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.


§ 8. The New England Village

The glimpses of New England village life that one receives in the essays will appeal to some readers with a charm like that of personality. The village has often been celebrated in literature from Sweet Auburn to Spoon River, but full justice has scarcely been done to the individuality and distinction of the New England village of the mid-nineteenth century. Cambridge was one of the best representatives of the type, but there were many of them. Each was likely to have a college, or at least an academy, one orthodox and one Unitarian church, a few pleasant colonial houses, and many elms. Everyone who lived in the village had been born there, was proud of that accident, loved whatever natural beauty its trees and meadows afforded, and enjoyed a conscious satisfaction that it was not like other places. Among the residents there might be a great personage, or even a poet, and there were certain to be enough teachers, ministers, doctors, judges, and writers to make up a coterie where ideas circulated. During the long winters, in fact, every one did considerable reading and thinking.

It was for the cultivated men and women of these villages that Lowell wrote. They of all persons delighted in his essay On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners, with its urbane reproof of criticism of our lack of urbanity; for the village cherished some dignity of manners and would accept a predestined hell easier than condescension from anybody. The old villages have faded, but their June gardens and winter nights, their serious talk and eager reading, their self-reliance, mitigated by a sense of humour, live again in Lowell’s prose.