A FRESH SPIRIT IN LITERATURE
America’s earliest literature flowed from the quill pens of European explorers, and the wonder and promise it told of proved a powerful lure to prospective settlers. The Puritans, whose representatives colonized Massachusetts and whose influence was felt in other Colonies, valued the written word primarily as a tool for religious instruction. While they tolerated it as a medium for secular enlightenment, they thoroughly condemned its use for frivolous entertainment. Despite limitations they set on writing, the Puritans, as well as other colonists, placed a high value on education and laid an enduring foundation for literature.
By the time of the Revolution such native offerings as Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” had helped to establish a sense of national identity among the colonists. In the Revolutionary epoch, fiery pamphleteers proved that literature could be highly effective in moving men to action.
In the early and mid-1800s Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and a remarkable group of New Englanders gave voice to a fresh new culture that was no longer intellectually dependent on Europe.
After the Civil War Bret Harte’s colourful naturalism and Mark Twain’s native humour and delightful story-telling made indelible impressions on US letters. Henry James’s novels were internationally recognized at the time the country was becoming a world power. Such post-World War I authors as Earnest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot gained world-wide recognition, as did William Faulkner and John Steinbeck in the 1930s. Eugene O’Neill’s searching plays raised American drama to the level of literature and paved the way for the internationally known dramatists Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
No more vivid record of the sum of a people’s experience can be found than in their national literature. America’s writers have given the
world living documents of all that has gone into the making of the greatest country in history, and the saga is still being written.
A MAN OF THE RIVER
The Mississippi River cuts a strong, wide swath through the heartland of America. In the flow of the Mississippi’s waters, many see a symbol of freedom, a reflection of the strength of the American character. Among the millions who have drawn inspiration from the mighty river was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain.
Sam Clemens was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi. In 1847, when he was 12 years old, his father died. The boy quit school and started working for a printer. Stimulated by the material he was handling, he soon began writing stories of his own and later became a journalist.
From 1857 to 1861 Clemens worked as a riverboat pilot. Judging from his later writings, his years on the Mississippi were the happiest of his life. The observations he made on the river nourished much of his later work, and the people he knew there helped to form his concepts of humanity and the world.
In 1861 Clemens went to Nevada Territory. There – after unsuccessful attempts at prospecting – he returned to journalism and short-story writing. It was at that time that he adopted the pen name Mark Twain, a riverman’s term for 2 fathoms deep.
In 1867 Mark Twain left America to tour Europe and the Holy Land, sending back humorous travel sketches. On his return to the United Sates he settled in the Northeast, married, and spent the rest of his life writing, lecturing, and traveling. He died in 1910.