New England Against America

"The fiction of Mr. Simms gave indication, we repeat, of genius, and that of no common order. Had he been even a Yankee, this genius would have been rendered immediately manifest to his countrymen, but unhappily (perhaps) he was a Southerner. . . . His book, therefore, depended entirely upon its own intrinsic value and resources, but with these it made its way in the end."

        —Edgar Allan Poe

In the heroic effort to establish an American literature, intellect, and culture before the Civil War, the main line of tension was not between cosmopolitans and provincials, nor between classicists and romanticists. It was regional. But the primary regional dividing line was not drawn, as you may think, along the Appalachians (East vs. West), nor along the Potomac (North vs. South). Rather, it was at the Hudson River (New England vs. America).

This descriptive historical truth is now obscured by the fact that the New Englanders were successful in convincing much of posterity that they were American culture, a process that was assisted by their colonization of Manhattan during the antebellum period through such figures as Horace Greeley and William Cullen Bryant. Yet the lines of tension were clearly drawn and obvious to everybody at the time: on the one hand, moralistic, reformist, sentimental, pushy, genteel, devolved Puritan, transcendental...

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