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  • 11 Literature to 1800
  • William J. Scheick

This year saw the publication of Emory Elliott's The Cambridge Introduction to Early American Literature (Cambridge), a handy student guide offering careful overviews on the Salem witchcraft trials, Christian utopias, personal narratives, poetry, jeremiads, and religious revivals. The inclusive anthology Early American Writings, gen. ed. Carla Mulford (Oxford), also made a welcome appearance. And Andrew Delbanco's Writing New England: An Anthology from the Puritans to the Present (Harvard, 2001) is designed to support the claim that colonial Puritans bequeathed to America a special sort of conscience: the pursuit of perfect justice as a cultural ideal in an imperfect world.

i Native Americans and Nature in the Colonial Imagination

The biases underlying the cultural reputations of colonial figures, especially their observations of Native American culture, are exposed in Patricia E. Rubertone's Grave Undertakings: An Archaeology of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians (Smithsonian, 2001). Rubertone examines the oversights, confusions, and ambiguities that recent archaeological evidence presents concerning Williams's representation of Indians in A Key into the Languages of America. The colonial contributions of Native Americans who were educated in England are considered in Alden T. Vaughan's "Sir Walter Ralegh's Indian Interpreters, 1584-1618" (WMQ 59: 341-76). The original linguistic mission of these individuals eventually disappeared, replaced by the political goals of later Native Americans who visited England as diplomatic or missionary agents. The aims behind the inclusion of Native American figures in early American accounts receive attention in "'Strange Wives': Pocahontas in Early Modern Colonial Advertisement" (Mosaic 35, iii: 109-25), David Stymeist's [End Page 201] study of a commercial emphasis on race relations that belied the colonists' actual dependence on and contempt for Amerindians. Whereas John Rolfe's 1616 narrative indicated that religious conversion mitigated the prohibitions against interracial marriage, Ralph Hamor's 1615 discourse suggested an attractive correspondence between the New World and Indian women, both represented as enticingly available to European men.

Mary Beth Norton's In the Devil's Snare (Knopf) reports that during the Salem witch crisis both accusers and accused had family or other personal interests in the frontier settlements which were sites of military conflict between settlers and Native Americans. The demonically afflicted not only referred to seeing Indians at witch meetings but also described personal torments that paralleled Indian torture practices. As a result, Norton concludes, such accounts were given credence by authorities who felt an urgent need to "shift the responsibility for their inadequate defense of the frontier to the demons of the invisible world."

ii Bradstreet, Taylor, and Early Colonial Poetry

Green Thoughts, Green Shades: Essays by Contemporary Poets on the Early Modern Lyric, ed. Jonathan F. S. Post (Calif.), includes Eavan Boland's "Finding Anne Bradstreet" (pp. 176-90) and Robert Hass's "Edward Taylor: What Was He Up To?" (pp. 257-88). Boland, whose essay first appeared in PNR (28, ii [2001]: 11-15), acknowledges that no single approach accounts for Bradstreet's achievement, particularly since the present always unreliably reconstructs the past. Yet, Boland also suggests, the wonder of Bradstreet's verse arises in part from a curious fact: her poetry departed from a tradition that would have obscured it and founded a tradition that highlights it. Peculiar gaps in the factual record of a colonial poet who read Bradstreet's work likewise fascinate Hass, who draws attention to Taylor's inventive risible phrasing and exploratory verse structure. The strange and giddy meditations of the First Series, Hass contends, are better than the poems of the Second Series, which is weighted down by a sense of emotional gravity and increasing artistic exhaustion. Hass's essay also appears in APR (31, ii: 43-54).

Why would a colony's belles-lettres commence with Richard Lewis's 1728 translation of Edward Holdsworth's mock epic Muscipula, Chris Beyers asks in "Maryland's 'First Essay of Latin Poetry in English Dress': Conceiving Cultural Change in Eighteenth-Century Maryland" (EAL [End Page 202] 37: 247-80). The answer is the respect for authority reflected in the Latin poem, whose narrator simultaneously combines a regard for the dignity of others, even if uncultivated, and a desire for a...


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