That literature means the record of human experience is a well-known fact but as concerns American Literature, this means something more: it reflects the pioneer’s strife to escape poverty and tyrany and find a new continent to conquer, new lands to people.
The development of American Literature how much history affects literature but at the same time how much literature reflects the times in wich it was written.
American Literature may be considered the story of the spiritual and physical growth of the American people out of the richly varied community of man and woman who three centuries ago rushed to the new continent.
Though it is nearly 510 years since white man first set foot on the seaboard of America, it is only 410 years since the permanent settements were established along the American shore. Captain John Smith gives the first account of the first permanent colony in America in “A True Relation of such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Has Happened in Virginia Since the First Planting of the Colony 1068”.
Some years later, in 1622, about 100 people were brought from England by the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They brought with them the “Mayflower Compact” considered a sort of constitution as it was an agreement among 41 adults binding themselves to frame laws, ordinances, acts, etc., and work for the general welfare of the whole colony.
In 1636 the settlers founded the first North American Institution of higher learning at New Town ( Cambrige ) na,med after John Harvard who bequeathed his library to it.
All through its history, harvard played an important role in American cultural life. Since the very beginning when a printing press was impoted, Harvard produced its own publications.
The first American literary prooducts consisted of histories, religious treaties, diaries, logs, memories and biographies.
The first brilliant representative of American literature was Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) who at the same time was a great statesman, a physicist, a philosopher and a great publicist too. He is a typical writer of the 18th century enlightenment. We confine ourselves to mentioning his “Magazines”, his Proposals Relating to Education of Youth in Pennsylvania”, his “Autobiorgaphy”, the ironic letter “On the Slave Trade” reflecting the fight for the abolition of slavery.
Washington Irving (1783-1859) is remembered for his various social, political and literary activities aiming at consolidating American culture. His literary productions includes various works, from newspaper essayes to sketches ( The Sketch Book ); folk tales (Rip Van Winkle ); travel tales ( Tales of a Traveller ), biographies ( Life of Washington ) etc. He is the first American author who achieved world fame not only for his writings but also for his political and diplomatic activity.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the American philosopher, the great representative of Transcedentalism, is also famous for his intelectual poetry and his witty lectures. Traveling a lot he knew Europe and among his most succesful writtings is the “English Traits” giving interesting features of the English people.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) poet of romantic inspiration, produced prose too and bright translation (Dante’s “Divine Comedy”). The purity and sweetness of his writings granted him wide popularity at home and abroad. He was interested only in antislavery and no other social problems. He travelled a lot in popularizing the American folk themes abroad and at the same time helped to bring European culture to America.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is the poet of freedom and democracy. His most famous collections “Leaves of Grass” and “Drum Tapes” in free verse, are rich in repetitions, parallelism and rhetorical mannerism . We find his source of inspiration in the works of Goethe, Hegel, Emerson, in the development of science and in miscellaneous sources to which he ownes his great number and variety of works.
The Beginnings of the American Literature