Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Young America Movement
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.

Intellectuals with literary and political concerns were at the center of the Young America movement of the late 1830s to about 1850. Growing out of the Tetractys Club, which was founded by a small group including Evert A. Duyckinck and Cornelius Mathews, the Young Americans supported the common man, democracy, and reform. They generally promoted an inclusive nationalism rather than jingoistic chauvinism, but their political positions are complex, some, for example, opposing the Mexican War and others promoting Manifest Destiny. Their typical Jacksonian concerns had sources in Jeffersonian democracy. Whitman shared many of their positions and recalled in 1858 that John L. O'Sullivan's United States Magazine and Democratic Review was a "monthly magazine of profounder quality of talent than any since" (Whitman 15) and that it impressed young men at the time he contributed to it. The movement was contemporary with Old World radical initiatives such as Young Italy and Young Ireland during this period of social and political upheaval.

When seeking the intellectual and ideological sources of Whitman's nationalism, as articulated in the 1855 Preface, for example, one must take into account Young America's vigorous nationalism as expressed in the Democratic Review, as well as in other Locofoco periodicals to which Whitman never contributed. Duyckinck and Mathews provided magazine outlets for radical thought in periodicals such as Arcturus (1840–1842), Yankee Doodle (1846–1847), and the Literary World (1847–1853), but the Democratic Review had the largest circulation and longest life. Whitman generally agreed with the Review's politics and wrote for it. These publishers, editors, and writers were attempting to appeal to the new mass audiences created by the surge of Jacksonian democratic principles coupled with increasingly efficient printing technology. But they had social, political, and also literary agendas, and while interested in English authors such as the renegade Shelley and the "divine" Shakespeare, as Herman Melville described him, they were most concerned with encouraging and promoting American writers. One readily available statement incorporating their critical values, including nationalism, is Melville's belated 1850 Literary World review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), a volume Duyckinck himself proposed. Melville's notice is typical of the sort of critical writing in these new magazines which were trying to reach an expanded, possibly middle-class market. These author-journalists were middlemen purveying socially and politically important ideas and values. They were neither as partisan as the intellectually incestuous puffers Edgar Allan Poe attacked nor as objective as Edmund Clarence Stedman would be in his assessments of Whitman.

The Young America movement provided Whitman with a compatible intellectual and philosophical foundation, one that was important for his development as a journalist, thinker, and poet.

Bibliography

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

Miller, Perry. The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956.

Moss, Sidney. Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1963.

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, 1837–1850. Berkeley: U of California P, 1952.

Whitman, Walt. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. Ed. Emory Holloway. Vol. 2. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1921.

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.

____. "Evert Augustus Duyckinck." Antebellum Writers in New York and the South. Vol. 3 of Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ed Joel Myerson. Detroit: Gale, 1978. 101–109.

____. "Writing the 'Other Way': Melville, the Duyckinck Crowd, and Literature for the Masses." A Companion to Melville Studies. Ed. John Bryant. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 63–81.

Yannella, Donald, and Kathleen Malone Yannella. "Evert A. Duyckinck's 'Diary: May 29–November 8, 1847.'" Studies in the American Renaissance: 1978. Ed. Joel Myerson. Boston: Twayne, 1978. 207–258.


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