By Ellery Sedgwick
How the main revered literary periodical of its time balanced "high" tradition with reasonable liberalism
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Extra resources for The Atlantic monthly, 1857-1909: Yankee humanism at high tide and ebb
Atlantic writers advocated a specifically American culture and literature, not chauvinistically rejecting European culture (in fact, drawing the best from Europe), but adapting it to American circumstances and actively supporting American authorship, language, forms, and values. The magazine lent strong support to the rise of local color regional writing, much of it produced by and identifying with women, beginning with Harriet Beecher Stowe and including Rose Terry Cooke, Mary Murfree, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Celia Thaxter, Constance Woolson, and Sarah Orne Jewett.
But if the Yankee humanists believed that some forms of culture were better than others because they developed more highly the moral and intellectual potential of the individual, they did not believe that that hierarchy was or should be static. Before Herbert Spencer formulated his theories of social evolution, Emerson and the New England cultural elite had a sanguine faith in the progressive moral and cultural evolution of both individuals and civilizations. Emerson, Lowell, Higginson, and later Howells and Scudder, among others, saw America as yet culturally underdeveloped but potentially capable of leading the progress of civilization through broad, democratic participation in a high ethical culture.
With a few notable exceptions, this deficiency remains although there are now clear signs of increasing interest in publishing history. Throughout the nineteenth century the Atlantic was owned by major Boston publishing houses, most notably Ticknor and Fields and Houghton Mifflin. Atlantic editors, representing both readers and publishers, significantly influenced many authors, remembered and forgotten, particularly in the formative early stages of their careers. For many writers, including Howells, James, Jewett, and Chesnutt, the Atlantic was the first major source of recognition, providing the first contact with an audience and with the literary marketplace.