Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 2. Gordon; Ramsay; Drayton; Moultrie; Marshall; Wirt

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XVII. Writers on American History, 1783–1850

§ 2. Gordon; Ramsay; Drayton; Moultrie; Marshall; Wirt

Gordon, who was born in England, preached at Roxbury, Massachusetts, from 1770 to 1786. He was an active Whig, and after his return to England he wrote in four volumes a history of the Revolution (1788), which was widely read by the English, and in America was honoured with a pirated edition and long extracts in the newspapers. We now know that Gordon copied freely from The Annual Register, of which the parts dealing with America were at that time written by Edmund Burke. It is even charged that Gordon tempered his narrative to please the feelings of his friends in England. His book is but slightly esteemed. Dr. Ramsay (1749–1815), of South Carolina, though educated to be a physician, was more a politician and littérateur than a scientist. His History of the Revolution of South Carolina (1785) and History of the American Revolution (1789) were well received by an uncritical generation. It remained for a later age to discover that the second of these books, long accepted as an original work, was largely drawn from The Annual Register. Drayton and Moultrie were prominent South Carolinians, one a political and the other a military defender of the Whig cause. Each wrote an excellent account of what he had seen in his own state. Marshall and Wirt were Virginia lawyers who thought it their duty to portray the lives of two great men of the Revolution. From the first we have the Life of Washington (1804–07) in five volumes, a heavy book without literary style and smacking of Federalist opinions. It displeased the followers of Jefferson but had a wide circulation among those who did not agree with the great Republican leader. For posterity it has value chiefly as a solid source of information. Wirt’s Life of Patrick Henry (1817) is much unlike Marshall’s book. It was well written—Wirt had a polished style—but it was a hasty and inadequate picture of a most important life. A better but less readable biography was William Tudor’s Life of James Otis (1823).