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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 133

so influential that he amounts almost to a literary movement. William Dean Howells was born at Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, in 1837, the grandson of a Welsh Quaker and the son of a country printer with a passion for books. Like his friend Mark Twain, Howells saw little of schools and nothing of colleges, and like him he got his systematic literary training from enforced duties as compositor and journalist. But unlike Mark Twain, he fell as naturally into the best classical traditions as Goldsmith or Irving, who, with Cervantes, earliest delighted him. Though he did not always read, as the mellow pages of A Boy’s Town and Years of My Youth attest, his reading marked his growth. In My Literary Passions Howells has delicately recorded the development of his taste. At first he desired to write verse, and devoted months to imitating Pope in a youthful fanaticism for regularity and exactness. From that worship he turned, at about sixteen, to Shakespeare, particularly to the histories; then to Chaucer, admired for his sense of earth in human life; then to Dickens, whose magic, Howells even then dimly saw, was rough though authentic. Macaulay taught him to like criticism and furnished him a temporary model of prose style. Thackeray, Longfellow, Tennyson, followed in due course. Hawthorne for a time dominated him, more completely a passion with Howells than any other American author ever was. Having taught himself some Latin and Greek and more French and Spanish, Howells took up German and came under the spell of Heine, who persuaded him once for all that the dialect and subjects of literature should be the dialect and facts of life.
  Poems in the manner of Heine won Howells a place in the



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