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


Page 17

so in the United States there were also three: the Revolution, the Settlement, and the Frontier.
  The Revolutionary generation had been an age of mythmaking. Washington, for instance, to his very face was apotheosized by his followers with a passion of language which notoriously embarrassed him. Almost before his bones were cold appeared Parson Weems’s astounding tract, miscalled a biography, to catch the popular fancy at once and to establish the absurd legend of Washington’s superhuman virtues. “Private life,” Weems avowed, “is real life”; and though, lacking first-hand knowledge, he was obliged to invent, he seemed intimate and credible to an audience somewhat overwhelmed by the heavy splendor of the more official orations and odes and sermons called forth by Washington’s death. Thereafter the legend grew unchecked, until the pious Catherine Maria Sedgwick, in 1835, apologizing for the introduction of the hero in her novel The Linwoods, could write “in extenuation of what may seem presumption, that whenever the writer has mentioned Washington, she has felt a sentiment resembling the awe of the pious Israelite when he approached the ark of the Lord.” The legends of Arthur and Charlemagne grew no more rapidly in the most legend-breeding age—indeed, did not grow so rapidly as this. And around Washington, as around Arthur his knights and around Charlemagne his peers, were speedily grouped such minor heroes as Francis Marion, whose life was also written by Weems, Israel Putnam, whom David Humphreys celebrated, Patrick Henry, whose biographer was no less a person than William Wirt, Attorney-General of the United States, Ethan Allen, who wrote his own record, and



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