Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/418

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textbook. A second factor in this process was the change of dominant profession. During the colonial period, in education as in social and political life, this was the ministry. Immediately preceding and following the Revolutionary War leadership was largely assumed by the legal profession. The practical bent given to education by such men as Franklin and by the actual conditions of American life constituted a third factor. The three together resulted during the middle national period in the complete secularization of education at least in the elementary field. This change was accomplished in the United States long before it came about in any European country.

The textbooks of the colonial period were almost exclusively religious in character and content. From the close of the Revolution a distinct type of American textbook began to appear. Political material in the form of orations, patriotic appeals, and more or less exaggerated or distorted descriptions progressively replaced the sombre religious contents of the earlier books. Undoubtedly the bombastic oratory, exaggerated style of speech, and rather flamboyant views and claims of the American citizens of these and succeeding generations were largely due to this change. However, this was one of the means, perhaps a necessary one, by which provincialism vindicated itself, maintained its independence of "effete" European society, and developed in time a strong nationalism.

The earliest and most influential of these textbook writers was Noah Webster (1758-1843), whose fame as a lexicographer has long outlived his fame as textbook writer. In explanation of his work he wrote: "In 1782, while the American army was lying on the banks of the Hudson, I kept a classical school at Goshen, N. Y. The country was impoverished; intercourse with Great Britain was interrupted, and schoolbooks were scarce and hardly attainable." Accordingly, in 1783 he issued the first part of his Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Comprising an Easy, Concise, and Systematic Method of Education Designed for the Use of English Schools in America. This was a combination speller, reader, and grammar, which had patriotic as well as educational aims. Out of it grew various modifications, the most noted of which was The American Speller. This is the premier American textbook, of which more than seventy-five million copies have been sold and which still