Recent Books: American Fiction

Alexander Hammond
1974 Nineteenth-Century Fiction  
is the latest volume in Twayne's United States Authors Series.1 Since most NCF readers may recall Mathews only as the main source of comic relief in The Raven and the Whale, it is relevant to emphasize that Perry Miller brings him on stage with this introduction: "Cornelius Mathews ought to have made himself a great name in American literature. . . . He early conceived a passionate belief in the cause of native American genius (his own included), and was almost the only man of letters outside
more » ... f letters outside New England who gave serious thought to the problem of the new directions in which an American artist might develop, who sought vistas untenanted by Irving, Bryant, and Cooper. He could point out the areas to be worked; humor (not Irving's, but the people's), the turmoil of the city, and the drama. More than anyone in his generation he understood that poems distilled from foreign poems would not do in this country." The judgment of his age, Miller adds, was neither this generous nor this impersonal: it found the abrasive Mathews "pompous, ridiculous, vain" and saw his incessant clamor for a "home literature" and an international copyright law as the symptom of an irrepressible appetite for public attention. Without glossing over his subject's obvious personal failings or the meager talent revealed in his creative work, Stein supports Miller's appraisal of the merit and importance of Mathews' ideas. Choosing not to duplicate the perspectives on this New York author in The Raven and the Whale, in Pritchard's Literary Wise Men of Gotham, or in Stafford's The Literary Criticism of Young A merica, Stein concentrates on Mathews' published work per se, organizing his presentation to show the relationship between this writer's programmatic support of native literature and his personal efforts "to carry out the tasks he set for the American author." The writings are discussed topically in chapters analyzing Mathews' approach to the individual ingredients of his recipe for a literature, as well as a society, free from the corrupting taints of foreign influence. If their
doi:10.2307/2933299 fatcat:ubhdlufxtne2dlhlpj2bmjk3he