THE OBLIQUE LIGHT by Robert E. Spiller


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Classic American writer writers have not always thought well of each other. Mark Twain regarded Henry James as a windbag, Emerson's idealism was found to be naive by Henry Adams. No doubt differences in temperament played a large part in these opinions. Yet if we compare an aphorism from Adams--""Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit""--with one of Benjamin Franklin's famous jingles--""Early to bed and early to rise,/ Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise""--we see at once a fundamental opposition in moral outlook which is very much at the heart of our literature and philosophy. Professor Spiller's essays are particularly helpful in delineating such matters, both because of the historical as well as cultural perspectives with which he brings them into focus, and because the period during which the essays were written--the Twenties through the Forties--was a period of scholarly reevaluation and reinterpretation. It was designed to rescue eighteenth and nineteenth century American literature from the British tradition and present it as ""the expression, on a new continent and under new conditions of life, of the whole tradition of Western European culture."" Of course, this is taken for granted today and much that Spiller says hardly seems challenging now. Nevertheless, the studies of ""the discoverers"" (Franklin, Cooper, Emerson) and ""the shapers"" (Hawthorne, Adams, Lanier) still come across as fluent assessments of contrasting and representative men and eras.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1968
Publisher: Macmillan