The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 20. Birds Mexican Romances; Mayo
The region west of the Mississippi continued in the popular mind to be a strange land for which the reports of explorers and travellers did the work of fiction, and Cooper’s Prairie had few followers. In 1834, however, Albert Pike (1809–91) published in his Prose Sketches and Poems some vivid tales of life in the South-west. That same year appeared Calavar, in writing which Bird had the avowed purpose of calling the attention of his public to romantic Mexico. The next year he repeated his success with The Infidel, another story of Cortez and the Conquest. Reading these novels with their tolerable learning in Mexican antiquities, their considerable power, and their superior sense of the pomp of great historical events, one is reminded how few romances of the period ventured beyond native borders. Whatever may be said of the poets, the novelists kept themselves almost always scrupulously at home. One set of exceptions was those who dealt with Spain and Mexico, and even with them the motive was largely, as with the contemporary historians, to honour the ancient bond between America and the European nation which had discovered it. In a more distant scene Mrs. Child laid her Philothea (1836), a gentle, ignorant romance of the Athens of Pericles, the fruit of a real desire to escape from the clang of current life. Not much more remote from any thinkable reality was George Tucker’s Voyage to the Moon (1827), in which a sound scholar satirized terrestrial follies in the spirit which seemed to his friends like that of Swift. To a slightly later date belong the two novels of William Starbuck Mayo (1812–95), Kaloolah (1849) and The Berber (1850), stories of wild adventure in Africa. The first contains a strange mixture of satire and romance in its account of a black Utopia visited by the Yankee hero Jonathan Romer.