Discuss the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
By the time of the American Revolution (1775–83), American writers had ventured beyond the Puritan literary style and its religious themes and had developed styles of writing that grew from distinctly American experiences. (The Puritans were a group of Protestants who broke with the Church of England; they believed that church rituals should be simplified and that people should follow strict religious discipline.) The colonial fascination with science, nature, freedom, and innovation came through in the writings of the Revolutionary period. The colonists developed their own way of speaking as well, no longer copying the more formal style of British writers. (Noah Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller, published in 1783, helped to standardize the new American version of English.) the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
Author David Hawke offered an example of the American literary style in The Colonial Experience. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), he noted, “took the seventeenth-century saying ‘Three may keep counsel, if two be away’ and converted it into ‘Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.'”the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
Some of the best literature of the colonial era described everyday life in New England and, in the process, depicted aspects of the fledgling American character. The colonists who would form a new nation were firm believers in the power of reason; they were ambitious, inquisitive, optimistic, practical, politically astute, and self-reliant.the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
What colonial children read
Up until about twenty-five years before the Revolutionary War began, the reading material for American children was restricted basically to the Bible and other religious works. Gradually, additional books were published and read more widely. Rivaling the Bible in popularity were almanacs. Children loved to read them for the stories, weather forecasts, poetry, news events, advice, and other assorted and useful information they contained. The most famous of these was Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, first published in 1732. Franklin (see box titled “The Many Sides of Benjamin Franklin”) claimed to have written Poor Richard because his wife could not bear to see him “do nothing but gaze at the Stars; and has threatened more than once to burn all my Books… if I do not make some profitable Use of them for the good of my Family.” We have Poor Richard to thank for such lasting sayings as: “Eat to live, and not live to eat”; “He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas”; “Little strokes fell big oaks”; and “Early to bed and early to rise/Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
All the American colonies had printing presses by 1760, but Americans and their children continued to rely on England as the source for most of their books. A London publisher by the name of John New berry (1713–1767) is said to have had the greatest influence on children’s literature in pre-Revolutionary America. He began publishing children’s books in the 1740s. Most of them were educational, with titles such as A Museum for Young Gentlemen and Ladies or A private tutor for little Masters and Misses. Books were quite expensive in the 1700s, though, so children usually advanced from the Bible and religious verses straight to adult-type literature. Especially popular in that category were storybooks such as Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights.the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
Prior to the Revolution, schoolbooks were imported from England and were available only to the wealthy. These books stressed self-improvement through hard work and careful spending. Such qualities, it was believed, could lead to wealth, which was the lesson learned in the popular storybook Goody Two-Shoes: The Means by which she acquired her Learning and Wisdom, and in consequence thereof her Estate [everything she owned](1765). Goody Two-Shoes was a girl named Margery Meanwell, an orphan who was thrilled to receive two shoes to replace her one. She rose from humble beginnings, learning to read and later becoming a teacher; she went on to marry a wealthy man and matured into a “Lady” and a generous person.the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
The role of satire in the Revolutionary era
Up until the Revolutionary era, the Puritans who had settled New England had a profound influence on what was printed in the colonies: nearly all publications centered on a religious topic of some sort. The Puritans frowned on dramatic performances, as well. But by the mid-1700s, the Puritan influence was fading. In 1749 the first American acting troupe was established in Philadelphia. Seventeen years later, America’s first permanent playhouse was built in the same city; in 1767 the South wark Theatre staged the first play written by a native-born American, Thomas God frey’s (1736–1763) Prince of Parthia.the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
By the mid-1760s, political writings by colonists were increasingly common and more and more forceful in nature. James Otis (1725–1783), a lawyer from Boston, published The Rights of British Colonists Asserted and Proved in 1764. And the hated Stamp Act, a tax law passed by the British in 1765, prompted an even greater outpouring of writing of a political nature. (Parliament, England’s lawmaking body, passed the Stamp Act to raise money from the colonies without receiving the consent of the colonial assemblies, or representatives.) the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
One of the most popular forms of political writing was satire, especially plays, essays, and poems. Satire pokes fun at human vices and foolishness. While most satiric works were written by men, some of the best-known plays of the day were written by a woman named Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814). the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
Warren was the sister and wife of two patriots (James Otis and James Warren, respectively) and an eager participant in the political meetings held so often at her home. She was strategically placed in Boston to follow the events leading up to the American Revolution. Her first political drama, The Adulateur, was published anonymously (without her name) in Boston in 1773, soon after the shocking publication of Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s (1711–1780) letters revealing his anti-patriot views. Not surprisingly, Warren’s gift for satire was directed at pro-British leaders. The play’s last words are spoken by a character based on Warren’s brother, James Otis. Although he foresees war, he also predicts fame, victory, and eternal prosperity for the party of liberty. the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
During the war, Warren wrote several other dramatic satires that actively promoted the revolutionary cause, but her plays were never performed on stage. They were read by many people, though, and were performed privately for Warren’s family and friends, including prominent Revolutionary figures such as Samuel, John, and Abigail Adams. the development of the revolutionary prose in America.
Other notable satirists put the war on stage. John Lea-cock’s play The Fall of British Tyranny, which was performed in 1776, portrayed the notorious Battle of Bunker Hill and the military discussions of American war leader George Washington. In plays by Warren and Lea-cock, Americans appeared as mythical or real figures from Greek and Roman days. In Warren’s Adulateur, for example, the characters inspired by James Otis and his friend Samuel Adams are renamed Brutus and Cassius (early Roman political leaders). Audiences enjoyed the game of identifying the dramatists’ thinly disguised portraits of public figures.
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