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Outlines of English and American Literature|
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
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