The venerable American (who wins the girl in the end) is Col. Henry Manly, a Revolutionary War veteran and an officer in the Massachusetts militia during Shays’s Rebellion of 1787-1788 (as was the playwright). When he comes to New York City to appeal to the Continental Congress for pensions for his wounded fellow veterans, he visits his young sister Charlotte and is engulfed in New York wannabe society. A horrified Charlotte insists that she cannot introduce him to society wearing his regimental coat, and a servant dismisses him as an "unpolished animal." But Manly knows what he stands for and why it matters. His monologue against luxury that opens Act III, Scene II, mirrors the alarm raised by many Americans in the 1780s that consumer excess would sap the energy of the young nation and threaten its very survival (see Noah Webster and David Ramsay in this Theme). He ardently defends American patriotism, civic commitment, and simple virtue from the disparaging barbs of (the villain) Billy Dimple. In the end, Dimple is exposed as a deceitful fraud, Charlotte disavows her frivolous aspirations, and Col. Manly affirms to the audience that the "probity, virtue [and] honor" of the "unpolished" American will triumph. The first play written by Royall Tyler, a wealthy Harvard- and Yale-educated Bostonian, The Contrast merits study along with Crèvecoeur’s well-known Letters . We recommend that you read the Act-Scene summaries and study the character chart before beginning the play. Do note the poem prologue, worth a study in itself. (38 pp.)
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Special thanks to Gerard W. Gawalt, Specialist in Early American History, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (retired), for providing transcriptions of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson's Household Accounts in Series 7 and for authoring the accompanying essay. He provided transcriptions of correspondence between Jefferson and William Short, as well as many other transcriptions used throughout this online collection.
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