The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
I. Travellers and Explorers, 15831763.
§ 1. The Earliest Adventures.
|THE ENGLISH folk who became Americans during the early years of the seventeenth century kept the language of the relatives and friends whom they left, and with it their share in the literary heritage of the race. They owed much to the influences surrounding them in their new homes, but such skill in writing as they possessed came with them from the other side of the Atlantic. The names of an earlier group of adventurers are associated with the New World because they made a voyage along its coastline or resided for a little while at some seaside settlement. Sir Humphrey Gilbert on his homeward voyage from the New-found-land in 1583, sitting abaft with a book in his hand, while the Golden Hind was tossed by terrible seas breaking short and high pyramidwise, is the finest type of the seamen who made the English occupation of America possible. The narrative of Gilberts fatal voyage, written by Edward Haie, found a place in the ample store-house of adventurous records which makes all who love good reading and virile English the debtors of Richard Hakluyt.
| It is an accident of geography which gives American readers a valid claim upon Humphrey Gilbert and his precursors and successors who told their straightforward tales for Hakluyt or for the booksellers who issued the scores of thin pamphlets in which Londoners first read about the trans-Atlantic voyage. These were in their day only a few among the many pamphlets which entertained the frequenters of St. Pauls churchyard with experiences in odd corners of the Mediterranean or of the Indian Ocean, or along the Arctic route to Central Asia. They all shared in developing the British Empire and English literature. Martin Frobisher and North-West-Foxe beyond the polar circle, Thomas Hariot inside the Carolina sandspits, and Sir Richard Hawkins in the Gulf of Mexico are by this chance of geography given a place at the beginning of the annals of American literature, instead of sharing the scant notice allotted to their equally deserving contemporaries whom fate led elsewhere. The same fate sent Francis Drake to sojourn for a time on the California coast, and it likewise set in motion the economic and political forces which two centuries later transferred this region into the keeping of the English race, thereby adding the great circumnavigator to the American roll.