Many a literary theorist and critic have wondered: “What is American literature?” Others have gone so far as to wonder whether such a thing can be defined and this area of academic inquiry has delighted many for several centuries. Late in the 19th century, one Brander Matthews was called upon to do just that-create an edited volume for the Oxford Press that would represent a variety of essays from different Americans of the time. All told, this volume published in 1914 contained 32 essays, including “John Bull” by Washington Irving, “Buds and Bird-Voices” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “Dante by the Bowery” by Theodore Roosevelt. Other selections include inquisitive essays by Edgar Allen Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman. Thanks to the folks at bartleby.com, users can read each of these essays and decide for themselves if American literature can be defined.
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