Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Mathews, Cornelius (ca. 1817–1889)
Author:
Yannella, Donald
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

One of the most visible and contentious members of New York's Young America nationalist movement, Cornelius Mathews was, like Whitman, an active journalist during the early 1840s and through the early 1850s. Mathews was a journalistic writer and periodical editor throughout his long career and wrote across the genres: fiction, sketches, poetry, and plays. He was near the center of the Duyckinck Circle, which helped create Young America, and with Whitman contributed to the movement's most noted outlet, the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, edited by John L. O'Sullivan. They were dedicated to Locofoco political radicalism and literary nationalism.

There is good reason to believe that Whitman and Mathews were acquainted both because of their ideological sympathies and because, as active journalists, they would have frequented and at times occupied office space in New York's printing, publishing, and book-selling district on Nassau Street north of Wall. Mathews was a serious author trying to reach a mass audience created by the advances in printing technology beginning in the 1830s and encouraged by Jacksonian democracy's promotion of the common man. He became active in the Know-Nothing party, which assaulted recently arrived Irish Catholics, among other groups, as Whitman himself had in his 1842 Aurora pieces. Mathews addressed New York City Nativists—he was vice president of the organization, according to the 5 June 1855 Tribune—a month before the first appearance of Leaves. But while Whitman might have flirted with Nativism even earlier than the high point of its popularity, he was ultimately inclusive in his democratic sympathies while Mathews was exclusive, holding, it appears, a jingoistic version of democracy, though not as conservative as depicted by his biographer Stein. Pritchard is perhaps right in suggesting that Mathews's Poems on Man (1842)—one of his many celebrations of American Republicanism—anticipates Leaves in purpose and spirit, but it is far inferior in vision and execution.

Bibliography

Chielens, Edward E., ed. American Literary Magazines: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York: Greenwood, 1986.

Pritchard, John Paul. Criticism in America. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1956.

Stafford, John. The Literary Criticism of "Young America": A Study in the Relationship of Politics and Literature. Berkeley: U of California P, 1952.

Stein, Allen F. Cornelius Mathews. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Yannella, Donald. "Cornelius Mathews." American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1850–1880. Vol. 64 of Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ed. John W. Rathbun and Monica M. Grecu. Detroit: Gale, 1988. 178–182.


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