Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 10, Number 3, Fall 2012
pp. 439-466 | 10.1353/eam.2012.0020
"'While Pen, Ink & Paper Can Be Had'" considers reading and writing from a variety of angles: as a cultural practice, as a form of self-representation, and as a material act. It is based on letters exchanged by members of two eighteenth-century discursive communities; the correspondence itself was situated within and given its character by a particular historical context, in this instance a British America in the midst of revolution. Those engaging in "converse of the pen," a metaphor invoked by the novelist Samuel Richardson, depended on a body of shared knowledge and presumed the ability both to recognize and to place in context allusions and passages taken from other texts. A son and a daughter of families who counted themselves members of Boston's merchant elite, William Tudor and Delia Jarvis forged a courtship in and through a remarkably rich trans-Atlantic literary culture. Tudor's correspondence with John Adams, which dealt with the invention of a nation, militarily and politically, was grounded in a second discursive community, which centered on eighteenth-century interpretations of classical republicanism. We have presumed that these interpretive communities operated on different discursive and cognitive terrains. The letters Tudor exchanged with Jarvis and Adams suggests that a shared language of sensibility cut across these categorical distinctions.