Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)
Clark, Harry Hayden
The influence of science on American literary criticism, 1860-1910, including the vogue of Taine, pp. 109-164 PDF (22.6 MB)
109THE INFLUENCE ' OF SCIENCE ON AMERICAN LITERARY CRITICISM, 1860-1910, INCLUDING THE VOGUE OF TAINE* HARRY HAYDEN CLARK I If American critical thought from 1860—1910 represents, broadly speaking, a revolt against the artificial and "feudalistic" romance of Scott and his followers as well as a revolt against the kind of semi-Coleridgean idealism associated with Emerson and Poe and their major contemporaries, the new trend toward what is roughly called realism (what is habitual and average in human conduct) and naturalism (stressing man's kinship with nature and animals) is complex and is to be explained only by the interplay of many diverse influences. Among these are the growing demand for greater democracy, especially in economic opportunity; the growing need for adjustment ' to the physical environment of America; the attempts of an expanding journalism to meet the demands of an ever growing public, including immigrants, increasingly alive to the actual realities of their work-a-day world; and the vogue and influence of European thinkers. More important than generally realized, however, in helping us to understand the new trend and the ways in which the influences just mentioned were rationalized, is science. For scientific inventions and industrialism, applied to exploiting frontier resources, brought to a focus many of the problems of our professed ideal of democratic equality and the welfare of all; scientific advances in printing and in transportation implemented an expanding journalism which increasingly reached the masses; and the European thinkers themselves (such as Zola) were mostly greatly influenced by science. But at least equally important were the philosophical and sociological implications of evolution, which gradually led people to see the ideas with which literature was concerned in a new frame of reference and to try to explain literary art and creativeness in terms of the physiological-psychological study of the individual considered as determined by both heredity and environment, by time, place, and race. At the risk of over-simplifying a complex pattern of thought, we * Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin for a grant which enabled me to complete this research.
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