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The Cambridge History
of American Literature
To be completed in Three Volumes
Vol. 1.-Colonial and Revolutionary Literature
Early National Literature, Part I. Vol. II.-Early National Literature, Part II. Vol. III.-Later National Literature, 1850-1900
William Peterfield Trent, M.A., LL.D.
Professor of English in Columbia University
John Erskine, Ph.D.
Stuart P. Sherman, Ph.D.
Carl Van Doren, Ph.D.
Head Master of The Brearley School
In Three Volumes
Colonial and Revolutionary Literature
Early National Literature: Part I
New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons
TOP LEN X AND JEN FOUNDATIONS 1913
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Tbe knickerbocker Press, Acw Pork
T was a hard saying of a Spanish aphorist of the seventeenth
century that “to equal a predecessor one must have twice
his worth.” We should deprecate the application of that standard to The Cambridge History of American Literature, yet we are not without hope that the work, of which we here present the first volume, will be found to mark some progress in the right direction. We would call attention to the following as perhaps its chief distinctive features: (1) It is on a larger scale than any of its predecessors which have carried the story from colonial times to the present generation; (2) It is the first history of American literature composed with the collaboration of a numerous body of scholars from every section of the United States and from Canada; (3) It will provide for the first time an extensive bibliography for all periods and subjects treated; (4) It will be a survey of the life of the American people as expressed in their writings rather than a history of belles-lettres alone. The significance of these features may be emphasized by some reference to the characteristic merits and defects of previous works in this field, to which we are under obligations too extensive for detailed mention.
The earliest and the latest historians of a literature have great advantages: the earliest, that he has no predecessors; the latest, that he has many. It is a pleasure to remember Samuel L. Knapp, who in the preface to his Lectures on American Literature, published in 1829, easily justified the publication of that interesting and patriotic overture: "We have very good histories-narrative, political, military, and constitutional; but I know none, as yet, that can be called literary-meaning by the term, a history of our literature, and of our literary men.” “You are aware," he continues, "that it has been said by foreigners, and often repeated, that there was no such thing as American literature; that it would be vain for anyone to seek for proofs of taste, mind, or information, worth possessing, in our early records; and some of our citizens, who have never examined these matters, have rested .so quietly after these declarations, or so fondly denied them, that the bold asserters of these libels have gained confidence in tauntingly repeating them. The great epoch in our history—the revolution of 1775—seemed sufficient, alone, to many of the present generation, to give us, as a people, all the celebrity and rank, among the nations of the earth, we ought to aspire to, without taking the trouble to go back to the previous ages of heroick virtue and gigantick labours. Many of the present generation are willing to think that our ancestors were a pious and persevering race of men, who really did possess some strength of character, but, without further reflection, they are ready to allow that a few pages are ‘ample room and verge enough' to trace their character and their history together: I have ventured to think differently”;-and the editors of the present work are at this point in accord with Knapp.
Knapp, however, illustrates a temptation which has beset investigators of American literature from his day to ours, namely, the temptation to relinquish the unremunerative project of adequate scholarly publication and to compensate oneself by producing a text-book adapted to the means and the minds of school-boys. “My plan,” he says, in a passage which throws an illuminating beam down the whole pathway of American literary scholarship—“My plan when I commenced my researches was an extensive one, and I gathered copious materials to carry it into effect. For several years past I have had access to libraries rich in American literature; but when I sat down to work up the mass I had collected, the thought suggested itself to my mind, that no adequate compensation could ever be reasonably expected for my pains. . . . Still I could not be persuaded to relinquish altogether my design, and I therefore set about abridging my outlines, dispensing with many of my remarks, and giving up many elaborate finishings I had promised myself to make in the course of my work. And another thought struck me most forcibly, that a heavy publication would not be readily within the reach of all classes of youth in our country, but that a single volume of common size, in a cheap edition, might find its way into some of