Henry Theodore Tuckerman as Revealed in his Published Works

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1959

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Henry Theodore Tuckerman, as revealed in his published works, was, in many ways, a model of the mid-nineteenth century American. In his travel accounts, his historical and biographical scholarship, his social and political attitudes, his artistic and literary criteria, is revealed his sincere allegiance to the Romantic Idealism which dominated his day. This allegiance is shown in his belief in the fundamental goodness and inevitable progress of mankind; in his basic individualism, an almost transcendental egocentrism, which mystically identified the human soul with God, and interpreted self-reliance in terms of intuitional supranatural apprehension; in his dichotomization of his realities, separating the Ideal from the practical, the intuitive from the reasonable, the commonplace from the beautiful, the here and now from the distant and the past; in his acceptance of Nature as the representation of the Ideal, and of the feminine as the symbol of the Beautiful; in his fealty to emotion and sympathy as the mystical keys to all human relationships; in his strict and didactic morality; and in his professed national ism and proclamation of divine purpose and destiny in America . Yet, he was conservative in his personal refusal to become involved in reformism, in either outright abolitionism or feminism; in his determined and maintained attitude of Brahmin aloofness from "the herd" and "the multitude"; in his willingness to submit himself to governmental mandate, to support, at least nominally, what was legal and generally accepted; and in his overly-developed and almost unnatural reticence which prevented his from ever achieving that intense ego-exploration imperative within the Romantic philosophy. His published works reveal him to have been profoundly influenced by three major factors in his private live: his mother's death, his Italian residence, and his deep aversion for the commercial life. Possibly, in his need for social (and, especially, feminine) acceptability, his adoration of the ideal woman, and, perhaps, his easy acceptance of the sentimental and the emotional. His Italian travels and residence introduced him to the artistic experience and instilled in him a determination to devote his life to the Beautiful and to the encouragement of its creation and appreciation. And His aversion to the common precepts and standards demanded by American commercialistic enterprise influenced this decision, and shaped his life philosophy in its declaration of an over-stressed materiality in American life, and consequent under-development of the spiritual and the intellectual. With the exception of some of his better poems, Tuckerman's travel accounts best reveal his personal attitutdes and feelings toward his time and his world. As a scholar, Tuckerman read widely, but not deeply. His recorded perceptions almost always appear to be reflections of the parallel conclusions of his greater contemporaries. But he considered his theories his own, and, although he often documented a though or a conclusion, he never admitted to an intellectual debt or spiritual guidance. Tuckerman's greatest significance is in his constant effort to popularize the Beautiful, and thus to enrich American life. He sought always to broaden the public perceptions, to increase American aesthetic appreciation, to combat American reoccupation with commercialism. He was ever the propagandizer for good taste and cultural cultivation. His published works all evidence this. As a recorder of travels, he encouraged an appreciation for European cultural achievement. As a historian and biographer, he was narrative and moralistic. As a literary and art critic, he ever diligently encouraged the writer and the artist, and always sympathetically explained and interpreted to their audience. As a poet and author in his own right, although he often proved sympathetic with the sentimental demands of his age, he, nevertheless, in spite of such lapses, always strove to broaden the public outlook toward the Beautiful and the Cultural as he perceived them to be. That his audience appreciated his effort is readily apparent in his evident contemporary popularity. But his death and the end of his social influence, the broad standard and contemporary nature of his appeal , and the swiftly changing public interest, all combined to prove his fame ephemeral, and to banish him to a modern obscurity unworthy of his sincere intent and effort, and obvious contemporary accomplishment. Henry Theodore Tuckerman deserves to be remembered not only for his yet-standard biographical scholarship, and his service as a historian of art and artists in America, but also for his exemplary thought and attitude, the cultured reflections of the literary and artistic standards of mid-nineteenth century America.

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