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Colony of the Bay. The latter had a very large number of graduates of old Cambridge and Oxford among its magistrates and clergy. But if the settlers of Plymouth were less educated, they were more tolerant, charitable, and amiable. The annals of the Old Colony were written by its governor, William Bradford ; later, Nathaniel Morton wrote New England's Memorial, based on Bradford's History, and including contemporary elegies and anecdotes. Roger Williams, who has the honor of being the first advocate of liberty of conscience, was the author of controversial tracts only.
The peculiar genius of the Puritans seems to have attained its highest development in Jonathan Edwards, who was born in East Windsor, Conn., in 1703, graduated at Yale College, and settled as preacher in Northampton, Mass. He was an original metaphysician, equal in sustained power and in clear-sightedness to any modern investigator. His works are masterpieces of abstract reasoning, written for thinkers, and are as abstruse and technical as treatises upon the higher mathematics.
Thomas Hutchinson was the author of a History of Massachusetts during the period from 1620 to 1691 -a very well written, and, in the main, trustworthy work. It was based upon original memoirs, and is regarded as an authority, but, further than that, it calls for no special mention.
In any just account of our literature, the influence of Harvard College must have a prominent place. Founded in 1636 as a seminary for religious teachers, it shared the poverty of the New England colonies in their day of small things ; but it grew with their growth, and was ready to act its part on the larger field which spread with the increase of wealth and the demand for higher culture. For the first century its standard of scholarship was not very high, but its influence was constant and cumulative. By the end of the eighteenth century there was an army of its graduates in the learned professions, and every one communicated something of the spirit of his alma mater to the society of his neighborhood. Later came Yale, William and Mary, Princeton, and Union Colleges, all centres of active influences.
The literary history of the Colony of Virginia does not begin unti. a later period. The story of its discovery and early settlement was written by the famous Captain John Smith, who was not permanently identified with its interests, but returned to England. A few expatriated Englishmen of a classical turn amused themselves by making Latin translations, that afterwards appeared in London ; but there was no printing press to strike off, no booksellers to publish, no public to read or enjoy literature, in Virginia. Bancroft, under the date of 1674, says, “The generation now in existence were chiefly the fruit of the soil ; they were children of the woods, nurtured in the freedom of the wilderness, and dwelling in lonely cottages, scattered along the streams. No newspapers entered their houses ; no printing press furnished them a book. They had no recreations but such as Nature provides in her wilds, no education but such as parents in the desert could give their offspring."
Elsewhere the historian mentions the boast of the governor, Sir William Berkeley, that there was not a printing press in all Virginia.
In Pennsylvania there was liberty of the press, but the influence of Quakerism was even less favorable to literature than Puritanism had been. And, besides, there was no college like Harvard in Penn's otherwise thriving colony.
In New York the mixed origin of the people, the succession of conflicting governments, and other circumstances, kept back the development of literature until a comparatively recent period.
With the growing discontent of the colonies, the literature of the eighteenth century began to assume a new phase. Those who were engaged in manufactures and commerce began to demand freedom of action. The clergy, except the members of the English church, were universally active in resisting the royal claims over the colonies. The sense of wrong indited petitions to Parliament, and stimulated discussion upon the duties of rulers and the rights of their subjects. Slowly new theories were evolved. Some thinkers, like Jefferson and Paine, had pondered over the doctrines of Rousseau and other French philosophers. Others, like Franklin, Quincy, Otis, and the Adamses, had been applying the reasoning of Hamp
den and the English patriots to the case of the colonies. It was a period of great intellectual activity, but of activity directed exclusively to one subject. Of general literature, whether history, essay, poem, or story, the country was almost barren. Besides the works of a few well-known writers, and the printed sermons (of which great numbers doubtless remain in country parsonages for future explorers), the intellectual efforts of the period were entirely ephemeral. Not a line of the brilliant speeches of James Otis remains; not a syllable of the eloquence of Patrick Henry; none of the massive arguments of John Adams. The energies of men were spent in action. The fancies of the poet and the arts of the rhetorician were laid aside with the scholar's gown. Men lived poems, radiated eloquence, and exemplified philosophy.
The cause of liberty in America was indebted probably more to Thomas Paine than to any writer of the time. His Common Sense, which was published in January, 1776, says Dr. Rush, “burst upon the world with an effect which has rarely been produced by types and paper, in any age or country.” In December, of the same year, when the utmost depression prevailed, the first number of his Crisis appeared. The first sentence has been “familiar in our mouths as household words ever since: “These are the times that try men's souls.” This was read at the head of every regiment, and revived the drooping spirits of the troops. The impartial historian must declare that liberty owes nearly as much to the courageous advocacy of Paine as to the military services of Washington.
Unless we feel an interest in the causes that led to the revolutionary war, and in the arguments by which the patriotic fathers upheld their action, we shall not need to dwell long on this period. As in all times of excitement, ballads, songs, and versified gibes were quite plenty, and those who are fond of this species of literature will find a collection of them in Duyckinck's Cyclopædia. Besides these, there were the verses of Phillis Wheatley, a negro woman, sold as a slave, and educated in Boston, verses that were remarkable considering the birth and education of
the authoress, but of little positive value to-day. There was one other author who has some claims upon our consideration Philip Freneau. He was an active, not to say virulent, political writer, and the author of many poems. His prose works are no longer interesting, and his poems have been so completely eclipsed in later times that they are seldom read. The Indian Burying Ground, on page 593, contains the best lines we have been able to find in his poems.
Mention should be made of Alexander Wilson, the ornithologist, a man of brilliant parts, devoted to his chosen pursuits, and a master of a beautiful style of writing. He will always share the regard of the world with his great contemporary, Audubon.
The Federalist is the name of a series of papers, written chiefly by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, upon the Constitution of this country. The work is an invaluable one to lawyers and statesmen, and should not be overlooked by the student of history.
The prominent novelist of the last century was Charles Brockden Brown, born in Philadelphia in 1771. He was a man of unquestioned ability, and will have a place in all histories of our literature. His novels, however, are formed upon the model of William Godwin's Caleb Williams, and, though powerful and absorbing in interest, are at the same time repulsive to the last degree. The hero is always involved in the meshes of fate, either the witness or the victim of unspeakable atrocities, which no human foresight could avert. The influence of such morbid productions is neither exhilarating nor improving, and for that reason we have made no extracts from them in this volume, but refer the reader to the cyclopædias.
William Clifton, born in Philadelphia in 1772, was possessed of fine poetical powers, and has left many agreeable poems, which barely miss excellence. In a larger collection he would be sure of a place.
There will always be a charm in the prose of Franklin ; Jefferson will always have some readers, and students of history may pore over the writings of a few other contemporary authors; but our literature has its real beginning with BRYANT and IRVING. When Thanatopsis was printed in the North American Review, and The
Sketch Book was printed in New York, the day of commonplace rhymes, and of dull and pedantic essayists, was done.
It is proper, however, that we should mention the names of a few literary periodicals, which were published near the beginning of this century. They do not contain many articles of permanent value, but their influence was powerful in moulding the public taste, and in preparing the way for the authors who were to follow. Among the first, and by far the best, of these early magazines, was The Farmer's Museum, established in Walpole, N. H., in 1793, by Isaiah Thomas and David Carlisle. Among its early contributors was Joseph Dennie, a native of Boston, and a graduate of Harvard College, who in 1796 became the responsible editor, and who called to his aid a circle of the brighest wits and best writers of the time. Royal Tyler, Thomas G. Fessenden, David Everett, and Isaac Story were among
Dennie, among other things, wrote a series of pleasant essays, entitled The Lay Preacher, which were very much admired. In 1799 he removed to Philadelphia, and the next year commenced a literary periodical in that city called The Port Folio, edited by Oliver Oldschool. This was devoted to belles lettres and criticism, and was addressed wholly to cultivated readers. It contained elaborate treatises upon the poems of Gray and others, and many of the poems and epigrams printed in its columns were in French or Spanish. Thomas Moore, who was then living in the United States, contributed original poems for its pages. Dennie died about the end of the year 1811, but The Port Folio was continued under the management of other editors until 1827. The essays of The Lay Preacher were collected in a volume published at Walpole in 1796, and another edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1817; but the work has now fallen into almost total neglect.
There was an earlier venture, the American Museum, started in Philadelphia, in 1787, by Matthew Carey, an Irish emigrant. This was a meritorious and useful periodical, but could hardly be styled literary. It was a repository of old and new matter, chiefly designed for the instruction of the people in domestic economy and in their practical duties under the new constitution. The editor, among