The Colonial period extends from the first English settlement at Jamestown
to the Stamp Act and other measures of "taxation without representation"
which tended to unite the colonies and arouse the sleeping spirit of
nationality. During this century and a half the Elizabethan dramatists
produced their best work; Milton, Bunyan, Dryden and a score of lesser
writers were adding to the wealth of English literature; but not a single
noteworthy volume crossed the Atlantic to reflect in Europe the lyric of
the wilderness, the drama of the commonwealth, the epic of democracy. Such
books as were written here dealt largely with matters of religion,
government and exploration; and we shall hardly read these books with
sympathy, and therefore with understanding, unless we remember two facts:
that the Colonists, grown weary of ancient tyranny, were determined to
write a new page in the world's history; and that they reverently believed
God had called them to make that new page record the triumph of freedom and
manhood. Hence the historical impulse and the moral or religious bent of
nearly all our early writers.