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To present a fairly comprehensive account of the earliest attempts at novel writing in America has been the aim of this study. The period covered that from 1789 to 1830-opens with the publication of the first tentative and amateurish American novels and at its close leaves the novel an established form in American literature.
In dealing with these early tales much space has been given to description of the stories themselves. This method of treatment seemed to be necessary for two reasons-because these tales are little known, indeed, with a few exceptions, they are generally unknown, and because most of them are rare, and some of them almost inaccessible.
The early American drama has, of course, received much attention and investigation, but the corresponding period in the history of fiction has been neglected. Yet the first forty years of American fiction produced two novelists of real importance, Charles Brocken Brown and James Fenimore Cooper, while the drama produced no playwright of lasting interest or influence. The history of novel writing in this period seems, therefore, to have some claim to attention from the point of view of literary history as well as from that of social interest. The difficulty of gathering material so generally unsought by either students or collectors has been considerable. So many books have been discovered by chance that I am conscious that there must be many others to which no chance has led me. It seems probable, however, that any further discoveries will fall into some one of the classes of fiction here discussed, and will thus be chiefly of bibliographical importance. My indebtedness to Mr. Oscar Wegelin's bibliography of early American fiction is obvious and great. I wish, also, to express my thanks to Mr. Wegelin for aid in obtaining books and for several additional titles. I am indebted to Mr.
Edward B. Reed of Yale University for information in regard to Alonzo and Melissa; to the officers of the New York Society Library for many courtesies and for the use of their excellent collection of early fiction, both English and American, and to the officers of the Library of Columbia University for assistance in obtaining books.
The original inspiration and the subsequent patient guidance of this study constitute only a small part of my debt of gratitude to Professor W. P. Trent of Columbia University. I take this opportunity to express my grateful thanks for many years of personal kindness and scholarly inspiration.
THE DIDACTIC AND THE SENTIMENTAL
WHEN the Revolution made a conscious separation between American and English literature, America had already developed a considerable literary activity. Among the fruits of this incipient literary culture were a mass of religious writing, much verse, some history, a few attempts at drama, and a large amount of political and controversial writing. The genre most noticeably absent from this list is the novel. Colonial America had produced no novelist, although in England the great novels of the century had long been written. In view of the active interest shown in poetry and the drama, such apparent neglect of a prevailing literary fashion cannot be attributed to lack of literary ambition and effort. Its causes are rather to be sought in two important aspects of early American culture, the surviving Puritan spirit, and the colonial spirit.
The Puritan attitude toward the lighter forms of literature is too well known to need discussion here. Its survival is evident in the words of Timothy Dwight, whose taste for poetry, and music, and other unpuritanical joys could not reconcile him to the sudden development of fiction which took place in his day. "Between the Bible and novels there is a gulf fixed," he says, "which few novel readers are willing to pass. The consciousness of virtue, the dignified pleasure of having performed one's duty, the serene remembrance of a useful life, the hope of an interest in the Redeemer, and the promise of a glorious inheritance in the favor of God are never found in novels."
The novelists of the earlier period in America show, in their prefaces, a nervous consciousness of the possibility of such censure, and endeavor to forestall it by showing that they are 1 Travels in New England and New York. London, 1823, Vol. I, p. 477.
not as other novelists—that their works are calculated, not to mislead, but to direct, the young mind. The Reverend Enos Hitchcock, one of our earliest writers of fiction, and, like Timothy Dwight, a Revolutionary chaplain, makes his heroine utter the warning" Nothing can have a worse effect on the mind of our sex than the free use of those writings which are the offspring of modern novelists." The same dread of the pernicious effects of novel reading appears in Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Rowson, and the other literary ladies who were our first novelists.
Puritanism, of course, did not control the opinions of the whole country. More general was the colonial spirit, under whose influence Americans looked to England as their mother country, gave their sons an English education, whenever possible, and sought in English manners a model for their own. Readers filled with such a spirit naturally satisfied their taste for fiction with the stories of English life which constant traffic and intercourse made accessible.
This spirit of filial acceptance could not survive the Revolution. When the confusion of war had had time to subside, thoughtful people, gazing with a pardonable complacency on what they had already accomplished, decided that thereafter manners and letters, as well as laws, should be home-made. We have already," said the Reverend Enos Hitchcock, “suffered by too great an avidity for British customs and manners, it is now time to become independent in our maxims, principles of education, dress, and manners, as we are in our laws and government."2 Ardent patriots at once applied themselves to the task of supplying a literature which should reflect American manners. Thus the new spirit of national self-consciousness united with the unbending of the Puritan spirit to make the last decade of the eighteenth century one of novel writing, as well as of novel reading.
Royall Tyler, in the preface to his Algerine Captive,3 pub
Boston, 1790, Vol. II, p. 82.
1 Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family. 2 Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family. 3 The Algerine Captive, or the Life and Adventures of Dr. Updike Underhill, a Prisoner among the Algerines. Walpole, Vt., 1797.