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16. Royall Tyler (1757-1826), a Vermont jurist, was our first successful playwright. He wrote many dramas, the most popular of which was The Contrast, an extract from which is given below.
THE FIRST AMERICAN COMEDY REGULARLY PRODUCED
(THE CONTRAST, A COMEDY IN FIVE ACTS: WRITTEN BY A
CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES-PERFORMED IN 1787,
AT THE THEATRE IN JOHN STREET, NEW YORK—1790.)
(From The Advertisement) In justice to the Author it may be proper to observe that this Comedy has many claims to the public indulgence, independent of its intrinsic merits: It is the first essay of American genius in a difficult species of composition; it was written by one who never critically studied the rules of the drama, and, indeed, had seen but few of the exhibitions of the stage; it was undertaken and finished in the course of three weeks; and the profits of one night's performance were appropriated to the benefit of the sufferers by the fire at Boston.
Prologue, In Rebuke Of The Prevailing Anglomania
Exult each patriot heart !—this night is shown
A piece, which we may fairly call our own;
Where the proud titles of “My Lord ! Your Grace!”
To humble “Mr.” and plain “Sir” give place.
Our author pictures not from foreign climes
The fashions, or the follies of the times;
But has confined the subject of his work
To the gay scenes—the circles of New York.
On native themes his Muse displays her powers;
If ours the faults, the virtues too are ours.
Why should our thoughts to distant countries roam,
When each refinement can be found at home?
Who travels now to ape the rich or great,
To deck an equipage and roll in state;
To court the graces, or to dance with ease, -
Or by hypocrisy to strive to please?
Our free-born ancestors such arts despised;
Genuine sincerity alone they prized;
Their minds with honest emulation fired,
To solid good—not ornament-aspired;
Or, if ambition roused a bolder flame,
Stern virtue throve, where indolence was shame.
But modern youths, with imitative sense,
Deem taste in dress the proof of excellence;
And spurn the meanness of your homespun arts,
Since homespun habits would obscure their parts;
Whilst all, which aims at splendor and parade,
Must come from Europe, and be ready-made.
Strange we should thus our native worth disclaim,
And check the progress of our rising fame.
Yet one, whilst imitation bears the sway,
Aspires to nobler heights, and points the way.
Be roused, my friends! his bold example view;
Let your own bards be proud to copy you !
Should rigid critics reprobate our play,
At least the patriotic heart will say,
“Glorious our fall, since in a noble cause;
The bold attempt alone demands applause.”
Still may the wisdom of the Comic Muse
Exalt your merits, or your faults accuse.
But think not 'tis her aim to be severe;-
We all are mortals, and as mortals err.
If candor pleases, we are truly blest;
Vice trembles, when compelled to stand confessed.
Let not light censure on your faults offend,
Which aims not to expose them, but amend.
Thus does our author to your candor trust;
Conscious the free are generous, as just.
IV. A Literary Anomaly 17. Phillis Wheatley Peters, a negro girl brought from Africa at the age of eight, became a slave in a Boston family. She was very precocious, learned easily, and began early to write verses imitating the English poets of the eighteenth century. A volume of her poems was published in 1773. They show little creative talent but ready imitative ability.
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE WILLIAM, EARL OF
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New England to adorn!
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold,
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated Faction dies.
Soon as appeared the Goddess long desired,
Sick at the view, she languished and expired;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain,
Of wrongs, and grievance unredressed complain;
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant to enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatched from Afric's fancied happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labor in my parents' breast !
Steeled was that soul and by no misery moved
That from a father seized his babe beloved:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
I. FOR FURTHER ILLUSTRATION
Orations and State Papers
Brewer, D. J.: The World's Best Orations.
Bryan, W. J.: The World's Famous Orations. (Vol. VIII.)
Cairns, W. B.: Selections from Early American Writers. 1607-
Carpenter, G. R.: American Prose.
Depew, C. M.: The Library of Oratory. (Vol. III.)
Duyckinck, E. A. and G. L.: Cyclopædia of American Liter-
ature. Moore, F.: American Eloquence. Stedman and Hutchinson: Library of American Literature.
(Vols. II, III, IV.)
Songs and Ballads
Long, A. W.: American Poems. 1776-1900.
Matthews, B.: Poems of American Patriotism.
Moore, F.: Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution.
Stedman and Hutchinson: Library of American Literature.
Stevenson, Burton E.: Poems of American History.
Other Literary Records
Carpenter, G. R.: American Prose.
Duyckinck, E. A. and G. L.: Cyclopædia of American Litera-
ture. Stedman, E. C.: An American Anthology. Stedman and Hutchinson: Library of American Literature.
(Vols. III and IV.)
Churchill, Winston: Richard Carvel.
Cooper, J. F.: The Spy.
Emerson, R. W.: Concord Hymn.
Ford, Paul Leicester: Janice Meredith.
Johnston, Mary: Lewis Rand.
Longfellow, H. W.: Paul Revere's Ride.
Mitchell, S. Weir: Hugh Wynne.
Pierpont, John: Warren's Address.
Trumbull, James H.: The Origin of McFingal. In Stedman and
Hutchinson, vol. VII.
(See also General Bibiiography, supra, p. 3.)