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and settled social conditions to the older English colonies. With these went the leisure and comfort which prepare a community for the conscious enjoyment of literature. These changing circumstances are reflected in the keen observations and amusing descriptions preserved by one of the sprightliest of New England matrons, Madame Sarah Knight. During the winter of 1704-5, Mrs. Knight was obliged to go to New York to attend to some business affairs. The trip from Boston followed the shore line, and was accomplished as expeditiously as her energetic nature, bored by the humdrum happenings along the way, could hurry it along, but five months elapsed before she regained her own fireside and warming pan. From the first stopping place, where she found the other guests "tyed by the Lipps to a pewter engine,” and the next day's guide, whose "shade on his Hors resembled a Globe on a Gate post," there was scarcely a stage of her journey which did not provide its subject for entertaining comment.
An equal appreciation of the fact that mileage and food are not the only things worth recording by those who go abroad gives permanent value to the diaries kept by the second William Byrd of Westover in 1732 and 1733, when he followed the course of Edward Bland in searching for the likeliest Virginian land-holdings. Byrd was a model for all who journey in company, for he “broke not the Laws of Travelling by uttering the least Complaint” at inopportune torrents or “an impertinent Tooth ... that I could not grind a Biscuit but with much deliberation and presence of mind." He “contriv'd to get rid of this troublesome Companion by cutting a Caper," with a stout cord connecting the tooth and the snag of a log. “This new way of Tooth-drawing, being so silently and deliberately perform'd, both surprized and delighted all that were present, who cou'd not guess what I was going about."
Byrd has been made known for his “happy proficiency in polite and varied learning." He was not peculiar, however, among the gentlemen of his generation for a style which shows an acquaintance with what is recognized as literature. Most of the people who possessedinherited wealth and established position were able to spell correctly, and they obeyed the laws of English grammar. Many of Byrd's contemporaries in the New World could not do either of these things, and it has come to be the fashion among their descendants to excuse those eminently respectable and often brave and prosperous men and women, because of a belief that their short-comings were in accord with the practice, or lack thereof, of their own day. Byrd's writings, and even more clearly those of the Maryland physician Alexander Hamilton, furnish the best of evidence that illiteracy was ignorance due to a lack of education as truly in 1700 as it is two centuries later.
Dr. Hamilton, who is not known to have been related to the more eminent publicist of the same name, in 1744 followed his own advice and sought to rid himself of a persistent indisposition by a change of climate and companions. Except for this health-seeking incentive, his journey from Annapolis to Portsmouth in New Hampshire was a pleasure trip, probably, the earliest recorded in America.
Reading was easily the first of Dr. Hamilton's pleasures. On his journey he picked up from the Philadelphia book stalls the latest English novels, and in New York he bought a new edition of a classical favourite. When his own supply of reading matter gave out, he rummaged through the innor explored his host's book shelves. The tavern keeper at Kingston in Rhode Island convinced him that it was unlawful, and therefore inexpedient, to travel on the Sabbath, and so he loitered about all day, “having nothing to do and no books to read, except it was a curious History of the Nine Worthies (which we found in Case's library) a book worthy of that worthy author Mr. Burton, the diligent compiler and historian of Grub Street.” The scenery, luckily, furnished a partial compensation for the dearth of literary pastime, for he noted as he approached this hostelry that it brought to his mind "some romantic descriptions of rural scenes in Spenser's Faerie Queene."
The day following his arrival at Boston being Sunday, he attended meeting, where he heard “solid sense, strong connected reasoning and good language.” For the rest of this day's entry in his journal he records “staid at home this night, reading a little of Homer's First Iliad.” As he does not say, we can only guess whether he took his Homer in the original or through a translation. With Latin we know that he was on intimate terms, even without the evidence of his Scottish medical degree. While at Newport he writes:
I stayed at home most of the forenoon and read Murcius [Meursius), which I had of Dr. Moffatt, a most luscious piece, from whom all our modern salacious poets have borrowed their thoughts. I did not read this book upon account of its lickerish contents, but only because I knew it to be a piece of excellent good Latin, and I wanted to inform myself of the proper idiom of ye language upon that subject.
On his return to New York he notes that a day
passed away, as many of our days do, unremarked and trifling. I did little more than breakfast, dine and sup. I read some of Homer's twelfth Iliad, and went to the coffee-house in the after
Back in Philadelphia, he found the September air very sharp and cold for the season, and a fire was very grateful. I did little but stay at home all day, and employed my time in reading of Homer's Iliad.
His next forenoon was
spent in reading of Shakespear's Timon of Athens, of Manhater, a play which tho' not written according to Aristotle's rules, yet abounds with inimitable beauties, peculiar to this excellent author.
With such saddle-bag friends to accompany him, Dr. Hamilton was well prepared to pass judgment upon the casual acquaintances who crossed his path. When he first looked about him in Philadelphia, he
observed several comical, grotesque Phizzes in the inn where I put up, which would have afforded variety of hints for a painter of Hogarth's turn. They talked there upon all subjects,-politicks, religion, and trade,-some tolerably well, but most of them ignorantly.
The next morning the Doctor kept his room, reading Montaigne's Essays, “a strange medley of subjects, and particularly entertaining." On Sunday he was asked out to dinner, but found “our table chat was so trivial and trifling that I mention it not. After dinner I read the second volume of The Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and thought my time well spent."
Dr. Hamilton, one of the most entertaining of American travellers, appears to advantage even beside the urbanity of Byrd and the sprightliness of Mrs. Knight. Bent upon no special errand, he observed freely, and all the more so, one suspects, because of his detachment. Such a quality was not so easy during the next generation, when the wars between the French and English in America, the beginnings of colonial, and then national, pride, the growth of natural science, and the coming of the romantic spirit of solitude and love of nature furnished new motives. Then travelling became a fad, a profession, a duty, and led to the production of an extensive literature which may more properly be discussed with the work of men who were no longer colonials but citizens of the new republic.
The Historians, 1607-1783
N these five moneths of my continuance here," wrote John
Pory, of Virginia, in 1619, “there have come at one time or
another eleven sails of ships into this river; but fraighted more with ignorance, than with any other marchansize." The writer was a Cambridge graduate, a man of good standing in England, and had crossed the Atlantic to find that Virginia was not the Virginia of his dreams. Ten years earlier all the incoming ships brought well-born adventurers to Jamestown; now they held only those who intended to produce tobacco. Henceforth the future of the colony was with those who could clear the forests, establish plantations, and withstand the agues of the mosquito-infested lowlands. The leaves of fate for Virginia were not to be thumbed in a book. They stood broad and strong over the rich bottom-lands, where the summer sun seemed to the onlooker to deck their oily surfaces with a coat of silver. In the days of the gentlemen adventurers nine men wrote about the history of the colony; in the days of the tobacco growers a century could not show as many.
The earliest Virginians were full of enthusiasm and wished to tell the coming generations how the colony of Virginia was founded. Their enterprise was popular in England, and he who wrote about it was sure of readers. The men who planted tobacco were prosaic. They were poor men become rich, or well-born men become materialistic, and it was only after many years that any of the forms of culture appeared among them. One of these forms was literature, but it was ever a plant of spindling growth.
The first historian in Virginia, the first in the British colonies,