15 OCTOBER 1910, Page 28

Two volumes of a new series of biographies, "Leading Americans,"

Edited by W. P. Trent (G. Bell and Sons, 7s. 61. net per vol.), are before us. These are Leadinj American Essayists, by William Morton Payne, LL.D., and Lsacliny Amt.rican Novelists, by John Erskine, Ph.D. The "essayist" volume has the advantage that its four subjects, Washington Irving, Emerson, Thoreau, G. W. Curtis, are all familiar names to the English reader. An introduction gives us an account of some minor writers in the same line. Among these Dana, Willis, Channing, Margaret Fuller, Charles Eliot Norton, and C. D. Warner may be mentioned, with perhaps Alcott, though he is chiefly known at second hand as the father of Louisa Alcott. To speak of the four, we may say that the figure of Washington Irving is one of the most gracious conceivable. On this side of the Atlantic-one of his attractions is a distinct partiality for England. His own country did not fail to appreciate him. Ha was made Secretary of Legation in England, and later on became Minister in Spain. Another honour, so to speak, was his nomination by

"Tammany" as Mayor of New York. The life of Emerson is more out of the common. Seldom has there been a stranger combination of qualities. As his biographer puts it, his own words, "hitch your wagon to a star," describe his way of thinking and acting. But here, as in the next biography, that of Thoreau, we are on familiar ground. No figures in American literary history are better known than these two. Of George William Curtis we may say that he was more distinctively American. The list of six novelists is headed by Charles Brockden Brown, a name which will be absolutely strange to most English readers. James Fenimore Cooper comes second. Cooper is very little read here, if we may judge from the rarity of any reprints of his tales. Yet one of the greatest characterisations of fiction is " Leatherstocking." His very strong anti-British feeling has doubtless stood in his way. William Gilmore Simms is a little-known name, but the other three, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Bret Harte, rank as high among readers on this side as any English novelists, excepting, perhaps, Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray. Here, though there is yet much that might be said, we must leave these two highly interesting volumes, both of them, we must not forget to add, set off by excellent portraits.