Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 1. Conditions of Literature during Reconstruction

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier

§ 1. Conditions of Literature during Reconstruction

THE CONDITIONS of Reconstruction were inimical to the production of literature. The life of the South, always sluggish, now became stagnant. A country of farms and plantations, there were in it few large cities to foster an intellectual life. The large planters whose travel and whose experience in government and statesmanship rendered them the natural leaders were downcast by the sudden destruction of their wealth in slaves and soil. The poor whites lived too close to mother earth and were too densely ignorant to furnish a public for literary activity. The isolation of the whole South was heart-sickening. The roads were unfit for teams. The railroads had been destroyed. Cities like Columbia, South Carolina, reputed to be the most beautiful on the continent, stood a wilderness of ruins, “like Tadmor alone in the desert.” Not one of the railways that formerly entered it had so much left as the iron on its track.

The newspapers were few and ill-informed. For many years they devoted their meagre talents to vituperation of Republican acts and policies. There was, to be sure, a short-lived effort at literary activity, as if the section might make good with the pen what had been lost by the sword. But even so catholic a venture as The Land We Love, edited by General D. H. Hill, which was devoted to literature, military history, and agriculture, had soon to die of inanition. Journals of opinion, like De Bow’s Review, in New Orleans, maintaining a precarious existence in scattered centres of the region, had at length to give up the struggle. Schools and colleges were few and far between. Even the will to attend them had to be fostered with perseverance and great care. In fine, the intellectual stagnation of the South made literature impossible except for those with an unquenchable longing for expression.