The Flowering of New England

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Original House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

We tend to think that the most recent works of biography, history, or literary criticism are the best, on the general principle that the present corrects the errors of the past. Yet I do not think that is true. I like to read scholarly books written before our time. More often than not, I find they are better.

I am currently reading Van Wyck Brooks’s New England: Indian Summer, itself the sequel of The Flowering of New England. The books were published in 1940 and 1936 respectively. They are incredibly rich on a paragraph to paragraph level. There are numerous footnotes, which themselves are frequently more interesting than the text. As I read Brooks, I take notes for books to read in the future.

These titles are part of a series of five books called the “Makers and Finders” series. They consist of:

  • The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865, pub 1936
  • New England: Indian Summer, 1865-1915, pub 1940
  • The World of Washington Irving, pub 1944
  • The Times of Melville and Whitman, pub 1947
  • The Confident Years, 1885-1915, pub 1952

So far I have cracked only the first two titles, but I intend to read all five. Fortunately, they are readily available in used book stores, as they were exceedingly popular in the period they were written.

On the Cover of Time Magazine

It doesn’t much matter to me that Brooks’s writing is currently regarded as unfashionable. After all, I am wildly unfashionable. He did write a biography of Mark Twain that I didn’t like, but this “Makers and Finders” series is pure gold, compared to much of the dross being published today. These are books for people who like to read, and I am certainly one of them.