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harmony of color and sound.

The charming idyl of " Bonaventure " abounds
with the mystic beauties of the swamp. The in-
tricate fashioning of the silvery curtains of Span-
ish moss, gently swayed by the soft eddying tide
of a hidden bayou becomes as vivid to the imagina-
tion as the sweeping emerald prairies under the
dome of liquid topaz, sapphire, and opal rimmed
at the horizon, where the sun has lately sunk, by a
medley of lemon and orange shafts of light in
the fading tints of rose and salmon. The superb

42



GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

grace of his descriptions mated with the vast scien-
tific knowledge create a remarkably life-like result.
Mr. Cable is successful in this domain. No
one who was not thoroughly conversant with every
mood and whim of this beautiful wilderness on
gulf and river could portray quite so effectively
the varied aspects of the semi-tropical fauna and
the several phenomena of nature. On the one
hand to respond to the caress of utter peace in the
quiet beauty of a secluded wilderness ; on the other,
to rise in unison with the unbridled fury of a
hurricane, is undoubtedly masterful. From the
wastes of an unexplored forest to the rare gardens
in the French quarter of New Orleans, there is
the ever present sense of Mr. Cable's mastery of
his setting. Through the magic of his art gor-
geous pictures of retired courts and high walled
gardens light the imagination with every tint and
shade of the brilliant original. His is the ex-
traordinary faculty of appreciating fully the subtle
charms of this exotic color and of holding up se-
lected bits of the bizarre old scenes for the enjoy-
ment of those of to-day and the instruction of

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

those of to-morrow. " Bonaventure " and the
" Solitary," in " Strong Hearts," together with
' The Grandissimes," are instances of his scenes
of bayou, river, and forest life; " Dr. Sevier,"
" Posson Jone " and " Old Creole Days " are de-
voted rather more exclusively to the fast depart-
ing beauties of the French quarter in New Orleans.
For perpetuating such scenes we owe him a debt
of gratitude.

The habits of George W. Cable in life and in
work are indicative of a methodical mind. As
the probable result of his commercial experiences,
his Books and notes are kept in scrupulous order.
So it is a salient characteristic of his to be scien-
tifically accurate; he is primarily the lover of ab-
stract truth, of keen precision, of logical action.
That is his difficulty with character delineation.
He wants the men and women he imagines to be
the logical result of their mode of life, their cus-
toms, their morals, forgetting in his desire for
logical precision the illogical sequence of actual
events. If Mr. Cable could forget the message
he is trying to teach, his personal views on the

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GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

proper standard of morality and social govern-
ment, and let the characters of his books be men
and women as real as his scenes, we could hail
him as a master poet whose artistic sense was
alive to color and character alike. His search
for an accurate justification of his theory prevents
the actual truth. Without truth the artist's best
efforts are spent in a misconceived struggle to give
birth to an immortal production.

As Gibbon speaks of the models of the Ancients
" wherein truth appears embellished with all the
graces of the imagination," it might be said t>f
masterly fiction that an essential prerequisite is
that the imagination be embellished with all the
graces of truth.

George W. Cable is similar in some measure to
those Russian authors of the stamp of Tolstoi,
Gorky and Turgenieff, who attend with assiduous
skill to the details of their setting, but weld a per-
verted scheme of human action and a distorted
view of human life into the whole. Like these
Russians, Mr. Cable views his characters, his
scheme of thought, through the haze of personal

45



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

prejudice and opinion; his motive, like theirs, is to
show the repulsive results of a social error at all
costs and mend the vehicle of his expression as
best he may. That is neither good art nor truth.

Whenever the literary artist steps into the realm
of the social philosopher, he has entered upon a
tortuous course where a legion of literary reputa-
tions have been wrecked. He can tell of life as
he sees it, but to tell of life as he would have it,
robs the tale of its vital essence. He can be a
stenographer, but not the stenographer and him
who dictates at the same time.

Throughout Mr. Cable objects strenuously to
the evils of quadroon and slave; to miscegenation;
to those illicit relations between the white race and
the race tinctured with a greater or less amount of
a darker pigment. He is a radical politically.
Religion is a thing of paramount importance. He
finds the lax morals and liberal code of a partic-
ular section of Creoles an abomination and crying
shame which he immediately saddles upon the
whole community.

Rancor and bitterness are the monopolizing fea-



GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

tures of his thought, which permeate his methods
and prevent the rightful sway of his artistic sense.
Satire and ridicule of shame are the keen weapons
of his expression, but fall short of their object and
strip the writer of his power. As one obsessed he
writes with a burning finger what he seems to think
is the hidden script. It is no secret. The objec-
tions to such a system are recognized; the disas-
trous results of such an incident to a social order
are heartily condemned by rational opinion.
There is no need for the flaunting of this error;
his own literary activity has been materially de-
based and estranged from the truth as he was car-
ried by his momentous eagerness to expose the sin.
The thoughts and actions of posterity will not be
the gainer a whit by this passion to satirize the
moral nakedness of a fatal mistake perpetrated by
a thoughtless minority; Creole life in general has
been made to stand as the synonym for the un-
pardonable sins of race because of a defect in a
small division of the community and the ineffec-
tiveness of the law there. His perspective has
been violently displaced.

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

The winning characteristics of the Creole and
the charming mode of his life are in the main
true. The truth, however, to proportion is, in
some places slightly, in others widely, divergent
from the contour of the original, for the picture
he draws presents the queer anomaly of a master
delineator, with a passion for accuracy, betrayed
by the temptation to insert his own interpretation,
not to present faithfully the features of the sub-
ject. It is this defect that robs the sketches of
their claims to absolute historical trustworthiness.
Observable exaggeration insidiously poisons the v
mind of the reader with suspicions as to the fidelity
of the artist's efforts in exhibiting faithfully the
picture at once so attractive and full of tropical
color.

In the " Silent South " Mr. Cable effectively
demonstrates his inability to argue his points con-
sistently. At one place he goes at great length to
demand certain privileges for the blacks which
would result in certain social equality, and in a
paper immediately following this particular one,
denies that such was the purpose of the demand,



GEORGE WASHINGTON ,CABLE

although such proposal proved to have only one
meaning. The inconsistency remains throughout.
On political and social questions his religious and
moral inclinations carry him into uncertain, un-
familiar waters. The firm character and sincerity
of his utterances command, however, sympathetic
respect. He has manifested throughout his whole
life this willingness to stand by his opinions and
back them by every resource at his command, and
this character was early seen by his religious studies
in the camps and in his resignation from the Pica-
yune.

The resentment of his neighbors made these
fearless declarations of his views the subject of
estrangement. Life in New Orleans became un-
bearable to one who had so flagrantly offended his
friends among the Creoles and even in the Amer-
ican quarter. Consequently, he moved his home
to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he now
resides.

The author evidently had this charming spot in
mind when he constructed the delightful tale,
" Bylow Hill." The striking sweetness of the

49



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

sketch, dominated as it is by the attempt to un-
ravel a moral tangle, reveals the true worth and
ability of the man when he does not attempt to in-
ject at every angle some favorite reform or sub-
ject of sarcastic ridicule. For it is his aptitude
with sarcastic weapons and telling epigram that
has made his stories of Creole life and his com-
ments thereon teem with stinging remarks. The
English-Puritan blood constantly cries out against
the moral laxity of a section of the community
the morals of this gay, free, pleasure loving peo-
ple of a light hearted race; his association with
Gallic life has put an edge upon his verbal weapons
which he knows how to handle with uncommon
power. Yet sarcasm and epigram do not beget
sympathetic interpretation or truth. We see in
" Dr. Sevier " a man strikingly like the writer.
He will not let politics alone; he will be sarcastic
and quixotic, and these, true to life as they may
be, are potent factors in rendering him unable to
do his full share of good. He lets his dangerous
notions of reform destroy his efficiency to make re-
form a more tangible thing; his influence deli-

50



GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

quesces through some mysterious alchemy
wherein the destructive powers of conflicting ele-
ments have full sway.

As has been mentioned, a number of the men in
Mr. Cable's books express some phase of his life,
some element of his thought, or a particular inci-
dent in his career. In this same volume of " Dr.
Sevier " the character of John Richling, weak and
vacillating, whom he manages to kill so entertain-
ingly after a tedious existence, is none other than
a reflection of George W. Cable's youthful exper-
ience in the commercial world. The description
of the scenes in the business district has every at-
tribute of actual observation. The duties of ac-
countant and clerk, the search for work and the
bitter struggle for bread, are the impressions of
personal experience.

The scenes in " Bonaventure " are only those
his study of natural history and the days spent as
a surveyor in the swamps and plantation fields
could make possible; the very character of " Bona-
venture " seems to be an expression of his ideal
man filled with noble simplicity acting in his pas-



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

sion for knowledge the pioneer of civilization
among the Acadians. It is, perhaps, his supreme
creation. The texture of the simple Bonaventure
is exceedingly fine a man of peace and thorough
lovableness upon whose slight shoulders devolve
moral problems of no mean order. Through the
frank nobility of his soul he met and conquered
each one manfully.

The scene is almost a sequel to u Evangeline."
The Acadians have settled in their new home and
this is a study of their fate and how they met it.

Aurora and Honore, together with Raoul and
Narcisse, are happy creations. The latter espe-
cially is a valuable picture, or may we say a re-
production, of the essentials of Creole character
that make so attractive this Gallic offspring in the
new land. None of the charming vivacity and
keen wit of the original seems to have been lost in
transplanting the race from the shores of France.
The gay, inconsequent beauties and the irresponsi-
ble, pleasure seeking men appear rare plants in
the cold system of democratic government.

In "Old Creole Days" and in "Strong
52



GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

Hearts " there is much of fine artistic worth. No
more beautiful sketches of New Orleans life in
the early part of the last century have come from
the pen of this gifted writer. The moral pro-
tests and problems still abound, but the essence
of the story is surpassingly fine. The scenes be-
come so vivid that the reader seems to have un-
consciously drifted into the actual portrait where
the atmosphere is suffused with the scents of
orange blossom and oleander. We walk down
the vistas of semi-tropical luxuriousness with a
people of departed days. " Posson Jone " and
" Pere Rahael " are portrayals of the early type
of pioneer and citizen in New Orleans; the de-
scription of life in the provincial community are
adroitly done by skillful word-painting and genuine
artistic handling.

Throughout it all the prevailing genius of his
Creole stories is that Gallic spirit which has en-
dowed the French language with its distinctive
charm " esprit." That indefinable soul of bril-
liant expression which is the subtle embodiment of
a vivacious people's thought; the power to infer,

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

the ability to grasp the extreme niceties of an
allusion and to use the hint for its utmost value.
Mr. Cable's long association with these peoples
has imbued his writings with the most attractive
flavor of their own productions.

After all, we might well ask, what indeed is the
claim that George Washington Cable will have
to live as an integral part of Southern Literature?
With all his various errors, he will certainly take
his place among those of that Southern School of
authors represented by Page, Craddock, Harris,
and Allen; however much he has missed the true
spirit of the Southland, there is much in him of
valuable character. Every man in this school
has had a mission of reconstruction; it has been
the function of each to infuse with the fire of his
genius some particular phase of Southern life and
manners that it might be perpetuated as a vivid
bit of reality. In this aspect they are important
as interpreters, recorders, historians. Their mis-
sion is indeed that of the reconstructionists, of
rebuilders, of those who reproduce what they have
known intimately or lived personally, so that pos-

54



GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE

terity may be accurately informed as to the course
of events in a past era, as to the illusive manners
of a departed regime. Their work is a stage
wherein their words serve both as a prompt-book
and the actual lines for the actors in a neglected
realm.

Thus Mr. Cable, like Page, Craddock, and
Harris, has used dialect most effectively. He has
uncovered and used without stint his copious sup-
ply of scientific material for the descriptions of his
scenes; he has reproduced characters who speak
as those for whom they stand must have spoken,
evolved from actual observation and patient his-
torical research. We can largely overlook his
failure to give the life and spirit of the Creole
with strict fidelity, for he has given us much that
is innately beautiful and really superior. The re-
ward is a generous share of honor.

As a man of sincere religious power, which
worked in many cases a detriment to his art and
in others an inspiration, as an author of versa-
tility, as an observer of uncommon analytical
ability, we are entitled to judge him worthy of

55



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

thoughtful consideration. This is his claim to
keep his fame perpetually bright. He has held
up the mirror in order to reflect a little known
life, presented the reflection skillfully, that the
world might hereafter read and know. For this
his works should continue a vital element in South-
ern Literature.



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

(Mary Noailes Murfree)



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

(Mary Noailes Murfree)

" To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

Wordsworth.

IN the vast domain of the Blue Ridge and
Alleghany Mountains a remarkable clan of
men has settled. The territory included
within the mountainous sections of Virginia,
the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia, ex-
tending from the region of the Ragged Moun-
tains, immortalized by Poe, to the low lying foot-
hills of Georgia, familiar in the pages of Joel
Chandler Harris, is one of vivid and impressive
grandeur. Seldom have the rugged lands of the
New World been so aptly adapted to the mainte-
nance of the original hardihood in the early
pioneers.

The venturesome spirits of the first colonists
59



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

at Jamestown scattered rapidly as the reinforce-
ments from England arrived, steadily pushing
their hardy front towards the promising West.
Legions of these men became enamoured of the
hills, and attached themselves permanently to the
serried slopes of this primeval tract. Not alone,
however, were the mountainous districts of the
eastern colonies populated with the able and sturdy
spirits of the daring settlers who came for a peace-
ful home, but numbers of the discontents, male-
factors, and outcasts of some political or social
revolution in Europe were shipped to the virgin
fastnesses of the new dependencies to work out
their schemes in the trackless wilderness. Hosts
of these restless characters found no more content
here than at home. The increasing civilization
in the growing colonial centers necessitated their
continual withdrawal to the secluded, rougher lo-
calities where their bold and adventurous natures
found ample occupation in the struggle for a
meager existence. The exodus of these types
from the realm of continental civilization into the
deserted regions of the Southern Mountains

60



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

marked the genesis of one of the most bizarre
divisions of the Anglo-Saxon race.

Nowhere have more notable expositions been
presented of the character and scenes in any par-
ticular locality, than those in the volumes of
Charles Egbert Craddock dealing with the Ten-
nessee Mountain folk. The inhabitants of the
Great Smoky Mountains entered their forest
homes with ideas and equipment modern a cen-
tury ago. To-day, they maintain virtually the
same aspect and the identical implements of their
forefathers barely modified by the marvels of out-
side invention. It is scant wonder that the de-
lineation of such characters in the accurate and
precise manner of Craddock proved of intense
literary interest.

Miss Murfree attacked her intricate problem
with a scientific spirit. The mountaineer's nature
was an unexplored tract in the studies of social
psychology. She applied a keen intelligence and
an active imagination to the analysis of this ret-
icent, uncouth and backward division of society
until she faithfully unravelled the subtle mass

61



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

of customs, unwritten laws, childish prejudices,
and superstitions. In her record of this effort
she has embodied a faithful reproduction of the
actual conditions with little perversion for artistic
purposes. At first glance such a course would
presuppose a treatise of interest to the student of
social conditions utterly antagonistic to any pre-
tence to literary success. This is not the case.
To portray the individuality of this primitive com-
munity is to unfold a novel type of Anglo-Saxon,
at once fundamentally the exponent of personal
liberty and ready justice, together with unde-
veloped capacities for extraordinary progress,
making the work a veritable revelation.

The study of these mountaineers of pure Eng-
lish ideals is an uncanny thing. We see ourselves
more than a century ago, arrested in the develop-
ment by some supernatural neglect, put under the
microscope, and every point of our national traits
and organism illumined fully in the light of mod-
ern information. Miss Murfree spent a part of
her life amongst these people, and, in so doing,
she served an apprenticeship in a stupendous

62



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

human laboratory. Her books are laboratory
records of a distinctive investigation in generic
psychology which gives her the credit of a gen-
uine contribution to the science of the social or-
ganization as well as to the creation of an artistic
and literary success.

The question of the characters in Craddock
must inevitably recall the frequent statements that
her works are marred by their sameness of view
and similarity of character development. Un-
consciously this was in the main a genuine com-
pliment to the success of the author's effort to
execute a sane and rational sketch of mountain
men and women. A people left to themselves
for decades in the boundless wilderness outside
the pale of any progress, exchanging no views ex-
cept those that originate within the community,
living no life but the simple routine of a barren
rural existence, could hardly be expected to evolve
any considerable amount of original thought or
produce a race of versatile conversationalists.?
The superficial events of the district its laws, its
customs, and social happenings could only agree

63



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

with that same monotony of that life. A more
complicated scheme of society might naturally
originate in a varied cosmopolitan life, yet the
equity of the situation would preclude the opposite
in any society distinguished for nothing, except its
primitive simplicity. So, while in one light the
criticism is technically defensible as to the montony
of the external phases of the mountain life the
dialect, the customs and superstitions, the duties
and the manners of the community members
yet the analytic mind of the writer has brought
to light the more delicate and personal shad-
ings of the actual internal thought of those
people.

A modern American critic has presented as a
qualification of a literary production that it shall
be of " enduring interest." No more striking
illustration of this literary truism could be found
than in Craddock's novels, for beneath the routine,
superficial shell of the mountain life the characters
of her novels are vitally real and human indi-
viduals. Every figure carries an eager and in-
sistent claim of " enduring interest " by the simple



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

virtue of its humble humanity, and appeals to the
American mind in particular because every move-
ment and every motive of the personages is actu-
ated by staunch ideals of personal liberty and
innate justice. Here the social institutions of the
nation are moulded in the rough.

Diversity of character is everywhere evident in
fullest measure. Without the bounds of the con-
ventional customs, each man and woman is de-
veloped as a distinctive, personal unit fashioned
in his own particular mould and responding to the
complication of his life in his own particular man-
ner. While Miss Murfree has been hampered
in the matter of routine happenings, she has widely
diversified her characters in the relation of their
personal traits and individual inclinations. It
would be as just to criticise the handling of
" Richard Feverel," dealing with life in an intri-
cate civilization, with the usages and mannerisms
of conventional English society, as it is to depre-
cate the continual use of the inherent features in
a simple mountain existence both must of neces-
sity maintain the atmosphere, the reality of the

6s



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

setting, by retaining the staple fixtures of their
respective societies.

In the same manner that Dickens and Scott in
the British Isles and Cooper in America treated the
types in the lower and more ignorant strata of the
community with such realistic skill, Craddock has
presented with deserved success the same cast of
intellect. These mountaineers may lack the pol-
ish and education of their more fortunate brethren,
but by the genius and justice of the author's pen
the ennobling features of their lives stand out in
brilliant contrast in their humble love for their
children in their wretched cabins on the barren
declivities, their efforts to rear them in order that
they may become efficient members of the house-
hold, their patient, ignorant but none the less
pathetic efforts, to save them from the ravages
of disease and hardship, savoring strongly of that
potent, touching humanity which strikes the sym-
pathetic emotions in every section, lending to their
life a keen and vital interest. It is the same
world-wide spirit in the humble prose and in the
humble dialect of the uncouth countryman, as

66



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

that pervading the polished verses of Hugo's
" Lorsque L'Enfant Parait."

Each volume has its quota of rural types. The
officers of the law, the moonshiners, and the mur-
derers; farmers, millers and blacksmiths; store-
keepers, hunters, and the itinerant preacher; all
are commingled into the elemental mosaic; Miss
Murfree has succeeded admirably in etching ac-


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Online LibraryHarry Aubrey ToulminSocial historians → online text (page 3 of 8)