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 As a contribution to American prose it is much less important than his four posthumously published volumes of Travels in New England and New York (1821-22). These record a series of journeys, on horseback or in a gig or ‘sulky,’ which Dwight undertook for his health, usually during college vacations, beginning in September, 1796, and continuing at intervals until 1815. The book is the upshot of his experience of life; he was engaged upon the manuscript within nine months of his death, and probably within a few days of it. He professes as his motive for writing, the humanistic desire to vivify the past; he had wished to know ‘the manner in which New England appeared or to mine own eye would have appeared eighty or one hundred years before’; and, finding this impossible for himself, he resolved to make it possible for posterity. A second professed motive was the desire to refute foreign misrepresentations of America; and with this in view he cast his material into the form of letters and topical essays addressed to an imaginary Englishman.1 These definite purposes do not prevent the book from being an omnium gatherum. For Dwight does not use them as a basis of selection or exclusion of material, but admits anything that happens to interest him; and as he is interested in anything he sees and thinks of, the unity of his book is far to seek. Now, in emulation of the early New England annalists, he chronicles a great storm or an egregious murder; now, in a vein reminiscent of White's Selborne, he tells of the habits of birds, of the fitness of trees for particular soils, or of the right weather for maple sap; now, for chapter after stodgy chapter, he repeats and summarizes the Connecticut constitution and laws, the system of land tenure, the powers and duties of officers of government, and the penal system, even down to the fines imposed for
1 Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia (1786) has these points in common with Dwight's Travels: it purports to answer questions asked by a foreigner; it gives information about the constitution and laws, religion and manners, public revenue and expense, manufactures, commerce, money, histories, and memorials; it refutes the views of Buffon and of the Abbe Raynal upon the bad climate and soil of America, and upon the degeneracy of its animals and men. (See also Book II, Chap. I.) An immediate predecessor of Dwight in this genre was Ezra Stiles, who bequeathed to Dwight his Literary diary, and whose Itineraries Dwight may well have seen in Ms. Investigation would probably show that Dwight owed much to Jefferson and to Stiles.
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