American Popular Literature of the Nineteenth Century

Paul Gutjahr
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One of the wonders of printed material is its persuasive power. It can threaten, promise, cajole, and insinuate ideas of lasting influence. Such influence manifests itself in a number of ways, but perhaps one of the most obvious is found in the development of national mythologies. For example, consider the story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, a deed he then nobly confesses with the now immortal words “I can’t tell a lie.” It is a story that has become synonymous with George Washington, yet it was a fable created by Parson Weems in his tremendously popular biography of the first president.