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Cromwell? Charles the Second or William Penn? Was it Churchman, Presbyterian, Independent, Separatist, Quaker? One is tempted to say that the title of Ben Jonson's comedy Every man in his Humour became the standard of action for two whole generations of Englishmen, and that there is no common denominator for emigrants of such varied pattern as Smith and Sandys of Virginia, Morton of Merrymount, John Winthrop, Sir Christopher Gardiner and Anne Hutchinson of Boston, and Roger Williams of Providence. They seem as miscellaneous as Kitchener's army. It is true that we can make certain distinctions. Virginia, as has often been said, was more like a continuation of English society, while New England represented a digression from English society. There were then, as now, stand-patters and progressives. It was the second class who, while retaining very conservative notions about property, developed a fearless intellectual radicalism which has written itself into the history of the Un
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 2: the first colonial literature (search)
's endeavor to wash it white in the blood of the Lamb. There is glorious writing here, and its effect cannot be suggested by quoting sentences. But there is one sentence in a letter written by Williams in his old age to his fellow-townsmen of Providence which points the whole moral of the terrible mistake made by the men who sought spiritual liberty in America for themselves, only to deny that same liberty to others. I have only one motion and petition, begs this veteran pioneer who had fordellion under the leadership of Nathaniel Bacon almost seventy years had intervened, an interval corresponding to that which separates us from the Mexican War. Roger Williams ended his much-enduring and beneficent life in the flourishing town of Providence in 1684. He had already outlived Cotton and Hooker, Shepard and Winthrop, by more than thirty years. Inevitably men began, toward the end of the century, to take stock of the great venture of colonization, to scrutinize their own history and p
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 3: the third and fourth generation (search)
thereafter deal with the literature of one multitudinous people, variegated, indeed, in personal traits, but single in its commanding ideas and in its national destinies. It is easy to be wise after the event. Yet there was living in London in 1765, as the agent for Pennsylvania, a shrewd and bland Colonial — an honorary M. A. from both Harvard and Yale, a D. C.L. of Oxford and an Ll.D. of St. Andrewswho was by no means sure that the Stamp Act meant the end of Colonialism. And Franklin's uncertainty was shared by Washington. When the tall Virginian took command of the Continental Army as late as 1775, he abhorred the idea of independence. Nevertheless John Jay, writing the second number of the Federalist in 1787, only twelve years later, could say: Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people; a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government.