A critical anthology of the literature of the White Mountains
Parker, Eleanor C
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Do the White Mountains really have a literature , and, if so, of what does it consist and is it worthy of attention and study? In the Literature of the White Mountains William Downes says: Considered as literary material the White Mountains of New Hampshire have received an amount of attention from writers which might appear out of proportion to their importance, if the fact were not borne in mind that they are the only considerable group of mountains worthy of the northeastern states, and...the only highlands of scenic consequence in the eastern part of the country. It may be doubted if any mountains of their size have been delebrated so voluminously in print. Another authority on New Hampshire literature, Cornelius Weygandt, writes in the Heart of New Hampshire: It is easier to distinguish New Hampshire from its neighbors topographically than by the characteristics of the people. New Hampshire is the state of "The White Mountains," for generations a land of heart's desire to New Englanders and to the people of the long-settled parts of America to the south and west. No other mountains in America have a romance associated with them to make them comparable, as New World fellows, to the Highlands of Scotland or the Hartz of Germany, the Swiss Alps or the Pyrenees between France and Spain. They are storied mountains, these White Mountains, long loved and long sought by man. We have mountains in the United states more majestic, but none others of our country that have been for centuries so largely a concern to us. They have been much written of and painted even more; they have been talked of by father to son down the generations of men. These and other statements plus the White Mountain collection in Dartmouth's Baker Memorial Library, all seem to indicate that one may proceed under the assumption that there is a White Mountain literature. The next question , then, which is the main problem of this study, is: Of what does this literature consist and is it worthy of attention? The making of anthologies is dangerous business because a certain amount of personal prejudice is bound to creep into the collection. However, since the body of literature involved is small enough to permit a rather wide sampling of its entirety, that difficulty may have been avoided to some extent. The first chapter is a general summary of the field, attempting to prove that, since there has been White Mountain literature as long as there has been American literature, and since the writers have included some of the greatest in the country, this material may be taken as typical and illustrative to a considerable degree of the general trends in American literature as a whole, from the seventeenth century to the present. The chapter discusses briefly the period of exploration and discovery with its reports and descriptions; diaries, letters and journals of the early days of visiting this new country; the romantic period of the nineteenth century with its nature poetry, Indian tales, stories of the early pioneers; the Victorian period with descriptive and interpretative essays, highly moral tales, narrative and lyric poetry in the styles of Longfellow , Whittier and others, beginnings of the short story and novel; and finally the twentieth century with experimental poetry, critical writing, familiar essays, novels--particularly historical. This chapter mentions some of the great names to be found in New Hampshire Literature--Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, Whittier,, Benet, Sandburg, Frost, Roberts. The second part of the chapter contains selections illustrating the statements made and presenting a cross-section of all the material to be included in the anthology; for example, part of the earliest published description of the mountains, an early journal, a romantic poem, Victorian poetry and essay, nature interpretation, dialect writing, modern poetry, familiar essay, criticism, historical novel. Succeeding chapters follow the same pattern of the first--an explanatory introduction and illustrative selections. These chapters consider in greater detail the general outlines of the first chapter. The second chapter is concerned with legendary and historical material from the earliest published references. It discusses Indian tales of the mountains, stories of the first settlers, the three main subjects of White Mountain literature: the Great Stone Face, the Chocorua Legend, and the Willey Slide Story. It tries to show the particular characteristics of the writings concerning each subject and how these writings have changed through the years; for example, the writings about the Great Stone Face were in the beginning concerned mainly with trying to explain how the phenomenon occurred--that it was the head of Manitou, or of sane great Indian chieftain--later writings such as Hawthorne's seek to interpret the effect of the Face on people who see it. The selections contain history, legends, the Great Stone Face, the Chocorua Legend, the Willey Slide Story, and writings about famous personalities such as Dolly Gopp and Ethan Allen Crawford. In the third chapter may be found the purely descriptive material grouped according to the kind of description. First, are general descriptions of the mountains, mostly poetic, which show the variety of images and views by which writers create their pictures of the mountains. There is also an attempt to group these writings somewhat according to the period in which they occurred. Next are descriptive materials dealing with the three most-described points in the mountains: the Great Stone Face, Mount Chocorua, and Mount Washington. There is a discussion of why these three are the most popular subjects and how their descriptions vary. The last group of writings focuses attention on mountain rivers and their descriptions which seem to dwell mainly on their sources and how these affect their course; such as, the Pemigewasset coming from Moosilauke, Franconia Notch, and the eastern mountains. Chapter IV is an attempt to analyze the ideas called forth by contemplation and knowledge of the mountains, to show the symbolic use of mountains in writing and the types of thoughts they inspire. Mountains seem to have moods which correspond to those of the people who see them; sensitive beholders are conscious of a communion with the mountain. Some writers deal with the results of imaginative and sensitive communion with the mountains. One of the chief results seems to be a renewed inspiration, a stronger desire to seek higher goals; there is a section on writings concerned with the inspiration which mountains bring. A third group of writings illustrates the symbolism of the mountains, while the fourth describes the paradox of their changing constancy. The last group deals with the religious aspect of mountains and the writers who have found among them the deepest sense of God's presence. It is with the people of the mountains that Chapter V is concerned. It tries to show by illustrations the kinds of people who live in the mountains from the pioneers and old Yankee settlers to the native of today. There is a composite description of the imaginary "typical" mountain man based on the pictures given by many writers. There is also a discussion of the group represented by Melissa in "Look to the Mountain", Frost's "Hill Wife", the farmer in "The Mountain", and others, who are either indifferent to or actively hostile toward the mountains. The selections include the stories of those who love the mountains and those who hate them, but are, in any case, affected by them. Fortunately some of the writers about the Wnite Mountains also written concerning their purposes and desires. Chapter VI contains a brief discussion of some of the more famous writers represented in the anthology and why they have written about the mountains according to their own statements and their work. The writers include Robert Frost, Ernest Poole, Cornelius Weygandt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Starr King, Rev. Julius Ward. The selections are from their own writings or writings about them. The questions facing this study at the beginning were: Is there a White Mountain literature? Of what does that literature consist? Is it worthy of attention'? By giving a survey and, it is to be hoped, a complete, though not exhaustive, sampling of the field, these six chapters and their illustrations have attempted to answer the questions adequately and interestingly enough to invite the reader to further investigation of his owm.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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