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OUTLINE OF AMERICAN LITERA

AMERIC

Outline of

AN

LITERATURE

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE /

BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION PROGRAMS

http://usinfo.state.gov

REVISED EDITION

REVISED

EDITION

TURE

index-2_1.png

AMERICAN

LITERATURE

REVISED EDITION

EARLY AMERICAN

PUBLISHED BY THE UNITED STATES

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

AND COLONIAL PERIOD TO 1776 3

STAFF

DEMOCRATIC ORIGINS

WRITTEN BY: KATHRYN VANSPANCKEREN

AND REVOLUTIONARY WRITERS,

EXECUTIVE EDITOR: GEORGE CLACK

1776-1820

MANAGING EDITOR: PAUL MALAMUD

14

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: KATHLEEN HUG

ART DIRECTOR / DESIGNER:

T

T

HE ROMANTIC PERIOD, 1820-1860:

HADDEUS A. MIKSINSKI, JR.

PICTURE EDITOR: JOANN STERN

ESSAYISTS AND POETS 26

Front Cover: © 1994 Christopher Little

THE ROMANTIC PERIOD,

1820-1860: FICTION

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

36 Kathryn VanSpanckeren

is Professor of English at the

THE RISE OF REALISM:

University of Tampa, has

1860-1914

lectured in American literature

47 widely abroad, and is former

director of the Fulbright-spon-

MODERNISM AND

sored Summer Institute in

E

American Literature for

XPERIMENTATION: 1914-1945 60

international scholars. Her

publications include poetry and

A

scholarship. She received

MERICAN POETRY,

her Bachelors degree from the

1945–1990: THE ANTI-TRADITION

University of California,

79

Berkeley, and her Ph.D. from

Harvard University.

AMERICAN PROSE,

1945–1990:

REALISM AND EXPERIMENTATION 97

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY 121

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN LITERATURE 136

GLOSSARY 157

INDEX 163

The following text materials may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.

“In a Station of the Metro” (page 63) by Ezra Pound. From Ezra Pound Personae.

Copyright © 1926 by Ezra Pound. Translated and reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (page 65) by Robert Frost. From The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923. © 1969 by Henry Holt and Co., Inc., © 1951 by Robert Frost. Reprinted and translated by permission of Henry Holt and Co., Inc.

“Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” (page 66) by Wallace Stevens. From Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens. Copyright 1923 and renewed 1951 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” (page 66) and “The Young Housewife” (page 67) by William Carlos Williams. Collected Poems. 1909-1939. Vol. I. Copyright 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (page 69) by Langston Hughes. From Selected Poems by Langston Hughes. Copyright 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and renewed 1954 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” (page 80) by Randall Jarrell from Randall Jarrell: Selected Poems; © 1945 by Randall Jarrell, © 1990 by Mary Von Schrader Jarrell, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux. Permission granted by Rhoda Weyr Agency, New York.

"The Wild Iris" (page 125) from The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. Copyright © 1993 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"Chickamauga" (page 126) from Chickamauga by Charles Wright. Copyright © 1995 by Charles Wright. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

"To The Engraver of my Skin" (page 129) from Source by Mark Doty. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Doty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"Mule Heart" (page 130) from The Lives of The Heart by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 1997

by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"The Black Snake" (page 131) copyright © 1979 by Mary Oliver. Used with permission of the Molly Malone Cook Literary Agency.

"The Dead" (page 132) is from Questions About Angels by Billy Collins, © 1991. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

"The Want Bone" (page 133) from The Want Bone by Robert Pinsky. Copyright © 1991 by Robert Pinsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Yusef Komunyakaa, "Facing It" (page 134) from Dien Cai Dau in Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems, © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

A number of the illustrations appearing in this volume are also copyrighted, as is indicated on the illustrations themselves. These may not be reprinted without the permission of the copyright holder.

The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.

2

some tales of a high god or culture were told

elsewhere. However, there are no long, stan-

CHAPTER dardized religious cycles about one supreme divinity. The closest equivalents to Old World

spiritual narratives are often accounts of

shamans’ initiations and voyages. Apart from

these, there are stories about culture heroes

1

such as the Ojibwa tribe’s Manabozho or the

EARLY AMERICAN AND

Navajo tribe’s Coyote. These tricksters are treat-

COLONIAL PERIOD TO 1776 ed with varying degrees of respect. In one tale they may act like heroes, while in another they

merican literature begins with the orally

may seem selfish or foolish. Although past

transmitted myths, legends, tales, and

authorities, such as the Swiss psychologist Carl

Alyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures. Jung, have deprecated trickster tales as express-There was no written literature among the more

ing the inferior, amoral side of the psyche, con-

than 500 different Indian languages and tribal

temporary scholars — some of them Native

cultures that existed in North America before

Americans — point out that Odysseus and

the first Europeans arrived. As a result, Na-

Prometheus, the revered Greek heroes, are

tive American oral literature is quite diverse.

essentially tricksters as well.

Narratives from quasi-nomadic hunting cultures

Examples of almost every oral genre can be

like the Navaho are different from stories of set-

found in American Indian literature: lyrics,

tled agricultural tribes such as the pueblo-

chants, myths, fairy tales, humorous anecdotes,

dwelling Acoma; the stories of northern lakeside

incantations, riddles, proverbs, epics, and leg-

dwellers such as the Ojibwa often differ radical-

endary histories. Accounts of migrations and an-

ly from stories of desert tribes like the Hopi.

cestors abound, as do vision or healing songs and

Tribes maintained their own religions — wor-

tricksters’ tales. Certain creation stories are

shipping gods, animals, plants, or sacred per-

particularly popular. In one well-known creation

sons. Systems of government ranged from

story, told with variations among many tribes, a

democracies to councils of elders to theocra-

turtle holds up the world. In a Cheyenne version,

cies. These tribal variations enter into the oral

the creator, Maheo, has four chances to fashion

literature as well.

the world from a watery universe. He sends four

Still, it is possible to make a few generaliza-

water birds diving to try to bring up earth from

tions. Indian stories, for example, glow with rev-

the bottom. The snow goose, loon, and mallard

erence for nature as a spiritual as well as physi-

soar high into the sky and sweep down in a dive,

cal mother. Nature is alive and endowed with

but cannot reach bottom; but the little coot, who

spiritual forces; main characters may be animals

cannot fly, succeeds in bringing up some mud in

or plants, often totems associated with a tribe,

his bill. Only one creature, humble Grandmother

group, or individual. The closest to the Indian

Turtle, is the right shape to support the mud

sense of holiness in later American literature is

world Maheo shapes on her shell — hence the

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental “Over-

Indian name for America, “Turtle Island.”

Soul,” which pervades all of life.

The songs or poetry, like the narratives, range

The Mexican tribes revered the divine

from the sacred to the light and humorous:

Quetzalcoatl, a god of the Toltecs and Aztecs, and There are lullabies, war chants, love songs, and

3

special songs for children’s games, gambling,

English, Spanish, or French. The first European

various chores, magic, or dance ceremonials.

record of exploration in America is in a

Generally the songs are repetitive. Short poem-

Scandinavian language. The Old Norse Vinland

songs given in dreams sometimes have the clear

Saga recounts how the adventurous Leif Ericson imagery and subtle mood associated with

and a band of wandering Norsemen settled

Japanese haiku or Eastern-influenced imagistic

briefly somewhere on the northeast coast of

poetry. A Chippewa song runs:

America — probably Nova Scotia, in Canada —

in the first decade of the 11th century, almost 400

A loon I thought it was

years before the next recorded European dis-

But it was

covery of the New World.

My love’s

The first known and sustained contact be-

splashing oar.

tween the Americas and the rest of the world,

however, began with the famous voyage of an

Vision songs, often very short, are another dis-

Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, funded

tinctive form. Appearing in dreams or visions,

by the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella.

sometimes with no warning, they may be healing,

Columbus’s journal in his “Epistola,” printed in

hunting, or love songs. Often they are personal,

1493, recounts the trip’s drama — the terror of

as in this Modoc song:

the men, who feared monsters and thought they

might fall off the edge of the world; the near-

I

mutiny; how Columbus faked the ships’ logs so

the song

the men would not know how much farther they

I walk here.

had travelled than anyone had gone before; and

the first sighting of land as they neared America.

Indian oral tradition and its relation to American Bartolomé de las Casas is the richest source

literature as a whole is one of the richest and least of information about the early contact between

explored topics in American studies. The Indian

American Indians and Europeans. As a young

contribution to America is greater than is often

priest he helped conquer Cuba. He transcribed

believed. The hundreds of Indian words in every-

Columbus’s journal, and late in life wrote a long, day American English include “canoe,” “tobacco,”

vivid History of the Indians criticizing their

“potato,” “moccasin,” “moose,” “persimmon,”

enslavement by the Spanish.

“raccoon,” “tomahawk,” and “totem.” Con-

Initial English attempts at colonization were

temporary Native American writing, discussed in

disasters. The first colony was set up in 1585 at

chapter 8, also contains works of great beauty.

Roanoke, off the coast of North Carolina; all its

colonists disappeared, and to this day legends

THE LITERATURE OF EXPLORATION

are told about blue-eyed Croatan Indians of the

ad history taken a different turn, the

area. The second colony was more permanent:

United States easily could have been a

Jamestown, established in 1607. It endured star-

Hpart of the great Spanish or French over- vation, brutality, and misrule. However, the liter-seas empires. Its present inhabitants might

ature of the period paints America in glowing

speak Spanish and form one nation with Mexico,

colors as the land of riches and opportunity.

or speak French and be joined with Canadian

Accounts of the colonizations became world-

Francophone Quebec and Montreal.

renowned. The exploration of Roanoke was care-

Yet the earliest explorers of America were not

fully recorded by Thomas Hariot in A Brief and 4

True Report of the New-Found Land of Virginia

is important to recognize its richly cosmopolitan

(1588). Hariot’s book was quickly translated into

beginnings.

Latin, French, and German; the text and pictures

were made into engravings and widely repub-

THE COLONIAL PERIOD IN

lished for over 200 years.

NEW ENGLAND

The Jamestown colony’s main record, the writ-

ings of Captain John Smith, one of its leaders, is It is likely that no other colonists in the history of the world were as intellectual as the

the exact opposite of Hariot’s accurate, scientif-

Puritans. Between 1630 and 1690, there were

ic account. Smith was an incurable romantic, and

as many university graduates in the northeastern

he seems to have embroidered his adventures.

section of the United States, known as New

To him we owe the famous story of the Indian

England, as in the mother country — an astound-

maiden, Pocahontas. Whether fact or fiction, the

ing fact when one considers that most educated

tale is ingrained in the American historical imag-

people of the time were aristocrats who were

ination. The story recounts how Pocahontas,

unwilling to risk their lives in wilderness condi-

favorite daughter of Chief Powhatan, saved

tions. The self-made and often self-educated

Captain Smith’s life when he was a prisoner of

Puritans were notable exceptions. They wanted

the chief. Later, when the English persuaded

education to understand and execute God’s will

Powhatan to give Pocahontas to them as a

as they established their colonies throughout

hostage, her gentleness, intelligence, and beauty

New England.

impressed the English, and, in 1614, she married

The Puritan definition of good writing was that

John Rolfe, an English gentleman. The marriage

which brought home a full awareness of the im-

initiated an eight-year peace between the col-

portance of worshipping God and of the spiritual

onists and the Indians, ensuring the survival of

dangers that the soul faced on Earth. Puritan

the struggling new colony.

style varied enormously — from complex meta-

In the 17th century, pirates, adventurers, and

physical poetry to homely journals and crushing-

explorers opened the way to a second wave of

ly pedantic religious history. Whatever the style

permanent colonists, bringing their wives, chil-

or genre, certain themes remained constant. Life

dren, farm implements, and craftsmen’s tools.

was seen as a test; failure led to eternal damna-

The early literature of exploration, made up of

tion and hellfire, and success to heavenly bliss.

diaries, letters, travel journals, ships’ logs, and This world was an arena of constant battle

reports to the explorers’ financial backers —

between the forces of God and the forces of

European rulers or, in mercantile England and

Satan, a formidable enemy with many disguises.

Holland, joint stock companies — gradually was

Many Puritans excitedly awaited the “millenni-

supplanted by records of the settled colonies.

um,” when Jesus would return to Earth, end

Because England eventually took possession of

human misery, and inaugurate 1,000 years of

the North American colonies, the best-known

peace and prosperity.

and most-anthologized colonial literature is

Scholars have long pointed out the link

English. As American minority literature contin-

between Puritanism and capitalism: Both rest on

ues to flower in the 20th century and American

ambition, hard work, and an intense striving for

life becomes increasingly multicultural, scholars

success. Although individual Puritans could not

are rediscovering the importance of the conti-

know, in strict theological terms, whether they

nent’s mixed ethnic heritage. Although the story

were “saved” and among the elect who would go

of literature now turns to the English accounts, it to heaven, Puritans tended to feel that earthly

5

index-7_1.jpg

Painting courtesy Smithsonian Institution

“The First Thanksgiving,” a painting by J.L.G. Ferris, depicts America’s early settlers and Native Americans celebrating a bountiful harvest.

success was a sign of election. Wealth and status

Like most Puritans, they interpreted the Bible

were sought not only for themselves, but as literally. They read and acted on the text of the welcome reassurances of spiritual health and

Second Book of Corinthians — “Come out from

promises of eternal life.

among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”

Moreover, the concept of stewardship encour-

Despairing of purifying the Church of England

aged success. The Puritans interpreted all things

from within, “Separatists” formed underground

and events as symbols with deeper spiritual

“covenanted” churches that swore loyalty to the

meanings, and felt that in advancing their own

group instead of the king. Seen as traitors to the profit and their community’s well-being, they

king as well as heretics damned to hell, they

were also furthering God’s plans. They did not

were often persecuted. Their separation took

draw lines of distinction between the secular and

them ultimately to the New World.

religious spheres: All of life was an expression of the divine will — a belief that later resurfaces in William Bradford (1590-1657)

Transcendentalism.

William Bradford was elected governor of

In recording ordinary events to reveal their

Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony short-

spiritual meaning, Puritan authors commonly

ly after the Separatists landed. He was a deeply

cited the Bible, chapter and verse. History was a

pious, self-educated man who had learned sever-

symbolic religious panorama leading to the

al languages, including Hebrew, in order to “see

Puritan triumph over the New World and to God’s

with his own eyes the ancient oracles of God in

kingdom on Earth.

their native beauty.” His participation in the

The first Puritan colonists who settled New

migration to Holland and the Mayflower voyage England exemplified the seriousness of Refor-to Plymouth, and his duties as governor, made

mation Christianity. Known as the “Pilgrims,”

him ideally suited to be the first historian of his they were a small group of believers who had

colony. His history, Of Plymouth Plantation

migrated from England to Holland — even then

(1651), is a clear and compelling account of the

known for its religious tolerance — in 1608, dur-

colony’s beginning. His description of the first

ing a time of persecutions.

view of America is justly famous:

6

Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea

husband eventually became governor of the

of troubles...they had now no friends to wel-

Massachusetts Bay Colony, which later grew into

come them nor inns to entertain or refresh

the great city of Boston. She preferred her long,

their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or

religious poems on conventional subjects such

much less towns to repair to, to seek for

as the seasons, but contemporary readers most

succor...savage barbarians...were readier to

enjoy the witty poems on subjects from daily life

fill their sides with arrows than otherwise.

and her warm and loving poems to her husband

And for the reason it was winter, and they

and children. She was inspired by English meta-

that know the winters of that country, know

physical poetry, and her book The Tenth Muse

them to be sharp and violent, and subject to

Lately Sprung Up in America (1650) shows the cruel and fierce storms...all stand upon

influence of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and

them with a weatherbeaten face, and the

other English poets as well. She often uses elab-

whole country, full of woods and thickets,

orate conceits or extended metaphors. “To My

represented a wild and savage hue.

Dear and Loving Husband” (1678) uses the ori-

ental imagery, love theme, and idea of compari-

radford also recorded the first document

son popular in Europe at the time, but gives

of colonial self-governance in the

these a pious meaning at the poem’s conclusion:

BEnglish New World, the “Mayflower

Compact,” drawn up while the Pilgrims were still

If ever two were one, then surely we.

on board ship. The compact was a harbinger of

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;

the Declaration of Independence to come a

If ever wife was happy in a man,

century and a half later.

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

Puritans disapproved of such secular amuse-

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold

ments as dancing and card-playing, which were

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

associated with ungodly aristocrats and immoral

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

living. Reading or writing “light” books also fell Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.

into this category. Puritan minds poured their

Thy love is such I can no way repay,

tremendous energies into nonfiction and pious

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

genres: poetry, sermons, theological tracts, and

Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere

histories. Their intimate diaries and meditations

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

record the rich inner lives of this introspective

and intense people.

Edward Taylor (c. 1644-1729)

Like Anne Bradstreet, and, in fact, all of New

Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672)

England’s first writers, the intense, brilliant poet The first published book of poems by an

and minister Edward Taylor was born in England.

American was also the first American book to be

The son of a yeoman farmer — an independent

published by a woman — Anne Bradstreet. It is

farmer who owned his own land — Taylor was a

not surprising that the book was published in

teacher who sailed to New England in 1668 rather

England, given the lack of printing presses in the than take an oath of loyalty to the Church of

early years of the first American colonies. Born

England. He studied at Harvard College, and, like

and educated in England, Anne Bradstreet was

most Harvard-trained ministers, he knew Greek,

the daughter of an earl’s estate manager. She

Latin, and Hebrew. A selfless and pious man,

emigrated with her family when she was 18. Her

Taylor acted as a missionary to the settlers when

7

he accepted his lifelong job as a minister in the

pled Captain Ahab, a New England Faust whose

frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts, 160

quest for forbidden knowledge sinks the ship of

kilometers into the thickly forested, wild interior.

American humanity in Moby-Dick (1851). ( Moby-Taylor was the best-educated man in the area,

Dick was the favorite novel of 20th-century and he put his knowledge to use, working as the

American novelist William Faulkner, whose pro-

town minister, doctor, and civic leader.

found and disturbing works suggest that the

Modest, pious, and hard-working, Taylor never

dark, metaphysical vision of Protestant America

published his poetry, which was discovered only

has not yet been exhausted.)

in the 1930s. He would, no doubt, have seen his

ike most colonial literature, the poems of

work’s discovery as divine providence; today’s

early New England imitate the form and

L

readers should be grateful to have his poems —

technique of the mother country, though

the finest examples of 17th-century poetry in

the religious passion and frequent biblical refer-

North America.

ences, as well as the new setting, give New

Taylor wrote a variety of verse: funeral elegies,

England writing a special identity. Isolated New

lyrics, a medieval “debate,” and a 500-page

World writers also lived before the advent of

Metrical History of Christianity (mainly a history rapid transportation and electronic communica-of martyrs). His best works, according to modern

tions. As a result, colonial writers were imitating critics, are the series of short preparatory writing that was already out of date in England.

meditations.

Thus, Edward Taylor, the best American poet of

his day, wrote metaphysical poetry after it had

Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705)

become unfashionable in England. At times, as in

Michael Wigglesworth, like Taylor an English-

Taylor’s poetry, rich works of striking originality born, Harvard-educated Puritan minister who

grew out of colonial isolation.

practiced medicine, is the third New England

Colonial writers often seemed ignorant of

colonial poet of note. He continues the Puritan

such great English authors as Ben Jonson. Some

themes in his best-known work, The Day of

colonial writers rejected English poets who

Doom (1662). A long narrative that often falls belonged to a different sect as well, thereby cut-into doggerel, this terrifying popularization of

ting themselves off from the finest lyric and dra-

Calvinistic doctrine was the most popular poem

matic models the English language had pro-

of the colonial period. This first American best-

duced. In addition, many colonials remained

seller is an appalling portrait of damnation to hell ignorant due to the lack of books.

in ballad meter.

The great model of writing, belief, and conduct

It is terrible poetry — but everybody loved it.

was the Bible, in an authorized English transla-

It fused the fascination of a horror story with the tion that was already outdated when it came

authority of John Calvin. For more than two cen-

out. The age of the Bible, so much older than

turies, people memorized this long, dreadful

the Roman church, made it authoritative to

monument to religious terror; children proudly

Puritan eyes.

recited it, and elders quoted it in everyday

New England Puritans clung to the tales of the

speech. It is not such a leap from the terrible

Jews in the Old Testament, believing that they,

punishments of this poem to the ghastly self-

like the Jews, were persecuted for their faith,

inflicted wound of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s guilty

that they knew the one true God, and that they

Puritan minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, in The

were the chosen elect who would establish the

Scarlet Letter (1850) or Herman Melville’s crip-New Jerusalem — a heaven on Earth. The

8

index-10_1.jpg

index-10_2.jpg

Puritans were aware of the parallels

Sewall was born late enough to

between the ancient Jews of the Old

see the change from the early,

Testament and themselves. Moses

strict religious life of the Puritans

led the Israelites out of captivity

to the later, more worldly Yankee

from Egypt, parted the Red Sea

period of mercantile wealth in the

through God’s miraculous assis-

New England colonies; his Diary,

tance so that his people could

which is often compared to

escape, and received the divine law

Samuel Pepys’s English diary of

in the form of the Ten Command-

the same period, inadvertently

ments. Like Moses, Puritan leaders

records the transition.

felt they were rescuing their people

Like Pepys’s diary, Sewall’s

from spiritual corruption in England,

is a minute record of his daily

passing miraculously over a wild sea

life, reflecting his interest in living

with God’s aid, and fashioning new

piously and well. He notes little

laws and new forms of government

purchases of sweets for a woman

after God’s wishes.

he was courting, and their dis-

Colonial worlds tend to be archaic,

agreements over whether he

and New England certainly was no

should affect aristocratic and ex-

exception. New England Puritans

pensive ways such as wearing a

were archaic by choice, conviction,

wig and using a coach.

and circumstance.

Mary Rowlandson

Samuel Sewall (1652-1730)

(c. 1635-c.1678)

Easier to read than the highly reli-

The earliest woman prose

gious poetry full of Biblical refer-

writer of note is Mary Rowland-

ences are the historical and secular

son, a minister’s wife who gives a

accounts that recount real events

clear, moving account of her 11-

using lively details. Governor John

week captivity by Indians during an

Winthrop’s Journal (1790) provides

Indian massacre in 1676. The book

the best information on the early

undoubtedly fanned the flame of

Massachusetts Bay Colony and Pu-

anti-Indian sentiment, as did John

ritan political theory.

COTTON MATHER

Williams’s The Redeemed Captive

Samuel Sewall’s Diary, which re-

(1707), describing his two years in

cords the years 1674 to 1729, is lively

captivity by French and Indians

and engaging. Sewall fits the pattern

after a massacre. Such writings

of early New England writers we

as women produced are usually

have seen in Bradford and Taylor.

domestic accounts requiring no

Born in England, Sewall was brought

special education. It may be

to the colonies at an early age. He

argued that women’s literature

made his home in the Boston area,

benefits from its homey realism

where he graduated from Harvard,

and common-sense wit; certainly

and made a career of legal, adminis-

works like Sarah Kemble Knight’s

Engraving © The Bettmann

trative, and religious work.

Archive

lively Journal (1825) of a daring

9

solo trip in 1704 from Boston to New York and

between church and state — still a fundamental

back escapes the baroque complexity of much

principle in America today. He held that the law

Puritan writing.

courts should not have the power to punish peo-

ple for religious reasons — a stand that under-

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

mined the strict New England theocracies. A

No account of New England colonial literature

believer in equality and democracy, he was a life-

would be complete without mentioning Cotton

long friend of the Indians. Williams’s numerous

Mather, the master pedant. The third in the four-

books include one of the first phrase books of

generation Mather dynasty of Massachusetts Bay,

Indian languages, A Key Into the Languages of

he wrote at length of New England in over 500

America (1643). The book also is an embryonic books and pamphlets. Mather’s 1702 Magnalia

ethnography, giving bold descriptions of Indian

Christi Americana ( Ecclesiastical History of New life based on the time he had lived among the

England), his most ambitious work, exhaustive-tribes. Each chapter is devoted to one topic —

ly chronicles the settlement of New England

for example, eating and mealtime. Indian words

through a series of biographies. The huge book

and phrases pertaining to this topic are mixed

presents the holy Puritan errand into the wilder-

with comments, anecdotes, and a concluding

ness to establish God’s kingdom; its structure poem. The end of the first chapter reads: is a narrative progression of representative

American “Saint’s Lives.” His zeal somewhat

If nature’s sons, both wild and tame,

redeems his pompousness: “I write the wonders

Humane and courteous be,

of the Christian religion, flying from the depriva-How ill becomes it sons of God

tions of Europe to the American strand.”

To want humanity.

Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683)

n the chapter on words about entertainment,

As the 1600s wore on into the 1700s, religious

he comments that “it is a strange truth that a

I

dogmatism gradually dwindled, despite sporadic,

man shall generally find more free entertain-

harsh Puritan efforts to stem the tide of toler-

ment and refreshing among these barbarians,

ance. The minister Roger Williams suffered for

than amongst thousands that call themselves

his own views on religion. An English-born son of

Christians.”

a tailor, he was banished from Massachusetts in

Williams’s life is uniquely inspiring. On a visit

the middle of New England’s ferocious winter in

to England during the bloody Civil War there, he

1635. Secretly warned by Governor John Win-

drew upon his survival in frigid New England to

throp of Massachusetts, he survived only by living organize firewood deliveries to the poor of

with Indians; in 1636, he established a new colony London during the winter, after their supply of

at Rhode Island that would welcome persons of

coal had been cut off. He wrote lively defenses

different religions.

of religious toleration not only for different

A graduate of Cambridge University (England),

Christian sects, but also for non-Christians.

he retained sympathy for working people and

“It is the will and command of God, that...a per-

diverse views. His ideas were ahead of his time.

mission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or

He was an early critic of imperialism, insisting

Antichristian consciences and worships, be grant-

that European kings had no right to grant land

ed to all men, in all nations...,” he wrote in The charters because American land belonged to the

Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of

Indians. Williams also believe in the separation

Conscience (1644). The intercultural experience 10

index-12_1.jpg

index-12_2.jpg

of living among gracious and humane

their ideas. He writes simply of his

Indians undoubtedly accounts for

desire to “feel and understand

much of his wisdom.

their life, and the Spirit they live

Influence was two-way in the

in.” Woolman’s justice-loving spirit

colonies. For example, John Eliot

naturally turns to social criticism:

translated the Bible into Narra-

“I perceived that many white

gansett. Some Indians converted to

People do often sell Rum to the

Christianity. Even today, the Native

Indians, which, I believe, is a great

American church is a mixture of

Evil.”

Christianity and Indian traditional

oolman was also one of

belief.

the first antislavery writ-

W

The spirit of toleration and reli-

ers, publishing two es-

gious freedom that gradually grew

says, “Some Considerations on the

in the American colonies was first

Keeping of Negroes,” in 1754 and

established in Rhode Island and

1762. An ardent humanitarian, he

Pennsylvania, home of the Quakers.

followed a path of “passive obedi-

The humane and tolerant Quakers,

ence” to authorities and laws he

or “Friends,” as they were known,

found unjust, prefiguring Henry

believed in the sacredness of the

David Thoreau’s celebrated essay,

individual conscience as the foun-

“Civil Disobedience” (1849), by

tainhead of social order and moral-

generations.

ity. The fundamental Quaker belief

in universal love and brotherhood

Jonathan Edwards

made them deeply democratic and

(1703-1758)

opposed to dogmatic religious au-

The antithesis of John Woolman

thority. Driven out of strict Massa-

is Jonathan Edwards, who was born

chusetts, which feared their influ-

only 17 years before the Quaker

ence, they established a very suc-

notable. Woolman had little formal

cessful colony, Pennsylvania, under

schooling; Edwards was highly edu-

William Penn in 1681.

cated. Woolman followed his inner

light; Edwards was devoted to the

JONATHAN EDWARDS

John Woolman (1720-1772)

law and authority. Both men were

The best-known Quaker work is

fine writers, but they revealed

the long Journal (1774) of John

opposite poles of the colonial reli-

Woolman, documenting his inner

gious experience.

life in a pure, heartfelt style of great

Edwards was molded by his

sweetness that has drawn praise

extreme sense of duty and by the

from many American and English

rigid Puritan environment, which

writers. This remarkable man left

conspired to make him defend

his comfortable home in town to

strict and gloomy Calvinism from

sojourn with the Indians in the wild

the forces of liberalism springing

interior because he thought he

up around him. He is best known

Engraving © The Bettmann

might learn from them and share

Archive

for his frightening, powerful ser-

11

mon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

ness was rare — instead we hear of such plea-

(1741):

sures as horseback riding and hunting. The

church was the focus of a genteel social life, not

[I]f God should let you go, you would imme-

a forum for minute examinations of conscience.

diately sink, and sinfully descend, and

plunge into the bottomless gulf...The God

William Byrd (1674-1744)

that holds you over the pit of hell, much as

Southern culture naturally revolved around the

one holds a spider or some loathsome

ideal of the gentleman. A Renaissance man

insect over the fire, abhors you, and is

equally good at managing a farm and reading clas-

dreadfully provoked....he looks upon you as

sical Greek, he had the power of a feudal lord.

worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the

William Byrd describes the gracious way of life

bottomless gulf.

at his plantation, Westover, in his famous letter

of 1726 to his English friend Charles Boyle, Earl

Edwards’s sermons had enormous impact,

of Orrery:

sending whole congregations into hysterical fits

of weeping. In the long run, though, their

Besides the advantages of pure air, we

grotesque harshness alienated people from the

abound in all kinds of provisions without

Calvinism that Edwards valiantly defended.

expense (I mean we who have plantations).

Edwards’s dogmatic, medieval sermons no

I have a large family of my own, and my doors

longer fit the experiences of relatively peaceful, are open to everybody, yet I have no bills to

prosperous 18th-century colonists. After Ed-

pay, and half-a-crown will rest undisturbed

wards, fresh, liberal currents of tolerance gath-

in my pockets for many moons altogether.

ered force.

Like one of the patriarchs, I have my flock

and herds, my bondmen and bondwomen,

LITERATURE IN THE SOUTHERN AND

and every sort of trade amongst my own ser-

MIDDLE COLONIES

vants, so that I live in a kind of independence

Pre-revolutionary southern literature was on everyone but Providence.

aristocratic and secular, reflecting the

dominant social and economic systems of

William Byrd epitomizes the spirit of the

the southern plantations. Early English immi-

southern colonial gentry. The heir to 1,040

grants were drawn to the southern colonies

hectares, which he enlarged to 7,160 hectares, he

because of economic opportunity rather than

was a merchant, trader, and planter. His library of religious freedom.

3,600 books was the largest in the South. He was

Although many southerners were poor farm-

born with a lively intelligence that his father aug-ers or tradespeople living not much better than

mented by sending him to excellent schools in

slaves, the southern literate upper class was

England and Holland. He visited the French

shaped by the classical, Old World ideal of a