John Trumbull, Connecticut Wit

John Trumbull, Connecticut Wit

John Trumbull, Connecticut Wit

John Trumbull, Connecticut Wit

Excerpt

This book is devoted to the life and writings of the most celebrated American poet of the eighteenth century, John Trumbull. Although it must be granted at once that Trumbull was a minor writer, it is not hard to understand the enormous popularity once accorded his works. He lived in a day when it was difficult to estimate the true proportions of a new American writer. On the bleak prairies of our early national literature every shrub appeared a tree, and every tree a giant of its species. Trumbull was hailed as a writer great enough to be compared favorably with Butler, Swift, and Pope. The encomia he received were extreme but natural. Was he not by common consent the most brilliant writer in the most distinguished coterie of eighteenth-century American poets, the Hartford Wits? Did not his M'Fingal go into more than thirty editions during his lifetime? Did not English critics admit it to a parity with Hudibras? Was it not the most popular American poem of its length before Longfellow Evangeline? These things may be granted. Yet the benefits conferred by priority are short-lived, and Trumbull's fame has suffered adjustment at the hands of posterity. Now he seems further from Dryden or Pope in ability and, to choose a man of temperament akin to his own, closer to Churchill. If he had only one rival (Freneau) for supremacy in American poetry before Bryant, it now appears that he achieved that distinction partly because of the dearth of good native poets. The leveling process of time has long since crumbled the peak of his fame. His general public has greatly dwindled. Yet it is a mistake to estimate an early writer's intrinsic merit by the number of general readers he draws in later generations. Who except the scholar now . . .

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