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the first half of the eighteenth century this question was still in doubt, — never more so, perhaps, than when Braddock fell in what is now Western Pennsylvania. The victory on the Plains of Abraham settled the fate of a hemisphere. Once for all, the continent of America passed into the control of the race which still maintains there the traditions of the English Law.
In the second quarter of the eighteenth century, there declared itself throughout British America a movement which throws a good deal of light on American temperament. As we saw in our glance at English literature, one of the writers still busy in 1750 was John Wesley, the founder of that great dissenting sect commonly called Methodist. This originated in a fervent evangelical protest against the corrupt, unspiritualised condition of the English Church during the reign of George II. Though Methodism made permanent impression on the middle class of England, however, it can hardly be regarded in England as a social force of the first historical importance. Nor were any of its manifestations there salient enough to attract the instant attention of people who consider general English history. In America the case was different. During the earlier years of the eighteenth century the Puritan churches had begun to stiffen into formalism. Though this never went so far as to divorce religion from life, or to let native Yankees long forget the main tenets of Calvinism, there was such decline of religious fervour as to give the more earnest clergy serious ground for alarm.
In 1738 George Whitefield, perhaps the most powerful of English revivalists, first visited the colonies. In that year he devoted himself to the spiritual awakening of Georgia. In 1740 he came to New England. The Great Awakening of religion during the next few years was largely due to his preaching. At first the clergy were disposed ardently to welcome this revival of religious enthusiasm. Soon, however, the revival took a turn of which we may best form a conception by supposing that half the respectable classes of New England should fervently abandon their earthly affairs, and, enrolling themselves under the banners of the Salvation Army, should proceed to camp-meetings of the most enthusiastic disorder.
The more conservative clergy were alarmed; in 1744 Harvard College formally protested against the excesses of Whitefield, and in 1745 Yale followed this example. The religious enthusiasm which possessed the lower classes of eighteenth-century America, in short, grotesquely outran the gravely passionate ecstasies of the immigrant Puritans. So late as Cotton Mather's time, the devout of New England were still rewarded with mystic visions, wherein divine voices and heavenly figures revealed themselves to prayerful keepers of fasts and vigils. The Great Awakening which expressed itself in mad shoutings and tearing off of garments was more like what the earlier Puritans had deemed the diabolical excesses of Quakerism. The personal contrast between the immigrant Puritans and Whitefield typifies the difference. The old ministers had entered on their duties with all the authority of scholars from English universities; Whitefield began his career as an inspired potboy who emerged from a a tavern of the lower kind. Seventeenth-century Puritanism was a profound and lasting spiritual power ; Whitefield's revival was rather an outburst of ranting excess. Yet for all this excess the Great Awakening testifies to one lasting fact, - a far-reaching spontaneity and enthusiasm among the humble classes of America, which, once aroused, could produce social phenomena much more startling than Methodism produced in King George II.'s England.
The people who had been so profoundly stirred by this Great Awakening were the same who in 1776 declared themselves independent of the mother country. The American Revolution is important enough for separate consideration. Before speaking of that, we had best consider the literary expression of America up to 1776. Here, then, we need only
recall a few dates. The Stamp Act was passed in 1765, the year in which Blackstone published the first volume of his « Commentaries on the Law of England.” Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill came in 1775, the year in which Burke delivered his masterly speech on “ Conciliation with America." On the Glorious Fourth of July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. American independence was finally acknowledged by the peace of 1783. The Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1789. In 1800 the presidency of John Adams was drawing to a close, and Washington was dead. Now, very broadly speaking, the forces which expressed themselves in these familiar facts were forces which tended in America to destroy the mercantile class whom Copley painted, and to substitute as the ruling class throughout the country one more like that which had been stirred by the Great Awakening. In other words, the Revolution once more brought to the surface of American life the sort of natives whom the Great Awakening shows so fully to have preserved the spontaneity and the enthusiasm of earlier days.
A trilling anecdote may perhaps define this somewhat vague generalisation. In the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston is a room which contains a number of portraits by Copley, representing the mercantile aristocracy of the town a few years before the American Revolution. To this room, not long ago, there chanced to stray a gentleman eminent in the political and social life of a modern English colony. A shrewd man, of wide experience, he had found the United States a little puzzling. The sight of these Copley portraits was to him as a burst of light. He laughed, and pointing to the wall which their dignity adorns, exclaimed: “Why, that's the sort of people we are !” The sort of people whom Copley painted, in short, still socially and politically control the British colonies. Except for the Revolution, they might still have controlled America.
During the eighteenth century, ihen, America seems slowly
to have been developing into an independent nationality as conservative of its traditions as England was of hers, but less obviously so because American traditions were far less threatened. The geographical isolation of America combined with the absorptive power of our native race to preserve the general type of character which America had displayed from its settlement. In the history of native Americans, the seventeenth century has already defined itself as a period of untrammelled inexperience. The fact that American conditions changed so little until the Revolution implies that this national inexperience persisted. Inexperience leaves character far less altered than can be the case when experience accumulates. In many superficial aspects, no doubt, particularly if of the prosperous class, the native Americans of 1776 appeared to be men of the eighteenth century. In personal temper, however, Thomas Hutchinson and Samuel Adams were far more like John Winthrop and Roger Williams than Chatham and Burke were like Bacon and Burleigh. One inference seems clear: the Americans of the revolutionary period retained to an incalculable degree qualities which had faded from ancestral England with the days of Queen Elizabeth.
LITERATURE IN AMERICA FROM 1700 TO 1776
UNTIL 1728, when Cotton Mather died, the general state of literature in America remained unaltered. Between 1729 and 1776, the titles recorded by Whitcomb indicate decided change both in the character of the publications and in their distribution. Out of some two hundred and thirty of these titles, only thirty-seven are precisely religious ; thirty-eight are historical; forty-seven are political; forty-eight — though none have survived in literature are at least as literary as the verses of Wigglesworth or of Mrs. Bradstreet; and the rest including scientific works, almanacs, periodicals, and the like
can be classed only as miscellaneous. In religious writing, New England remained more prolific than the rest of the country; but the most memorable religious work of this period, that of Jonathan Edwards, was produced not in eastern Massachusetts, but in the Connecticut valley, — in other words, under the influence not of Harvard College but of Yale. Each of the other classes of publication - historical, political, literary, and miscellaneous — appeared in slightly greater numbers elsewhere than in New England. These rough memoranda indicate two significant facts. As the material prosperity of America increased, it tended to develop the middle colonies; during the greater part of the eighteenth century the most important town in America was not Boston, but Philadelphia. And though in purely religious writing New England kept the lead, the centre of its religious thought had shifted from the shore of Massachusetts Bay to that of Long Island Sound.