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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650


THE PRESENT series of volumes illustrating the literature of the American colonies aims especially to show the development of national culture and ideals. Although not eschewing them, it does not deal primarily with political life or with historical interests. It attempts to present mainly in modernized spelling such passages from the works of colonial authors as reveal most of literary art, of individual genius, and of the national mind in the process of its differentiation.

That the survey might be full yet not prolix the selections have often been shortened by the omission of passages that would weary a modern reader, but such omissions have always been indicated, and care has been taken that they should not be of a character to affect the sense of what remains. The literature of any nation in its formative period requires winnowing if it is to attract that same nation in its maturity; for much is antiquated that is neither significant nor curious. Yet our colonial writers bear comparison with those of any other race under similar conditions. Many who have gone to them with a smile have remained to be edified. In the earlier period men lived earnestly if not largely, they thought highly if not broadly, they felt nobly if not always with magnanimity. Resourcefulness, self-reliance, individuality, were the virtues fashioned by primitive circumstances, and these asserted themselves in the later period as more enduring elements in the national character than the Cavalier traditions of Virginia or the Puritanism of New England.

It is, then, the gradual transformation of the national literature with the national character that is exhibited in these volumes. Brief accounts are given of each author, and the essays at the beginning of the several volumes endeavor to gather up the characteristics of each period and to draw from them their lessons with regard to national evolution. Where special obligations to books and editors are due, they have been acknowledged in the text; here hearty thanks are tendered to the courteous officials of the library of Columbia University.