Home  »  Volume XV: English COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 11. Isaac Mitchell; Tabitha Tenney; Samuel Woodworth

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VI. Fiction I

§ 11. Isaac Mitchell; Tabitha Tenney; Samuel Woodworth

There is little to note in American fiction between the close of Brown’s career and the beginning of Cooper’s. An absurd romance, The Asylum (1811), probably by Isaac Mitchell, was popular. Tabitha Tenny (1762–1837) produced a funny if robustious anti-romance, Female Quixotism (1808?); Samuel Woodworth mingled conventional history with convention romance in The Champions of Freedom (1816), which celebrated the second war with England. By this time the humane and thrilling art of Scott had already begun to be effective in America, as in Europe. At the first, however, Scott’s peculiar qualities seemed to defy rivalry.

  • “Of native novels,” said John Bristed in 1818, “we have no great stock, and none good; our democratic institutions placing all the people on a dead level of political equality; and the pretty equal diffusion of property throughout the country affords but little room for varieties, and contrasts of character; nor is there much scope for fiction, as the country is quite new, and all that has happened from the first settlement to the present hour, respecting it, is known to every one. There is, to be sure, some traditionary romance about the Indians; but a novel describing these miserable barbarians, their sqaws, and papooses, would not be very interesting to the present race of American readers.”
  • America, that is, without aristocracy, antiquity, and a romantic border, could not have a Scott. Seldom has time contradicted a prophet so fully and so soon as when Cooper, within three years, began to show that democracy has its contrasts, that two hundered years can be called a kind of antiquity, and that the border warfare between pioneer and Indian is one of the great chapters in the world’s romance.