Three Sisters Who Showed The Way

Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody managed to extend the boundaries that cramped the lives of nineteenth-century women. Elizabeth introduced the kindergarten movement to America, Mary developed a new philosophy of mothering that we now take for granted, and Sophia was liberated from invalidism by her passionate love for her husband.

Other men,” Ralph Waldo Emerson told an admiring crowd in Boston’s Odeon Theater toward the end of 1845, “are lenses through which we read our own minds.” The eminent philosopher then went on to tell his audience of the importance in their lives of “Representative Men,” such as Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe. “These men correct the delirium of the animal spirits, make us considerate, and engage us to new aims and powers,” Emerson concluded. “Thus we feed on genius....” Read more »

Ten Books That Shaped The American Character

Walden is here, of course; but so too is Fanny Farmer’s first cookbook

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books—especially contraband books—is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off.Read more »

Fear Of The City 1783 To 1983

The city has been a lure for millions, but most of the great American minds have been appalled by its excesses. Here an eminent observer, who knows firsthand the city’s threat, surveys the subject.

EVERY THURSDAY , when I leave my apartment in a vast housing complex on Columbus Avenue to conduct a university seminar on the American city, I reflect on a double life—mine. Most of the people I pass on my way to the subway look as imprisoned by the city as my parents and relatives used to look in the Brooklyn ghetto where I spent my first twenty years. Yet no matter where else I have traveled and taught, I always seem to return to streets and scenes like those on New York’s Upper West Side. Read more »

“Half Song-thrush, Half Alligator,”

An exasperated Ralph Waldo Emerson said of his rudest, most rebellious—and most brilliant—protégé. Their turbulent relationship survived what one newspaper called “the grossest violation of literary comity and courtesy that ever passed under our notice.”

One Saturday evening early in March, 1842, a twenty-two-year-old journalist named Walter Whitman came to the reading room of the New-York Society Library on Broadway, a few blocks north of City Hall, to hear a public lecture on “The Poet.” He had just been appointed chief editor of the Aurora , a daily paper that aspired to be the court circular of the beau monde, and he dressed the part of a man about town—he wore a flower in the lapel of his frock coat and carried a polished walking stick.Read more »

Two Civil War Letters

Missives, one by Mark Twain, the other by Walt Whitman, reflect the impact of the Civil War on the nation.

Hardly a person in America was untouched by the Civil War, and Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were no exceptions. Because they were perhaps the most distinctly “American” writers of their time, their reactions to the conflict are particularly interesting. Printed here are two of their wartime letters, both written within six months of each other, at a time when the North seemed on the verge of defeat. While Whitman’s letter to his New York friends, Nat and Fred Gray, has appeared before, the Twain letter is a completely new find.Read more »