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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edwin Percy Whipple (1819–1886)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JOHN G. WHITTIER, in his introduction to Whipple’s ‘American Literature,’ says of him that “with the possible exception of Lowell and Matthew Arnold, he was the ablest critical essayist of his time.” A later generation may not wholly accept this estimate of Mr. Whipple’s work; but putting comparisons aside, he can never fail of recognition as an able man of letters, whose taste was sound and whose scholarship was thorough and extensive. He was not a writer of great originality; but his work is valuable, by reason of a quality of faithfulness in it to certain high ideals of literature and of life.  1
  He was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, March 8th, 1819; was educated at the English High School at Salem; and began at the age of fourteen to write for the newspapers. For several years he was engaged in a broker’s office in Boston. In 1837 he was made superintendent of the reading-room of the Merchants’ Exchange; a position which he held until 1860, when he resigned it to devote himself entirely to literary work. During the period of his superintendency he was gradually gaining a reputation as a man of letters. In 1843 he wrote a critical essay on Macaulay, which at once brought him into prominence, and gained for him the gratitude of Macaulay himself. In the same year he delivered a series of lectures on the lives of certain authors; these lectures being published afterwards in book form. He was literary editor of the Boston Globe from 1872 to 1873. In 1878 he edited, with James T. Fields, the ‘Family Library of British Poetry.’ His writings include—‘Essays and Reviews’ in two volumes (1848–49); ‘Literature and Life’ (1849); ‘Character and Characteristic Men’ (1866); ‘Literature of the Age of Elizabeth’ (1869); ‘Success and its Conditions’ (1871); ‘American Literature’ (1887); ‘Recollections of Eminent Men’ (1887); and ‘Outlooks on Society, Literature, and Politics’ (1888). The three last-named works were posthumous, Mr. Whipple having died in 1886.  2
  Essays on literature and on men of letters form the body of his writings; although he sometimes wanders into other fields, treating financial, political, and social topics with skill and discrimination. He is at his best, however, in his critical essays on literature, especially of the literature of the Elizabethan period. His insight into the dramatists of that time is especially keen, witnessing to a genuine sympathy with their spirit. His estimates of modern writers,—of Dickens, of Thackeray, of Bryant, of Wordsworth, of Hawthorne, and others,—while not always unerring, are on the whole just and catholic. Sometimes he throws vivid light upon the personality of an author in a single sentence; as when he writes of Hawthorne, “He had spiritual insight, but it did not penetrate to the sources of spiritual joy.” His characterizations are never lacking in that chief of all merits, suggestiveness; the faculty of reproducing the mystery which is the background to all great men, and which must be taken account of in the criticism of their work. It is in this quality of suggestiveness that the value of Mr. Whipple’s writings largely lies.  3
 
 
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