Life in America
Life in America was written by Thomas Low Nichols in the 1830s, it was a text that captured the life and the situation of the country some years after the 1812 war. It is somewhat hard to establish the precise genre of the text, since the literary styles were somewhat different in those days.
The specific term here is somewhat, since all the literary genres that exist today also existed then, but some writing styles that existed in mid 19th century do not really exist anymore and the text by Nichols might just belong to a writing style that is gone.
Essay writing in its original definition could be described as a writing of a report (e.g. about a country or a situation) in a rather poetic manner. This kind of writing was very popular in the 19th century since much of the period’s literature was inspired by epic works, struggles, revolutions and the romantic spirit. Revolutionary poems and this kind of “epic journalism” were very popular.
The style to which the Nichols text bears such resemblance had a close relation to what used to called Travel Writing in several European languages. It is similar to the descriptive or epic journalism but it as an account of a journey by a writer or a journalist, to some extent an equivalent to a foreign correspondent nowadays. Before the telegraph that was the only way to be kept in tune with the news abroad, the correspondent would send weekly or monthly reports through the mail and the texts would be published in journals or weeklies.
Thomas Low Nichols is the perfect example of a high middle class amateur writer. The language he uses and the emphasis that is given to education in the text show a high level of education. He actually writes as a professional and was a writer by dedication (a quite famous one) but that most probably wasn’t his main source of income.
High middle class people in post revolutionary America usually had family estates or businesses to run and wrote, practiced law or got involved into politics for patriotic, personal or sentimental reasons rather then looking for a career as the case is today.
Nichols is obviously from an estate and business owning family. He shows us that through the story of his father: “My father had been drafted as a militia-man during the war of 1812, and might have fought in the famous battle of Plattsburg had not his business engagements made it necessary for him to hire a substitute, by which he lost not only much glory, but the bounty-money and a hundred and sixty acres of land, which was afterwards given to every surviving soldier whose name could be found upon the rolls of the army.”
His father’s job was obviously important enough to allow him to hire a substitute as well as the fact that he became colonel shows a background of education and wealth.
The most probable purpose of Nichols becoming a journalist and an author is a mixture of love for writing, patriotic feelings, positive hopes for a new country and a new world.
He belongs to the post revolutionary generation that might have lived through some periods of the revolution, but were too young to take any active part in it. His generation was more optimistic and “easy going” then their fathers as well as they were more cultured and interested in arts and poetry then their revolutionary fathers were. They also enjoyed a better and more certain economic situation then their struggling fathers. In other words Nichol’s generation was softer and more progressive.
They were also very proud of what their fathers accomplished and Nichols actually gives us a mixed account of what has been accomplished by the war of independence as well as by the Cultural Revolution that was a direct result of the post revolutionary struggle for America’s place as a young and progressive country.
His writing is basically directed at young Americans and Europeans in order to show them the progress that was accomplished in the 30-odd years of the country’s independence. He writes first hand from personal experience and the literary sources available at the time.