The Cambridge History of American Literature

By William Peterfield Trent; John Erskine et al. | Go to book overview

Book II

CHAPTER I
Travellers and Observers, 1763-1846

THE literature of travel, fresh, varied, and cosmopolitan, doubtless owes its principal charm to its effect upon the sense of wonder, and hence in the last analysis is to be understood in its bearing upon imagination and poetic art; but its relation to history and geography is not superficial. Accordingly, we may first recall such dates and events as will suggest in outline the expanding region in which the second great division of American travellers range. With the close of the French and Indian War begins the supremacy of the English-speaking race in North America. Before twenty years had passed, the Colonies, no longer a mere fringe of population along the Atlantic, have achieved their independence, and possess a territory reaching inland to the Mississippi. Twenty years later, in 1803, comes the Louisiana Purchase, when the wily Napoleon, for a consideration, and to thwart his colonizing foe across the Channel, endowed the Americans with a tract of land extending from that great river north-west to the Rocky Mountains, the importance of which even Jefferson, with his westward-looking eyes, was unable to grasp in full. Another eight years, and there is a temporary check in the Astoria Settlement, later recorded by Irving. Then comes the War of 1812-14, and after it a rapid inrush of immigration. Of the native citizens, two generations have been born since the War of Independence; Revolutionary heroes are passing; and the new leaders are alien to England. The nation has become distinct. In 1819 Spain relaxes her feeble hold upon Florida.

-185-

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