Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Books We Will Not Read -- If We Have Good Sense

The 18th C. in America sees the rise of writing as entertainment, not just a means of expressing religious or political views. True, most of this writing still has a didactic purpose, but it's a lot more creative than it used to be. At the absolute top of the writing pile, we have Benjamin Franklin, whose lucid prose makes him still a delight to read. At the bottom of the pile, we have a whole scrum of writers you've never heard of, and with good reason. They're awful. Here are a few of them.

Ebenezer Cook -- poet, sort of. His book-length poem satirized the colonists for being, in the words of Swift, "nasty, brutish, and short." The book was called The Sot-Weed Factor, and might possibly be the first treatise that blames tobacco for everything.

Thomas Godfrey -- playwright, alas. His play, The Prince of Parthia, has been hailed as the first drama in America. He modeled it on Shakespeare, but had none of the Bard's talent, so, alas, it is putrid.

Hugh Henry Brackenridge -- novelist, in the worst way. Brackenridge considered himself a poet, dramatist, novelist, lawyer, and judge. We will hope that he was better in the latter professions than he was in the former. His novel, Modern Chivalry ran to four volumes, and has been read by a total of six graduate students since. All of them renounced academe and became sports-management consultants. (This would be him, at right.)

Joel Barlow -- poet, doubtful. Horrible, horrible poet. His The Columbiad was considered awful in its own day, even, and proves that long poems featuring Christopher Columbus are usually a mistake.

Royall Tyler -- playwright and actor, responsible for the bad reputations of both. His propagandistic play, The Contrast, did okay for the time, but now is widely considered unreadable. Tyler was apparently too busy seducing the wives, daughters, sisters, and friends of his associates to spend much time writing. He was attracted to John and Abigail Adams' daughter, and they acted swiftly to boot him from their company.

Susanna Rowson -- novelist, the same way Jonathan Edwards is a comedian. An actress, writer, and later schoolmistress, Rowson felt her novel, Charlotte Temple, would protect young women from giving in to the blandishments of people like Royall Tyler. The book features a young woman who, seduced and abandoned by a jerk, dies in disgrace and poverty. Naturally, this was a huge best seller. For YEARS. Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's so crazy that someone (Ebenezer Cook) blames tobacco for every fault in our young country. Nowadays everyone is turning against smoking and things are starting to change. Maybe we should have listened to Mr. Cook a long time ago.