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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 66

of the royal governors’ courts. 43 The enormous difficulties of communication with England helped to foster this sense of separation. The round trip across the ocean occupied the better part of a year, and was hazardous and expensive; a colonist who had made it was a marked man—as Hawthorne said, “the petit maître of the colonies.” Nor was there any very extensive exchange of ideas, for though most of the books read in the colonies came from England, the great majority of the colonists, down to the middle of the century, seem to have read little save the Bible and biblical commentaries, and in the native literature of the time one seldom comes upon any reference to the English authors who were glorifying the period of the Restoration and the reign of Anne. “No allusion to Shakespeare,” says Bliss Perry, 44 “has been discovered in the colonial literature of the seventeenth century, and scarcely an allusion to the Puritan poet Milton.” Benjamin Franklin’s brother, James, had a copy of Shakespeare at the New England Courant office in Boston, but Benjamin himself seems to have made little use of it, for there is not a single quotation from or mention of the bard in all his voluminous works. “The Harvard College Library in 1723,” says Perry, had nothing of Addison, Steele, Bolingbroke, Dryden, Pope, and Swift, and had only recently obtained copies of Milton and Shakespeare.… Franklin reprinted ‘Pamela’ and his Library Company of Philadelphia had two copies of ‘Paradise Lost’ for circulation in 1741, but there had been no copy of that work in the great library of Cotton Mather.” Moreover, after 1760, the eyes of the colonists were upon France rather than upon England, and Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire and the Encyclopedists began to be familiar names to thousands who were scarcely aware of Addison and Steele, or even of the great Elizabethans. 45
  The result of this isolation, on the one hand, was that proliferation