December 15, 2010

Duyckincks, anthologies, and Young America

The second and final volume of the Cyclopedia of American Literature was published on December 15, 1855. Edited by the two brothers Evert Augustus Duyckinck and George Long Duyckinck, the book was meant to be a comprehensive biographical dictionary of notable (and not so notable) American writers. It was substantially successful and expanded volumes were published throughout the 19th century. Pictured here is a later edition with E. A. Duyckinck on the title page.

In their preface, the Duyckinck brothers explain their aims: "to bring together as far as possible... convenient for perusal and reference, memorials and records of the writers of the country and their works, from the earliest period to the present day." Further, they attempted to present as complete yet as brief a selection as possible in a printed format that is both affordable and attractive. They chose to be as open-minded as possible in their selections, including both poetry and prose, as well as humor and song (frequently ignored by other anthologists). Unlike Rufus Griswold's anthology of poetry, they made a concerted effort to represent the whole country, especially the South, and several women. The book even did not limit itself to "writers born in this country," but anyone who had written in the United States or about it.

Of course, it was Griswold himself who responded the loudest. In a long review, Griswold denounced the book for minor errors, and for not emphasizing New England writers (his own book was criticized for doing that). The angry response is not entirely surprising: both Griswold and the Duyckincks were competing to establish the literary canon. Further, their respective anthologies were politically motivated. Griswold, a Whig, had an elitist view of literature and took care to represent those with Whig leanings. The Duyckincks, leaders in the "Young America" movement, tried to bring the country together through balanced representation, while still highlighing writers with similar leanings like Cornelius Mathews.

Griswold had antagonized the movement earlier. In compiling his own anthology of prose (The Prose Writers of America), he purposely excluded Mathews and others. He rightfully predicted, "Young America will be rabid." Griswold and the Duyckincks carried on a rivalry for their entire lives.

1 comment:

  1. Perry Miller called Griswold's review of Duyckinck’s book “the most destructive review of all American history”;it occupied a full 8 1//2 columns of the NY Herald issued on the Reverend's birthday of 1856. A heavily notated copy of this review was apparently found among the one of the Duyckinck brother’s papers,suggesting that they took many of my criticisms to heart in preparation of subsequent editions of their anthology.

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