The Colonial Image: Origins of American Culture

The Colonial Image: Origins of American Culture

The Colonial Image: Origins of American Culture

The Colonial Image: Origins of American Culture

Excerpt

American literature was born when Englishmen began to write about their experiences in the trans-Atlantic colonies. It was the offspring of the marriage between the English language and the American environment. In the beginning, it took the form of descriptions of the new land and its inhabitants, accounts of the hardships met with by the settlers, and narratives of their relations with the Indians. Few of the men who produced this body of literature would have written anything worthy of a place in literary history had they remained in England; they were primarily men of action in whose lives writing played a secondary part. By providing them with a theme, setting and incidents--a whole new range of experience--America helped to create a fresh, virile branch of literature.

Because the overriding need of the colonies was for people, many of the early American writers were publicists who made it their business to persuade Englishmen and others to pull up stakes and settle in the New World. The techniques of modern advertising originated in this effort to "sell" America to prospective immigrants. To promote the growth of the newly founded colonies, the Virginia and Massachusetts Bay companies enlisted the services of poets, pamphleteers, ship captains, preachers and returned travelers. As a result, there was such an outpouring of tracts, ballads, and sermons devoted to America that the colonizing companies virtually became publishing houses. After the Indian Massacre in Virginia in 1622, the Reverend John Donne, the eminent poet and dean of St. Paul's, preached a sermon in which he declared that continued support of the colony would advance both the interests of England and the Kingdom of God. For services rendered, the Reverend Dr. Donne was paid by the Virginia Company in stock.

The importance of creating a favorable image of America was made the more necessary by the reports detrimental to the colonies that found ready credence in the Old World. It was rumored that the country was infested with "Devills or Lyons"; that once they crossed the Atlantic, women could not bear children; that New England rattlesnakes were . . .

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