Columbia Library columns (v.9(1959Nov-1960May))

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  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 22  

Knickerbocker Literature in the
Benjamin Collections


KNICKERBOCKER New York was proud of its culture,
and had reason to be. It had no benign Mr. Emerson,
nor any poet as dulcet as Professor Longfellow, as
homespun as .Mr. AVhittier or urbane as iVIr. Lowell. But Emer¬
son's brother lived on Staten Island, and the Concord sage visited
him or Henry James, who was a philosopher also, equally intense,
though not so popular or smoothly articulate. And New York
had its own literary galaxy, older and eminently respectable.
William CuUen Bryant was surely America's purest poetic voice,
even if his work as editor of the Evening Post allowed him to sing
increasingly less often and less well. Fitz-Grccnc Halleck was also
familiarly numbered among the favorites of his literary country¬
men, and his position as secretary to iMr. Astor seemed to signify
something of a proper, even distinctively New-World, relation¬
ship between commerce and art. Everyone knew James Fenimore
Cooper, but not everyone liked him because he was often bump¬
tious and very blunt in criticism of native notions. Residence in
Europe had convinced him that, whatever was lacking of intelli¬
gent facing up to facts of human nature and human rights there,
even more was lacking at home. But he was a man of whom to be
proud. He hated being called "the American A^'alter Scott," but
there was no avoiding it. His novels were the best America was to
produce for many years.

But Knickerbocker New York was most proud of ^^'ashington
Irving, whose triumphant literary years in Europe had made him,
not imitator, but an intimate of Sir Walter, of Thomas Campbell,
and of the poet Shelley's widow. Something of their splendor
  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 22