The Algerine captive; or, The life and adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill: six years a prisoner among the Algerines. [Three lines from Shakespeare] : Vol. I[-II]. : Published according to act of Congress.
Tyler, Royall, 1757-1826., Humphreys, David, 1752-1818, dedicatee.
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ONE of the first observa|tions, the author of the following sheets made, upon his return to his native country, after an absence of seven years, was the extreme avidity, with which books of mere amuse|ment were purchased and perused by all ranks of his countrymen. When he left New England, books of Bi|ography, Travels, Novels, and mod|ern Page  vi Romances, were confined to our sea ports; or, if known in the coun|try, were read only in the families of Clergymen, Physicians, and Law|yers: while certain funeral discours|es, the last words and dying speeches of Bryan Shaheen, and Levi Ames, and some dreary somebo|dy's Day of Doom, formed the most diverting part of the farmer's library. On his return from captivity, he found a surprising alteration in the public taste. In our inland towns of consequence, social libraries had been instituted, composed of books, designed to amuse rather than to in|struct; Page  vii and country booksellers, fos|tering the new born taste of the peo|ple, had filled the whole land with modern Travels, and Novels almost as incredible. The diffusion of a taste, for any species of writing, through all ranks, in so short a time, would appear impracticable to a European. The peasant of Europe must first be taught to read, before he can acquire a taste in letters. In New England, the work is half completed. In no other country are there so many people, in proportion to its numbers, who can read and write; and therefore, Page  viii no sooner was a taste for amusing literature diffused than all orders of country life, with one accord, for|sook the sober sermons and Practi|cal Pieties of their fathers, for the gay stories and splendid impieties of the Traveller and the Novelist. The worthy farmer no longer fatigued himself with Bunyan's Pilgrim up the "hill of difficulty" or through the "slough of despond;" but quaff|ed wine with Brydone in the her|mitage of Vesuvius, or sported with Bruce on the fairy land of Abysin|ia: while Dolly, the diary maid, and Jonathan, the hired man, threw a|side Page  ix the ballad of the cruel step|mother, over which they had so oft|en wept in concert, and now a|mused themselves into so agreeable a terrour, with the haunted houses and hobgobblins of Mrs. Ratcliffe, that they were both afraid to sleep a|lone.

While this love of literature, however frivolous, is pleasing to the man of letters, there are two things to be deplored. The first is that, while so many books are vended, they are not of our own manufac|ture. If our wives and daughters Page  x will wear gauze and ribbands, it is a pity, they are not wrought in our own looms. The second mis|fortune is that Novels, being the picture of the times, the New En|gland reader is insensibly taught to admire the levity, and often the vices of the parent country. While the fancy is enchanted, the heart is cor|rupted. The farmer's daughter, while she pities the misfortune of some modern heroine, is exposed to the attacks of vice, from which her ignorance would have formed her surest shield. If the English Nov|el does not inculcate vice, it at Page  xi least impresses on the young mind an erroneous idea of the world, in which she is to live. It paints the manners, customs, and habits of a strange country; excites a fondness for false splendour; and renders the homespun habits of her own coun|try disgusting.

There are two things wanted, said a friend to the author: that we write our own books of amusement, and that they exhibit our own man|ners. Why then do you not write the history of your own life? The first part of it, if not highly interest|ing, Page  xii would at least display a portrait of New England manners, hitherto unattempted. Your captivity a|mong the Algerines, with some no|tices of the manners of that fero|cious race, so dreaded by commercial powers, and so little known in our country, would be interesting; and I see no advantage the Novel writer can have over you, unless your read|ers should be of the sentiment of the young lady, mentioned by Addison in his spectator, who, he informs us, borrowed Plutarch's lives; and, af|ter reading the first volume, with infinite delight, supposing it to be a Page  xiii Novel, threw aside the others with disgust, because a man of letters had inadvertently told her, the work was founded on FACT.