper's (1789851) Gleanings in Europe, an account published in 1837 of a trip he had undertaken nine years earlier. In this work Cooper critiques the British ruling classes by arguing that colonial dependencies are essential to the maintenance of English authoritytherwise "she would sink to a second-rate power in twenty years" (p. 257). He comments also on the general ignorance among the English population about American conditions, recollecting how he talked to a man who insisted that "the winters are too long in America to keep sheep" (p. 254), despite the fact that there were at that time, Cooper says, three and a half million sheep in New York state alone. Paradoxically, though, such misunderstandings create breaches that Cooper welcomes, since he wishes to correct the general American tendency to pay too much heed to English views and thus to free Americans from the "mental dependence created by colonial subserviency" (p. 233).
What is interesting here is the way in which Cooper sees America as engaged in a postcolonial struggle with the specters of British cultural authority. Whereas Emerson's lecture "The American Scholar," also published in 1837, is characteristically abstract, representing freedom and self-determination as philosophical necessities, Cooper's treatise is more attuned to the social and material conditions that brought about increased tensions between Britain and the United States in the early nineteenth century. Cooper mentions the War of 1812 as a lingering source of antipathy between the two countries, and he also remarks on British unease at the growing political power of the United States. If the critical direction of Matthiessen's American Renaissance, drawing its impetus from an imagined organic unity in the native culture, was inspired by the spirit of Emerson, it might not be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that recent accounts of interactions between British and American literature in the nineteenth centuryrom John Carlos Rowe, Susan Manning, and othersave taken their cue more from the method of Cooper, with its emphasis on ways in which the national symbolic forms of the United States were shaped both domestically and internationally by a variety of historical circumstances.
See also American English; Americans Abroad; Book Publishing; Democracy; Literary Criticism; Literary Nationalism; Taste; Tourism; Travel Writing; Young America
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