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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.

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