Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 9. The Sense of Nationality in Publishing; Competition with England

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXIX. Book Publishers and Publishing

§ 9. The Sense of Nationality in Publishing; Competition with England

In the last two decades of the eighteenth century, signs begin to accumulate in our publishing life of the awakening of an American nationality. For instance, the reason why the president of Harvard and two of his professors, together with a governor, recommended Nicholas Pike’s Complete System of Arithmetic in 1786, is that it is “Wholly American” in both “Work and Execution” and will keep much money in this country. Moreover, though to most Americans the works of Noah Webster have even yet a dim aura of classicism, they little realize how he had to fight to overcome the conservatism and the pro-British tendencies of his public. In 1807 he writes:

  • But there is another evil resulting from this dependence [upon Great Britain] which is little considered; this is, that it checks improvement. No one man in a thousand—not even the violent political opposers of Great Britain—reflects upon this influence. Our people look to English books as the standard of truth on all subjects, and this confidence in English opinions puts an end to inquiry. … We have opposed to us [in introducing American books] the publishers of most of the popular periodical works in our large towns.
  • Webster further says that the educated men of the smaller towns and the professors of the Northern colleges generally are favourable to American publications, but that the large cities are strongholds of British subserviency.