William Byrd: (1674-1744) Contribution as American Author

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      William Byrd was a Diarist and a travel writer. He was born with a lively intelligence that his father augmented by sending him to excellent schools in England and Holland. He visited the French Court, became a Fellow of the leading English writers of his day, particularly William Wycherley and William Congreve. He lived for long periods in England as well as in Virginia. However, he served in various public offices, including on the Royal Council of Virginia.

      The southern culture naturally revolved around the ideal of Gentleman. A renaissance man was equally good at managing a farm and reading classical Greek. The Gentleman had the power of a feudal lord. Byrd’s works His Secret Diary of William Byrd of West over 1702-1712 (1941) and another Secret Diary 1739-1741 (1942) not published during his life time. He also wrote important narratives of travel and exploration. William Byrd describes the gracious way of life at his plantation as Westover, in his famous letter of 1726 to his English friend Charles Boyle, Earl of Ornery. Besides the advantages of pure air, we abound in all kinds of provisions without expense (I mean we who have plantations). “I have a large family of my own, and my doors are open to everybody, yet I have no bills to pay, and half-a-crown will rest undisturbed in my pockets for many moons altogether.” Like one of the bondmen and bondwomen, and every sort of trade amongst my own servants, so that I live in a kind of independence on everyone but Providence.” He epitomizes the spirit of the southern colonial. He was a heir to 1,040 hectares, and enlarged to 7,160 hectares. He was a merchant, trader and planter whose library of 3,600 books was the largest in the south. His London diaries are the opposite of those of the New England puritans full of fancy dinners, glittering parties, and womanizing, with little introspective soul-searching.

      Byrd’s most famous travel account History of the Dividing Line, a diary of a 1927 trip of some weeks and 950 kilometers into the interior, to survey the line dividing the neighboring colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. The quick impressions of the wild beasts, and every sort of difficulty made on this civilized gentleman form a uniquely American and very southern book. He ridicules the first Virginia colonists - “about a hundred men, most of them reprobates of good families and jokes that at Jamestown”. Like true Englishmen, they built a church that cost no more than fifty pounds and a tavern that cost five hundred.” Byrd’s ironic writings are the fine examples of the author’s keen interest. Southerners soon look into the material world— the Land, Indians, plants, animals, and settlers.

      Ebenezer Cook (1667-1733 ) and Richard Lewis (17007-1734) are the two writers who tried to their hands in producing American versions of two most common forms of eighteen-century poetry besides epic, and also derived from neo-classical models - the satires and the pastoral.

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