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.

XVI. Webster

§ 5. The Plymouth Discourse

The Discourse, as he called it, delivered at Plymouth in 1820 upon the two hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, was the first of the great occasional addresses which gave so much fame to Webster as an orator, wholly apart from that which he achieved in Congress or in the courts. It was evidently prepared with extreme care and has less of the effect of words actually spoken than his later work of the same character. The perfect combination of the literary quality with the spoken word, to which he afterwards attained, has not yet been reached. The Plymouth Discourse shows his wide knowledge of history, and the historical illustrations are given with an easy mastery of his subject and with a conciseness that saves him from the rambling digression which is at once the temptation and the danger of the historical parallel. There are also many passages which contain, in the manner of Burke, philosophical considerations of the science of government and which deal with the general principles affecting social and political problems. The history and philosophy are all eminently appropriate to his subject and to an address of that character. They give it weight, seriousness, and the permanence which lasts far beyond the moment of speech. The manner in which they are used and introduced is distinctly literary. But we also find in this address something more, the purely literary quality in the style and in the thought.