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Notable Authors of the 19th Century

Literary Figures of the 1800s

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The 19th century was known for an amazing group of literary figures. Using the links below, learn about some of the most influential authors of the 1800s.

Washington Irving

Washington Irving
Library of Congress

Washington Irving, a native New Yorker, became the first great American author. He made his name with a satirical masterpiece, A History of New York, and would go on to create memorable characters such as Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane.

Irving's writers were highly influential in the early 19th century, and his collection The Sketchbook was widely read. And one of Irving's early essays gave New York City its enduring nickname of "Gotham."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Library of Congress

From his roots as a Unitarian minister, Ralph Waldo Emerson developed into America's homegrown philosopher, advocating a love of nature and becoming the center of the New England Transcendentalists.

In essays such as "Self Reliance," Emerson put forth a distinctly American approach to living. And he exerted influence not only on the general public but on other authors, including his friends Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller as well as Walt Whitman and John Muir.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau
Library of Congress

Henry David Thoreau seems to stand in contract to the 19th century, as he was an outspoken voice for simple living at a time when society was racing into an industrial age. And while Thoreau remained fairly obscure in his own time, he has become one of the most beloved authors of the 19th century.

His masterpiece, Walden, is widely read, and his essay "Civil Disobedience" has been cited as an influence on social activists to the present day.

Margaret Fuller

Margarest Fuller
Library of Congress

Margaret Fuller was an early feminist activist, author, and editor who first gained prominence editing The Dial, the magazine of the New England Transcendentalists. She later became the first female newspaper columnist in New York City while working for Horace Greeley at the New York Tribune.

Fuller traveled to Europe, married an Italian revolutionary and had a baby, and then died tragically in a shipwreck while returning to America with her husband and child. Though she died young, her writings proved influential throughout the 19th century.

John Muir

John Muir
Library of Congress

John Muir was a mechanical wizard who probably could have made a great living designing machinery for the growing factories of the 19th century, but he literally walked away from it to live, as he put it himself, "as a tramp."

Muir traveled to California and became associated with Yosemite Valley. His writings about the beauty of the Sierras inspired political leaders to set aside lands for preservation, and he has been called the "father of the National Parks."

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
Library of Congress

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland, managed to escape to freedom as a young man, and became an eloquent voice against the institution of slavery. His autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, became a national sensation.

Douglass gained great fame as a public speaker, and was one of the most influential voices of the abolition movement.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin
Library of Congress

Charles Darwin was trained as a scientist, and developed considerable reporting and writing skill while on a five-year research voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle. His published account of his scientific journey was successful, but he had a far more important project in mind.

After years of work, Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. His book would shake up the scientific community and completely change the way people thought about mankind. Darwin's book was one of the most influential books ever published.

George Perkins Marsh

George Perkins Marsh
Library of Congress

George Perkins Marsh is not remembered as widely as Henry David Thoreau or John Muir, but he published an important book, Man and Nature, which greatly influenced the environmental movement. Marsh's book was a serious discussion of how man uses, and misuses, the natural world.

At a time when conventional belief held that man could simply exploit the earth and its natural resources with no penalty, George Perkins Marsh offered a valuable and needed warning.

Horatio Alger

The phrase "Horatio Alger story" is still used to describe someone who overcame great obstacles to achieve success. The famed author Horatio Alger wrote a series of books describing impoverished youth who worked hard and lived virtuous lives, and were rewarded in the end.

Horatio Alger actually lived a troubled life, and it appears that his creation of iconic role models for American youth may have been an attempt to hide a scandalous personal life.

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley
Library of Congress

The brilliant and eccentric editor of the New York Tribune voiced strong opinions, and Horace Greeley's opinions often became mainstream sentiment. He opposed slavery and believed in the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln, and after Lincoln became president Greeley often advised him, though not always politely.

Greeley also believed in the promise of the West. And he's perhaps best remembered for the phrase, "Go west, young man, go west."

Arthur Conan Doyle

The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, felt trapped at times by his own success. He wrote other books and stories which he felt were superior to the extraordinarily popular detective stores featuring Holmes and his loyal sidekick Watson. But the public always wanted more Sherlock Holmes.

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