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Outlines of English and American Literature
Summary
by Long, William J.


The Colonial period covers the century and a half from the settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, to the Stamp Act of 1765. The literature of this early age shows two general characteristics, one historical, the other theological. The Colonists believed that they were chosen by God to establish a new nation of freemen; hence their tendency to write annals and to preserve every document that might be of use to the future republic. Moreover, they were for the most part religious men and women; they aimed to give their children sound education and godly character; hence their insistence on schools and universities (seven colleges were quickly founded in the wilderness) for the training of leaders of the people; hence also the religious note which sounds through nearly all their writing.

In our review of the Colonial period we noted four classes of writers: (i) The annalists and historians, of whom Bradford and Byrd were selected as typical of two classes of writers who appear constantly in our own and other literatures. (2) The poets, of whom Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet and Godfrey are the most notable. (3) A few characteristic books dealing with nature and the Indians, which served readers of those days in the place of fiction. (4) Theological writers, among whom Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards are the most conspicuous.

The Revolutionary period extends from 1765 to the close of the century. A large part of the literature of this period deals, in the early years, with the strife of Loyalists and Patriots or, in the later years, with the word wars of Federalists and Anti-Federalists. These are the political parties into which America was divided by the Revolution and by the question of the Constitution. In general, Revolutionary writing has a practical bent in marked contrast with the theological spirit of Colonial writing.

Our study of Revolutionary literature includes: (1) Benjamin Franklin who marks the transition from Colonial to Revolutionary times, from spiritual to worldly interests. (2) Revolutionary poetry, with its numerous ballads and political satires; the effort of the Hartford Wits to establish a national literature; and the work of Philip Freneau, who was a romantic poet at heart, but who was led aside by the strife of the age into political and satiric writing. (3) Orators and statesmen, of whom Otis and Henry, Hamilton and Jefferson were selected as typical. (4) Miscellaneous writers such as Paine, Crevecoeur, Carver, Abigail Adams and John Woolman who reflected the life of the times from various angles. (5) Charles Brockden Brown, and the beginning of American fiction.

Selections for Reading

Typical selections in Cairns, Selections from Early American Writers; Trent and Wells, Colonial Prose and Poetry; Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of American Literature, and other anthologies (see "Selections" in the General Bibliography). A convenient volume containing a few selections from every important American author is Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American Literature (Ginn and Company).

Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation and John Smith's Settlement of Virginia, in Maynard's Historical Readings. Chronicles of the Pilgrims, in Everyman's Library. Various records of early American history and literature, in Old South Leaflets (Old South Meeting House, Boston). Franklin's Autobiography, in Standard English Classics, Holt's English Readings and several other school editions (see "Texts" in General Bibliography). Poor Richard's Almanac, in Riverside Literature. The Federalist and Letters from an American Farmer, in Everyman's Library. Woolman's Journal, in Macmillan's Pocket Classics.

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