Literature history: American literary magazines of the 19th century



As William Cullen Bryant may be regarded as the pioneer American poet, and Washington Irving as the pioneer essayist and man of letters, so James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) may be styled the first American novelist of true distinction. He is one of the world's great story-tellers, whose defects of style are abundantly compensated by the invention of his narrative in plot and incident. He became, furthermore, the first voice of primeval America, of her virgin wilderness, and her aboriginal children. He created the Indian as a life-size figure of literature, impressive even if idealized. And as he originated the novel of the forest, so to a certain extent he originated the novel of the sea.

In those days it was necessary for professional men of letters to adopt, as Bryant did, the bread winning employment of the newspaper. Literature as a profession did not really exist, and such giants of literary genius as Poe and Hawthorne, not to mention Lowell and others, belonged to a generation of poorly paid Bohemians. In the early forties two Philadelphia magazines began to pay their contributors with what was then thought to be a princely munificence. Godey's Lady's Book, which had the chief financial success among the Philadelphia magazines, had succeeded Dennie's Port Folio in the fine personnel of contributors. It began in July, 1830, and its circulation grew several years later to 150,000 a month, largely due to its colored fashion plates. Some-what dimmed by the prismatic colors of the fashions, some of the earliest compositions of Poe, Holmes, Lydia H. Sigourney, Frances S. Osgood, Longfellow, Bayard Taylor, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, appeared in this magazine. Its chief rival was the Gentleman's Magazine, which George R. Graham, in 1841, purchased from William E. Burton the actor, and renamed simply Graham's Magazine. "There is one thing more," said Burton, after concluding the sale. "I want you to take care of my young editor." The "young editor" was Poe. Later Rufus Wilmot Griswold, of unpleasant notoriety later, sat in the editorial chair, and Lowell assisted Poe. Longfellow's "Spanish Student," Cooper's "Jack Tier," and some of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-told Tales" appeared in its pages. The Cary Sisters, Charles Fenno Hoffman, Thomas Dunn English, N. P. Willis, W. W. Story, E. P. Whipple contributed to it. Among the last were Bayard Taylor and C. Godfrey Leland. N. P. Willis established the American Monthly Magazine and wrote popular books of verse and society sketches.





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