More Roots

More Roots

Received Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War today, as well as Jame’s Guimond’s American Photography and the American Dream. But the real gem was Land of the Free by Archibald Macleish— what a score! This book is incredible, and markedly different from all the others. It is a long poem, with groups of lines attached to photographs from different sources. It has a somber tone, and lacks the political fervor of Richard Wright’s book or the blatant optimism of Sherwood Anderson’s. But I’m still too involved in the nineteenth century aspects to go too far into it as yet.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking of Byron. Though I got sick of studying the permutations, Byron did create the popular notion of the “hero.” His works were printed in at least 100 separate editions in America when he was alive. Of course, he died in 1824 and doesn’t seem to be a profound influence on most of the American progressive thinkers of the 1830s, that is, unless you count a reaction against Byronmania. Andrew Jackson could have been a Byronic hero, perhaps, but he wasn’t really smart enough— but he certainly was flawed enough. Emerson skipped over the late romantics, diving directly into Wordsworth and Coleridge as models. But Emerson’s involvement with Swedenborg brings out yet another interesting road to chase down— apocalyptic rhetoric.

A popular cult of the 1830s was founded around William Miller, who predicted the world was going to come to an end in 1843. It lies at the roots of the modern day Seventh Day Adventists, but in the 1830s it attracted a lot of members from the Abolitionist movement. Looking at a study of Millerite rhetoric, there is a strong current of vox populi rhetoric. Swedenborg was an apocalyptic mystic type too, but his view of history is different, more positive— and was much more of a foundational figure in Emerson’s cheerleading positivist rhetoric.

What is really fascinating is the connection of Swedenborg with Mesmerism. Holgrave, the daguerreotypist in The House of the Seven Gables was a mesmerist before he became a photographer… so there are currents of Swedenborgism to go along with the Carlyle style philosophical view in Hawthorne’s depiction of the attitude of an early photographer.

Just more breadcrumbs to scatter along the path, along with the facts that Andrew Jackson was the first US president born in a log cabin, and that Martin Van Buren, his stooge who was president when photography entered the United States, was the first president to actually be born in the USA.