Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
Publishing in mainstream magazines like The Century, Lazarus often dealt with the question of her country's unique cultural development. In her essay "American Literature" she passionately defended the fresh, distinctly American tradition she found emerging in authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Her short story, "The Eleventh Hour," pointed to how some people mistakenly bring "the miniature standard of Europe...to measure and judge a colossal experiment." Her main character, Richard Bayard, states that "art and beauty must and will survive" on this new continent, although it is too soon to know what new forms they will take.
And in the poem "How Long," Lazarus urged American poets to find their new forms and no longer hail leaders "from overseas." American writers must reflect the beauty of the land in which they live, not dully echo what was created for England's landscape.
Lazarus hoped that an American "genius" would arrive to bring this new tradition to greater heights. In a letter to her friend E.C. Stedman, a respected and influential poet and critic, she criticized his thesis that American culture lacked the great themes necessary to inspire genius. As she explained, "I have never believed in the want of a theme. Wherever there is humanity, there is the theme for a great poem."
- For Lazarus's essay, see "American Literature," Critic 1 (June 1881): 164.
- For quotes and a reading of "The Eleventh Hour," see Young 256. For the story itself, see Emma Lazarus, "The Eleventh Hour," Scribners 16 (June 1878): 252-56.
- Lazarus's quote on no want of great themes is from the letter "My dear Mr. Stedman," Summer [?] 1881 in The Letters of Emma Lazarus, 1868-1885 67-8.