position of the earlier historians who looked into the past with interest and into the present and future not without hope.
Following in general the plan of The Cambridge history of English literature
and of our encyclopaedic Duyckinck
, we have made it our primary purpose to represent as adequately as space allowed all the periods of our national past, and to restore the memory of writers who are neglected because they are forgotten and because they are no longer sympathetically understood.
To write the intellectual history of America
from the modem aesthetic standpoint is to miss precisely what makes it significant among modem literatures, namely, that for two centuries the main energy of Americans
went into exploration, settlement, labour for subsistence, religion, and statecraft.
For nearly two hundred years a people with the same traditions and with the same intellectual capacities as their contemporaries across the sea found themselves obliged to dispense for the most part with art for art. But the long inhibition and belated expansion of their purely aesthetic impulses, unfavourable as it was to the development of poetry and fiction, was no serious handicap to the production of a prose competently recording their practical activities and expressing their moral, religious, and political ideas.
Acquaintance with the written record of these two centuries should enlarge the spirit of American literary criticism and render it more energetic and masculine.
To a taste and judgment unperverted by the current finical and transitory definitions of literature, there is something absurd in a critical sifting process which preserves a Restoration comedy and rejects Bradford
's History of Plymouth
; which prizes a didactic poem in the heroic couplets and despises the work of Jonathan Edwards
; which relishes the letters of some third rate English poet, but finds no gusto in the correspondence of Benjamin Franklin
; which sends a student to the novels of William Godwin
,but never thinks of directing him to The federalist
When our American criticism treats its facile novelists and poetasters as they deserve, and heartily recognizes and values the works in which the maturest and wisest Americans
have expressed themselves, its references to the period prior to 1800 will be less apologetic.
For the nineteenth century, too, without neglecting the