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DepositPrint Culture

Thoreau’s relation to print culture was complicated and at times contradictory, but from his writing life to his family business, he was shaped by it. Scholars note that he was both successful and a failure as a professional author. He published books and articles made possible by technological changes in papermaking and printing to his west on the Housatonic River, and business and market developments in publishing to his east in Boston. Some of these changes brought him a measure of money and renown, and others left him surrounded in his own home by an “inert mass” of unsold paper and print. He wanted to publish in the periodical press and with successful book publishers, and he sold graphite to printers to supply the making of plates. Yet, at the same time he also argued that print offered an insufficient secondhand experience of the world of bodies and things. Nineteenth-century American print culture offered challenges and openings to Transcendentalist thinkers. Noting the ever-expanding scale of print production of print in their lifetimes, Emerson lamented that one could no longer hope to read everything printed, and Thoreau argued against reading anything except the world itself. Both continued to publish their work in books and periodicals. “Much is published, but little printed,” Thoreau writes in “Sounds,” leaving readers to wonder what it meant to leave an impression on the world in the middle of the nineteenth century (W 111).”

DepositHow Santa Claus Became a Slave Driver: The Work of Print Culture in a Nineteenth-Century Musical Controversy

The transnational character of the literate musical community in the United States created an environment in which language barriers, ideological biases, and other potential sources of misunderstanding caused print items to change shape quickly as they were transferred from one reader to the next. The aesthetic controversy between William Henry Fry and Richard Storrs Willis surrounding the 1853 premiere of Fry’s Santa Claus: Christmas Symphony provides a rich case in point. The controversy at times seemed to draw from a parallel debate in Europe, often called “The War of the Romantics,” which concerned the future of symphonic composition and music’s capacity for representation. At others, the controversy seemed to diverge from its European counterpart as central concepts were articulated in new intellectual contexts. The vagaries of print culture help explain these discrepancies. This article outlines the central arguments of the debate, situates them within their transatlantic contexts, and examines how print culture played a significant role in the controversy’s unfolding as early as 1839, fifteen years before it took place. More broadly, it constructs a new framework for examining the function and meaning of nineteenth-century music periodicals by illustrating how an antislavery newspaper became an unlikely voice in a debate over program music.