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


In the miscellaneous works of the period may be found more pleasurable reading than in the portly volumes that contain the epics of the Hartford Wits or the arguments of Revolutionary statesmen. As a type of the forceful political pamphlet, a weapon widely used in England and America in the eighteenth century, there is nothing equal to Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776) and The Crisis (1776-1783). The former hastened on the Declaration of Independence; the latter cheered the young Patriots in their struggle to make that Declaration valid in the sight of all nations. Jonathan Carver's Travels through the Interior Parts of North America (1778) is an excellent outdoor book dealing with picturesque incidents of exploration in unknown wilds. The letters of Abigail Adams, Eliza Wilkinson and Dolly Madison portray quiet scenes of domestic life and something of the brave, helpful spirit of the mothers of the Revolution. Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer (1782) draws charming, almost idyllic, pictures of American life during the Revolutionary period, and incidentally calls attention to the "melting pot," in which people of various races are here fused into a common stock. This mongrel, melting-pot idea (a crazy notion) is supposed to be modern, and has lately occasioned some flighty dramas and novels; but that it is as old as unrestricted immigration appears plainly in one of Crèvecoeur's fanciful sketches:

    "What then is the American, this new man? He is either a European
    or a descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood,
    which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a
    family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch,
    whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have
    now four wives of different nations. He is an American who,
    leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives
    new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new
    government he obeys, the new rank he holds. He becomes an American
    by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.

    "Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men
    whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the
    world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along
    with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour and industry
    which began long since in the East; they will finish the great
    circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here
    they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population
    which has ever appeared, and which hereafter will become distinct
    by the power of the different climate they inhabit. The American is
    a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore
    entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary
    idleness, servile dependence, penury and useless labour he has
    passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample
    subsistence. This is an American."


Finally, there is the Journal of John Woolman (1774), written by a gentle member of the society of Friends, which records a spiritual rather than a worldly experience, and which in contrast with the general tumult of Revolutionary literature is as a thrush song in the woods at twilight. It is a book for those who can appreciate its charm of simplicity and sincerity; but the few who know it are inclined to prize it far above the similar work of Franklin, and to unite with Channing in calling it "the sweetest and purest autobiography in the English language."

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