The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
VII. Fiction II.
§ 4. John Neal; Mrs. Child; Miss Sedgwick.
|The first confessed follower of Cooper, it seems, began his career on other models. John Neal (17931870), a native of Maine, was in Baltimore when The Spy appeared, engaged in the production of four long novels in six or seven months. Full of a history of the Revolution on which he had been working, he was fired by Coopers example to write Seventy-Six (1823) with incredible rapidity. The work, however, is little more like Cooper than the three which had preceded it, Logan (1822), Randolph (1823), and Errata (1823). In all these Neals real master was Byron, whom he followed with a fury of rant and fustian which would have made him, had he been gifted with taste and humour as well, no mean follower. Three years spent in England as a writer on American topics, where he became one of Benthams secretaries and a utilitarian in all but atheism, modified Neal somewhat so that in his long later career he seemed almost a man of sense if never a man of humour or taste. Brother Jonathan (1825) and The Down-Easters (1833), however, which promise at first to be real pictures of New England life and character, soon run amuck into raving melodrama. For all his very unsual originality and force Neal has ceased to be read, the victim of a bad education and uncritical times. Equally unread, as novelists, are two other writers famous in their day, Catherine Maria Sedgwick (17891867) and Lydia Maria Child (180280), who, through long and busily useful years, touched fiction here and there, both beginning with historical romances in the early days of The Spys fame and later drifting to more solid shores with the tide of realism. Less gifted than Neal, both had greater charm. Mrs. Child is remembered for her devoted opposition to slavery, but Miss Sedgwick was the more important novelist. Redwood (1824), Hope Leslie (1827), and The Linwoods (1835), her best and most popular stories, exhibit almost every convention of the fiction of her day.