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an utterance which meant, among other things, that the thirteen colonies were no longer thirteen colonies but a single nation only, with all its great hopes and great fears in common, with its ideas, its determinations, its literature, in common likewise. The real ending of our colonial epoch, the real beginning of our revolutionary epoch, coincided in that tremendous year of disenchantment, the year 1765. That year, therefore, fixes the limit of the present volumes; for in these volumes I have tried to tell the story of American literary activity during the time of our contented subordination to the European commonwealth out of which we came.
It is possible that the scope of this work is well enough indicated in the words just written; yet to prevent misconception, I venture to state my plan a little more explicitly. I have not undertaken to give an indiscriminate dictionary of all Americans who ever wrote anything, or a complete bibliographical account of all American books that were ever written. It is our literary history only, that I have undertaken to give ;—that is, the history of those writings, in the English language, produced by Americans, which have some noteworthy value as literature, and some real significance in the literary unfolding of the American mind. But within the barriers fixed by the nature of this scheme, my work does aspire to be exhaustive. I have endeavored to examine the entire mass of American writings, during the colonial time, so far as they now exist in the public and private libraries of this country; and in the exercise of a most anxious judgment, and of a desire for completeness that has not grown weary even under physical fatigue, I have tried in these volumes to make an appropriate mention of every one of our early authors whose writings, whether many or few, have any appreciable literary merit, or throw any helpful light upon the evolution of thought and of style in America, during those flourishing and indispensable days.
In the composition of a work of this kind, it is a very grave judicial responsibility that the author is forced to assume; it is also a very sacred responsibility. With reference to every name presented to him, there arises the debate, first, over its admission into the history at all; and, secondly, if admitted, over the amount of prominence to be given to it. Upon these two questions, scarcely any two persons can ever exactly agree. As to my own solution of these questions, I can only say that I have studied, as I believe, every American writer of the colonial time, in his extant writings; I have included him within this history or have excluded him from it, after fair inspection of his claims; and I have given to every writer whom I have admitted, just so much room as was demanded by my own sense of his relative literary importance, and by my own view of the necessary adjustment of historical proportions in this book. Upon no topic of literary estimation have I formed an opinion at second hand. In every instance, I have examined for myself the work under consideration. Wherever, upon any subject, I have consciously used the opinion of another, I have made specific acknowledgment of my indebtedness; and by constant reference in the foot-notes to the sources of my information, I have tried to help others in testing my own statements, and in prosecuting similar studies for themselves. Having, after the utmost painstaking, reached iny own conclusions, I have endeavored to utter
them frankly, accepting the responsibility of them; and yet, so various are human judgments that I may not dare to hope that any other student of the subject will in all particulars agree with me.
Some difference of opinion, also, is likely to exist over the question of weaving into the text of a history of literature, passages from the authors who are described in it. First of all, let it be mentioned that to do this skilfully is by no means a saving of labor for the literary historian: indeed, aster the great matters of construction have been settled, no part of his task is more difficult than this; none requires a daintier touch, a more sensitive judgment, or a literary sense more delicate and alert. It would be far easier to write a history of literature without illustrative quotations than with them. But in the service of his art, the true literary man can never think of his own ease as an offset to the pleasure of doing his work well; and for one, I do not see how a history of literature can be well done, or be of much use, without the frequent verification and illustration of its statements by expertly chosen examples from the authors under study. Unless such examples are given, the most precise, clear, and even vivid delineations of literary characteristics must, for those who have not read the authors spoken of, fade away into pallor and vagueness, and after a time become wearisome; while the whole work, as a presentation of literature, will seem, as Motley once wittily said to George Ticknor, “a kind of Barmecide's feast, in which the reader has to play the part of Shacabac, and believe in the excellence of the lamb stuffed with pistachio nuts, the flavor of the wines, and the perfume of the roses, upon the assertion of the entertainer, and without assistance from his own perceptions."1 On the general thcory, therefore, which I hold of this department of the historical art, I should certainly have introduced into my history specimens of the literature concerning which I write; but there is an additional reason why I ought to do so in the present casc. The literature of which I have here given an account, is a neglected literature, and probably must always remain neglected: the most of the books of which it is composed have not been read and cannot be read by many people now living ; since those books exist in but few copies, and lurk as rare and costly literary treasures in a small number of libraries. To give only abstract descriptions of such a literature, and to assume that my readers can verify my statements, by their own recollections of it, or by immediate and easy references to it, would be mere trifling. The only course left to me, if I would render
real benefit to those for whom I write, is to give freely, and with as much discrimination as I possess, such portions of our early literature as may form a sort of terse anthology of it, and as may enable my own readers to feel for them. selves something of what I have felt in my direct and prolonged researches in it.
It is my duty, likewise, to state here just what method I have adopted in the reproduction of the literary specimens that are given in this book. Obviously, their value for the purpose now in view would be destroyed, if they should be tampered with ; if the historian of this body of literature should undertake to improve it by his own emendations of it,-correcting its syntax, chastising its vocabulary, or recomposing the structure of its sentences. This I have never knowingly done. I have tried to reproduce my illustrative passages precisely as they stand in the original texts, excepting in three particulars relating to mere mechanical form. The seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, were times of extreme inaccuracy in proof-reading, and of extreme confusion in punctuation and spelling; and I have thought it no violation of the integrity of quotation for me to spell and punctuate any sentence of those times according to present usage, and occasionally to correct a palpable error of the press. It will be understood, also, that whenever, in citing a passage, long or short, the purpose of my citation would be satisfied by giving only a fragment of it,
1" Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor,” II. 257.
I have given only the fragment; and that in such cases I have indicated, in the usual manner, the presence of an ellipsis.
The studies upon which this book is founded have been for several years my principal occupation; and it is my purpose to continue those studies, till I shall have gone over the remainder of the field. The result will be given to the public as soon as practicable; and I shall think it a good fortune if, by the publication of the present work, I may be brought into communication with the possessors of rare materials relating to the periods that I have yet to survey, and may thus be enabled to prosecute my further labors with some generous assistance which otherwise I might not have.
The years which I have given to the preparation of this book would not be regretted by me, were it for no other reason than that the prosecution of my researches has made me acquainted with the noble spirit of mutual help