Synopses & Reviews
""American literature cannot be charged with poverty while it has such valuables [as Royall Tyler] uninvested in its forgotten repositories.""--Evert A. Duyckinck
A predecessor of both the nativist humor of Mark Twain and the exotic adventure stories of Washington Irving, Herman Melville, and Richard Dana, Royall Tyler's The Algerine Captive is an entertaining romp through eighteenth-century society, a satiric look at a variety of American types, from the backwoods schoolmaster to the southern gentleman, and a serious expose of the horrors of the slave trade. In stylistic purity and the clarity with which Tyler investigates and dramatizes American manners, the critic Jack B. Moore has noted, The Algerine Captive stands alone in our earliest fiction. It is also one of the first attempts by an American novelist to depict the Islamic world, and lays bare a culture clash and diplomatic quagmire not unlike the one that obtains between the United States and Muslim nations today.
After the Revolutionary War, American sailors lost the protection of Britain's Royal Navy and were easy prey for the pirates of the North African coast, who captured ships and cargo, enslaved crew, and demanded ransom from the U.S. Motivated by these events, Royall Tyler, the first American-born playwright, poet, and novelist, wrote ""The Algerine Captive."" Originally published anonymously in 1797, it tells the tale of fictitious Boston native Dr. Updike Underhill, his capture by Barbary pirates, and their efforts to convert him to their Muslim faith. Written in an entertaining and satiric style that predated Mark Twain, Tyler's novel reveals his patriotic pride and anti-slavery beliefs. His comments on the religious and cultural divide between Western and Islamic beliefs of the day still resonate today.
About the Author
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1757 to Royall Tyler and Mary (Steele) Tyler, Tyler attended the Boston Latin School, Yale and then Harvard, where he earned a reputation as a quick-witted joker. After graduation, he briefly served in the Massachusetts militia under John Hancock during the abortive Rhode Island expedition. In late 1778, he returned to Harvard to study law, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1780. He opened a practice in Braintree, Massachusetts, eight miles outside of Boston. After a brief stint in suppressing the 1787 Shays's Rebellion, Tyler moved to Boston and boarded in the house of Elizabeth Palmer. After unsuccessfully courting Abigail Adams for many years, in 1794, he wed the Palmers's daughter, Mary Palmer, took her to his new home in Vermont, and with her had eleven children. In 1801, Tyler was appointed to the Supreme Court of Vermont as an assistant judge, and was later elected chief justice. In 1812 he ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate. In 1826, he died in Vermont, of facial cancer that he had suffered from for ten years.