George William Bagby.

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University of California Berkeley

The Theodore H. Koundakjian

Collection
of American Humor



WRITINGS



OP



DR. GEORGE W. BAGBYJ



SELECTIONS



FKOM



THE MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS



OF



DR. GEORGE . BAGBY.



VOL. I.



RICHMOND, VA.:

-WHITTET & SHEPPERSON, COR. IOTH & MAIN STREETS,
1884.



COPYRIGHT

BY
MRS. GEORGE W. BAGBY.

1884.



Printed by Bound by

WHITTET & SHEPPERSON, JEXKINS & WALTHAL,

Richmond, Ya. Richmond, Ta.



TOI57



ADVERTISEMENT.



~TTN presenting to the public the Selections front
-"*" the Writings of Dr. Bagby which appear in this
volume, the compilers desire to say that the purpose
they have had in view has been more to exhibit the
varied and widely diverse fields in which his mind
sought pasturage, and to illustrate the great versa-
tility of style in which his thoughts found utterance,
than to give place only to those productions of his
pen which, at their first appearance, were received
with the strongest evidences of general favor. They
are therefore prepared for many expressions of dis-
appointment that the selections do not include this
or that article which some particular reader desired
to see, in preference to any or all, perhaps, that the
book contains. The result, they are persuaded, would
not have been different, however much the contents
of the volume, restrained within its present compass,



VI ADVERTISEMENT.

had been varied. The disappointed, though not the
same in person, would probably not have been fewer
in number. But from the encouragement given in
advance to the present publication, by a subscription
which has taken up nearly the whole edition, they
feel warranted in believing that they may yet meet
the desires of all by the production of one or more
additional volumes, for which the material, some of
which has never been in print, is abundant. They
willingly put themselves at the service of the public
in the matter, and will be governed by such evi-
dences of the general wish as may reach them. Per-
haps it may not be considered out of place if they
use the present opportunity to suggest that all per-
sons w r ho may desire to be considered subscribers to
a second volume, uniform in size, style and price with
this, forward their orders at once.

In referring to the admirable biographical and
critical sketch of the author, for which they are
indebted to the graceful and scholarly pen of Rev.
Mr. Gregory, the compilers feel constrained to say
that the allusions which it contains personal to them-
selves appear under that gentleman's explicit injunc-
tion that they should not be omitted or changed.



ADVERTISEMENT. Vli

For the information of those who never saw the
author, it may be worth while to add that the like-
ness of him which accompanies the volume is as
nearly perfect as such things can ever be.

Communications may be addressed to

MBS. GEORGE W. BAGBY,

Richmond, Va. .



CONTENTS.



PAGE.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH, . . .... xiii

THE OLD VIRGINIA GENTLEMAN, 1

JOHN M. DANIEL'S LATCH-KEY, . . . . . 56

THE VIRGINIA EDITOR, ...... 109

CANAL REMINISCENCES, 122

THE SACRED FURNITURE WAREROOMS, . . . 142

MY VILE BEARD, 149

CORNFIELD PEAS, 173

MY UNCLE FLATBACK'S PLANTATION, .... 193

MY WIFE, AND MY THEORY ABOUT WIVES, . . . 233

FISHING IN THE APPOMATTOX, 247

A PIECE ABOUT DOCTORS, 261

MEEKINS'S TWINSES, 273

IT is OMNIPOTENT, 284

SERVANTGALISM IN VIRGINIA, 303

THE PAWNEE WAR, 322

FLIZE, 333



X CONTENTS.

CHARGE TO THE KNIGHTS AT A PYTHIAN TOURNAMENT

AT KlCHMOND, ON THE 4TH OF JULY, . . . 336

THE EECOED OF VIRGINIA, 341

UvWiMMiN, 352

AN UNRENOWNED WARRIOR, 360

JUD. BROWNIN'S ACCOUNT OF RUBENSTEIN'S PLAYING, . 392

THE EMPTY SLEEVE, ....... 399

AFTER APPOMATTOX, 402



* What would'st thou have the great good man obtain ?

Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends !
Hath he not always riehes always friends
The great good man ? Three treasures, love, and light,
And calm thoughts, equable as an infant's breath ;
And three fast friends, more sure than day or night,
Himself, his Maker, and the angel Death ! "

Coleridge.



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY,

BY EDWAKD S. GKEGOBT.



call of death has often proved an evangel to
the man of letters in more than one way. Out-
side the small circle of his personal tangency, such a
laborer is known to the public mainly through one
or the other of two ways, which are equally open to
the liability of unjust misunderstanding. One class
of people among those who read are led by their
ignorance to find in every production of the literary
artist the reflection of personal experience, or the
rehearsal of some theory or opinion called forth by
conditions of supposed individual application. To
these bad judges all literary composition is subject-
ive, and the historian of heroes must needs be a
hero, and the poet of sentiment must needs be a lover.
On the other hand, there is a school whose cynicism
conducts to an exactly opposite error. The writer
is an actor, say these ; he can argue any cause, he
can feign any emotion. And they believe, or affect
to believe, that his character is to be read from his
books, as Hebrew is translated from its text, by
reading backwards.



XIV GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

Neither of these broad rules is true, as, indeed,
there is no broad rule that is true, unless with large
and liberal exceptions. Least of all can any strict
measure be applied to the moods and emanations of
genius, the range of whose vision is so much higher
and wider than that of the makers of any such rigid
canons. Yet from the infliction and endurance of
this injustice the man of genius may not wholly hope
to escape, till his soul ascends "to where, beyond
these voices, there is peace."

When death comes, there is added a new comfort
to that of relief and release from the throes of in-
tellectual labor and the inner spiritual conflict be-
tween the sea and the sun. The veil, as at the in-
auguration of some stately statue, falls suddenly away,
withdrawn by the hand of the angel; and to guess
and gossip, to report and misrepresentation, succeeds
the fair image of THE MAN, as life made and framed
him, and as death found and left him, in the true
lineaments and fast colors which Time himself shall
but render more clear and firm.

The subject of this sketch, though widely known
throughout the Republic, and for years a dear guest
in many homes of Virginia, though he loved and
sought society, shared the same fate of misconcep-
tion, or of inadequate conception, till death drew the
veil and revealed the true proportions of his mental
and moral manhood. The nominis umbra of fame
now gives way to a more sacred and more precious
personality, as through the hallowed tapers that light
the tomb, it is seen that even the powers of a great



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY. XV

intellect, greatly enriched and greatly employed, are
eclipsed by the graces and private virtues that "smell
sweet and blossom in the dust."

The main facts that punctuate the life and literary
labors of GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY may be briefly re-
cited. The career of the man and the litterateur was
largely professional, and may be left to find popular
interpretation from the list and order of his works.
The present volume introduces these but imperfectly
and in part to the reading w^orld. But if it fulfil its
mission, and if the present generation prove able to
appreciate and admire the mingled idyl and epic in
which Dr. Bagby has embalmed the heroic and po-
etic Virginia of the past, some image may be formed,
some memory quickened of one to whom many sins,
if such there were, should be remitted "for he
loved much." It is a service whose benison will af-
fect all the future of Virginia, however little it may
be realized, to recall a high spirit which was faithful
to the purest ideals in the midst of wasting infirmi-
ties and distresses ; a spirit, not inferior to Milton's in
the intensity of its " unbought loyalty," whose passion
was lavished on home, on fatherland, and on free-
dom, on objects whose beauty wrought a changeless
spell on one of the chastest of imaginations, and
whose riches took, in the eyes of the patriot and de-
votee, the place which titles, power, and wealth exact
from the coarse and the common-hearted.

Such a lover of the past, for the mere sake of the
beautiful good buried with it ; such a patriot, in an
unselfish life-battle, as the champion and crusader in



XVI GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

behalf of these lapsed and unvalued virtues ; such a
poet, in the divine power which lay in him of fol-
lowing the thread of gold through all the cloth of
frieze which so often obscures it, was the dead
Bagby. Cross and crown are graven together on the
column which keeps guard over his ashes ; and the
good sword is dust and rust. It remains to those
who mount watch over his name, his memory, and
his works, to tell the world the story of the sacrifices
and services through which he attained his victory
and Te Deum.

Dr. Bagby was born in the very heart of Virginia,
in the county of Buckingham, on August 13th, 1828.
The section in which he first saw the light was char-
acteristic of the man. It lies at the roots of the
Blue Ridge; its social traits and genealogies are of
the East, and its location, though south of the
James, is near the natural continuation of the great
Valley. In short, it stood and stands next the very
heart of the Old Dominion, and was the fit mother
of one whose Virginia had no solar nor polar points.
In one respect, especially, Buckingham was rich : in
the facilities it afforded for the study of the pecu-
liarities of negro dialect, fetich, and other and all
racial idiosyncrasies. Never was there an apter
pupil than the boy Bagby, since George Borrow
made himself master of the Romany Lil. There
have been quick and sympathetic geniuses, as Mr.
Joel Harris, Mrs. Stabler, Mrs. Champney, and oth-
ers, who reduced the negro patois very near to a
science both of accuracy and insight ; but it may be



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBT. XV11

doubted whether our dead friend did not know the-
Yirginia negroes more fully and deeply than even
these. They made to his eyes a large part of the
landscape of the Rome that waa; they gave it at
once a poetic and a pathetic element of interest;
they illustrated the principle of Emerson's theory of
-contrasts :

" Little thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown,
Of thee from the hill top looking down."

But, beyond all, they tendered the claim of helpless-
ness, of ignorance, and of dependence ; and to that
appeal one of the most tender hearts among Chris-
tians never failed to respond with tears.

As Boeotia was the right home of Pindar and Tyr-
tseus, so was this central county, with its wealth of
black diamonds of every hue and form of originality
and individuality, the right school for one who was
destined to prove no less than the very Dickens and
Shakespeare of the Virginia negro.

Dr. Bagby's father was a merchant of Lynchburg ;
his mother's maiden name was Evans a patronymic
that reappears in the letters of Mozis Addums.
From his childhood George Bagby was a victim of
incurable dyspepsia, as may be read in the " Canal
Reminiscences" and he might any time have adopted
the language which John Randolph addressed to his
attendant as he lay dying in Philadelphia : " Doctor,
I have been sick all my life." He celebrates the
disease in the humorous verses entitled " Phil.
Jones's," and all his life was an unequal battle with



XV111 GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

it, though doubtless, as in Carlyle's case, its very
misery may have acted as a mental stimulation. Dr.
Bagby was educated at Princeton, N". J., and at
Newark, Del., under the tuition of the late Dr. John
S. Hart, one of the best of men and of teachers, who
gave him an honored place in the Professor's Manual
of American Literature (pp. 452453). At the end
of his sophomore year in Delaware College, young
Bagby (now eighteen years old) began the study of
medicine, and in due time took his regular degree of
M. D. at the University of Pennsylvania, at Philadel-
phia. He then removed to Lynchburg, where his
father lived, to practice, and he hung out his sign in
front of a tenement that then stood on the site of the
now stately Opera House of that city. But it may
be doubted if really he ever attended half a dozen
cases. His was the experience of the poet Keats, in
more than one way repeated ; for both had the same
educational advantages, each abandoned the profes
sion of medicine for that of letters, and both, long
years after, would often astonish the regular adepts
in the art by the range and accuracy of their techni-
cal knowledge.* By a law, however, as sure as that
which rules the courses of gravitation, Bagby soon
found, without seeking, the career for which every
endowment of nature had copiously prepared and
deliberately dedicated him. The Virginian of Lynch-
burg, founded in 1808, was then edited by James
McDonald, Esq., since Secretary of the Common-

* Cowden Clarke is authority as to Keats ; my own observation
as to Dr. Bagby. E. S. G.



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY. XIX

wealth and Adjutant- General of Virginia, to whom,,
ten years after, Dr. Bagby wrote the tribute in
^Blue Eyes" that he " was essentially a gentleman."
To him, as to a kindred, even brother spirit, in cul-
ture and humanity, the young and eccentric stranger
was naturally magnetized. Those were the good old
days when people had plenty of elbow-room. When
the editor was absent, his friend took his place ; and
under this gate-way of locum tenens Dr. Bagby made
his way upon the stage which he afterwards so widely
and so luminously filled. It was a happy omen that,,
on the appearance of his very first contribution, an edi-
torial article on Christmas, the town was taken by
storm, and saw, as was said of Macaulay's Milton, that
a new star had risen above the horizon. But "the
Dean could write beautifully about a broom-stick ;"
and there followed a description of the snow-coasting
down St. Paul's Hill in Lynchburg, and an account
of a skating adventure, both humorously ascribed to
Alex. McDonald, Esq., and the former afterwards
embodied in the story of " Blue Eyes" that gave
token of a new and idiomatic phase of pictorial genius.
Sketch after sketch rapidly followed, some of which
are included in this volume, and all of which are as
well worthy to live as the earlier essays of Thackeray
or Lamb ; appearing in the poverty of literary appar-
atus in Virginia, for the most part as editorial articles
in the Virginian. Among such was the essay en-
titled " The Sacred Furniture Warerooms" which
neither Addison nor Irving would have disowned,
Dr. Bagby has said to the writer that his literary



:XX GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

%

fertility at that time was prodigious. He must have
read ravenously also. Meanwhile, too, he was a man
about town, and was known for a genius, and for one
who would make, or had indeed already made, a
shining mark.

Labor and fame came crowding upon him suddenly?
as the fruit of this local distinction, and from the in-
spiration of this local success. Early in the fifties,
the Lynchburg Express, a paper founded, and for
some years conducted, by the late Hudson Garland,
came into the possession of Dr. Bagby and his life-long
friend, the late Capt. George Woodville Latham
.another rare and lit spirit, too soon involved in the
damps of disease and the arrest of death. I have
seen issues of this old-time journal; and both its ed-
itors were my heart's dear kin. It was worthy of
the twin-stars the Castor and Pollux at its head.
Bravely and brightly for two or three years the gal-
lant young friends discharged their public trust.
Other graceful pens diversified and relieved their la-
bors. But the business management was neglected
or ill-managed; and the Express fortunately for
Bagby became numbered among Lynchburg epi-
taphs and eclipses.

During this time, Dr. Bagby wrote several articles
that were published in Harper's Magazine. One of
these was entitled " My Wife, and My Theory about
Wives" a specimen of sentimental extravaganza
worthy of the hand which traced the shadowy and
sacred image of the lost love of Sir Roger de Cover-
ley. Another was entitled " The Virginia Editor"



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY. XXI

and was a burlesque character-sketch of the swagger-
ing, duelling and drinking soi-disant "Colonel," who
then only too often represented the power of the
press in the sunny South.

It was professedly a caricature ; and it had been
shown, before its appearance, as a good joke, to nu-
merous journalistic friends. Yet, when it was pub-
lished, one of these was induced by other persons to
regard it as an assault upon himself. He sent there-
upon a challenge, which was promptly accepted;*
seconds were named ; Capt. Latham for Bagby, and
Roger A. Pry or for the party of the second part.
Bladensburg was reached ; the preliminaries were ad-
justed, and the principals took position. At this
critical moment, a hack arrived containing the Hon.
Thomas S. Bocock, then a member of Congress, and
a friend of all parties, through whose efforts the
quarrel was composed, and everybody sent about hi&
pacific business.

The collapse of the Express gave to each of its-
two editors more congenial employment, and an
ampler field. Through the influence of Mr. Wm.
M. Semple, lately before the associate editor of the
Lynchburg Virginian, and at that time correspon-
dent at Washington of the New Orleans Crescent,
Dr. Bagby was promoted to the latter position ; and,
through family influence, Woodville Latham was
employed as clerk of the Naval Committee of the
House of Representatives.

* "George had all sorts of good pluck, and plenty of it; he
was not afraid of any man's face on earth." Dr. H, G. L.



XXLL GEOKGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

There must have been rare times when these two
favored children of the muses were re-united at the
capital city. They were worthy of one another, and
each celebrated the other in many a grotesque page.
Latham was the "X)ans" of the Addums letters, and
the Rocky Murdrum of the story of " Blue Eyes"
Long years after, ""Woody" gasped ^ Send for
George /" and so fell asleep in the arms of his tearful
comrade. It was the destiny of one to be a dreamer,
a poet ; and not much that he dreamed took a living
form; but Bagby must have been a dauntless and
indefatigable laborer, and the .mere list of the publi-
cations for which he wrote affords proof of his heroic
industry and of the fatal fertility of his genius.
Besides the Crescent, (in those days, remember, his
letters were quasi editorial and had even a greater
weight than that of mere local comment), he corres-
ponded regularly for the Charleston Mercury and
the Richmond Dispatch, and wTOte copiously for the
Southern Literary Messenger, and sometimes for the
Atlantic Monthly. It was through the medium of
the Messenger that he lodged his first deep and popu-
lar impression as an humorous writer. It may be
questioned whether anything of a racier flavor, free
from slang, yet fresh as dawn-dew with idioms of
the heart and hearth; whether anything of more
sylvan depth and of more natural oddity and sim-
plicity ever saw the light, than the " Letters of Mozis
Addums to Billy Evans of Kurdsville" in which the
society, the man-traps and the wonders of Washing-
ton city are described by a rustic writer to a rustic



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY. XX111

friend. The correspondent is represented as visiting
the capital to procure a patent for a machine of his
invention, for executing his idea of perpetual mo-
tion. An amiable and virtuous Irish servant-girl
rescues him out of a number of scrapes, and A.ddums
ends by marrying her.

Soon after this performance, John R. Thompson,
one of the best beloved of the sons of song, resigned
the editorial chair of the Southern Literary Messen-
ger ', to become the editor of the Field and Farm, of
New York. He was given a complimentary and val-
edictory dinner at Zetelle's, by his friends, on May
15th, 1860, over which the Hon. William H. Macfar-
land presided ; and it was casually mentioned, in the
report of the banquet, in the Mewenger for June, that
'"among the invited guests were John Esten Cooke,
Esq., Dr. H. Grey Latham and Dr. Bagby." The very
terms of the announcement signified to- those who
were anyway behind the scenes, that Dr. Bagby him-
. self had written the account, and that himself had vir-
tually already succeeded to the tripod of the magazine
from which no less a seer than Edgar A. Poe had
-once spoken. And so he had, as the title-page of
the next issue announced. Whatever the prestige
with which he entered upon the discharge of his du-
ties, the pressure and perplexities of the situation
were all adverse. In other words, there could be at
the South, as at that time, no purely literary work, or
literary leisure, when the very air was saturated with
politics, and, no more than religion, could literature
^resist its access. Yet the volume of the Messenger



XXIV GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

for 1860 will be found to contain critical and creative
work in quite a notable degree, and of a high order
of merit. The romaunt of "Blue Eye and Battle-
wick" a Christmas story, to some extent, perhaps, an
unconscious imitation of Dickens, but altogether sui
generis, and like the echoes in Ireland and in Ossian.
which repeat what they hear with variations of their
own ran through this volume of the Messenger, in
five installments: January-May. Dr. Bagby pro-
nounced this story a "failure" in after years; but it
bears as unmistakable traces of his genius as any of
his writings, and is only weak in the too close fidelity
to individual specimens in the delineation of his
characters. Yet those descriptions were as vivid as
if photograph and phonograph had united to catch
and fix the minutest traits. Many minor sketches
accompanied the unfolding of the " Blue Eyes" story,,
and the editorial department was always kept full and.
fresh. In it Dr. Bagby defended the rights of the
South, till, high over the noises of the press and the
clamor of orators, rose suddenly and rudely the
sharp thunder from Sumter, and the war was flagrant.
Though wholly unfitted, physically, Bagby entered
the ranks as a private, and was found with the ear-
liest troops who were assembled at Manassas. There,
fortunately, he soon attracted the attention of General
Beauregard's chief of staff, and was, in part, relieved
of duties of which he was incapable, by being de-
tailed for clerical work at headquarters. It was not
long, however, before his health proved inadequate for
even this service, and he was given a final discharge.



GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY. XXV

Resuming his profession, he sang the songs of a
nation, while others fought its battles and made its
laws.

We write "sang" not unadvisedly, for at this
period appeared the one poem of Dr. Bagby's which,
marrying the spirit of the Revolution, can never die.
His was the mission by it, like the good Froissart,
" to encourage all valorous hearts, and to show them
honorable examples." If less high and heroic than
the ballads of Koerner, there was great quiet strength
and stimulation to sacrifice in the strain which lent
love and fame to

" Brave old Tom with the empty sleeve,"

whose lost arm slept in unmarked honor under the
Malvern turf. As much as any other, this was the
poetic expression of the War of Independence, em-
bodying its sacrifice, and summing up many a record
of its Helden-'buch. Through every difficulty and
over every obstacle the scarcity of paper and
skilled labor, the absence of competent assistance of
every kind, and the ever dwindling Confederate ra-
tion, Dr. Bagby sustained the Messenger till its pro-
prietorship changed, in 1864, and then laid down the
burden, having fought the good fight with unfalter-
ing courage.

Besides the magazine, Dr. Bagby performed, dur-
ing the war, a vast amount of literary and journal-
istic work. He was the correspondent, at the Con-
federate Capital, of every Southern paper that could
secure the favor of being represented by him: the

3A



XXVI GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY.

Mobile Register, the Memphis Appeal, the Colum-
bus, Ga., Sun, the Charleston Mercury, and others,,
besides his regular service for some years as editorial
contributor to the Richmond Whig, of which his
friend McDonald had become the editor. His bold-
ness of comment on the course of events within the
ill-starred Confederacy led him to write occasionally
for the Richmond Examiner, though he did not ap-



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