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American Literature in the Age of Reason

Most of the literature written in America during the Age of Reason was, understandably, rooted in reality rather than in the imagination. The best minds of this period were concentrating on social, political, and scientific improvements. This was an age of pamphlets, since most literature was intended to serve practical or political ends. Relations—and ultimately war—-with England were major concerns for many years; following the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the problems of organizing and governing the new nation were of the highest importance. The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, may be thought of as the pamphlet form elevated to the highest level. These essays explain the ideas behind American Constitution.

With a few exceptions, American poetry written during the eighteenth century was unoriginal. It was often written in direct imitation of British models. Thousands of broadsides the poetic equivalent of pamphlets, were produced during this period. These poems and ballads printed on a single, large sheet of paper often ridiculed the British and urged Americans to take political action. They encouraged readers to drink no English tea, to wear domestically produced cloth, and, ultimately, to fight for liberty.

The unquestioned masterpiece of the American Age of Reason was Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. Franklin used the personal narrative, a form that was common in Colonial America. He separated it from much of its religious Justification (the Puritan impulse toward self-examination). Then he molded it into what became a classic American pattern: the rags-to- riches story. Written in clear, witty prose, this charming account of the development of a self- made American provided the model for a story that would be told again and again. It appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby.

With the exception of Franklin's Autobiography, however, the many calls for an American literary independence to accompany its political independence were premature. The seeds had been sown, but the true flowering of American literature was still several generations in the future.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

In many ways, Benjamin Franklin's life is the classic American success story—the tale of a self-made man who rose from poverty to eminence through his own industry and intelligence. one of seventeen children of a Boston candle and soap maker, Franklin had to leave school early in order to work. At twelve, he was apprenticed to his older brother James, a printer; at seventeen, chafing under the yoke of this apprenticeship, Ben journeyed to Philadelphia to seek his fortune. By the time he was twenty-four, he was a prosperous merchant, owner of a successful print shop, and publisher of the Philadelphia Gazette.

Few people have been so energetically devoted to improvement—both self-improvement and the improvement of society. Franklin's many accomplishments can only be summarized. He helped to found the American Philosophical Society, the University of Pennsylvania, and the first public library in America. He promoted numerous municipal projects in Philadelphia: paving streets, installing sewer lines, improving street lighting, and establishing a fire brigade. He was a scientist and an important inventor: his research, especially on electricity, resulted in his election to England's Royal Society. In addition, he invented an open heating stove (called a Franklin stove), bifocal eyeglasses, a musical instrument that used moistened glasses, and a rocking chair that could swat flies. Like Thomas Jefferson and many others of his age, Franklin was a tinkerer constantly looking for ways to make things work a little better or more efficiently.



At forty-one. Franklin had made enough money to retire from business. He hoped to devote the rest of his life to study and scientific research, but this was not to be. Franklin possessed uncommon talents as a diplomat and negotiator, and for the rest of his life he used these skills in the service of his state and his country. As an agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin lived in London in the 1750's, representing the interests of Pennsylvania. A decade later he was back in London lobbying for the Colonies in their dispute with Britain, hoping to bring about a reconciliation that would prevent war. Franklin's wit and charm made him enormously popular in London for many years; he once said that he was invited out to dinner there six nights a week. But by 1774, when he was sixty-eight, the stress between Britain and the Colonies had become too great for even this consummate diplomat to control. He was publicly attacked by the King's Privy Council for his policies; the British press called him an "old snake." Franklin finally relinquished his hopes for peace and sailed for America in 1775.

When Franklin arrived home, he was greeted with the news that the first battles in the Revolutionary War had been fought at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The shot had been fired that "was heard around the world." After helping to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Franklin left for Paris to negotiate the treaty that brought the French into the war on America's side. When Franklin landed in France, Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, caustically remarked: "I look upon him as a dangerous engine, and am very sorry that some British frigate did not meet with him by the way."

In Paris, Franklin was even more popular than he had once been in England. Playing the role of the sophisticated but homespun American, Franklin described himself as "an old man, with gray hair appearing under a marten fur cap, among the powdered heads of Paris." When the Revolution was over, he helped to negotiate the peace, and he was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. His death three years later was the occasion for international mourning. Franklin's practicality, like the success story of his life, is typically American.

Franklin did lack a poet's depth of imagination and emotion, but his literary talents and accomplishments were substantial. He was especially gifted as a wit. The lightly ironic tone of much of his Autobiography testifies to this talent, as do many of the aphorisms in his Poor Richard's Almanack.

Franklin has become famous as the political figure and satirist - lampoonist. He conducted vigorous strife with greedy English colonial administration, fearlessly unmasked corruption, outrage and violence, made in the American colonies by the royal generals and governors, aggressively defending interests of the Americans.

Most considerable political and philosophical works of B. Franklin are “The Historical Aspect of the Constitution and Administration in Pennsylvania”, 1759; "The Way to Wealth”, 1757; "The Autobiography”, 1790). Large popularity used in XVIII the following satirical pamphlets of Franklin: " How of great empire to make the small state " (1773); " Of slave-trade " (1790); " Of sendings of the criminals to colonies " (1768), etc.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Patrick Henry's impressive oratorical powers made him famous in the public life of Virginia and the Colonies. Born in a frontier region of Virginia, Henry was raised in a cultured although modest environment. During his youth, the country was undergoing the religious revival known as the Great Awakening, and young Henry often accompanied his mother to hear the sermons of the great traveling preachers.

As a young man, Henry made several unsuccessful stabs at farming and merchant life before discovering his true calling: the law. In 1765, when he was twenty-nine, he was chosen to represent his region in the Virginia House of Burgesses. His first great speech was a declaration of resistance to the Stamp Act of that year, a form of taxation passed by the British Parliament that required stamps to be used on all newspapers and public documents.

This speech was so successful that Patrick Henry's political fortunes were secured. For the next ten years, he was one of the most powerful figures in Virginia politics.

His famous "liberty or death" speech was made in 1775, when the Colonies were nearing the breaking point. Following the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773, the British had closed the port of Boston and inaugurated other harsh measures referred to by the colonists as the "Intolerable Acts." When the First Continental Congress protested these acts, the British Crown relieved the Colonies of taxation on a number of conditions. One condition was that the colonists fully support British rule and contribute toward the maintenance of British troops in America, whose numbers were increasing greatly. On March 20, 1775, the Virginia House of Burgesses held a convention in St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond to decide how to respond to the growing British military threat. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both present.

On March 23, after several speeches in favor of compromise with the British, Patrick Henry rose to defend his resolution to take up arms against the British. A clergyman who was present later recalled that during Henry's speech he felt "sick with excitement." As the speech reached its climax, Patrick Henry is said to have grabbed an ivory letter opener and plunged it toward his breast with the word Death.

Henry persuaded the delegation. The Virginia Convention voted to arm its people against England. A few weeks later, on April 19, the battle of Lexington, in Massachusetts, ignited the Revolutionary War. By June 15, the Revolution had been formalized by the raising of an army under General George Washington. On July 4 of the following year, the Declaration of Independence was adopted in Philadelphia.

Although this speech is one of the most famous in all American oratory, no manuscript of it exists. The traditionally accepted text was pieced together by Henry's biographer, William Wirt, forty years after the speech was given.

PERSUASION. Persuasion is a form of speaking or writing that aims to move a particular audience to take action. The goal of persuasion is not merely to win the audience's agreement but also to make the audience act. One of the most powerful examples of persuasion in American literature is Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech. Persuasion, then, is notable for its emphasis on action, the coherence of proof and motive, and a heightened emotional and imaginative style.

THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809)

One of the most popular exponents of the Age of Reason—the most persuasive writer of the American Revolution—came from an unlikely background. The poorly educated son of a corset maker, Thomas Paine was born in England. He spent the first thirty-seven years of his life drifting through a number of occupations: corset maker, grocer, tobacconist, schoolteacher, and excise man (a government employee who examined goods and levied excise taxes on them). In 1774, Paine was dismissed from the excise for attempting to organize the employees in a demand for higher wages (an unusual activity in those days). Like many others at that time and since, he came to America to make a new start.

With a letter of introduction from Ben Franklin, whom he had met in London, Paine went to Philadelphia, where he worked as a journalist. In the disagreement between England and the Colonies, he instantly identified with the cause of the underdog. In January of 1776, he published the most important pamphlet in support of American independence: Common Sense.

In this forty-seven-page pamphlet, Paine denounced King George III as a "royal brute" and asserted that a continent should not remain tied to an island. The pamphlet sold half a million copies—in a country whose total population was roughly two and a quarter million.

That same year—1776—Paine joined the Continental Army as it retreated across New Jersey to Philadelphia. During the journey, he began writing what would be a series of sixteen pamphlets called The American Crisis. In these, he commented on the course of the war and urged his countrymen not to give up the fight. The first of these pamphlets was read to Washington's troops in December of 1776, a few days before they recrossed the Delaware River to attack Trenton.

After the Revolution, Paine lived peacefully in New York and New Jersey until 1787, when he returned to Europe. There he became involved once more in radical revolutionary politics.

Revolutionary times were over in America, but they were just beginning in France. On July 14, 1789, the French Revolution began in Paris with the storming of the Bastille by an angry mob. Paine, who considered himself a citizen of the world, soon found a platform for his ideas. Here, in Paris, Paine has written the main philosophical product "Century of reason ", becoming an ideological banner for English democracy. In France in 1791, he composed The Rights of Man, a reply to the English statesman Edmund Burke's condemnation of the French Revolution.

The Rights of Man was an impassioned defense of republican government and a call to the English people to overthrow their king. Although he was outside the country, Paine was tried for treason and outlawed from England. Sate in France from English law, he was briefly celebrated as a hero of the French Revolution but soon imprisoned for being a citizen of an enemy nation (England). James Monroe, the American minister to France at the time, secured Paine's release in 1794 by insisting that Paine was an American citizen.

The first part of Paine's last great work. The Age of Reason, appeared that year; the second part was published two years later. The Age of Reason was Paine's statement of belief and an explanation of the principles of deism. The book was controversial in America, where it was not fully understood and was thought to be atheistic.

When the author of the book finally returned to America in 1802, he found himself an outcast. He had been stripped of his right to vote, he had no money, and he was continually harassed as a dangerous radical and atheist. When he died in New York, Paine was denied burial in consecrated ground. His body was buried in a corner of the farm he owned in New Rochelle.

Even in death, though, Thomas Paine was not allowed to rest. In 1819, an English sympathizer dug up Paine's body and removed it and the coffin to England, intending to erect a monument the author of The Rights of Man. But no monument was ever built. The last record of Paine's remains shows that the coffin and the bones were acquired by a furniture dealer in England in 1844.

However “Clubs of Thomas Paine” organized in America and in England after his death testify that the ideas of the great American democrat have kept a deep track in national memory. English and American romantics have perceived his atheistic ideas, his unconditional conviction of an authority “of large money”.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Architect, botanist, paleontologist, linguist, musician, and statesman, Thomas Jefferson displayed the wide range of interests that we associate with the eighteenth-century mind at its best. President John F. Kennedy reminded listeners of this once at an official dinner honoring winners of the Nobel Prize. Kennedy said that the White House had not seen such a great collection of talent since Thomas Jefferson dined there alone. Like Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson longed for time for his own research; also like Franklin, he was too valuable to his country to be spared such time for very long.

Jefferson was born in the red-clay country of what is now Albemarle County, Virginia, on 400 acres of land that his father had acquired for a bowl of punch. (Like many Virginians, Jefferson's father was land-hungry. When he died, he left his son more than 5,000 acres.) The elder Jefferson, a surveyor and magistrate, died when Thomas was fourteen. But he had provided his son with an excellent classical education and encouraged the many scientific interests that would occupy Jefferson for the rest of his life.

After attending the College of William and Mary, Jefferson became a lawyer. Soon he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he established friendships with other young public servants, such as Patrick Henry. He was a spokesman for the rights of personal liberty and religious freedom, and a vocal opponent of institutions that infringed on those rights. In 1774, he wrote a pamphlet called A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he urged the rejection of all British Parliamentary authority over the Colonies. The House of Burgesses considered the pamphlet's proposals too radical, but A Summary View established Jefferson's reputation as a writer and a thinker. Two years later, when he was thirty-three, his fame as a writer brought him an extraordinary opportunity. The Continental Congress elected him one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Four other writers worked with him on the wording of the Declaration that was submitted to the Congress: John Adams of Massachusetts; Roger Sherman of Connecticut; Robert L. Livingston of New York; and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Few changes were made by these other writers, but the Congress insisted on several major alterations. Jefferson was upset by what he called "mutilations" of his document.

During the Revolution, Jefferson served for a time as governor of Virginia. When the British invaded Virginia, he retired to Monticello, the home he had designed himself. There he devoted himself to the pleasures of family life and to scientific research. He composed most of his Notes on the State of Virginia during this period.

Jefferson's beloved wife died in 1782. A year later he returned to public life, in part as an escape from private grief. He served as minister to France and, with Benjamin Franklin, helped to negotiate the treaty that formally ended the Revolutionary War in 1783. He later became George Washington's secretary of state. After losing the 1796 presidential election to John Adams, he served as Adams's vice-president (a post that, at that time, was awarded to the loser in the presidential contest).

In 1800, Jefferson was elected America's third president. A determined opponent of federal power, Jefferson was nevertheless responsible for one of the most sweeping federal actions of his age—the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition from France of more than 820,000 square miles of western land would later be divided into thirteen states.

After his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson retired once again to Monticello. Much of his energy during these years of retirement was devoted to establishing the University of Virginia. Jefferson helped to plan its courses of study and designed many of its buildings; he was its first rector. One of first students of it was great American poet and prose writer Edgar Alanines Poe. Jefferson founded the first in America " Fund for needs of enlightenment".

In 1826, both Jefferson (at eighty-three) and John Adams (at ninety) became gravely ill. Both hoped to live to see the fiftieth anniversary of the independence they had done so much to ensure. Jefferson died on the morning of July 4, several hours before Adams (whose last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives"). The epitaph Jefferson composed for himself clearly states which of his many accomplishments he considered most important:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.

RESPONDING TO THE DECLARATION'('The Declaration of Indépendance", 1775) The Declaration opens with a rational statement defending an act that was to have violent consequences.

Jefferson frequently employs parallelism, which is the repeated use of sentences, clauses, or phrases with identical or similar structures. For example, when he cites the truths that are "self-evident," he begins each clause with that. The parallelism emphasizes Jefferson's view that all these truths are of equal importance.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 963


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