150 Years Of The Atlantic Fiction Issue

Arts & Letters

This is the seventh in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine's 150th anniversary.
September 1904
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of The Atlantic's founders and a regular contributor. Some twenty years after his death, the magazine ran an assortment of writings from his journals and letters, including the essay excerpted here, in which he paid tribute to the genius of William Shakespeare.

Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper, and richer than the spaces of astronomy …

There are periods fruitful of great men; others, barren, or, as the world is always equal to itself, periods when the heat is latent—others when it is given out. They are like the great wine years … His birth marked a great wine year, when wonderful grapes ripened in the Vintage of God. When Shakespeare and Galileo were born within a few months of each other, and Cervantes was his exact contemporary, and, in short space, before and after, Montaigne, Bacon, Spenser, Raleigh, and Jonson. Yet Shakespeare, not by any inferiority of theirs, but simply by his colossal proportions, dwarfs the geniuses of Elizabeth as easily as the wits of Anne, or the poor slipshod troubadours of King René …

The Pilgrims came to Plymouth in 1620. The plays of Shakespeare were not published until three years later. Had they been published earlier, our forefathers, or the most poetical among them, might have stayed at home to read them.

Volume 94, No. 563, pp. 365–367

November 1907
By William Dean Howells

When William Dean Howells arrived in Boston in 1860 as a twenty-three-year-old self-educated journalist from Ohio, he was thrilled to meet Atlantic founders James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James T. Fields. Six years later he became an assistant editor at the magazine, and by 1871 he had risen to editor-in-chief. Twenty-six years after retiring from that position, he looked back nostalgically upon the satisfactions of editing such a magazine.

The magazine was already established in its traditions when I came to it, and when I left it fifteen years later it seemed to me that if I had done any good it was little more than to fix it more firmly in them. During the nine years of its existence before my time it had the best that the greatest writers of New England could give it. First of these were, of course, Longfellow, Emerson, Hawthorne, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, Mrs. Stowe, and Bryant, and after them followed a long line of gifted people...

The rejection of a manuscript often left a pang, but the acceptable manuscript, especially from an unknown hand, brought a glow of joy which richly compensated me for all I suffered from the others. To feel the touch never felt before, to be the first to find the planet unimagined in the illimitable heaven of art, to be in at the dawn of a new talent, with the light that seems to mantle the written page: who would not be an editor, for such a privilege?

Volume 100, No. 5, pp. 594–606

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