The Stammering Century

Overview

 Gilbert Seldes’s own introduction to The Stammering Century nicely illustrates the range of interest and verve of expression that make it such a fascinating and enduring work of history. Seldes writes:
 
This book is not a record of the major events in American history during the nineteenth century. It is concerned with minor movements, with the cults and manias of that period. Its personages are fanatics, and radicals, and ...

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Overview

 Gilbert Seldes’s own introduction to The Stammering Century nicely illustrates the range of interest and verve of expression that make it such a fascinating and enduring work of history. Seldes writes:
 
This book is not a record of the major events in American history during the nineteenth century. It is concerned with minor movements, with the cults and manias of that period. Its personages are fanatics, and radicals, and mountebanks. Its intention is to connect these secondary movements and figures with the primary forces of the century, and to supply a background in American history for the cults and manias of our own time: The Prohibitionists and the Pentecostalists; the diet-faddists and the dealers in mail-order Personality; the play censors and the Fundamentalists; the free-lovers and eugenists; the cranks and possibly the saints. Sects, cults, manias, movements, fads, religious excitements, and the relation of each of these to the others and to the orderly progress of America are the subject.
 
Which is a subject, we can safely say, that is as timely today as it was when Seldes wrote in 1928. But Seldes’s book is evergreen not just because our own century is still a stammering one. The book lives above all because, whether talking about a great figure like Jonathan Edwards or the celibate sect of Rappites or the messianic murderer Robert Matthews (a.k.a. Matthias), The Stammering Century is a model of exposition and a straight-out delight to read.
 [CE1]COMP: set this paragraph as extract

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“One of the most perceptive and entertaining studies of the American spirit in the nineteenth century.”  —Richard Hofstadter

“The quality of The Stammering Century lay in the fact that its author was interested in the history of his country, not to mock the past or to instruct the present, but for its own sake. Because he was a man of intelligence and sympathy, because his judgment was notably sane and because he worked hard in the sources, his book offered a remarkable picture of the rise and decay of the evangelical strain in American reform….The Stammering Century is a work of continuing vitality and interest.” —Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
 
“He [the reader] will find plenty in to excite his interest and stimulate his reflective powers. He will be continually wondering what is this thing in the mind of man which makes him love impossibilities, and not only believe in them but act on them. Many of Mr. Seldes’s moonshine captains are rogues and frauds, but many are honest dreamers, and many are men of incoherent power.” —The New York Times
 
“Mr. Gilbert Seldes has written a book which I for one have found extraordinarily delightful reading. Dealing as he does with all the cranks of the nineteenth century in America, he might easily have fallen into a tone of hard satire, but throughout he preserves a mood of wistful and whimsical regret….The Stammering Century is not only interesting psychologically and pathetic morally; it is also exceeding amusing, since most or the characters dealt with are delightful absurdities. Being myself inclined to crankdom, I have read the book as an awful warning, but those who have no inclination that way should read it humbly, with the realization that many of the most futile of these saints are authentically of the Kingdom of Heaven.” —Bertrand Russell

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590175804
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Pages: 452
  • Sales rank: 805,153
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Gilbert Seldes (1893–1970) was an American journalist, writer, and critic, the younger brother of the investigative journalist and media critic George Seldes. In the 1920s Seldes became the drama critic for The Dial and the New York correspondent for T. S. Eliot’s The Criterion. Later he made films, adapted plays for Broadway, wrote radio scripts, and became the first director of television for CBS News and the founding dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His many books of cultural criticism and social analysis include The Seven Lively Arts (1924), The Years of the Locust (1932), The Movies Come from America (1937), and The Great Audience (1950).

Greil Marcus is the author of The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Lipstick Traces, and other books; with Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America. In recent years he has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Princeton University, the New School University, and the University of Minnesota. He was born in San Francisco and lives in Berkeley.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii

A Note on Method xxiii

Part I

I The Stammering Century 3

II A Stormer of Heaven 13

III Times of Refreshing 36

IV Gasper River 51

V The New Eden- 69

VI -And the Old Adam 81

VII Winners of Souls 93

VIII A Messianic Murderer 117

IX The New Soul 133

X The Perfect Communist 157

XI Reformer and Radical 199

XII An Apostle of the Newness 207

XIII Sweetness and Light 227

XIV A Saint 239

XV The Winsome Heart 249

XVI A Moral Hijacker 273

XVII Some Women Reformers 279

Part II

XVIII "The Coming of the Prophets" 295

XIX The Forerunners 299

XX The Business of Prophecy 321

XXL The Good News from Rochester 331

XXII Northbound Horses 348

XXIII The Path to Nothing 366

XXIV Christian Science 376

XXV The Kingdom of God in Chicago 389

XXVI The Complex of Radicalism 402

Sources 412

Index 413

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