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Colonial Period (1620s-1776)
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE PERIOD[edit | edit source]
Genres of the Period[edit | edit source]
American Literature, defined here as it traditionally has been to be the literature of the United States, or as written on land that would one day become the United States, has as its beginning date 1583, the year the earliest English writing explorers started to write about the new continent. Some date the end of the Colonial Period as early as 1763, the start of the French and Indian War, the results of which set in motion a chain of events that led the colonies to seek independence from Great Britain. Others set it as late as 1789, the year the U.S. Constitution went into effect. This text splits the difference by using 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, as the cutoff year for the period. This year is a guideline not a rigidly held cutoff.
The writing of the period varied greatly in terms of quality and subject, but less so in terms of genre. For the sake of classification, in fact, all of the literature of the period can be broken down into just ten genres:
1) travel writing, most often written by the explorers themselves to describe the land, indigenous peoples, and log the exploration, starting with preparations for the journey, the voyage, arrival and explorations in the territory and interactions with natives, and the return to Great Britain, if one was made, 2) historical writing; historians have written in every age since the Hebrews wrote the Old Testament; these consist of long essays or narratives and relate tell a non-fiction account of what transpired; usually written in the third person, and covering significant events of general interest, 3) religious writing, usually written by clergy in the form of journals, sermons, or commentaries on the Bible and religious experiences, 4) philosophy, a genre that ranges from pure metaphysical speculation, to early sociology, to transcendentalism; written in the form of long essays, 5) natural science writings, 6) newspaper, journalism, and political essay writing, covering most recent events to essays and pamphlets written to persuade others to the author's opinion, 7) poetry, 8) drama, 9) humor, 10) fiction in the form of short stories, or sketches, and novels.
Not all of these genres span the entire period, although a few do. Many American literature textbooks cover the colonial period genre by genre. The danger in doing this is time distortion. This period of literature spans almost 300 years, longer by far than all of the other periods of literature put together. The other problem with covering this period by genre is that many of its most famous writers wrote in more than one genre, so the same writer must be considered multiple times. A final disadvantage is the proximity of many of the genres to another genre. For example, how different can a work in philosophy be from a religious tract when a religious background is assumed by the author? Many political writers touch heavily on history, and vice versa. Given these considerations, it is more fruitful to cover this period diachronically while keeping possible genres in mind.
Aside from span of time, another consideration that makes this period unique from all the others is that the writers in this period had no idea they were writing anything that could be classified as American literature. These writers were mostly British, and all were heavily indebted to British literature writing conventions long since established in the motherland. No other period of American literature is as derivative of English literature as the colonial period.
Relation to English Literature[edit | edit source]
The British claimed most of the Atlantic seaboard north of Florida as belonging to Britain soon after Columbus discovered land across the Atlantic Ocean. Henry VII sent John Cabot to chart out the "regions or provinces of the heathen and infidel, whatsoever they may be" as early as 1497. However, circumstances never arose for England to make good on her claims until late during Elizabeth's reign. When England finally did establish her first permanent settlement in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia, and a few years later in Massachusetts, her primary motives were:
1) the monarchical desire to expand the empire, 2) the people's longing for land to cultivate, 3) treasure and adventure, 4) a nation's desire to be rid of excess populations, such as debtors, prisoners, and unemployed youths, 5) expand commerce through trade, and 6) freedom of religious practice.
The literature produced in the part of America known as the United States did not begin as an independent literature. England bestowed on the earliest settlers the English language, books, and modes of thought. England had an established literature long before the first permanent settlement across the Atlantic was considered. Shakespeare, for example, had died only four years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.
For nearly two hundred years after the first English settlements in America, the majority of the works read there were written by English authors. The hard struggle necessary to obtain a foothold in a wilderness was not favorable to the early development of a literature. Those who remained in England could not clear away the forest, till the soil, and contend with Indians, but they could write the books and send them across the ocean. The early settlers were for the most part content to allow English authors to do this. For these reasons it is unsurprising that early American literature does not match in quality that produced in England during the same period.
When Americans began to write in larger numbers, there was at first close adherence to English models. For a while it seemed as if American literature would be only a feeble imitation of these models. Beginning in the eighteenth century, that started to change and some colonial writing was considered to have merit in its own right. The literature of England gained something from America as well. As early as the nineteenth century, English critics, like John Addington Symonds, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edward Dowden, have testified to the power of the democratic element in American literature and willingly admitted that without a study of Cooper, Poe, and Hawthorne no one could give an adequate account of the landmarks of achievement in fiction written in English. French critics too have always admired Poe. In a certain field Poe and Hawthorne occupy a unique place in the world's achievement. Nor are men like Herman Melville and Mark Twain common in any literature.
Some of the reasons why American literature developed along original lines and thus conveyed a message of its own to the world are to be found in the changed environment and the varying problems and ideals of American life. Even more important than the changed ways of earning a living and the difference in climate, animals, and scenery were the struggles leading to the Revolutionary War, the formation and guidance of the Republic, and the Civil War. All these combined to give individuality to American thought and literature.
The Virginia Colony[edit | edit source]
In 1607 the first permanent English colony within the present limits of the United States was planted at Jamestown in Virginia. The colony was founded for commercial reasons by the London Company, an organization formed to secure profits from colonization. The colonists and the company that furnished their ship and outfit expected large profits from the gold mines and the precious stones which were believed to await discovery. Of course, the adventurers were also influenced by the honor and the romantic interest which they thought would result from a successful settlement.
When the expedition sailed from England in December, 1606, Michael Drayton, an Elizabethan poet, wrote verses dedicated "To the Virginian Voyage." These stanzas show the reason for sending the colonizers to Virginia:
You brave heroic minds, Worthy your country's name, That honor still pursue, Whilst loit'ring hinds Lurk here at home with shame, Go and subdue. * * * * * And cheerfully at sea, Success you still entice, To get the pearl and gold; And ours to hold Virginia, Earth's only paradise.
The majority of the early Virginian colonists, however, were unfit for their task. Contemporary accounts tell of the "many unruly gallants, packed hither by their friends to escape ill destinies." Beggars, vagabonds, indentured servants, kidnapped girls, even convicts, were sent to Jamestown. After the execution of Charles I in 1649, and the setting up of the Puritan Commonwealth, many of the royalists, or Cavaliers, as they were called, came to Virginia to escape oppressive Puritan rule. They became the ancestors of Presidents and statesmen, and of many of the aristocratic families of the South.
The ideals expressed by Captain John Smith, the leader and preserver of the Jamestown colony, are worthy to rank beside those of the colonizers of New England. Looking back at his achievement in Virginia, he wrote, "Then seeing we are not born for ourselves but each to help other ... Seeing honor is our lives' ambition ... and seeing by no means would we be abated of the dignities and glories of our predecessors; let us imitate their virtues to be worthily their successors.
The Puritans Colonize New England[edit | edit source]
During the period from 1620 to 1640, large numbers of English people migrated to that part of America now known as New England. These emigrants were not impelled by hope of wealth, or ease, or pleasure. They were called Puritans because they wished to purify the Church of England from what seemed to them great abuses; and the purpose of these men in emigrating to America was to lay the foundations of a state built upon their religious principles. These people came for an intangible something--liberty of conscience, a fuller life of the spirit--which has never commanded a price on any stock exchange in the world. They looked beyond
Things done that took the eye and had the price; O'er which, from level stand, The low world laid its hand, Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice.
These Puritans had been more than one century in the making. We hear of them in the time of Wycliffe (1324-1384). Henry VIII formed the Church of England in 1534. Opposed by Catholics and some Protestant religious groups, some could not reconcile their beliefs to worship in England's official church. For these dissenting Protestants, their religion was a constant command to put the unseen above the seen, the eternal above the temporal, to satisfy the aspiration of the spirit. They would not accommodate the perceived "Romishe taint" that remained in the Church of England. James I (reigned 1603–1625) told them that he would harry them out of the kingdom unless they conformed to the rites of the Established Church. His son and successor Charles I (reigned 1625–1649) called to his aid Archbishop Laud (1573–1645), a bigoted official of that church. Laud hunted the dissenting clergy like wild beasts, threw them into prison, whipped them in the pillory, branded them, slit their nostrils, and mutilated their ears. John Cotton, pastor of the church of Boston, England, was told that if he had been guilty only of an infraction of certain of the Ten Commandments, he might have been pardoned, but since his crime was Puritanism, he must suffer. He had great trouble in escaping on a ship bound for the New England Boston.
Professor Tyler says: "New England has perhaps never quite appreciated its great obligations to Archbishop Laud. It was his overmastering hate of nonconformity, it was the vigilance and vigor and consecrated cruelty with which he scoured his own diocese and afterward all England, and hunted down and hunted out the ministers who were committing the unpardonable sin of dissent, that conferred upon the principal colonies of New England their ablest and noblest men."
It should be noted that the Puritan colonization of New England took place in a comparatively brief space of time, during the twenty years from 1620 to 1640. Until 1640 persecution drove the Puritans to New England in multitudes, but in that year they suddenly stopped coming. "During the one hundred and twenty-five years following that date, more persons, it is supposed, went back from the New to the Old England than came from the Old England to the New," says Professor Tyler. The year 1640 marks the assembling of the Long Parliament, which finally brought to the block both Archbishop Laud (1645) and King Charles I (1649), and chose the great Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, to lead the Commonwealth.
Elizabethan Traits[edit | edit source]
The leading men in the colonization of Virginia and New England were born in the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603), and they and their descendants showed on this side of the Atlantic those characteristics which made the Elizabethan age preeminent.
In the first place, the Elizabethans possessed initiative. This power consists, first, in having ideas, and secondly, in passing from the ideas to the suggested action. Some people merely dream. The Elizabethans dreamed glorious dreams, which they translated into action. They defeated the Spanish Armada; they circumnavigated the globe; they made it possible for Shakespeare's pen to mold the thought and to influence the actions of the world.
If we except those indentured servants and apprentices who came to America merely because others brought them, we shall find not only that the first colonists were born in an age distinguished for its initiative, but also that they came because they possessed this characteristic in a greater degree than those who remained behind. It was easier for the majority to stay with their friends; hence England was not depopulated. The few came, those who had sufficient initiative to cross three thousand miles of unknown sea, who had the power to dream dreams of a new commonwealth, and the will to embody those dreams in action.
In the second place, the Elizabethans were ingenious, that is, they were imaginative and resourceful. Impelled by the mighty forces of the Reformation and the Revival of Learning which the England of Elizabeth alone felt at one and the same time, the Elizabethans craved and obtained variety of experience, which kept the fountainhead of ingenuity filled. It is instructive to follow the lives of Elizabethans as different as Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain John Smith, and John Winthrop, and to note the varied experiences of each. Yankee ingenuity had an Elizabethan ancestry. The hard conditions of the New World merely gave an opportunity to exercise to the utmost an ingenuity which the colonists brought with them.
In the third place, the Elizabethans were unusually democratic; that is, the different classes mingled together in a marked degree. This intermingling was due in part to increased travel, to the desire born of the New Learning, to live as varied and as complete a life as possible, and to the absence of overspecialization among individuals. This chance for varied experience with all sorts and conditions of men enabled Shakespeare to speak to all humanity. All England was represented in his plays. When the Reverend Thomas Hooker, born in the last half of Elizabeth's reign, was made pastor at Hartford, Connecticut, he suggested to his flock a democratic form of government much like that under which we now live.
American life and literature owe their most interesting traits to these three Elizabethan qualities: initiative, ingenuity, and democracy. The Cambridge University graduate, the cooper, cloth-maker, printer, and blacksmith had the initiative to set out for the New World, the ingenuity to deal with its varied exigencies, and the democratic spirit that enabled them to work side by side, no matter how diverse their former trades, modes of life, and social condition.
Captain John Smith (1579-1631)[edit | edit source]
The hero of the Jamestown colony, and its savior during the first two years, was Captain John Smith, born in Willoughby, Lincolnshire, in 1579, twenty-four years before the death of Elizabeth and thirty-seven before the death of Shakespeare. Smith was a man of Elizabethan stamp: active, ingenious, imaginative, craving new experiences. While a mere boy, he could not stand the tediousness of ordinary life, and so betook himself to the forest where he could hunt and play knight.
In the first part of his young manhood he crossed the Channel, voyaged in the Mediterranean, fought the Turks, killing three of them in single combat, was taken prisoner and enslaved by the Tartars, killed his inhuman master, escaped into Russia, went thence through Europe to Africa, was in desperate naval battles, returned to England, sailing thence for Virginia, which he reached at the age of twenty-eight.
He soon became president of the Jamestown colony and labored strenuously for its preservation. The first product of his pen in America was A True Relation of Virginia, written in 1608, the year in which John Milton was born. The last work written by Smith in America is entitled: A Map of Virginia, with a Description of the Country, the Commodities, People, Government, and Religion. His description of the Indians shows his capacity for quickly noting their traits:
They are inconstant in everything, but what fear constraineth them to keep. Crafty, timorous, quick of apprehension and very ingenious. Some are of disposition fearful, some bold, most cautious, all savage. Generally covetous of copper, beads, and such like trash. They are soon moved to anger, and so malicious that they seldom forget an injury: they seldom steal one from another, lest their conjurors should reveal it, and so they be pursued and punished. That they are thus feared is certain, but that any can reveal their offences by conjuration I am doubtful.
Smith has often been accused of boasting, and some have said that he was guilty of great exaggeration or something worse, but it is certain that he repeatedly braved hardships, extreme dangers, and captivity among the Indians to provide food for the colony and to survey Virginia. After carefully editing Captain John Smith's Works in a volume of 983 pages, Professor Edwin Arber says: "For [our] own part, beginning with doubtfulness and wariness we have gradually come to the unhesitating conviction, not only of Smith's truthfulness, but also that, in regard to all personal matters, he systematically understates rather than exaggerates anything he did."
Although by far the greater part of Smith's literary work was done after he returned to England, yet his two booklets written in America entitle him to a place in colonial literature. He had the Elizabethan love of achievement, and he records his admiration for those whose 'pens writ what their swords did.' He was not an artist with his pen, but our early colonial literature is the richer for his rough narrative and for the description of Virginia and the Indians.
In one sense he gave the Indian to literature, and that is his greatest achievement in literary history. Who has not heard the story of his capture by the Indians, of his rescue from torture and death, by the beautiful Indian maiden, Pocahontas, of her risking her life to save him a second time from Indian treachery, of her bringing corn and preserving the colony from famine, of her visit to England in 1616, a few weeks after the death of Shakespeare, of her royal reception as a princess, the daughter of an Indian king, of Smith's meeting her again in London, where their romantic story aroused the admiration of the court and the citizens for the brown-eyed princess? It would be difficult to say how many tales of Indian adventure this romantic story of Pocahontas has suggested. It has the honor of being the first of its kind written in the English tongue.
Did Pocahontas actually rescue Captain Smith? In his account of his adventures, written in Virginia in 1608, he does not mention this rescue, but in his later writings he relates it as an actual occurrence. When Pocahontas visited London, this story was current, and there is no evidence that she denied it. Professor Arber says, "To deny the truth of the Pocahontas incident is to create more difficulties than are involved in its acceptance." But literature does not need to ask whether the story of Hamlet or of Pocahontas is true. If this unique story of American adventure is a product of Captain Smith's creative imagination, the literary critic must admit the captain's superior ability in producing a tale of such vitality. If the story is true, then our literature does well to remember whose pen made this truth one of the most persistent of our early romantic heritages. He is as well known for the story of Pocahontas as for all of his other achievements. The man who saved the Virginia colony and who first suggested a new field to the writer of American romance is rightly considered one of the most striking figures in our early history, even if he did return to England in less than three years and end his days there in 1631.
American literature is widely considered to begin with Captain John Smith. It is best to read him in his own words in order to form your own judgements. Fortunatley, his works are available for free on the Internet. Visit the following URLs, read as much of Smith as interests you, and we'll see you when you return in order to continue our voyage through American literature:
A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Happened in Virginia (1608) <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browsemod?id=J1007>
A Map of Virginia (1612) <http://chnm.gmu.edu/loudountah/activities/pdf/smithmap.pdf>
The Proceedings of the English Colony in Virginia (1612) <http://books.google.com/books?id=S3B5AAAAMAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q=&f=false>
A Description of New England (1616) <http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/4/
New England's Trials (1620, 1622) <http://books.google.com/books?id=mnoFAAAAQAAJ&ots=gbjdtzKn4g&dq=%22new%20england's%20trials%22&pg=PA4#v=onepage&q=&f=false>
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624) <http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/lhbcbbib:@OR(@field(AUTHOR+@3(Smith,+John,+1580+1631++))+@field(OTHER+@3(Smith,+John,+1580+1631++)))>
An Accidence, or The Pathway to Experience Necessary for all Young Seamen (1626) is not available currently online. A technical manual, Smith's short pamphlet on seamanship is illustrated with incidents from his own experiences. It would be enlarged as A Sea Grammar in 1627.
A Sea Grammar (1627) <http://books.google.com/books?id=1BQSAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA209&ots=rmfHJrsCst&dq=A%20Sea%20Grammar%20(1627)&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q=A%20Sea%20Grammar%20(1627)&f=false>
The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith (1630) <http://books.google.com/books?id=1BQSAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA209&ots=rmfHJrsCst&dq=A%20Sea%20Grammar%20(1627)&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q=A%20Sea%20Grammar%20(1627)&f=false>
Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or Anywhere (1631) <http://www.archive.org/details/advertisementsfo00smit>
WILLIAM STRACHEY (1572-1621)[edit | edit source]
Captain James Smith was not the only Englishman writing in the colonies in the early seventeenth century. William Strachey, a contemporary of Shakespeare and secretary of the Virginian colony, wrote at Jamestown and sent to London in 1610 the manuscript of A True Repertory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Kt., upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas. This is a story of shipwreck on the Bermudas and of escape in small boats. The book is memorable for the description of a storm at sea, and it is possible that it may even have furnished suggestions to Shakespeare for The Tempest. If so, it is interesting to compare these with what they produced in Shakespeare's mind. Strachey tells how "the sea swelled above the clouds and gave battle unto heaven." He speaks of "an apparition of a little round light, like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the main mast, and shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud." Ariel says to Prospero:
"I boarded the king's ship; now on the beak, Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flam'd amazement: Sometimes I'ld divide, And burn in many places; on the topmast, The yards, and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly, Then meet and join."
Strachey voices the current belief that the Bermudas were harassed by tempests, devils, wicked spirits, and other fearful objects. Shakespeare as Ferdinand with fewer words intensify Strachey's picture:
"Hell is empty, And all the devils are here."
The possibility that incidents arising out of Virginian colonization may have turned Shakespeare's attention to "the still vex'd Bermoothes" and given him suggestions for one of his great plays lends added interest to Strachey's True Repertory. But, aside from Shakespeare, this has an interest of its own. It has the Anglo-Saxon touch in depicting the wrath of the sea, and it shows the character of the early American colonists who braved a wrath like this.
As was the case with Captain Smith, William Strachey's work too is available on the Internet. Enjoy reading your fill and we'll see you upon your return.
Strachey's works[edit | edit source]
- "A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight" original-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown.
- "A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight" modern-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown.
- "For The Colony in Virginea Britannia. Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, &c." original-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown.
- "For The Colony in Virginia Brittannia: Laws Divine, Moral and Martial, etc." modern-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown.
- "The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia" at Google Books.
- "A Dictionary of Powhatan" at Google Books.
POETRY IN THE VIRGINIA COLONY[edit | edit source]
George Sandys (1577-1644)[edit | edit source]
During his stay in the colony as its treasurer, he translated ten books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, sometimes working by the light of a pine knot. This work is rescued from the class of mere translation by its literary art and imaginative interpretation, and it possesses for us an additional interest because of its nativity amid such surroundings. Two lines telling how Philemon
"Took down a flitch of bacon with a prung, That long had in the smoky chimney hung,"
show that his environment aided him somewhat in the translation. He himself says of this version that it was "bred in the new world, whereof it cannot but participate, especially having wars and tumults to bring it to light, instead of the muses." He was read by both Dryden and Pope in their boyhood, and the form of their verse shows his influence.
The only original poem which merits our attention in the early Virginian colony was found soon after the Revolutionary War in a collection of manuscripts, known as the Burwell Papers. This poem is an elegy on the death of Nathaniel Bacon (1676), a young Virginian patriot and military hero, who resisted the despotic governor, Sir William Berkeley. It was popularly believed that Bacon's mysterious death was due to poison. An unknown friend wrote the elegy in defense of Bacon and his rebellion. These lines from that elegy show a strength unusual in colonial poetry:
"Virginia's foes, To whom, for secret crimes, just vengeance owes Deserved plagues, dreading their just desert, Corrupted death by Paracelsian art, Him to destroy . . . Our arms, though ne'er so strong, Will want the aid of his commanding tongue, Which conquered more than Caesar."
DESCRIPTIONS OF VIRGINIA[edit | edit source]
Robert Beverly[edit | edit source]
Clerk of the Council of Virginia, he published in London in 1705 a History and Present State of Virginia. This is today a readable account of the colony and its people in the first part of the eighteenth century. This selection shows that in those early days Virginians were noted for what has come to be known as southern hospitality:
"The inhabitants are very courteous to travellers, who need no other recommendation, but the being human creatures. A stranger has no more to do, but to inquire upon the road where any gentleman or good housekeeper lives, and there he may depend upon being received with hospitality. This good nature is so general among their people, that the gentry, when they go abroad, order their principal servant to entertain all visitors with everything the plantation affords. And the poor planters who have but one bed, will very often sit up, or lie upon a form or couch all night, to make room for a weary traveller to repose himself after his journey."
Colonel William Byrd (1674-1744)[edit | edit source]
A wealthy Virginian, he was commissioned by the Virginian colony to run a line between it and North Carolina. He then wrote a History of the Dividing Line run in the Year 1728. This book is a record of personal experiences, and is as interesting as its title is forbidding. This selection describes the Dismal Swamp, through which the line ran:
"Since the surveyors had entered the Dismal they had laid eyes on no living creature; neither bird nor beast, insect nor reptile came in view. Doubtless the eternal shade that broods over this mighty bog and hinders the sunbeams from blessing the ground, makes it an uncomfortable habitation for anything that has life. Not so much as a Zealand frog could endure so aguish a situation. It had one beauty, however, that delighted the eye, though at the expense of all the other senses: the moisture of the soil preserves a continual verdure, and makes every plant an evergreen, but at the same time the foul damps ascend without ceasing, corrupt the air, and render it unfit for respiration. Not even a turkey buzzard will venture to fly over it, no more than the Italian vultures will fly over the filthy lake Avernus or the birds in the Holy Land over the salt sea where Sodom and Gomorrah formerly stood.
"In these sad circumstances the kindest thing we could do for our suffering friends was to give them a place in the Litany. Our chaplain for his part did his office and rubbed us up with a seasonable sermon. This was quite a new thing to our brethren of North Carolina, who live in a climate where no clergyman can breathe, and when they fock, they fock hard."
These two selections show that American literature, even before the Revolution, came to be something more than an imitation of English literature. No critic could say that they might as well have been written in London as in Virginia. They also show how much eighteenth-century prose had improved in form. Even in England, modern prose may almost be said to begin with John Dryden, who died at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In addition to improvement in form, we may note the appearance of a new quality: humor. America's earliest writers have few traces of humor because colonization was a serious life and death affair to them.
DIFFERENT LINES OF DEVELOPMENT OF VIRGINIA AND NEW ENGLAND[edit | edit source]
After the founding of the Plymouth colony in 1620, Virginia and New England developed along different lines. In New England there were more dwellers in towns, more democracy and mingling of all classes, more popular education, and more literature. The ruling classes of Virginia were mostly descendants of the Cavaliers who had sympathized with monarchy, while the Puritans had fought the Stuart kings and had approved a Commonwealth. In Virginia a wealthy class of landed gentry came to be an increasing power in the political history of the country. The ancestors of George Washington and many others who did inestimable service to the nation were among this class. It was long the fashion for this aristocracy to send their children to England to be educated, while the Puritans trained theirs at home.
New England started a printing press, and was printing books by 1640. In 1671 Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, wrote, "I thank God there are no free schools, nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has developed them."
Producers of literature need the stimulus of town life. The South was chiefly agricultural. The plantations were large, and the people lived in far greater isolation than in New England, where not only the town, but more especially the church, developed a close social unit.
One other reason served to make it difficult for a poet of the plowman type, like Robert Burns, or for an author from the general working class, like Benjamin Franklin, to arise in the South. Labor was thought degrading, and the laborer did not find the same chance as at the North to learn from close association with the intelligent class.
The reason for this is given by Colonel William Byrd, from whom we have quoted in the preceding section. He wrote in 1736 of the leading men of the South:
"They import so many negroes hither, that I fear this Colony will some time or other be confirmed by the name of New Guinea. I am sensible of many bad consequences of multiplying these Ethiopians amongst us. They blow up the pride and ruin the industry of our white people, who seeing a rank of poor creatures below them, detest work, for fear it should make them look like slaves."
WILLIAM BRADFORD (1590-1657)[edit | edit source]
William Bradford was born in 1590 in the Pilgrim district of England, in the Yorkshire village of Austerfield, two miles north of Scrooby. While a child, he attended the religious meetings of the Puritans. At the age of eighteen he gave up a good position in the post service of England, and crossed to Holland to escape religious persecution. His History of Plymouth Plantation is not a record of the Puritans as a whole, but only of that branch known as the Pilgrims, who left England for Holland in 1607 and 1608, and who, after remaining there for nearly twelve years, had the initiative to be the first of their band to come to the New World, and to settle at Plymouth in 1620.
For more than thirty years he was governor of the Plymouth colony, and he managed its affairs with the discretion of a Washington and the zeal of a Cromwell. His History tells the story of the Pilgrim Fathers from the time of the formation of their two congregations in England, until 1647.
In 1897 the United States for the first time came into possession of the manuscript of this famous History of Plymouth Plantation, which had in some mysterious manner been taken from Boston in colonial times and had found its way into the library of the Lord Bishop of London. Few of the English seem to have read it. Even its custodian miscalled it The Log of the Mayflower, although after the ship finally cleared from England, only five incidents of the voyage are briefly mentioned: the death of a young seaman who cursed the Pilgrims on the voyage and made sport of their misery; the cracking of one of the main beams of the ship; the washing overboard in a storm of a good young man who was providentially saved; the death of a servant; and the sight of Cape Cod. On petition, the Lord Bishop of London generously gave this manuscript of 270 pages to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In a speech at the time of its formal reception, Senator Hoar eloquently summed up the subject matter of the volume as follows:
"I do not think many Americans will gaze upon it without a little trembling of the lips and a little gathering of mist in the eyes, as they think of the story of suffering, of sorrow, of peril, of exile, of death, and of lofty triumph which that book tells,--which the hand of the great leader and founder of America has traced on those pages. There is nothing like it in human annals since the story of Bethlehem. These Englishmen and English women going out from their homes in beautiful Lincoln and York, wife separated from husband and mother from child in that hurried embarkation for Holland, pursued to the beach by English horsemen; the thirteen years of exile; the life at Amsterdam, 'in alley foul and lane obscure'; the dwelling at Leyden; the embarkation at Delfthaven; the farewell of Robinson; the terrible voyage across the Atlantic; the compact in the harbor; the landing on the rock; the dreadful first winter; the death roll of more than half the number; the days of suffering and of famine; the wakeful night, listening for the yell of wild beast and the war whoop of the savage; the building of the State on those sure foundations which no wave or tempest has ever shaken; the breaking of the new light; the dawning of the new day; the beginning of the new life; the enjoyment of peace with liberty,--of all these things this is the original record by the hand of our beloved father and founder."
In addition to giving matter of unique historical importance, Bradford entertains his readers with an account of Squanto, the Pilgrims' tame Indian, of Miles Standish capturing the "lord of misrule" at Merrymount, and of the failure of an experiment in tilling the soil in common. Bradford says that there was immediate improvement when each family received the full returns from working its own individual plot of ground. He thus philosophizes about this social experiment of the Pilgrims:
"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;----that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a common wealth would make them happy and flourishing.... Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them."
Both the subject matter of the early colonial prose in this manuscript compare favirably with that produced in England at the same time.
JOHN WINTHROP (1588-1649)[edit | edit source]
On March 29, 1630, John Winthrop made the first entry in his Journal on board the ship Arbella, before he left the Isle of Wight for Massachusetts Bay. This Journal was to continue until a few months before his death in 1649, and was in after times to receive the dignified name of History of New England, although it might more properly still be called his Journal, as its latest editor does indeed style
John Winthrop was born in the County of Suffolk, England, in 1588, the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. He was a wealthy, well-educated Puritan, the owner of broad estates. As he paced the deck of the Arbella, the night before he sailed for Massachusetts, he knew that he was leaving comfort, home, friends, position, all for liberty of conscience. Few men have ever voluntarily abandoned more than Winthrop, or clung more tenaciously to their ideals.
After a voyage lasting more than two months, he settled with a large number of Puritans on the site of modern Boston. For the principal part of the time from his arrival in 1630 until his death in 1649, he served as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Not many civil leaders of any age have shown more sagacity, patriotism, and tireless devotion to duty than John Winthrop.
His Journal is a record of contemporaneous events from 1630 to 1648. The early part of this work might with some justice have been called the Log of the Arbella.
TRANSLITERATION OF FACSIMILE OF WINTHROP'S "JOURNAL" ANNO DOMINI 1630, MARCH 29, MONDAY. EASTER MONDAY.
"Riding at the Cowes, near the Isle of Wight, in the _Arbella_, a ship of 350 tons, whereof Capt. Peter Milborne was master, being manned with 52 seamen, and 28 pieces of ordnance, (the wind coming to the N. by W. the evening before,) in the morning there came aboard us Mr. Cradock, the late governor, and the masters of his 2 ships, Capt. John Lowe, master of the _Ambrose_, and Mr. Nicholas Hurlston, master of the _Jewel_, and Mr. Thomas Beecher, master of the Talbot."
The entry for Monday, April 12, 1630, is:
"The wind more large to the N. a stiff gale, with fair weather. In the afternoon less wind, and our people began to grow well again. Our children and others, that were sick and lay groaning in the cabins, we fetched out, and having stretched a rope from the steerage to the main-mast, we made them stand, some of one side and some of the other, and sway it up and down till they were warm, and by this means they soon grew well and merry."
The following entry for June 5, 1644, reflects an interesting side light on the government of Harvard, our first American college:
"Two of our ministers' sons, being students in the college, robbed two dwelling houses in the night of some fifteen pounds. Being found out, they were ordered by the governors of the college to be there whipped, which was performed by the president himself--yet they were about twenty years of age; and after they were brought into the court and ordered to twofold satisfaction, or to serve so long for it. We had yet no particular punishment for burglary."
Another entry for 1644 tells of one William Franklin, condemned for causing the death of his apprentice:
"The case was this. He had taken to apprentice one Nathaniel Sewell, one of those children sent over the last year for the country; the boy had the scurvy and was withal very noisome, and otherwise ill disposed. His master used him with continual rigour and unmerciful correction, and exposed him many times to much cold and wet in the winter season, and used divers acts of rigour towards him, as hanging him in the chimney, etc., and the boy being very poor and weak, he tied him upon an horse and so brought him (sometimes sitting and sometimes hanging down) to Boston, being five miles off, to the magistrates, and by the way the boy calling much for water, would give him none, though he came close by it, so as the boy was near dead when he came to Boston, and died within a few hours after."
Winthrop relates how Franklin appealed the case when he was found guilty, and how the Puritans inflicted the death penalty on him after searching the Bible for a rule on which to base their decision. The most noticeable qualities of this terrible story are its simplicity, its repression, its lack of striving after effect. Winthrop, Bradford, and Bunyan had learned from the 1611 version of the Bible to be content to present any situation as simply as possible and to rely on the facts themselves to secure the effect.
Winthrop's finest piece of prose, Concerning Liberty, appears in an entry for the year 1645. He defines liberty as the power "to do that which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard, not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be." Winthrop saw clearly what many since his day have failed to see, that a government conducted by the people could not endure, if liberty meant more than this.
Winthrop's Journal records almost anything which seemed important to the colonists. Thus, he tells about storms, fires, peculiar deaths of animals, crimes, trials, Indians, labor troubles, arrival of ships, trading expeditions, troubles with England about the charter, politics, church matters, events that would point a moral, like the selfish refusal of the authorities to loan a quantity of gunpowder to the Plymouth colony and the subsequent destruction of that same powder by an explosion, or the drowning of a child in the well while the parents were visiting on Sunday. In short, this Journal gives valuable information about the civil, religious, and domestic life of the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The art of modern prose writing was known neither in England nor in America in Winthrop's time. The wonder is that he told the story of this colony in such good form and that he still holds the interest of the reader so well.
THE RELIGIOUS IDEAL[edit | edit source]
William Bradford and John Winthrop were governors of two religious commonwealths. We must not forget that the Puritans came to America to secure a higher form of spiritual life. In the reign of Elizabeth, it was thought that the Revival of Learning would cure all ills and unlock the gates of happiness. This hope had met with disappointment. Then Puritanism came, and ushered in a new era of spiritual aspiration for something better, nobler, and more satisfying than mere intellectual attainments or wealth or earthly power had been able to secure.
The Puritans chose the Bible as the guidebook to their Promised Land. The long sermons to which they listened were chiefly biblical expositions. The Puritans considered the saving of the soul the most important matter, and they neglected whatever form of culture did not directly tend toward that result. They thought that entertaining reading and other forms of amusement were contrivances of the devil to turn the soul's attention away from the Bible. Even beauty and art were considered handmaids of the Evil One. The Bible was read, reread, and constantly studied, and it took the place of secular poetry and prose.
The New England Puritan believed in the theology of John Calvin, who died in 1564. His creed, known as Calvinism, emphasized the importance of the individual, of life's continuous moral struggle, which would land each soul in heaven or hell for all eternity. In the New England Primer, the children were taught the first article of belief, as they learned the letter A:
"In Adam's fall, We sinned all."
Calvinism stressed the doctrine of foreordination, that certain ones, "the elect," had been foreordained to be saved. Thomas Shephard (1605–1649), one of the great Puritan clergy, fixed the mathematical ratio of the damned to the elect as "a thousand to one." On the physical side, scientists have pointed out a close correspondence between Calvin's creed and the theory of evolution, which emphasizes the desperate struggle resulting from the survival of the fittest. The "fittest" are the "elect"; those who perish in the contest, the "damned." In the evolutionary struggle, only the few survive, while untold numbers of the unfit, no matter whether seeds of plants, eggs of fish, human beings, or any other form of life, go to the wall.
In spite of the apparent contradiction between free will and foreordination, each individual felt himself fully responsible for the saving of his soul. A firm belief in this tremendous responsibility made each one rise the stronger to meet the other responsibilities of life. Civil responsibility seemed easier to one reared in this school. The initiative bequeathed by Elizabethan times was increased by the Puritans' religion.
Although there were probably as many university men in proportion to the population in early colonial Massachusetts as in England, the strength and direction of their religious ideals helped to turn their energy into activities outside the field of pure literature. In course of time, however, Nathaniel Hawthorne appeared to give lasting literary expression to this life.
THE NEW ENGLAND CLERGY[edit | edit source]
The clergy occupied a leading place in both the civil and religious life of New England. They were men of energy and ability, who could lead their congregations to Holland or to the wilds of New England. For the purpose in hand the world has never seen superior leaders. Many of them were graduates of Cambridge University, England. Their great authority was based on character, education, and natural ability. A contemporary historian said of John Cotton, who came as pastor from the old to the new Boston in 1633, that whatever he "delivered in the pulpit was soon put into an order of court ... or set up as a practice in the church."
The sermons, from two to four hours long, took the place of magazines, newspapers, and modern musical and theatrical entertainments. The church members were accustomed to hard thinking and they enjoyed it as a mental exercise. Their minds had not been rendered flabby by such a diet of miscellaneous trash or sensational matter as confronts modern readers. Many of the congregation went with notebooks to record the different heads and the most striking thoughts in the sermon, such, for instance, as the following on the dangers of idleness:
"Whilst the stream keeps running, it keeps clear; but let it stand still, it breeds frogs and toads and all manner of filth. So while you keep going, you keep clear."
The sermons were often doctrinal, metaphysical, and extremely dry, but it is a mistake to conclude that the clergy did not speak on topics of current interest. Winthrop in his Journal for 1639 relates how the Rev. John Cotton discussed whether a certain shopkeeper, who had been arraigned before the court for extortion, for having taken "in some small things, above two for one," was guilty of sin and should be excommunicated from the church, or only publicly admonished. Cotton prescribed admonition and he laid down a code of ethics for the guidance of sellers.
With the exception of Roger Williams (1604?-1683), who had the modern point of view in insisting on complete "soul liberty," on the right of every man to think as he pleased on matters of religion, the Puritan clergy were not tolerant of other forms of worship. They said that they came to New England in order to worship God as they pleased. They never made the slightest pretense of establishing a commonwealth where another could worship as he pleased, because they feared that such a privilege might lead to a return of the persecution from which they had fled. If those came who thought differently about religion, they were told that there was sufficient room elsewhere, in Rhode Island, for instance, whither Roger Williams went after he was banished from Salem. The history of the Puritan clergy would have been more pleasing had they been more tolerant, less narrow, more modern, like Roger Williams. Yet perhaps it is best not to complain overmuch of the strange and somewhat repellent architecture of the bridge which bore us over the stream dividing the desert of royal and ecclesiastical tyranny from the Promised Land of our Republic. Let us not forget that the clergy insisted on popular education; that wherever there was a clergyman, there was almost certain to be a school, even if he had to teach it himself, and that the clergy generally spoke and acted as if they would rather be "free among the dead than slaves among the living."
POETRY[edit | edit source]
The trend of Puritan theology and the hard conditions of life did not encourage the production of poetry. The Puritans even wondered if singing in church was not an exercise which turned the mind from God. The Reverend John Cotton investigated the question carefully under four main heads and six subheads, and he cited scriptural authority to show that Paul and Silas (Acts, xvi., 25) had sung a Psalm in the prison. Cotton therefore concluded that the Psalms might be sung in church.
BAY PSALM BOOK
"The divines in the country" joined to translate "into English metre" the whole book of Psalms from the original Hebrew, and they probably made the worst metrical translation in existence. In their preface to this work, known as the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book of verse printed in the British American colonies, they explained that they did not strive for a more poetic translation because "God's altar needs not our polishings." The following verses from Psalm 87 are a sample of the so-called metrical translation which the Puritans sang:
"1. The rivers on of Babilon there-when wee did sit downe: yea even then wee mourned, when wee remembred Sion.
"2. Our Harps wee did it hang amid, upon the willow tree.
"3. Because there they that us away led in captivitee, Requir'd of us a song, & thus askt mirth: us waste who laid, sing us among a Sion's song, unto us then they said."
MICHAEL WIGGLESWORTH (1631-1705)[edit | edit source]
This Harvard graduate and Puritan preacher published in 1662 a poem setting forth some of the tenets of Calvinistic theology. This poem, entitled The Day of Doom, or a Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment, had the largest circulation of any colonial poem. The following lines represent a throng of infants at the left hand of the final Judge, pleading against the sentence of infant damnation:
"'Not we, but he ate of the tree, whose fruit was interdicted; Yet on us all of his sad fall the punishment's inflicted. How could we sin that had not been, or how is his sin our, Without consent, which to prevent we never had the pow'r?'"
Wigglesworth represents the Almighty as replying:
"'You sinners are, and such a share as sinners may expect; Such you shall have, for I do save none but mine own Elect. Yet to compare your sin with their who liv'd a longer time, I do confess yours is much less, though every sin's a crime.
"'A crime it is, therefore in bliss you may not hope to dwell; But unto you I shall allow the easiest room in Hell.'"
When we read verse like this, we realize how fortunate the Puritanism of Old England was to have one great poet schooled in the love of both morality and beauty. John Milton's poetry shows not only his sublimity and high ideals, but also his admiration for beauty, music, and art. Wigglesworth's verse is inferior to much of the ballad doggerel, but it has a swing and a directness fitted to catch the popular ear and to lodge in the memory. While some of his work seems humorous to us, it would not have made that impression on the early Puritans. At the same time, we must not rely on verse like this for our understanding of their outlook on life and death. Beside Wigglesworth's lines we should place the epitaph, "Reserved for a Glorious Resurrection," composed by the great orthodox Puritan clergyman, Cotton Mather (p. 46), for his own infant, which died unbaptized when four days old. It is well to remember that both the Puritans and their clergy had a quiet way of believing that God had reserved to himself the final interpretation of his own word.
ANNE BRADSTREET (1612-1672)[edit | edit source]
Colonial New England's best poet, or "The Tenth Muse," as she was called by her friends, was a daughter of the Puritan governor, Thomas Dudley, and became the wife of another Puritan governor, Simon Bradstreet, with whom she came to New England in 1630. Although she was born before the death of Shakespeare, she seems never to have studied the works of that great dramatist. Her models were what Milton called the "fantastics," a school of poets who mistook for manifestations of poetic power, far-fetched and strained metaphors, oddities of expression, remote comparisons, conceits, and strange groupings of thought. She had especially studied Sylvester's paraphrase of The Divine Weeks and Works of the French poet Du Bartas, and probably also the works of poets like George Herbert (1593–1633), of the English fantastic school. This paraphrase of Du Bartas was published in a folio of 1215 pages, a few years before Mrs. Bradstreet came to America. This book shows the taste which prevailed in England in the latter part of the first third of the seventeenth century, before Milton came into the ascendancy. The fantastic comparison between the "Spirit Eternal," brooding upon chaos, and a hen, is shown in these lines from Du Bartas:
"Or as a Hen that fain would hatch a brood (Some of her own, some of adoptive blood) Sits close thereon, and with her lively heat, Of yellow-white balls, doth live birds beget: Even in such sort seemed the Spirit Eternal To brood upon this Gulf with care paternal."
A contemporary critic thought that he was giving her early work high praise when he called her "a right Du Bartas girl." One of her early poems is The Four Elements, where Fire, Air, Earth, and Water
"... did contest Which was the strongest, noblest, and the best, Who was of greatest use and mightiest force."
Such a debate could never be decided, but the subject was well suited to he fantastic school of poets because it afforded an opportunity for much ingenuity of argument and for far-fetched comparisons, which led nowhere.
Late in life, in her poem, Contemplations, she wrote some genuine poetry, little marred by imitation of the fantastic school. Spenser seems to have become her master in later years. No one without genuine poetic ability could have written such lines as:
"I heard the merry grasshopper then sing, The black-clad cricket bear a second part, They kept one tune, and played on the same string, Seeming to glory in their little art."
These lines show both poetic ease and power:
"The mariner that on smooth waves doth glide Sings merrily, and steers his bark with ease, As if he had command of wind and tide, And now become great master of the seas."
The comparative excellence of her work in such an atmosphere and amid the domestic cares incident to rearing eight children is remarkable.
NATHANIEL WARD (c.1578-1652)[edit | edit source]
In 1647, Nathaniel Ward, who had been educated for the law, but who afterward became a clergyman, published a strange work known as The Simple Cobbler of Agawam, in America "willing," as the sub-title continues, "to help mend his native country, lamentably tattered, both in the upper leather and sole, with all the honest stitches he can take." He had been assistant pastor at Agawam (Ipswich) until ill health caused him to resign. He then busied himself in compiling a code of laws and in other writing before he returned to England in 1647. The following two sentences from his unique book show two points of the religious faith of the Puritans: (1) the belief in a personal devil always actively seeking the destruction of mankind, and (2) the assumption that the vitals of the "elect" are safe from the mortal sting of sin.
"Satan is now in his passions, he feels his passion approaching, he loves to fish in roiled waters. Though that dragon cannot sting the vitals of the elect mortally, yet that Beelzebub can fly-blow their intellectuals miserably."
He is often a bitter satirist, a sort of colonial Carlyle, as this attack on woman shows:
"I honor the woman that can honor herself with her attire; a good text always deserves a fair margent; I am not much offended if I see a trim far trimmer than she that wears it. In a word, whatever Christianity or civility will allow, I can afford with London measure: but when I hear a nugiperous gentledame inquire what dress the Queen is in this week: what the nudiustertian fashion of the Court; I mean the very newest; with egg to be in it in all haste, whatever it be; I look at her as the very gizzard of a trifle, the product of a quarter of a cipher, the epitome of nothing, fitter to be kicked, if she were of a kickable substance, than either honored or humored."
He does not hesitate to coin a word. The preceding short selection introduces us to "nugiperous" and "nudiustertian." Next, he calls the women's tailor-made gowns "the very pettitoes of infirmity, the giblets of perquisquilian toys."
The spirit of a reformer always sees work to be done, and Ward emphasized three remedies for mid-seventeenth-century ills: (1) Stop toleration of departure from religious truth; (2) banish the frivolities of women and men; and (3) bring the civil war in England to a just end. In proportion to the population, his Simple Cobbler, designed to mend human ways, was probably as widely read as Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in later days.
In criticism, Ward deserves to be remembered for these two lines:
"Poetry's a gift wherein but few excel; He doth very ill that doth not passing well."
SAMUEL SEWALL (1652-1730)[edit | edit source]
There was born in 1652 at Bishopstoke, Hampshire, England, a boy who sailed for New England when he was nine years old, and who became our greatest colonial diarist. This was Samuel Sewall, who graduated from Harvard in 1671 and finally became chief justice of Massachusetts.
His Diary runs with some breaks from 1673 to 1729, the year before his death. Good diaries are scarce in any literature. Those who keep them seldom commit to writing many of the most interesting events and secrets of their lives. This failing makes the majority of diaries and memoirs very dry, but this fault cannot be found with Samuel Sewall. His Diary will more and more prove a mine of wealth to the future writers of our literature, to our dramatists, novelists, poets, as well as to our historians. The early chronicles and stories on which Shakespeare founded many of his plays were no more serviceable to him than this Diary may prove to a coming American writer with a genius like Hawthorne's.
In Sewall's Diary we at once feel that we are close to life. The following entry brings us face to face with the children in a Puritan household:
"Nov. 6, 1692. Joseph threw a knop of brass and hit his sister Betty on the forehead so as to make it bleed and swell; upon which, and for his playing at Prayer-time, and eating when Return Thanks, I whipped him pretty smartly. When I first went in (called by his Grandmother) he sought to shadow and hide himself from me behind the head of the cradle: which gave me the sorrowful remembrance of Adam's carriage."
Sewall was one of the seven judges who sentenced nineteen persons to be put to death for witchcraft at Salem. After this terrible delusion had passed, he had the manliness to rise in church before all the members, and after acknowledging "the blame and shame of his decision," call for "prayers that God who has an unlimited authority would pardon that sin."
Sewall's Diary is best known for its faithful chronicle of his courtship of Mrs. Catharine Winthrop. Both had been married twice before, and both had grown children. He was sixty-nine and she fifty-six. No record of any other Puritan courtship so unique as this has been given to the world. He began his formal courtship of Mrs. Winthrop, October 1, 1720. His Diary contains records of each visit, of what they said to each other, of the Sermons, cake, and gingerbread that he gave her, of the healths that he drank to her, the lump of sugar that she gave him, of how they "went into the best room, and clos'd the shutters."
"Nov. 2. Gave her about 1/2 pound of sugar almonds, cost 3 shillings per [pound]. Carried them on Monday. She seem'd pleas'd with them, ask'd what they cost. Spake of giving her a hundred pounds per annum if I died before her. Ask'd her what sum she would give me, if she should die first?"
"Monday, Nov. 7. I went to Mad. Winthrop; found her rocking her little Katy in the cradle. I excused my coming so late (near eight). She set me an arm'd chair and cushion; and so the cradle was between her arm'd chair and mine. Gave her the remnant of my almonds. She did not eat of them as before.... The fire was come to one short brand besides the block, which brand was set up in end; at last it fell to pieces and no recruit was made.... Took leave of her.... Her dress was not so clean as sometime it had been. Jehovah jireh!"
Acute men have written essays to account for the aristocratic Mrs. Winthrop's refusal of Chief-Justice Sewall. Some have said that it was due to his aversion to slavery and to his refusal to allow her to keep her slaves. This episode is only a small part of a rich storehouse. The greater part of the Diary contains only the raw materials of literature, yet some of it is real literature, and it ranks among the great diaries of the world.
COTTON MATHER (1663-1728)[edit | edit source]
LIFE AND PERSONALITY
Cotton Mather, grandson of the Reverend John Cotton (p. 14), and the most distinguished of the old type of Puritan clergymen, was born in Boston and died in his native city, without ever having traveled a hundred miles from it. He entered Harvard at the age of eleven, and took the bachelor's degree at fifteen. His life shows such an overemphasis of certain Puritan traits as almost to presage the coming decline of clerical influence. He says that at the age of only seven or eight he not only composed forms of prayer for his schoolmates, but also obliged them to pray, although some of them cuffed him for his pains. At fourteen he began a series of fasts to crucify the flesh, increase his holiness, and bring him nearer to God.
He endeavored never to waste a minute. In his study, where he often worked sixteen hours a day, he had in large letters the sign, "BE SHORT," to greet the eyes of visitors. The amount of writing which he did almost baffles belief. His published works, numbering about four hundred, include sermons, essays, and books. During all of his adult life, he also preached in the North Church of Boston.
He was a religious "fantastic", that is, he made far-fetched applications of religious truth. A tall man suggested to him high attainments in Christianity; washing his hands, the desirability of a clean heart.
Although Cotton Mather became the most famous clergyman of colonial New England, he was disappointed in two of his life's ambitions. He failed to become president of Harvard and to bring New England back in religious matters to the first halcyon days of the colony. On the contrary, he lived to see Puritan theocracy suffer a great decline. His fantastic and strained application of religious truth, his overemphasis of many things, and especially his conduct in zealously aiding and abetting the Salem witchcraft murders, were no mean factors in causing that decline.
His intentions were certainly good. He was an apostle of altruism, and he tried to improve each opportunity for doing good in everyday life. He trained his children to do acts of kindness for other children. His Essays to Do Good were a powerful influence on the life of Benjamin Franklin. Cotton Mather would not have lived in vain if he had done nothing else except to help mold Franklin for the service of his country; but this is only one of Mather's achievements. We must next pass to his great work in literature.
This "prose epic of New England Puritanism," the most famous of Mather's many works, is a large folio volume entitled Magnalia Christi Americana: or the Ecclesiastical History of New England. It was published in London in 1702, two years after Dryden's death.
The book is a remarkable compound of whatever seemed to the author most striking in early New England history. His point of view was of course religious. The work contains a rich store of biography of the early clergy, magistrates, and governors, of the lives of eleven of the clerical graduates of Harvard, of the faith, discipline, and government of the New England churches, of remarkable manifestations of the divine providence, and of the "Way of the Lord" among the churches and the Indians.
We may today turn to the Magnalia for vivid accounts of early New England life. Mather has a way of selecting and expressing facts in such a way as to cause them to lodge in the memory. These two facts about John Cotton give us a vivid impression of the influence of the early clergy:
"The keeper of the inn where he did use to lodge, when he came to Derby, would profanely say to his companions, that he wished Mr. Cotton were gone out of his house, for he was not able to swear while that man was under his roof....
"The Sabbath he began the evening before, for which keeping of the Sabbath from evening to evening he wrote arguments before his coming to New England; and I suppose 'twas from his reason and practice that the Christians of New England have generally done so too."
We read that the daily vocation of Thomas Shepard, the first pastor at Cambridge, Massachusetts, was, to quote Mather's noble phrase, "A Trembling Walk with God". He speaks of the choleric disposition of Thomas Hooker, the great Hartford clergyman, and says it was "useful unto him," because "he had ordinarily as much government of his choler as a man has of a mastiff dog in a chain; he 'could let out his dog, and pull in his dog, as he pleased.'" Some of Mather's prose causes modern readers to wonder if he was not a humorist. He says that a fire in the college buildings in some mysterious way influenced the President of Harvard to shorten one of his long prayers, and gravely adds, "that if the devotions had held three minutes longer, the Colledge had been irrecoverably laid in ashes." One does not feel sure that Mather saw the humor in this demonstration of practical religion. It is also doubtful whether he is intentionally humorous in his most fantastic prose, such, for instance, as his likening the Reverend Mr. Partridge to the bird of that name, who, because he "had no defence neither of beak nor claw," took "a flight over the ocean" to escape his ecclesiastical hunters, and finally "took wing to become a bird of paradise, along with the winged seraphim of heaven."
Such fantastic conceits, which for a period blighted the literature of the leading European nations, had their last great exponent in Cotton Mather. Minor writers still indulge in these conceits, and find willing readers among the uneducated, the tired, and those who are bored when they are required to do more than skim the surface of things. John Seccomb, a Harvard graduate of 1728, the year in which Mather died, then gained fame from such lines as:
"A furrowed brow, Where corn might grow,"
but the best prose and poetry have for a long time won their readers for other qualities. Even the taste of the next generation showed a change, for Cotton Mather's son, Samuel, noted as a blemish his father's "straining for far-fetched and dear-bought hints." Cotton Mather's most repellent habit to modern readers is his overloading his pages with quotations in foreign languages, especially in Latin. He thus makes a pedantic display of his wide reading.
He is not always accurate in his presentation of historical or biographical matter, but in spite of all that can be said against the Magnalia, it is a vigorous presentation of much that we should not willingly let die. In fact, when we read the early history of New England, we are frequently getting from the Magnalia many things in changed form without ever suspecting the source.
JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703-1758)[edit | edit source]
LIFE AND WRITINGS
Jonathan Edwards, who ranks among the world's greatest theologians and metaphysicians, was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut. Like Cotton Mather, Edwards was precocious, entering Yale before he was thirteen. The year previous to his going to college, he wrote a paper on spiders, showing careful scientific observation and argument. This paper has been called "one of the rarest specimens of precocious scientific genius on record." At fourteen, he read Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, receiving from it, he says, higher pleasure "than the most greedy miser finds when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some newly discovered treasure." Before he was seventeen, he had graduated from Yale, and he had become a tutor there before he was twenty-one.
Like Dante, he had a Beatrice. Thinking of her, he wrote this prose hymn of a maiden's love for the Divine Power:
"They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that great Being who made and rules the world, and there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate on Him, that she expects after a while to be received up where He is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven, being assured that He loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from Him always. She will sometimes go about from place to place singing sweetly, and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure, and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her"
Jonathan Edwards thus places before us Sarah Pierrepont, a New England Puritan maiden. To note the similarity of thought between the Old Puritan England and the New, let us turn to the maiden in Milton's Comus:
"A thousand liveried angels lackey her, Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt, And in clear dream and solemn vision, Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear, Till oft converse with heav'nly habitants Begin to cast a beam on th'outward shape, The unpolluted temple of the mind, And turns it by degrees to the soul's essence, Till all be made immortal."
Unlike Dante, Edwards married his Beatrice at the age of seventeen. In 1727, the year of his marriage, he became pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts. With the aid of his wife, he inaugurated the greatest religious revival of the century, known as the "Great Awakening," which spread to other colonial churches, crossed the ocean, and stimulated Wesley to call sinners to repentance.
Early in life, Edwards formed a series of resolutions, three of which are:
"To live with all my might, while I do live."
"Never to do anything, which, if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him."
"Never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's."
He earnestly tried to keep these resolutions until the end. After a successful pastorate of twenty-three years at Northampton, the church dismissed him for no fault of his own.
Like Dante, he was driven into exile, and he went from Northampton to the frontier town of Stockbridge, where he remained for seven years as a missionary to the Indians. His wife and daughters did their utmost to add to the family income, and some contributions were sent him from Scotland, but he was so poor that he wrote his books on the backs of letters and on the blank margins cut from newspapers. His fame was not swallowed up in the wilderness. Princeton College called him to its presidency in 1757. He died in that office in 1758, after less than three months' service in his new position. His wife was still in Stockbridge when he passed away. "Tell her," he said to his daughter, "that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever." In September of the same year she came to lie beside him in the graveyard at Princeton.
In 1900, the church that had dismissed him one hundred and fifty years before placed on its walls a bronze tablet in his memory, with the noble inscription from Malachi ii, 6.
As a writer, Jonathan Edwards won fame in three fields. He is (1) America's greatest metaphysician, (2) her greatest theologian, and (3) a unique poetic interpreter of the universe as a manifestation of the divine love.
His best known metaphysical work is The Freedom of the Will (1754). The central point of this work is that the will is determined by the strongest motive, that it is "repugnant to reason that one act of the will should come into existence without a cause." He boldly says that God is free to do only what is right. Edwards emphasizes the higher freedom, gained through repeated acts of the right kind, until both the inclination and the power to do wrong disappear.
As a theologian, America has not yet produced his superior. His Treatise concerning the Religious Affections, his account of the Great Awakening, called Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, and Thoughts on the Revival, as well as his more distinctly technical theological works, show his ability in this field. Unfortunately, he did not rise superior to the Puritan custom of preaching about hellfire. He delivered on that subject a sermon which causes modern readers to shudder; but this, although the most often quoted, is the least typical of the man and his writings. Those in search of really typical statements of his theology will find them in such specimens as, "God and real existence is the same. God is and there is nothing else." He was a theological idealist, believing that all the varied phenomena of the universe are "constantly proceeding from God, as light from the sun." Such statements suggest Shelley's lines, which tell how
"... the one Spirit's plastic stress Sweeps through the dull dense world compelling there All new successions to the forms they wear."
Dr. Allen, Edwards's biographer and critic, and a careful student of his unpublished, as well as of his published, writings, says, "He was at his best and greatest, most original and creative, when he described the divine love." Such passages as the following show this quality:
"When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see His love and purity. So the green trees and fields and singing of birds are the emanations of His infinite joy and benignity. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of His beauty and loveliness."
His favorite text was, "I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys," and his favorite words were "sweet and bright."
ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD[edit | edit source]
The great English writers between the colonization of Jamestown in 1607 and the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754 are John Milton, John Bunyan, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. The colonial literature of this period was influenced only in a very minor degree by the work of these men, for a generation usually passed before the influence of contemporary English authors appeared in American literature. In the next section, we shall see evidences of the influence of Pope. Benjamin Franklin will tell us how Bunyan and Addison were his teachers, and the early fiction will show its indebtedness to the work of Samuel Richardson.
LEADING HISTORICAL FACTS[edit | edit source]
Virginia and Massachusetts produced the bulk of American colonial literature. There were, however, thirteen colonies stretched along the seaboard from Georgia (1733), the last to be founded, to Canada. Although these colonies were established under different grants or charters, and although some had more liberty and suffered less from the interference of England than others, it is nevertheless true that every colony was a school for a self-governing democracy. No colonies elsewhere in the world had the same amount of liberty.
We must not suppose that there was complete liberty in those days. The early government of Virginia was largely aristocratic; that of Massachusetts, theocratic. Virginia persecuted the Puritans. The early settlers of Massachusetts drove out Roger Williams and hanged Quakers. New York persecuted those who did not join the Church of England. However, it is still nevertheless true that these thirteen colonies were making the greatest of all world experiments in democracy and liberty.
The important colony of New Netherland (New York) was settled by the Dutch early in the seventeenth century. They established an aristocracy with great landed estates along the Hudson. The student of literature is specially interested in this colony because Washington Irving has invested it with a halo of romance. He shows us the sturdy Knickerbockers, the Van Cortlands, the Van Dycks, the Van Wycks, and other chivalrous Dutch burghers, sitting in perfect silence, puffing their pipes, and thinking of nothing for hours together in those "days of simplicity and sunshine." For literary reasons it is well that this was not made an English colony until the Duke of York took possession of it in 1664.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the colonists in the middle and northern part of the country divided their energies almost equally between trade and agriculture. At the South, agriculture was the chief occupation and tobacco and rice were the two leading staples. These were produced principally by the labor of negro slaves. There were also many indentured servants at the South, where the dividing lines between the different classes were most strongly marked.
Up to 1700 the history of each colony is practically that of a separate unit. Almost all the colonies had trouble with Indians and royal governors. Pirates, rapacious politicians, religious matters, or witchcraft were sometimes sources of disturbance. All knew the hard labor and the privations involved in subduing the wilderness and making permanent settlements in a new land. History tells of the abandonment of many other colonies and of the subjugation of many other races, but no difficulty and no foe daunted this Anglo-Saxon stock.
In 1700 the population of New England was estimated at about one hundred and ten thousand. In 1754, the beginning of the French and Indian War, Connecticut alone had that number, while all New England probably had at this time nearly four hundred thousand. The middle colonies began the eighteenth century with about fifty-nine thousand and grew by the middle of the century to about three hundred and fifty-five thousand. During the same period, the southern group increased from about ninety thousand to six hundred thousand. By 1750 the thirteen colonies probably had a total population of nearly fourteen hundred thousand. Since no census was taken until 1790, these figures are only approximately correct.
Such development serves to show the trend of coming events. This remarkable increase in population soon caused numbers to go farther west. This movement resulted in collision with the French, who were at this time holding the central part of the country, from the Gulf into Canada. One other result followed. The colonies began to seem valuable to England because they furnished a market for English manufactures and a carrying trade for English ships. The previous comparative insignificance of the colonies and the trouble in England had served to protect them, but their trade had now assumed a proportion that made the mother country realize what a valuable commercial asset she would have if she regulated the colonies in her own interest.
SUMMARY[edit | edit source]
In this section we have traced the history of American colonial literature from the foundation of the Jamestown Colony until 1754. Before 1607 Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare had written, and before 1620 the King James version of the Bible had been produced. England had, therefore, a wonderful literature before her colonies came to America. They were the heirs of all that the English race had previously accomplished; and they brought to these shores an Elizabethan initiative, ingenuity, and democratic spirit.
The Virginia colony was founded, as colonies usually are, for a commercial reason. The Virginians and the other southern colonists lived more by agriculture, were more widely scattered, had fewer schools, more slaves, and less town life than the New Englanders. Under the influence of a commanding clergy, common schools, and the stimulus of town life, the New England colony produced more literature.
The chief early writers of Virginia are: (1) Captain John Smith, who described the country and the Indians, and gave to literature the story of Pocahontas, thereby disclosing a new world to the imagination of writers; (2) William Strachey, who outranks contemporary colonial writers in describing the wrath of the sea, and who may even have furnished a suggestion to Shakespeare for The Tempest; (3) two poets, (a) George Sandys, who translated part of Ovid, and (b) the unknown author of the elegy on Nathaniel Bacon; and (4) Robert Beverly and William Byrd, who gave interesting descriptions of early Virginia.
The chief colonial writers of New England are: (1) William Bradford, whose History of Plymouth Plantation tells the story of the first Pilgrim colony; (2) John Winthrop, who wrote in his Journal the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; (3) the poets, including (a) the translators of the Bay Psalm Book, the first volume of so-called verse printed in the British American colonies, (b) Wigglesworth, whose Day of Doom, was a poetic exposition of Calvinistic theology, (c) Anne Bradstreet, who wrote a small amount of genuine poetry, after she had passed from the influence of the "fantastic" school of poets; (4) Nathaniel Ward, the author of The Simple Cobbler of Agawam, an attempt to mend human ways; (5) Samuel Sewall, New England's greatest colonial diarist; (6) Cotton Mather, the most famous clerical writer, whose Magnalia is a compound of early colonial history and biography, sometimes written in a "fantastic" style; (7) Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest metaphysician and theologian, who maintained that the action of the human will is determined by the strongest motive, that the substance of this universe is nothing but "the divine Idea," communicated to human consciousness, and who could invest spiritual truth with the beauty of the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys.
The New England colonist came to America because of religious feeling. His religion was to him a matter of eternal life or eternal death. From the modern point of view, this religion may seem too inflexibly stern, too little illumined by the spirit of love, too much darkened by the shadow of eternal punishment, but unless that religion had communicated something of its own dominating inflexibility to the colonist, he would never have braved the ocean, the wilderness, the Indians; he would never have flung the gauntlet down to tyranny at Lexington and Concord.
The greatest lesson taught by colonial literature, by men like Bradford, Winthrop, Edwards, and the New England clergy in general, is moral heroism, the determination to follow the shining path of the Eternal over the wave and through the forest to a new temple of human liberty. Their aspiration, endeavor, suffering, accomplishment, should strengthen our faith in the worth of those spiritual realities which are not quoted in the markets of the world, but which alone possess imperishable value.
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER STUDY[edit | edit source]
In either Gardiner's Students' History of England, Walker's Essentials in English History, Andrews's History of England, or Cheney's Short History of England, read the chapters dealing with the time of Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, the Commonwealth, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne, George I and II. A work like Halleck's History of English Literature covering these periods, should be read.
Read the account from the earliest times to the outbreak of the French and Indian War in any of the following:
Thwaites's The Colonists, 1492-1750. Fisher's Colonial Era. Lodge's A Short History of the English Colonies in America. Doyle's The English in America. Hart's Essentials in American History. Channing's A Students' History of the United States. Eggleston's A Larger History of the United States of America. James and Sanford's American History.
For an account of special colonies, consult the volumes in American Commonwealths series, and also, Fiske's Beginnings of New England, The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America, Old Virginia and Her Neighbors.
Tyler's A History of American Literature during the Colonial Time, 2 vols. Otis's American Verse, 1625-1807. Richardson's American Literature, 2 vols. Trent's A History of American Literature, 1607-1865. Wendell's History of Literature in America'_. Narratives of Early Virginia, edited by Tyler. Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation. New edition, edited by Davis. (Scribner, 1908.) Winthrop's Journal ("History of New England"). New edition, edited by Hosmer, 2 vols., (Scribner, 1908.) Chamberlain's Samuel Sewall and the World He Lived in. Lodge's "A Puritan Pepys" (Sewall) in Studies in History. Campbell's Anne Bradstreet and her Time. Twichell's John Winthrop. Walker's Thomas Hooker. Wendell's Life of Cotton Mather. Allen's Life of Jonathan Edwards. Gardiner's Jonathan Edwards, a Retrospect.
SUGGESTED READINGS[edit | edit source]
The following volumes of selections from American Literature will be referred to either by the last name of the author, or, if there are more authors than one, by the initials of the last names:
Cairns's Selections from Early American Writers, 1607-1800. (Macmillan.) Trent and Wells's Colonial Prose and Poetry, 3 vols., 1607-1775. (Crowell.) Stedman and Hutchinson's A Library of American Literature, 1608–1890, 11 vols. (Benjamin.) Carpenter's American Prose Selections. (Macmillan.) Trent's Southern Writers: Selections in Prose and Verse. (Macmillan.)
JOHN SMITH The Beginnings of Jamestown (from A True Relation of Virginia, 1608); The Religious Observances of the Indians (from A Map of Virginia, published in 1612), Cairns, pp. 2–4, 10-14; The Romance of Pocahontas (from The General History of Virginia, 1624), S. & H., Vol. I., pp. 10–17; T. & W., Vol. I., pp. 12–22.
WILLIAM STRACHEY Read the selection from A True Repertory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, in Cairns, 19-26.
POETRY IN THE VIRGINIA COLONY. For George Sandys, see pp. 51–58 in Vol. I. of Tyler's A History of American Literature during the Colonial Time.
For the elegy on the death of Nathaniel Bacon, see Tyler, Vol. I., 78, 79; Cairns, 185-188; T. & W., II., 166-169; S. & H., I., 456-458; Trent, 12-14.
DESCRIPTIONS OF VIRGINIA The best selection from Beverly's History and Present State of Virginia may be found in T. & W., II., 354-360. See also Trent, 16-18; S. & H., II., 270-272.
For selections from Byrd's History of the Dividing Line, see Cairns, passim, 259-272; Trent, 19-22; T. & W., III., 23-32; S. & H., II., 302-305.
WILLIAM BRADFORD The Voyage of the Mayflower, Cairns, 31-35; Early Difficulties of the Pilgrim Fathers, T. & W., I., 42-45; The Communal System Abandoned, T. & W., I., 46-49; The Landing of the Pilgrims and their Settlement at Plymouth, S. & H., L, 124-130.
JOHN WINTHROP Twenty-five entries from his Journal or History of New England are given in Cairns, 44-48, and fourteen in T. & W., I., 99-105.
His famous speech on Liberty may be found in T. & W., I., 106-116; in S. & H., I., 302-303; and in Cairns, 50-53.
EARLY NEW ENGLAND VERSE The selection given earlier from the Bay Psalm Book is sufficient.
For Wigglesworth's Day of Doom, see Cairns, 166-177; T. & W., II., 54-60; S. & H., passim, II., 3-16.
Anne Bradstreet's best poem, Contemplations, may be found in Cairns, 154-162; T. & W., I., 280-283; S. & H., I., 314, 315.
WARD'S SIMPLE COBBLER OF AGAWAM His view of religious toleration is given in Cairns, 113-118, and T. & W., I., 253-259. For the satiric essay on women's fashions, see Cairns, 119-124; T. & W., I., 260-266; S. & H. I., 276-280.
SAMUEL SEWALL Cairns, 240-243, gives from the Diary the events of a month. Notes on the Witchcraft Persecution and his prayer of repentance for "the blame and shame of it" may be found in T. & W., II., 294-296. The record of his courtship of Madam Winthrop is given in Cairns, 245-249; T. & W., III., 304-319; and S. & H., II., 192-200. For his early anti-slavery tract, see T. & W., II., 320-326; S. & H., II., 189-192.
COTTON MATHER His fantastic life of Mr. Ralph Partridge from the Magnalia is given in Cairns, 228, 229. The interesting story of the New England argonaut, Sir William Phips, may be found in T. & W., II., 257-266, and in S. & H., II., 143-149. One of his best biographies is that of Thomas Hooker, S. & H., II., 149-156.
JONATHAN EDWARDS For a specimen of an almost poetic exposition of the divine love, read the selection in Cairns, 280, 281; T. & W., III., 148, 149; S. & H., II., 374; and Carpenter, 16, 17, beginning, "I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys." Selections from his Freedom of the Will are given in Cairns. 291-294; T. & W., III., 185-187; and S. & H., II., 404-407 (the best).
QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS[edit | edit source]
1. Is Captain John Smith more remarkable for chronicling what passed before his senses or for explaining what he saw? How does his account of the Indians compare with modern understanding? Is Smith apparently a novice, or somewhat skilled in writing prose? Does he seem to you to be a romancer or a narrator of a plain unvarnished tale?
2. Compare Strachey's storm at sea with Act I of Shakespeare's Tempest. In what part of this Act and under what circumstances does he mention "the still-vex'd Bermoothes"?
3. Compare the ability of the three great early colonizers, Smith, Bradford, and Winthrop, in writing narrative prose. Smith's story of Pocahontas is easily accessible. Those who can find the complete works of Bradford and Winthrop may select from Bradford for comparison his story of Squanto, the Pilgrims' tame Indian. Winthrop's Journal contains many specimens of brief narrative, such as the story of the voyage across the Atlantic from March 29 to June 14, 1630; of Winthrop's losing himself in the wood, October 11, 1631; of shipwreck on the Isle of Shoals, August 16, 1635; of an indentured servant, March 8, 1636; of an adventure with Indians, July 20–30, August 24, and October 8, 1636. Those without opportunity to consult the works of Bradford and Winthrop will find in the books of selections sufficient material for comparison.
4. Is brevity or prolixity a quality of these early narrators? Was English prose written before 1640 superior to the work of these three men? What advance in prose narrative do you find in Beverly and Byrd?
5. What characteristic of a famous English prose writer of the nineteenth century is noticeable in Ward's essay on fashions?
6. Why could fine poetry not be reasonably expected in early Virginia and New England? What are some of the Calvinistic tenets expounded in Wigglesworth's Day of Doom? Choose the best two short selections of colonial poetry.
7. What are some of the qualifications of a good diarist? Which of these do you find in the Diary of Samuel Sewall?
8. Point out some of the fantastic prose expressions of Cotton Mather. Compare his narrative of Captain Phips with the work of Smith, Bradford, and Winthrop, on the one hand, and of Beverly and Byrd, on the other.
9. Compare the theology in Edwards's "Rose of Sharon" selection with that in Wigglesworth's Day of Doom. Why may this selection from Edwards be called a "poetic exposition of the divine love"? What is his view of the freedom of the will?
Enlightenment Period (1760s-1820s)
THE EMERGENCE OF A NATION[edit | edit source]
PROGRESS TOWARD NATIONALITY[edit | edit source]
The French and Indian War, which began in 1754, served its purpose in making the colonists feel that they were one people. At this time most of them were living on the seacoast from Georgia to Maine, and had not yet even crossed the great Appalachian range of mountains. The chief men of one colony knew little of the leaders in the other colonies. This war made George Washington known outside of Virginia. There was not much interchange of literature between the two leading colonies, Virginia and Massachusetts. Prior to this time, the other colonies had not produced much that had literary value. No national literature could be written until the colonists were welded together.
The French and Indian War, which decided whether France or England was to be supreme in America, exposed the colonists to a common danger. They fought side by side against the French and Indians, and learned that the defeat of one was the defeat of all. After a desperate struggle France lost, and the Anglo-Saxon race was dominant on the new continent. By the treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, England became the possessor of Canada and the land east of the Mississippi river
THE REVOLUTION[edit | edit source]
All of the colonies had been under English rule, although they had in large part managed in one way or another to govern themselves. At the close of the French and Indian War, the colonists had not thought of breaking away from England, although they had learned the lesson of union against a common foe. George III. came to the throne in 1760. By temperament he was unusually adapted to play his part in changing the New World's history. He was determined to rule according to his own personal inclinations. He dominated his cabinet and controlled Parliament by bribery. He decided that the American colonies should feel the weight of his authority, and in 1763 his prime minister, George Grenville, undertook to execute measures in restraint of colonial trade. Numbers of commodities, like tobacco, for instance, could not be traded with France or Spain or Holland, but must be sent to England. If there was any profit to be made in selling goods to foreign nations, England would make that profit. He also planned to tax the colonists and to quarter British troops among them. These measures aroused the colonies to armed resistance and led to the Revolutionary War, which began in 1775.
Freneau, a poet of the Revolution, thus expresses in verse some of these events:
"When a certain great king, whose initial is G, Shall force stamps upon paper and folks to drink tea; When these folks burn his tea and stampt paper like stubble, You may guess that this king is then coming to trouble."
THE ESSAYISTS[edit | edit source]
The pen helped to prepare the way for the sword and to arouse and prolong the enthusiasm of those who had taken arms. Before the battle of Lexington (1775), writers were busy on both sides of the dispute, for no great movement begins without opposition. Many colonists did not favor resistance to England. Even at the time of the first battle, comparatively few wished absolute separation from the mother country.
THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809)[edit | edit source]
He was an Englishman who came to America in 1774 and speedily made himself master of colonial thought and feeling. Early in 1776 he published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, which advocated complete political independence of England. The sledge hammer blows which he struck hastened the Declaration of Independence._ Note the energy, the directness, and the employment of the concrete method in the following:
"But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families; wherefore, the assertion, if true, turns to her reproach.... This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still."
In the latter part of 1776 Washington wrote, "If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty nearly up." In those gloomy days, sharing the privations of the army, Thomas Paine wrote the first number of an irregularly issued periodical, known as the Crisis, beginning:
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Some have said that the pen of Thomas Paine was worth more to the cause of liberty than twenty thousand men. In the darkest hours he inspired the colonists with hope and enthusiasm. Whenever the times seemed to demand another number of the Crisis, it was forthcoming. Sixteen of these appeared during the progress of the struggle for liberty. He had an almost Shakespearean intuition of what would appeal to the exigencies of each case. After the Americans had triumphed, he went abroad to aid the French, saying, "Where Liberty is not, there is my home." He died in America in 1809. He is unfortunately more remembered for his skeptical Age of Reason than for his splendid services to the cause of liberty.
THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826)[edit | edit source]
He was the third President of the United States, but a literary figure in his own right as well. He wrote much political prose and many letters, which have been gathered into ten large volumes. Ignoring these, he left directions that the words, "Author of the Declaration of American Independence," should immediately follow his name on his monument. No other American prose writer has, in an equal number of words, yet surpassed this Declaration of Independence. Its influence has encircled the world and modified the opinions of nations as widely separated as the French and the Japanese.
Jefferson may have borrowed some of his ideas from Magna Charta (1215) and the Petition of Right (1628); he may have incorporated in this Declaration the yearnings that thousands of human souls had already felt, but he voiced those yearnings so well that his utterances have become classic. It has been said that he "poured the soul of the continent" into that Declaration, but he did more than that. He poured into it the soul of all freedom-loving humanity, and he was accepted as the spokesman of the dweller on the Seine as enthusiastically as of the revolutionists in America. Those who have misconstrued the meaning of his famous expression, "All men are created equal" have been met with the adequate reply, "No intelligent man has ever misconstrued it except intentionally."
America has no Beowulf celebrating the slaying of land-devastating monsters, but she has in this Declaration a deathless battle song against the monsters that would throttle Liberty. Outside of Holy Writ, what words are more familiar to our ears than these?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Every student will find his comprehension of American literature aided by a careful study of this Declaration. This trumpet-tongued declaration of the fact that every man has an equal right with every other man to his own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has served as an ideal to inspire some of the best things in our literature. This ideal has not yet been completely reached, but it is finding expression in every effort for the social and moral improvements of our population. Jefferson went a step beyond the old Puritans in maintaining that happiness is a worthy object of pursuit. Modern altruists are also working on this line, demanding a fuller moral and industrial liberty, and endeavoring to develop a more widespread capacity for happiness.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1757-1804)[edit | edit source]
Because of his wonderful youthful precocity, he reminds us of Jonathan Edwards (p. 50). In 1774, at the age of seventeen, Hamilton wrote in answer to a Tory who maintained that England had given New York no charter of rights, and that she could not complain that her rights had been taken away:
"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."
A student of American constitutional history says of Hamilton's pamphlets: "They show great maturity, a more remarkable maturity than has ever been exhibited by any other person, at so early an age, in the same department of thought."
After the Americans were victorious in the war, Hamilton suggested that a constitutional convention be called. For seven years this suggestion was not followed, but in 1787 delegates met from various states and framed a federal constitution to be submitted to the states for ratification. Hamilton was one of the leading delegates. After the convention had completed its work, it seemed probable that the states would reject the proposed constitution. To win its acceptance, Hamilton, in collaboration with JAMES MADISON (1751–1836) and JOHN JAY (1745–1829), wrote the famous Federalist papers. There were eighty-five of these, but Hamilton wrote more than both of his associates together. These papers have been collected into a volume, and to this day they form a standard commentary on our Constitution. This work and Hamilton's eloquence before the New York convention for ratification helped to carry the day for the Constitution and to terminate a period of dissension which was tending toward anarchy.
THE ORATORS[edit | edit source]
There are times in the history of a nation when there is unusual need for the orator to persuade, to arouse, and to encourage his countrymen. Many influential colonists disapproved of the Revolution; they wrote against it and talked against it. When the war progressed slowly, entailing not only severe pecuniary loss but also actual suffering to the revolutionists, many lost their former enthusiasm and were willing to have peace at any price. At this period in our history the orator was as necessary as the soldier. Orators helped to launch the Revolution, to continue the war, and, after it was finished, to give the country united constitutional government. It will be instructive to make the acquaintance of some of these orators and to learn the secret of their power.
JAMES OTIS (1725-1783)[edit | edit source]
Born in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard., he studied literature for two years after he graduated and then became a lawyer. He was appointed to the position of king's advocate-general, a high-salaried office. There came an order from England, allowing the king's officers to search the houses of Americans at any time on mere suspicion of the concealment of smuggled goods. Otis resigned his office and took the side of the colonists, attacking the constitutionality of a law that allowed the right of unlimited search and that was really designed to curtail the trade of the colonies. He had the advantage of many modern orators in having something to say on his subject, in feeling deeply interested in it, and in talking to people who were also interested in the same thing. Without these three essentials, there cannot be oratory of the highest kind. We can imagine the voice of Otis trembling with feeling as he said in 1761:
"Now one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses, when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court, can inquire."
We may to-day be more interested in other things than in the homes and unrestricted trade of our colonial ancestors, but Otis was willing to give up a lucrative office to speak for the rights of the humblest cottager. He, like the majority of the orators of the Revolution, also possessed another quality, often foreign to the modern orator. What this quality is will appear in this quotation from his speech:
"Let the consequences be what they will, I am determined to proceed. The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman or a man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen; in public life, the patriot and the hero."
John Adams, who became the second President of the United States, listened to this speech for five hours, and called Otis "a flame of fire." "Then and there," said Adams, with pardonable exaggeration, "the child Independence was born."
PATRICK HENRY (1736-1799)[edit | edit source]
A young Virginia lawyer, he stood before the First Continental Congress, in 1774, saying:
"Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of Colonies? The distinctions between Virginians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."
These words had electrical effect on the minds of his listeners, and helped to weld the colonies together. In 1775 we can hear him again speaking before a Virginian Convention of Delegates:
"Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts....
"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House? ...
"Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
It is hardly too much to say that these words have communicated to the entire American nation an intenser desire for liberty, that their effect has not yet passed away, and that they may during the coming centuries serve to awaken Americans in many a crisis.
SAMUEL ADAMS (1722-1803)[edit | edit source]
He was a Bostonian and graduate of Harvard, probably gave his time in fuller measure to the cause of independence than any other writer or speaker. For nine years he was a member of the Continental Congress. When there was talk of peace between the colonies and the mother country, he had the distinction of being one of two Americans for whom England proclaimed in advance that there would be no amnesty granted. We can seem to hear him in 1776 in the Philadelphia State House, replying to the argument that the colonists should obey England, since they were her children:
"Who among you, my countrymen, that is a father, would claim authority to make your child a slave because you had nourished him in his infancy?"
After he had signed the _Declaration of Independence,_ he spoke to the Pennsylvanians like a Puritan of old:
"We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes which see not, ears that hear not our prayer, and a heart like the nether millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds His subjects assuming that freedom of thought and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them."
These sentences plainly show the influence of biblical thought and diction. A century before, this compound of patriot, politician, orator, and statesman would also have been a clergyman.
An examination of these three typical orators of the Revolution will show that they gained their power (1) from intense interest in their subject matter, (2) from masterful knowledge of that matter, due either to first-hand acquaintance with it or to liberal culture or to both, (3) from the fact that the subject of their orations appealed forcibly to the interest of that special time, (4) from their character and personality. Most of what they said makes dry reading to-day, but we shall occasionally find passages, like Patrick Henry's apotheosis of liberty, which speak to the ear of all time and which have in them something of a Homeric or Miltonic ring.
INCREASING INFLUENCE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION[edit | edit source]
Not one of the great orators of the Revolution was a clergyman. The power of the clergy in political affairs was declining, while the legal profession was becoming more and more influential. James Otis, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay (p. 71) were lawyers. Life was becoming more diversified, and there were avenues other than theology attractive to the educated man. At the same time, we must remember that the clergy have never ceased to be a mighty power in American life. They were not silent or uninfluential during the Revolution. Soon after the battle of Bunker Hill, John Adams wrote from Philadelphia to his wife in Boston, asking, "Does Mr. Wibird preach against oppression and other cardinal vices of the time? Tell him the clergy here of every denomination, not excepting the Episcopalian, thunder and lighten every Sabbath."
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1706-1790[edit | edit source]
Franklin's Autobiography stands first among works of its kind in American literature. The young person who does not read it misses both profit and entertainment. Some critics have called it "the equal of Robinson Crusoe, one of the few everlasting books in the English language." In this small volume, begun in 1771, Franklin tells us that he was born in Boston in 1706, one of the seventeen children of a poor tallow chandler, that his branch of the Franklin family had lived for three hundred years or more in the village of Ecton, Northamptonshire, where the head of the family, in Queen Mary's reign, read from an English Bible concealed under a stool, while a child watched for the coming of the officers. He relates how he attended school from the age of eight to ten, when he had to leave to help his father mold and wick candles. His meager schooling was in striking contrast to the Harvard education of Cotton Mather and the Yale training of Jonathan Edwards, who was only three years Franklin's senior. But no man reaches Franklin's fame without an education. His early efforts to secure this are worth giving in his own language:
"From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books. Pleased with the _Pilgrim's Progress_, my first collection was of John Bunyan's works in separate little volumes.... Plutarch's _Lives_ there was in which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of De Foe's, called an _Essay on Projects_, and another of Dr. Mather's, called _Essays to do Good_, which perhaps gave me a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life.... Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night."
He relates how he taught himself to write by reading and reproducing in his own language the papers from Addison's Spectator. Franklin says that the "little ability" in writing, developed through his self-imposed tasks, was a principal means of his advancement in after life.
He learned the printer's trade in Boston, and ran away at the age of seventeen to Philadelphia, where he worked at the same trade. Keith, the proprietary governor, took satanic pleasure in offering to purchase a printing outfit for the eighteen-year-old boy, to make him independent. Keith sent the boy to London to purchase this outfit, assuring him that the proper letters to defray the cost would be sent on the same ship. No such letters were ever written, and the boy found himself without money three thousand miles from home. By working at the printer's trade he supported himself for eighteen months in London. He relates how his companions at the press drank six pints of strong beer a day, while he proved that the "Water-American," as he was called, was stronger than any of them. The workmen insisted that he should contribute to the general fund for drink. He refused, but so many things happened to his type whenever he left the room that he came to the following conclusion: "Notwithstanding the master's protection, I found myself oblig'd to comply and pay the money, convinc'd of the folly of being on ill terms with those one is to live with continually." Such comments on the best ways of dealing with human nature are frequent in the _Autobiography_.
At the age of twenty, he returned to Philadelphia, much wiser for his experience. Here he soon had a printing establishment of his own. By remarkable industry he had at the age of forty-two made sufficient money to be able to retire from the active administration of this business. He defined leisure as "time for doing something useful." When he secured this leisure, he used it principally for the benefit of others. For this reason, he could write in his _Autobiography_ at the age of seventy-six:
"... were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition, to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable. But though this were denied, I should still accept the offer. Since such a repetition is not to be expected, the next thing like living one's life over again seems to be a recollection of that life."
The twenty-first century shows an awakened sense of civic responsibility, and yet it would be difficult to name a man who has done more for his commonwealth than Franklin. He started the first subscription library, organized the first fire department, improved the postal service, helped to pave and clean the streets, invented the Franklin stove, for which he refused to take out a patent, took decided steps toward improving education and founding the University of Pennsylvania, and helped establish a needed public hospital. The _Autobiography_ shows his pleasure at being told that there was no such thing as carrying through a public-spirited project unless he was concerned in it.
His electrical discoveries, especially his identification of lightning with electricity, gained him world-wide fame. Harvard and Yale gave him honorary degrees. England made him a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded him the Copley Medal. The foremost scientists in France gave him enthusiastic praise.
The _Autobiography_, ending with 1757, does not tell how he won his fame as a statesman. In 1764 he went to England as colonial agent to protest against the passage of the Stamp Act. All but two and one half of the next twenty years he spent abroad, in England and France. The report of his examination in the English House of Commons, relative to the repeal of the Stamp Act, impressed both Europe and America with his wonderful capacity.
Never before had an American given Europe such an exhibition of knowledge, powers of argument, and shrewdness, tempered with tact and good humor. In 1773 he increased his reputation as a writer and threw more light on English colonial affairs by publishing, in London, Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small One, and An Edict by the King of Prussia.
In 1776, at the age of seventy, he became commissioner to the court of France, where he remained until 1785. Every student of American history knows the part he played there in popularizing the American Revolution, until France aided us with her money and her navy. It is doubtful if any man has ever been more popular away from home than Franklin was in France. The French regarded him as "the personification of the rights of man." They followed him on the streets, gave him almost frantic applause when he appeared in public, put his portrait in nearly every house and on almost every snuff box, and bought a Franklin stove for their houses.
He returned to Philadelphia in 1785, revered by his country. He was the only man who had signed four of the most famous documents in American history: the Declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the treaty of peace with England at the close of the Revolution, and the Constitution of the United States. He had also become, as he remains to-day, America's most widely read colonial writer. When he died in 1790, the American Congress and the National Assembly of France went into mourning.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS AS AN AUTHOR[edit | edit source]
Franklin is best known for his philosophy of the practical and the useful. Jonathan Edwards turned his attention to the next world; Franklin, to this world. The gulf is as vast between these two men as if they had lived on different planets. To the end of his life, Franklin's energies were bent toward improving the conditions of this mundane existence. He advises honesty, not because an eternal spiritual law commands it, but because it is the best policy. He needs to be supplemented by the great spiritual teachers. He must not be despised for this reason, for the great spiritual forces fail when they neglect the material foundations imposed on mortals. Franklin was as necessary as Jonathan Edwards. Franklin knew the importance of those foundation habits, without which higher morality is not possible. He impressed on men the necessity of being regular, temperate, industrious, saving, of curbing desire, and of avoiding vice. The very foundations of character rest on regularity, on good habits so inflexibly formed that it is painful to break them. Franklin's success in laying these foundations was phenomenal. His Poor Richard's Almanac, begun in 1733, was one of his chief agencies in reaching the common people. They read, reread, and acted on such proverbs as the following, which he published in this Almanac from year to year. (The figures in parenthesis indicate the year of publication.)
"He has changed his one ey'd horse for a blind one" (1733).
"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead" (1735).
"Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it" (1736).
"Fly pleasures and they'll follow you" (1738).
"Have you somewhat to do to-morrow; do it to-day" (1742).
"Tart words make no friends: a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar" (1744).
In 1757 Franklin gathered together what seemed to him the most striking of these proverbs and published them as a preface to the _Almanac_ for 1758. This preface, the most widely read of all his writings, has since been known as _The Way to Wealth_. It had been translated into nearly all European languages before the end of the nineteenth century. It is still reprinted in whole or part almost every year by savings banks and societies in France and England, as well as in the United States. "Dost thou love life?" asks Poor Richard in _The Way to Wealth_. "Then," he continues, "do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of." Franklin modestly disclaimed much originality in the selection of these proverbs, but it is true that he made many of them more definite, incisive, and apt to lodge in the memory. He has influenced, and he still continues to influence, the industry and thrift of untold numbers. In one of our large cities, a branch library, frequented by the humble and unlearned, reports that in one year his _Autobiography_ was called for four hundred times, and a life of him, containing many of Poor Richard's sayings, was asked for more than one thousand times.
He is the first American writer to show a keen sense of humor. There may be traces of humor in _The Simple Cobbler of Agawam_ (p. 41) and in Cotton Mather (p. 46), but Franklin has a rich vein. He used this with fine effect when he was colonial agent in England. He determined to make England see herself from the American point of view, and so he published anonymously in a newspaper _An Edict of the King of Prussia_. This _Edict_ proclaimed that it was a matter of common knowledge that Britain had been settled by Hengist and Horsa and other German colonists, and that, in consequence of this fact, the King of Prussia had the right to regulate the commerce, manufactures, taxes, and laws of the English. Franklin gave in this _Edict_ the same reasons and embodied the same restrictions, which seemed so sensible to George III. and the Tories. Franklin was the guest of an English Lord, when a man burst into the room with the newspaper containing the _Edict_, saying, "Here's news for ye! Here's the King of Prussia claiming a right to this kingdom!"
In writing English prose, Franklin was fortunate in receiving instruction from Bunyan and Addison. The pleasure of reading Franklin's _Autobiography_ is increased by his simple, easy, natural way of relating events. Simplicity, practicality, suggestiveness, common sense, were his leading attributes. His sense of humor kept him from being tiresome and made him realize that the half may be greater than the whole. The two people most useful to the age in which they lived were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
JOHN WOOLMAN, 1720-1772[edit | edit source]
A great altruist, this Quaker supplements Franklin in teaching that the great aim in life should be to grow more capable of seeing those spiritual realities which were before invisible. Life's most beautiful realities can never be seen with the physical eye. The _Journal_ of John Woolman will help one to increase his range of vision for what is best worth seeing. It will broaden the reader's sympathies and develop a keener sense of responsibility for lessening the misery of the world and for protecting even the sparrow from falling. It will cultivate precisely that side of human nature which stands most in need of development. To emphasize these points, Charles Lamb said, "Get the writings of John Woolman by heart," and Whittier wrote of Woolman's _Journal_, which he edited and made easily accessible, "I have been awed and solemnized by the presence of a serene and beautiful spirit redeemed of the Lord from all selfishness, and I have been made thankful for the ability to recognize and the disposition to love him."
John Woolman was born of Quaker parentage in Northampton, New Jersey. He never received much education. Early in life he became a shopkeeper's clerk and then a tailor. This lack of early training and broad experience affects his writings, which are not remarkable for ease of expression or for imaginative reach; but their moral beauty and intensity more than counterbalance such deficiencies.
A part of his time he spent traveling as an itinerant preacher. He tried to get Quakers to give up their slaves, and he refused to write wills that bequeathed slaves. He pleaded for compassion for overworked oxen and horses. He journeyed among the Indians, and endeavored to improve their condition. It cut him to the quick to see traders try to intoxicate them so as to get their skins and furs for almost nothing. He took passage for England in the steerage, and learned the troubles of the sailors. From this voyage he never returned, but died in York in 1772.
In the year of his death, he made in his _Journal_ the following entry, which is typical of his gentle, loving spirit:
"So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world, that in aiming to do business quickly and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan."
When a former president of Harvard issued a list of books for actual reading, he put Franklin's _Autobiography_ first and John Woolman's _Journal_ second. Franklin looked steadily at this world, Woolman at the next. Each record is supplementary to the other.
EARLY AMERICAN FICTION: THE FIRST ATTEMPTS[edit | edit source]
MRS. SARAH MORTON[edit | edit source]
She published in Boston in 1789 a novel entitled The Power of Sympathy. This is probably the first American novel to appear in print. The reason for such a late appearance of native fiction may be ascribed to the religious character of the early colonists and to the ascendency of the clergy, who would not have tolerated novel reading by members of their flocks. Jonathan Edwards complained that some of his congregation were reading forbidden books, and he gave from the pulpit the names of the guilty parties. These books were probably English novels. Sir Leslie Stephen thinks that Richardson's _Pamela_ (1740) may have been one of the books under the ban. There is little doubt that a Puritan church member would have been disciplined if he had been known to be a reader of some of Fielding's works, like Joseph Andrews (1742). The Puritan clergy, even at a later period, would not sanction the reading of novels unless they were of the dry, vapid type, like the earliest Sunday school books. Jonathan Edwards wrote the story of one of his youthful experiences, but it was "the story of a spiritual experience so little involved with the earth, that one might fancy it the story of a soul that had missed being born."
Timothy Dwight became president of Yale in 1795, said that there is a great gulf fixed between novels and the Bible. Even later than 1800 there was a widespread feeling that the reading of novels imperiled the salvation of the soul. To-day we know that certain novels are as dangerous to the soul as leprosy to the body, but we have become more discriminating. We have learned that the right type of fiction, read in moderation, cultivates the imagination, broadens the sympathetic powers, and opens up a new, interesting, and easily accessible land of enjoyment.
A quarter of a century before the _Declaration of Independence_, the great eighteenth-century English writers of fiction had given a new creation to the literature of England. Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) had published _Pamela_ in 1740 and _Clarissa Harlowe_ in 1748. Henry Fielding (1707–1754) had given his immortal _Tom Jones_ to the world in 1749.
Mrs. Morton's _Power of Sympathy_, a novel written with a moral purpose, is a poorly constructed story of characters whom we fortunately do not meet outside of books. One of these characters, looking at some flowers embroidered by the absent object of his affections, says, "It shall yield more fragrance to my soul than all the bouquets in the universe."
The majority of the early novels, in aiming to teach some lesson, show the influence of Samuel Richardson, the father of English fiction. This didactic spirit appears in sober statement of the most self-evident truths. "Death, my dear Maria, is a serious event," says the heroine of one of these novels. Another characteristic is tepid or exaggerated sentimentality. The heroine of _The Power of Sympathy_ dies of a broken heart "in a lingering graceful manner."
At least twenty-two American novels had been published between 1789 and the appearance of Charles Brockden Brown's _Wieland_ 1798. Only an antiquary need linger over these. We must next study the causes that led to a pronounced change in fiction.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CLASSIC AND THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL[edit | edit source]
The next step in fiction will show a breaking away from the classic or didactic school of Samuel Richardson and a turning toward the new Gothic or romantic school. To understand these terms, we must know something of the English influences that led to this change.
For the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, English literature shows the dominating influence of the classic school. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) in poetry and Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) in prose were the most influential of this school. They are called _classicists_ because they looked to the old classic authors for their guiding rules. Horace, more than any other classic writer, set the standard for poetry. Pope and his followers cared more for the excellence of form than for the worth of the thought. Their keynote was:
"True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd, What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."
In poetry the favorite form was a couplet, that is, two lines which rhymed and usually made complete sense. This was aptly termed "rocking horse meter." The prose writers loved the balanced antithetical sentences used by Dr. Johnson in his comparison of Pope and Dryden:
"If the flights of Dryden, therefore, are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing.... Dryden is read with frequent astonishment and Pope with perpetual delight."
Such overemphasis placed on mere form tended to draw the attention of the writer away from the matter. The American poetry of this period suffered more than the prose from this formal influence.
Since the motto of the classicists was polished regularity, they avoided the romantic, irregular, and improbable, and condemned the _Arabian Nights_, _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, _The Tempest_, and other "monstrous irregularities of Shakespeare." This school loved to teach and to point out shortcomings, hence the terms "didactic" and "satiric" are often applied to it.
The last part of the eighteenth century showed a revolt against the classicists. Victory came to the new romantic school, which included authors like Wordsworth (1770–1850), Coleridge (1772–1834), Shelley (1792–1822), and Keats (1795-1821). The terms "romantic" and "imaginative" were at first in great measure synonymous. The romanticists maintained that a reality of the imagination might be as satisfying and as important as a reality of the prosaic reason, since the human mind had the power of imagining as well as of thinking.
The term "Gothic" was first applied to fiction by Horace Walpole (1717–1797), who gave to his famous romance the title of "_The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Romance_" (1764). "Gothic" is here used in the same sense as "romantic." Gothic architecture seemed highly imaginative and overwrought in comparison with the severe classic order. In attempting to avoid the old classic monotony, the Gothic school of fiction was soon noted for its lavish use of the unusual, the mysterious, and the terrible. Improbability, or the necessity for calling in the supernatural to untie some knot, did not seriously disturb this school. The standard definition of "Gothic" in fiction soon came to include an element of strangeness added to terror. When the taste for the extreme Gothic declined, there ensued a period of modified romanticism, which demanded the unusual and occasionally the impossible. This influence persisted in the fiction of the greatest writers, until the coming of the realistic school (p. 367). We are now better prepared to understand the work of Charles Brockden Brown, the first great American writer of romance, and to pass from him to Cooper, Hawthorne, and Poe.
CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN, 1771-1810[edit | edit source]
Philadelphia has the honor of being the birthplace of Brown, who was the first professional man of letters in America. Franklin is a more famous writer than Brown, but, unlike Brown, he did not make literature the business of his life. Descended from ancestors who came over on the ship with William Penn, Brown at the age of ten had read, with Quaker seriousness, every book that he could find. He did not go to college, but studied law, which he soon gave up for literature as a profession.
Depression from ill health and the consciousness that he would probably die young colored all his romances. He has the hero of one of his tales say, "We are exposed, in common with the rest of mankind, to innumerable casualties; but, if these be shunned, we are unalterably fated to die of consumption." In 1810, before he had reached forty, he fell a victim to that disease. Near the end of his days, he told his wife that he had not known what health was longer than a half hour at a time.
Brown deserves a place in the history of American literature for his four romances: _Wieland_, _Ormond_, _Arthur Mervyn_, and _Edgar Huntly_. These were all published within the space of three years from 1798, the date of the publication of _Wieland_. These romances show a striking change from the American fiction which had preceded them. They are no longer didactic and sentimental, but Gothic or romantic. Working under English influence, Brown gave to America her first great Gothic romances. The English romance which influenced him the most was _Caleb Williams_ (1794), the work of William Godwin (1756–1836), the father-in-law of the poet Shelley.
_Wieland_ is considered the strongest of Brown's Gothic romances, but it does not use as distinctively American materials as his three other stories of this type, _Ormond_, _Arthur Mervyn_, or _Memoirs of the Year 1793_, and _Edgar Huntly_. The results of his own experience with the yellow fever plague in Philadelphia give an American touch to _Ormond_ and _Arthur Mervyn_, and at the same time add the Gothic element of weirdness and horror. _Arthur Mervyn_ is far the better of the two.
_Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleep Walker_, shows a Gothic characteristic in its very title. This book is noteworthy in the evolution of American fiction, not because of the strange actions of the sleep walker, but for the reason that Brown here deliberately determines, as he states in his prefatory note _To the Public_ to give the romance an American flavor, by using "the incidents of Indian hostility and the perils of the Western wilderness." If we assume that John Smith's story of Pocahontas is not fiction, then to Brown belongs the honor of first recognizing in the Indian a valuable literary asset from the Gothic romancer's point of view. In Chapter XVI., he reverses Captain Smith's story and has Edgar Huntly rescue a young girl from torture and kill an Indian. In the next two chapters, the hero kills four Indians. The English recognized this introduction of a new element of strangeness added to terror and gave Brown the credit of developing an "Americanized" Gothic. He disclosed to future writers of fiction, like James Fenimore Cooper (p. 125), a new mine of American materials. This romance has a second distinguishing characteristic, for Brown surpassed contemporary British novelists in taking his readers into the open air, which forms the stage setting for the adventures of _Edgar Huntly_. The hero of that story loves to observe the birds, the squirrels, and the old Indian woman "plucking the weeds from among her corn, bruising the grain between two stones, and setting her snares for rabbits and opossums." He takes us where we can feel the exhilaration from "a wild heath, whistled over by October blasts meagerly adorned with the dry stalks of scented shrubs and the bald heads of the sapless mullein."
Brown's place in the history of fiction is due to the fact that he introduced the Gothic romance to American literature. He loved to subject the weird, the morbid, the terrible, to a psychological analysis. In this respect he suggests Hawthorne, although there are more points of difference than of likeness between him and the great New England romancer. In weird subject matter, but not in artistic ability, he reminds us of Poe. Brown could devise striking incidents, but he lacked the power to weave them together in a well-constructed plot. He sometimes forgot that important incidents needed further elaboration or reference, and he occasionally left them suspended in mid-air. His lack of humor was too often responsible for his imposing too much analysis and explanation on his readers. Although he did not hesitate to use the marvelous in his plots, his realistic mind frequently impelled him to try to explain the wonderful occurrences. He thus attempted to bring in ventriloquism to account for the mysterious voices which drove Wieland to kill his wife and children.
It is, however, not difficult for a modern reader to become so much interested in the first volume of _Arthur Mervyn_ as to be unwilling to leave it unfinished. Brown will probably be longest remembered for his strong pictures of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, his use of the Indian in romance, and his introduction of the outdoor world of the wilderness and the forest.
POETRY--THE HARTFORD WITS[edit | edit source]
The Americans were slow to learn that political independence could be far more quickly gained than literary independence. A group of poets, sometimes known as the Hartford Wits, determined to take the kingdom of poetry by violence. The chief of these were three Yale graduates, Timothy Dwight, Joel Barlow, and John Trumbull.
TIMOTHY DWIGHT (1752-1817)[edit | edit source]
Before he became president of Yale, Dwight determined to immortalize himself by an epic poem. He accordingly wrote the _Conquest of Canaan_ in 9671 lines, beginning:
"The Chief, whose arms to Israel's chosen band Gave the fair empire of the promis'd land, Ordain'd by Heaven to hold the sacred sway, Demands my voice, and animates the lay."
This poem is written in the rocking horse couplets of Pope, and it is well-nigh unreadable to-day. It is doubtful if twenty-five people in our times have ever read it through. Even where the author essays fine writing, as in the lines:
"On spicy shores, where beauteous morning reigns, Or Evening lingers o'er her favorite plains,"
there is nothing to awaken a single definite image, nothing but glittering generalities. Dwight's best known poetry is found in his song, _Columbia_, composed while he was a chaplain in the Revolutionary War:
"Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise, The queen of the world, and the child of the skies."
JOEL BARLOW (1755-1812)[edit | edit source]
He was, like Dwight, a chaplain in the war, but he became later a financier and diplomat, as well as a poet. He determined in _The Vision of Columbus_ (1787), afterwards expanded into the ponderous _Columbiad_, to surpass Homer and all preceding epics. Barlow's classical couplets thus present a general in the Revolution, ordering a cannonade:
"When at his word the carbon cloud shall rise, And well-aim'd thunders rock the shores and skies."
Hawthorne ironically suggested that the _Columbiad_ should be dramatized and set to the accompaniment of cannon and thunder and lightning. Barlow, like many others, certainly did not understand that bigness is not necessarily greatness. He is best known by some lines from his less ambitious _Hasty Pudding_:
"E'en in thy native regions, how I blush To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee _Mush!_"
JOHN TRUMBULL (1750-1831)[edit | edit source]
The greatest of the Hartford wits was John Trumbull. His father, a Congregational clergyman living at Waterbury, Connecticut, prepared boys for college. In 1757 he sent two candidates to Yale to be examined, one pupil of nineteen, the other of seven. Commenting on this, the _Connecticut Gazette_ of September 24, 1757, says, "the Son of Rev'd. Mr. Trumble of Waterbury ... passed a good Examination, although but little more than seven years of age; but on account of his Youth his father does not intend he shall at present continue at College." This boy waited until he was thirteen to enter Yale, where he graduated in due course. After teaching for two years in that college, he became a lawyer by profession. Although he did not die until 1831, the literary work by which he is known was finished early.
Trumbull occupied the front rank of the satiric writers of that age. Early in his twenties he satirized in classical couplets the education of the day, telling how the students:--
"Read ancient authors o'er in vain, Nor taste one beauty they contain, And plodding on in one dull tone, Gain ancient tongues and lose their own."
His masterpiece was a satire on British sympathizers. He called this poem _M'Fingal_, after a Scotch Tory. The first part was published in 1775 and it gave a powerful impetus to the Continental cause. It has been said that the poem "is to be considered as one of the forces of the Revolution, because as a satire on the Tories it penetrated into every farmhouse, and sent the rustic volunteers laughing into the ranks of Washington and Greene."
One cannot help thinking of Butler's _Hudibras_ (1663), when reading _M'Fingal_. Of course the satiric aim is different in the two poems. Butler ridiculed the Puritans and upheld the Royalists, while Trumbull discharged his venomed shafts at the adherents of the king. In _M'Fingal_, a Tory bent on destroying a liberty pole drew his sword on a Whig, who had no arms except a spade. The Whig, however, employed his weapon with such good effect on the Tory that:
"His bent knee fail'd, and void of strength, Stretch'd on the ground his manly length. Like ancient oak, o'erturn'd, he lay, Or tower to tempests fall'n a prey, Or mountain sunk with all his pines, Or flow'r the plough to dust consigns, And more things else--but all men know 'em, If slightly versed in epic poem."
Some of the incisive lines from _M'Fingal_ have been wrongly ascribed to Butler's _Hudibras_. The following are instances:
"No man e'er felt the halter draw With good opinion of the law."
"For any man with half an eye What stands before him may espy; But optics sharp it needs, I ween, To see what is not to be seen."
Trumbull's _M'Fingal_ is a worthy predecessor of Lowell's _Biglow Papers_. Trumbull wrote his poem as a "weapon of warfare." The first part of _M'Fingal_ passed through some forty editions, many of them printed without the author's consent. This fact is said to have led Connecticut to pass a copyright law in 1783, and to have thus constituted a landmark in American literary history.
PHILIP FRENEAU, 1752-1832[edit | edit source]
New York City was the birthplace of Freneau, the greatest poet born in America before the Revolutionary War. He graduated at Princeton in 1771, and became a school teacher, sea captain, poet, and editor.
The Revolution broke out when he was a young man, and he was moved to write satiric poetry against the British. Tyler says that "a running commentary on his Revolutionary satires would be an almost complete commentary on the whole Revolutionary struggle; nearly every important emergency and phase of which are photographed in his keen, merciless, and often brilliant lines." In one of these satires Freneau represents Jove investigating the records of Fate:
"And first on the top of a column he read-- Of a king with a mighty soft place in his head, Who should join in his temper the ass and the mule, The Third of his name and by far the worst fool."
We can imagine the patriotic colonists singing as a refrain:
"... said Jove with a smile, Columbia shall never be ruled by an isle,"
"The face of the Lion shall then become pale, He shall yield fifteen teeth and be sheared of his tail,"
but Freneau's satiric verse is not his best, however important it may be to historians.
His best poems are a few short lyrics, remarkable for their simplicity, sincerity, and love of nature. His lines:
"A hermit's house beside a stream With forests planted round,"
are suggestive of the romantic school of Wordsworth and Coleridge, as is also _The Wild Honeysuckle_, which begins as follows:
"Fair flower, that dost so comely grow, Hid in this silent, dull retreat, Untouched thy honied blossoms blow, Unseen thy little branches greet.
"By Nature's self in white arrayed, She bade thee shun the vulgar eye, And planted here the guardian shade, And sent soft waters murmuring by."
Although Freneau's best poems are few and short, no preceding American poet had equaled them. The following will repay careful reading: _The Wild Honeysuckle_, _The Indian Burying Ground_, and _To a Honey Bee_.
He died in 1832, and was buried near his home at Mount Pleasant, Monmouth County, New Jersey.
ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD[edit | edit source]
The great prose representatives of the first half of the eighteenth century, Swift, Addison, Steele, and Defoe, had passed away before the middle of the century. The creators of the novel, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, had done their best work by 1750.
The prose writers of the last half of the century were OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728–1774), who published the _Vicar of Wakefield_ in 1766; EDWARD GIBBON (1737-1794), who wrote _The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_; EDMUND BURKE (1729–1797), best known to-day for his _Speech on Conciliation with America_; and SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709–1784), whose _Lives of the Poets_ is the best specimen of eighteenth-century classical criticism.
The most noteworthy achievement of the century was the victory of romanticism (p. 88) over classicism. Pope's polished satiric and didactic verse, neglecting the primrose by the river's brim, lacking deep feeling, high ideals, and heaven-climbing imagination, had long been the model that inspired cold intellectual poetry. In the latter part of the century, romantic feeling and imagination won their battle and came into their own heritage in literature. ROBERT BURNS (1759–1796) wrote poetry that touched the heart. A classicist like Dr. Johnson preferred the town to the most beautiful country scenes, but WILLIAM COWPER (1731–1800) says:
"God made the country, and man made the town."
Romantic poetry culminated in the work of WILLIAM WORDSWORTH and SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, whose _Lyrical Ballads_ (1798) included the wonderful romantic poem of _The Ancient Mariner_, and poems by Wordsworth, which brought to thousands of human souls a new sense of companionship with nature, a new feeling
"... that every flower Enjoys the air it breathes,"
and that all nature is anxious to share its joy with man and to introduce him to a new world. The American poets of this age, save Freneau in a few short lyrics, felt but little of this great impulse; but in the next period we shall see that William Cullen Bryant heard the call and sang:--
"Scarce less the cleft-born wild-flower seems to enjoy Existence than the winged plunderer That sucks its sweets."
The romantic prose was not of as high an order as the poetry. Writers of romances like WALPOLE'S _Castle of Otranto_ and GODWIN'S _Caleb Williams_ did not allow their imaginations to be fettered by either the probable or the possible. In America the romances of Charles Brockden Brown show the direct influence of this school.
LEADING HISTORICAL FACTS[edit | edit source]
The French and Indian War accomplished two great results. In the first place, it made the Anglo-Saxon race dominant in North America. Had the French won, this book would have been chiefly a history of French literature. In the second place, the isolated colonies learned to know one another and their combined strength.
Soon after the conclusion of this war, the English began active interference with colonial imports and exports, laid taxes on certain commodities, passed the Stamp Act, and endeavored to make the colonists feel that they were henceforth to be governed in fact as well as in name by England. The most independent men that the world has ever produced came to America to escape tyranny at home. The descendants of these men started the American Revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and, led by George Washington (1732–1799), one of the greatest heroes of the ages, won their independence. They had the assistance of the French, and it was natural that the treaty of peace with England should be signed at Paris in 1783.
Then followed a period nearly as trying as that of the Revolution, an era called by John Fiske "The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789." Because of the jealousy of the separate states and the fear that tyranny at home might threaten liberty, there was no central government vested with adequate power. Sometimes there was a condition closely bordering on anarchy. The wisest men feared that the independence so dearly bought would be lost. Finally, the separate states adopted a Constitution which united them, and in 1789 they chose Washington as the president of this Union. His _Farewell Address_, issued to the American people toward the end of his administration, breathes the prayer "that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every part may be stamped with wisdom and virtue." A leading thought from this great _Address_ shows that the Virginian agreed with the New Englander in regard to the chief cornerstone of this Republic:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports."
The student of political rather than of literary history is interested in the administrations of John Adams (1797–1801), Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809), and James Madison (1809–1817). The acquisition in 1803 of the vast central territory, known as the Louisiana Purchase, affected the entire subsequent development of the country and its literature. Thomas Jefferson still exerts an influence on our literature and institutions; for he championed the democratic, as opposed to the aristocratic, principle of government. His belief in the capacity of the common people for progress and self-government still helps to mold public opinion. Next in importance to the victorious struggle of the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution, is the wonderful pioneer movement toward the West. Francis A. Walker, in his _Making of the Nation, 1783-1817_, says:
"During the period of thirty-four years covered by this narrative, a movement had been in continuous progress for the westward extension of population, which far transcended the limits of any of the great migrations of mankind upon the older continents....From 1790 to 1800, the mean population of the period being about four and a half millions, sixty-five thousand square miles were brought within the limits of settlement; crossed with rude roads and bridges; built up with rude houses and barns; much of it, also, cleared of primeval forests. In the next ten years, the mean population of the decade being about six and a half millions, the people of the United States extended settlement over one hundred and two thousand square miles of absolutely new territory.... No other people could have done this. No: nor the half of it. Any other of the great migratory races--Tartar, Slav, or German--would have broken hopelessly down in an effort to compass such a field in such a term of years."
SUMMARY[edit | edit source]
The early essays of the period, Paine's _Common Sense_ and the _Crisis_, Jefferson's _Declaration of Independence_, Hamilton's pamphlets and papers, all champion human liberty and show the influence of the Revolution. The orators, James Otis, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams, were inspired by the same cause. The words of Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death," have in them the essence of immortality because they voice the supreme feeling of one of the critical ages in the world's history.
Benjamin Franklin was the greatest writer of the period. His _Autobiography_ has a value possessed by no other work of the kind. This and his _Poor Richard's Almanac_ have taught generations of Americans the duty of self-culture, self-reliance, thrift, and the value of practical common sense. He was the first of our writers to show a balanced sense of humor and to use it as an agent in impressing truth on unwilling listeners. He is an equally great apostle of the practical and the altruistic, although he lacked the higher spirituality of the old Puritans and of the Quaker, John Woolman. This age is marked by a comparative decline in the influence of the clergy. Not a single clerical name appears on the list of the most prominent writers.
This period shows the beginning of American fiction, dominated by English writers, like Samuel Richardson. The early novels, like Mrs. Morton's _The Power of Sympathy_, were usually prosy, didactic, and as dull as the Sunday school books of three quarters of a century ago. The victory of the English school of romanticists influenced Charles Brockden Brown, the first professional American author, to throw off the yoke of classical didacticism and regularity and to write a group of Gothic romances, in which the imagination was given a freer rein than the intellect. While he freely employed the imported Gothic elements of "strangeness added to terror," he nevertheless managed to give a distinctively American coloring to his work by showing the romantic use to which the Indian and the forest could be put.
Authors struggled intensely to write poetry. "The Hartford Wits," Dwight, Barlow, and Trumbull, wrote a vast quantity of verse. The most of this is artificial, and reveals the influence of the classical school of Alexander Pope. Freneau wrote a few short lyrics which suggest the romantic school of Wordsworth.
The American literature of this period shows in the main the influence of the older English classical school. America produced no authors who can rank with the contemporary school of English writers, such as Burns, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Of all the writers of this age, Franklin alone shows an undiminished popularity with readers of the twentieth century.
Three events in the history of the period are epoch-making in the world's history; (_a_) the securing of independence through the Revolutionary War, (_b_) the adoption of a constitution and the formation of a republic, and (_c_) the magnitude of the work of the pioneer settlers, who advanced steadily west from the coast, and founded commonwealths beyond the Alleghanies.
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER STUDY[edit | edit source]
HISTORICAL[edit | edit source]
The course of English events (reign of George III.) may be traced in any of the English histories mentioned on p. 60. For the English literature of the period; see the author's _History of English Literature_. Valuable works dealing with special periods of the American history of the time are:
Hart's _Formation of the Union_.
Parkman's _Half Century of Conflict_ and _Montcalm and Wolfe_, 2 vols. (French and Indian War.)
Fiske's _American Revolution_, 2 vols.
Fiske's _Critical Period of American History_.
Walker's _The Making of the Nation_.
Johnston's _History of American Politics_.
Schouler's _History of the United States of America under the Constitution_, 6 vols.
The works by Hart, Channing, and James and Sanford, referred to on p. 61, will give the leading events in brief compass. An account of much of the history of the period is given in the biographies of Washington by Lodge, of Franklin by Morse, of Hamilton by Lodge, and of Jefferson by Morse. (_American Statesmen Series_.)
LITERARY[edit | edit source]
Tyler's _The Literary History of the American Revolution_, 2 vols.
Richardson's _American Literature_, 2 vols.
Wendell's _Literary History of America_.
Trent's _A History of American Literature_.
McMaster's _Benjamin Franklin_.
Ford's _The Many-Sided Franklin_.
Erskine's _Leading American Novelists_, pp. 3–49, on Charles Brockden Brown.
Loshe's _The Early American Novel_.
SUGGESTED READINGS[edit | edit source]
The Essayists.--Selections from Thomas Paine's _Common Sense_,--Cairns, [Footnote: For full titles see p. 62.] 344-347; Carpenter, 66-70; S. & H., III., 219-221. From the _Crisis_,--Cairns, 347-352; Carpenter, 70, 71; S. & H., III., 222-225.
_Jefferson's Declaration of Independence_—which may be found in Carpenter, 79-83; S. & H., III, 286-289; and in almost all the histories of the United States—should be read several times until the very atmosphere or spirit of those days comes to the reader.
Selections from Alexander Hamilton, including a paper from the _Federalist_, may be found in Cairns, 363-369; S. & H., IV., 113-116.
THE ORATORS.--A short selection from Otis is given in this work, p. 72. A longer selection may be found in Vol. I. of Johnston's _American Orations_, 11-17. For Patrick Henry's most famous speech, see Cairns, 335-338; S. & H., III., 214-218; Johnston, I., 18-23. The speech of Samuel Adams on American Independence is given in Johnston, I., 24-38, and in Moore's _American Eloquence_, Vol. I.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.--Every one should read his _Autobiography_. Selections may be found in Carpenter, 31-36; Cairns, 322-332; T. & W., III., 192-201; S. & H., III., 3-13.
Read his _Way to Wealth_ either in the various editions of _Poor Richard's Almanac_ or in Cairns, 315-319; Carpenter, 36-43; T. & W., III., 202-213; S. & H., III., 17-21.
JOHN WOOLMAN.--Cairns, 307-313; S. & H., III., 78-80, 82-85.
CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN.--The first volume of _Arthur Mervyn_ with its account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia is not uninteresting reading. Chaps. XVI., XVII., and XVIII. of _Edgar Huntly_ show the hero of that romance rescuing a girl from torture and killing Indians. These and the following chapters, especially XIX., XX., and XXI, give some vigorous out-of-door life.
Selections giving incidents of the yellow fever plague may be found in Cairns, 482-488; Carpenter, 97-100. For Indian adventures or out-of-door life in Edgar Huntly, see Cairns, 488-493; Carpenter, 89-97; S. & H., IV., 273-292.
POETRY.--Selections from Dwight, Barlow, and Trumbull may be found in Cairns, 395-430; S. & H., III., 403-413, 426-429, IV., 47-55. For Freneau's best lyrics, see Cairns, 440, 441, 447; S. & H., III., 452, 453, 456; Stedman, An American Anthology, 4, 7, 8.
QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS[edit | edit source]
PROSE[edit | edit source]
1. After reading some of the papers of Thomas Paine, state why they were unusually well suited to the occasion. 2. Why is the _Declaration of Independence_ likened to the old battle songs of the Anglo-Saxon race? What is remarkable about Jefferson's power of expression? 3. In the orations of Otis, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams, what do you find to account for their influence? To what must an orator owe his power? 4. Contrast the writings of Benjamin Franklin with those of Jonathan Edwards and John Woolman. What are some of the most useful suggestions and records of experience to be found in Franklin's _Autobiography_? In what ways are his writings still useful to humanity? 5. Select the best four maxims from The Way to Wealth. What are some of the qualities of Franklin's style? Compare it with Woolman's style. 6. Why are Brown's romances called "Gothic"? What was the general type of American fiction preceding him? Specify three strong or unusual incidents in the selections read from Brown. What does he introduce to give an American color to his work?
POETRY[edit | edit source]
1. In the selections read from Dwight, Barlow, and Trumbull, what general characteristics impress you? 2. Do these poets belong to the classic or the romantic school? 3. What English influences are manifest? 4. What qualities in Freneau's lyrics show a distinct advance in American poetry?
Peter B High in his book argues that "in the early part of the nineteenth century New York City was the center of American writing". He goes on to discuss Washington Irving and James Kirke Paulding, contrasting them with James Fenimore Cooper.
Post-Modern Period (1940s-Current)
Philip Roth would have to be included in any discussion of post-modern American Literature.
- ↑ An Outline of American Literature Peter B High Longman 1986