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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855,
BY CHARLES SCRIBNER,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
R. CRAIGHEAD, ELECTROTYPER AND STEREOTYPER,
53 Vesey Street, N. Y
CA ALVORD, Printer,
20 Gold street
IN submitting the following work to the Public, it may not be amiss, though the numerous articles of which it is composed must speak separately for themselves, to offer a few words of general introduction, setting forth the intent, the necessary limitations, and presenting a few suggestions, which may give unity to the apparent variety.
The design of the Cyclopædia is to bring together as far as possible in one book convenient for perusal and reference, memorials and records of the writers of the country and their works, from the earliest period to the present day. In the public and private library it is desirable to have at hand the means of information on a number of topics which associate themselves with the lives of persons connected with literature. There are numerous points of this kind, not merely relating to authorship, but extending into the spheres of social and political life, which are to be sought for in literary biography, and particularly in the literary biography of America, where the use of the pen has been for the most part incidental to other pursuits. The history of the literature of the country involved in the pages of this work, is not so much an exhibition of art and invention, of literature in its immediate and philosophical sense, as a record of mental progress and cultivation, of facts and opinions, which derives its main interest from its historical rather than its critical value. It is important to know what books have been produced, and by whom; whatever the books may have been or whoever the men.
It is in this light that we have looked upon the Cyclopædia of American Literature, a term sufficiently comprehensive of the wide collection of authors who are here included under it. The study and practice of criticism may be pursued elsewhere: here, as a matter of history, we seek to know in general under what forms and to what extent literature has been developed. It is not the purpose to sit in judgment, and admit or exclude writers according to individual taste, but to welcome all guests who come reasonably well introduced, and, for our own part, perform the character of a host as quietly and efficiently as practicable.
A glance at the contents of this work will show that an endeavor has been made to include as wide a range of persons and topics as its liberal limits will permit. It has been governed by one general design, to exhibit and illustrate the products of the pen on American soil.
This is connected more closely here, than in the literature of other countries, with biographical details not immediately relating to books or authorship; since it is only of late that a class of authors by profession has begun to spring up. The book-producers of the country have mostly devoted their lives to other callings. They have been divines, physicians, lawyers, college-professors, politicians, orators, editors, active military men, travellers, and, incidentally, authors. It is necessary, therefore, in telling their story, to include many details not of a literary character, to exhibit fairly the proportion which literature bore in their lives.
As the work has not been restricted to professed authors, of whom very few would have been found, neither has it been limited to writers born in the country. It is sufficient
for the purpose that they have lived and written here, and that the land has been enriched by their labors. Indeed it is one of the marked facts in American cultivation, that in its early formative period it was so fortunate as to start with some of the finest products of the European mind. The divines of Cambridge, who brought with them to the New World the seed of literary, as well as of political and religious life; the men who taught at Harvard and William and Mary, who first spoke from the pulpits, who wrote the first historical records, who furnished the supplies for the first presses, were Englishmen by birth, as they and their successors were by political constitution, down to the comparatively recent period of the Revolution. Even since that period, the mental vigor of the country has been as constantly recruited by European minds, as its material conquests of the soil have been extended by European arms and hands. To ignore this, would be treasonable to the higher interests of letters, whose greatest benefit is to associate all nations in intellectual amity and progress. With pleasure we have placed upon these pages, accounts of foreign scholars and writers who have visited us and lived among us, frequently enduring privation, and freely expending their talents and energies in the literary service of the country. It is an honor, as it is a most liberal advantage to America, that men like Berkeley, Priestley, Dr. Cooper, Witherspoon, Nesbit, Follen, Lieber, Schaff, Agassiz, Guyot, have freely joined their contributions to the stock of our own authors. The country has received their books, and profited by their lessons and experience. It cannot grudge the few pages which justice, no less than gratitude and affection, assigns to their story.
The arrangement of the work, it will be seen, is chronological, following as nearly as practicable the date of birth of each individual.
As a record of National Literature, the Cyclopædia may be divided into three general periods; the Colonial Era, the Revolutionary Period, and the Present Century.
Each of these is marked by its distinct characteristics. The writers of the first period include the New England Puritan school, the patient, laborious, well read, and acute divines, the scholars who gave life to the early seats of learning, the first race of chroniclers, several genial observers of nature, as the Bartrams, and an occasional quaint poet, who penned verses without consulting the pleasure of Minerva. In this period there is rudeness, roughness, but much strength; frequently a high order of eloquence; great diligence, and an abundant collection of materials for history. Harvard College, William and Mary, Yale, the College of New Jersey, King's College New York, the University of Pennsylvania, the College of Rhode Island, and Dartmouth College, were established in this era. The great men of this period were Roger Williams, Cotton, Hooker, the Mathers, Blair, Colden, Logan, the Bartrams, Jonathan Edwards-chiefly proficients in divinity and science; while Franklin heralded the more general literary cultivation which was to follow.
The next, the Revolutionary period, may be said to have begun and ended with the discussion of legal and constitutional principles. It was inaugurated by Otis, Dickinson, Jefferson, and Adams, and closed with the labors of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, in the Federalist. The political and judicial arguments form its staple. They were the first distinctive voices of America heard in the old world. There had been as good Puritan divinity published in England as had been broached in Massachusetts and Connecticut; the age of Dryden and of Pope had undoubtedly furnished better poets than the land of Anne Bradstreet and Michael Wigglesworth; but here was a new experience in government, a fresh manly interpretation of constitutional right, expressed succinctly, forcibly, eloquently in the colonial writings, fast ceasing to be colonial, which compelled a hearing, and elicited the generous admiration of Chatham. Nor was this literature confined to didactic political disquisition. In Francis Hopkinson it had a polished champion, who taught by wit, what Dickinson and Drayton unfolded with argument and eloquence; while Trumbull, Freneau, and Brackenridge caught the various humors of the times, and introduced a new spirit into American literature. The intellect of the country was thoroughly awakened.