Royall Tyler is recalled in contemporary anthologies of American literature principally as the author of the first professionally performed comedy by an American; this play, The Contrast, is one of five extant plays by Tyler. Readers of his own day, however, probably knew Tyler best as the witty and energetic author of the Spondee essays and poems, which he, along with his longtime friend Joseph Dennie, known as Colon, submitted for several years to various journals, gentlemen’s magazines, and newspapers. In these Spondee pieces, collected by Marius B. Péladeau in The Prose of Royall Tyler (1972), Tyler addressed himself to such contemporary subjects as current artistic tastes or preferences, social mores, slavery (to which he was vehemently opposed), his staunch support of Federalist politics, and attacks on the French experiment in democracy. His position in regard to these subjects was almost invariably that of the satirist. Tyler and Dennie, as Spondee and Colon, carried on a compatible, if sometimes strained (by geographic separation), literary partnership from 1794 until 1811. The pair often found themselves imitated by other literary partners who assumed such arresting signatures as “Messrs. Dactyl and Comma,” “Quip, Crank and Co.,” “Messrs. Verbal and Trochee,” and “The Shop of Messrs. Anapoestic and Trochee.”
Among Tyler’s other works is the two-volume Reports of Cases in the Supreme Court of Vermont (1809-1810); these volumes resulted from Tyler’s tenure as chief justice of Vermont’s supreme court. Tyler also published a single novel, The Algerine Captive (1797), which enjoyed a modicum of success and became one of the first novels by an American to be reprinted in London (in 1802 and again in Lady’s Magazine in 1804).
Tyler also wrote quite a few poems, collected by Marius B. Péladeau in The Verse of Royall Tyler (1968). Such poems as “Ode Composed for the Fourth of July,” “Spondee’s Mistresses,” “Choice of a Wife,” and “The Chestnut Tree” display Tyler’s penchant for witty satire. At the same time, these poems, especially “The Chestnut Tree,” demonstrate the poet’s underlying serious concerns.