Howells was among the first "Western" poets (as those beyond the Hudson were once described) to bridge the gap between elegant, formal Victorian poetry and fully modern American verse. He was steeped in both the waning literary traditions and the newly emergent trends of realism and social justice of the1880s. First claiming national attention for his poetry in 1860, he rose to prominence over the next three decades as an author, playwright, humorous essayist, and novelist. Perhaps the work best known to modern readers is his novel, The Undiscovered Country. The event that most influenced the work of later years featured in Cady's collection was the death in 1889 of Howells's young daughter Winifred. Though he inherited the poetic legacy of Tennyson and Longfellow, Howells was an experimenter in terms of both the "decadence" of his themes and the musicality of his verse (which nevertheless permitted a degree of modern dissonance). While he rejected vers libre and often favored triplets, he was no slave to the classical dictates of strict meter and rhyme. Often his lines scanned loosely and his rhymes were inexact or nonexistent. To critics during the period when "Manifest Destiny" was in force, the dark tone, intensity, and pervasive sadness of his poetry indicated his potential as a decadent writer. His tender conscience and compassionate espousal of the radical social causes of the time reinforced this impression. Howells strove to avoid what he termed "literose" writing (based on other writings rather than actual experience), and he suggested that "realism excludes nothing that is true."
Cady does a creditable job and performs a valuable service in bringing this important and long-overlooked work of a modern Howells to light.