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Outlines of English and American Literature|
Annalists and Historians
by Long, William J.
|Of the fifty or more annalists of the period we
select two as typical of the rest. The first is William Bradford
(cir. 1590-1657), a noble and learned man, at one time governor of
the Plymouth Colony. In collaboration with Winslow he wrote a Journal of
the Mayflower's voyage (long known as Mourt's Relation), and
he continued this work independently by writing Of Plimouth
Plantation, a ruggedly sincere history of the trials and triumph of the
Pilgrim Fathers. The second annalist is William Byrd (1674-1744), who, a
century after Bradford, wrote his History of the Dividing Line and
two other breezy Journals that depict with equal ease and gayety the
southern society of the early days and the march or campfire scenes of an
exploring party in the wilderness.
These two writers unconsciously reflected two distinct influences in
Colonial literature, which are epitomized in the words "Puritan" and
"Cavalier." Bradford, though a Pilgrim (not a Puritan), was profoundly
influenced by the puritanic spirit of his age, with its militant
independence, its zeal for liberty and righteousness, its confidence in the
divine guidance of human affairs. When he wrote his history, therefore, he
was in the mood of one to whom the Lord had said, as to Abraham, "Get thee
out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house; and
I will make of thee a great nation." Byrd, though born and bred in
democratic Virginia, had in him something of the aristocrat. He reminds us
of the gay Cavaliers who left England to escape the stern discipline of
Cromwell and the triumphant Puritans. When he looked forth upon his goodly
plantation, or upon the wilderness with its teeming game, he saw them not
with the eyes of prophet or evangelist, but as one who remembered that it
was written, "And God saw everything that he had made; and behold it was
very good." So he wrote his Journal in an entertaining way, making the best
of misfortune, cracking a joke at difficulty or danger, and was well
content to reflect this pleasant world without taking it upon his
conscience to criticize or reform it.
The same two types of Cavalier and Puritan appear constantly in our own and
other literatures as representative of two world-views, two philosophies.
Chaucer and Langland were early examples in English poetry, the one with
his Canterbury Tales, the other with his Piers Plowman; and
ever since then the same two classes of writers have been reflecting the
same life from two different angles. They are not English or American but
human types; they appear in every age and in every free nation.