The tremendous explosion of formative American writing between 1835 and 1860 has come to be known to generations of readers in the last sixty years as “the American Renaissance.” It is F. O. Matthiessen’s pioneering 1941 work that coined the term and persuasively made the case for its validity. Since then, American Renaissance has taken its place as the definitive treatment of that most distinguished age of our literature. Centering his discussion around five of its literary giants—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman—Matthiessen elucidates their conceptions of nature and the function of literature, and the extent to which these were realized in their writings. The breadth of the book lies in the author’s use of the five-year period from 1850 to 1855 as a focal point in interpreting what went before and what followed in the development of our prose and poetry. The masterpieces produced in this one extraordinarily concentrated moment of expression, and fully explored in these pages, include Representative Men, Walden, The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, Moby-Dick, Pierre, and Leaves of Grass. The product of ten years’ research and thought, American Renaissance displays that combination of insight, passion, and honesty that made Matthiessen a great teacher and critic. With the writing and publication of this book, Matthiessen himself created a sort of founding document—a critical synthesis of the true take-off period of American culture.