The Public Interest

Two Cultures: Adversary and/or Responsible

Richard Hofstadter

Winter 1967

Martin Green’s book* is a pleasure to read and to take issue with, and it seems a sad comment on the state of our literary culture that a book of this interest and consequence should have had so little attention from the reviewing media. As one might expect, “the problem of Boston” (by Boston, Mr. Green usually means Boston-Cambridge-Concord) touches upon the larger problems of American culture in the 19th century; indeed, as Mr. Green deals with it, the problem of Boston involves the problems of culture in their largest sense. In effect, Boston stands here as a brilliant exception. The newness and rawness, the materialism and indifference (or hostility) to ideas and letters that we find in so much of 19th-century America was not found in Boston. Green argues, rightly I think, that this does not entitle us to disregard Boston as a part of American history, as though it were wholly unAmerican simply because it is atypical – simply because it is representative not of the usual but of the optimal American situation for a literary culture during the 19th century.

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