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curately with the methodical attention to detail
of a De Maupassant. She presents, however, her
subjects with something of a sweeter, nobler en-
thusiasm than that superb artist.

And there is still another point in favor of
her delineation in the sphere of country char-
acter. Cooper, who dealt so intimately with
similar elemental types, did not make his char-
acters in their entirety as strikingly an intimate a
part of the scenes amid which they moved. Many
of his characters failed to conform as vividly and
as accurately as they should to the calls that the
nature of the situation made upon them. In
handling characters plainly identified with the sur-
roundings and treating them from such a perspec-



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

tive, Craddock has wrought a result of potential
effect.

Beneath the rude exterior of the Tennessee
mountaineer there is a wealth of superior qualities.
Shy and sensitive as he is, the cursory view of the
chance traveler affords little ground for an ade-
quate appreciation of the tangible virtues possessed
by the inhabitants of the Great Smoky and the
Chilhowee. Craddock has depicted these people
with infinite finesse and subtle delicacy of work-
manship. They become under the magic of her
revealing studies men of genuine nobility, of lofty
and inspiring character, full of loyalty and of deep
devotion to every tie. Men not inspired per-
petually by a bloodthirsty desire to kill and slay
their fellows upon the whim of some fancied
provocation, men not animated by spirits antago-
nistic to every canon of law and order, but in-
spired with sentiments and ideals creditable to
a more polished society. The distance they are
removed in the scale of real worth from their
more fortunate compatriots is one existing in the
imagination solely, for the true mountaineer as

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

portrayed in Craddock's novels is a man little
withdrawn in political and religious sentiment
from the " valley man." " The ennobling differ-
ence between one man and another, between
one animal and another, is precisely in this, that
one feels more than another," and, despite the
crudity of his education, the Tennesseean of the
hills in the pages of Craddock as well as in his
native slopes is a man capable of deep and pure
emotions.

No more attractive study of rural personalities
can be found in the treatment of American char-
acters than those figures of the " Prophet of Great
Smoky " and the " Despot of Broomsedge Cove."
Moral power of a high order is at home in these
men. Miss Murfree has skillfully sketched the
religious ecstasy, the faithful devotion, and the
moral sublimity of men by nature large and
generous, yet whose every action is hindered
by accident of birth, by lack of competent
education.

On the rougher side of the community's life the
daring and fortitude of the fugitive from justice,



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

the moonshiner and the falsely accused are fitting
partners of Dandie Dinmont, Rob Roy, and
Claverhouse. Border farmer, freebooter, soldier
in a bad cause they may have been, nevertheless the
lofty, kindly natures that were the mainsprings of
each have their counterparts in the identical quali-
ties of the Tennessee Mountaineer, for " these
men touch the ideal of heroism only in their cour-
age and faith, together with a strong, but unculti-
vated, or rather mistakenly applied intellectual
power." Self-confident, bold, hardy men they
appear in Craddock's pages and justly so, for a
man's personality can be but the intimate reflec-
tion of his environment.

As in the countless scenes of literature, the
character of woman is treated with something of
a finer appreciation, of a rare gift of gentleness
that makes the creation glow with perpetual in-
terest. The heroines of Miss Murfree's ro-
mances are no exception to this literary tradition.
The elderly women have that same militant,
dominant spirit of " Lady Macbeth," but without
any of the evil of an " o'erleaping ambition."

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

The gentle " Adelicia " is as fine a specimen of
true effort in the sphere of a Christian peacemaker
as could be found a striking counterpart to the
silent, appealing manner of her sister " Julia."
The inspiring heroism and sacrifice of " Cynthia
Ware " is of the same fine texture as that of
" Jeannie Deans " ; the gentle protecting spirit of
" Dordinda Cayce," ample in its purity of womanly
sympathy and filial love, is likewise a production
of audacious magnetism. " Marcella Strobe " has
a claim, a very definite claim, to a lofty position
in the literary gathering of noble women, for there
is no character in Charles Egbert Craddock's
works that is more resplendent of dauntless devo-
tion and high-minded, patient sacrifice for justice
and her love. As a delineation of what heroism
and physical suffering a noble woman will undergo,
it would be necessary to mention one of the most
attractive feminine figures in these sketches
" Cely Shaw." True to actual circumstances, not
all of these women that people the pages in this
series of stories are of the fine and courageous
type; at intervals, the " Effie Deans" play their

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

parts in the primitive drama as well as the " Alice
Lees."

One of the finest expressions of feminine loyalty
is found in a little speech of " Dordinda Cayce "
in the " Prophet of Great Smoky Mountains."
The situation is one of striking dramatic possi-
bilities. The spontaneous expression of a beauti-
ful, noble girl, clad in the shabby homespun of
home-weaving, standing alone upon the dismal
slope of the silent mountain amid the dripping
trees enshrouded with the morning vapor, becomes
a most powerful soliloquy. " An' I'm boun' ter
try to holp him, ef I kin. I know too much,
sence Rick spoke las' night, ter let me set an' fold
my hands in peace. 'Pears like ter me ez that
thar all the diff'ence 'twixt humans an' beastis,
ter holp one another some. An' if a human won't,
'pears like ter me ez the Lord hev wasted a soul
on that critter."

It is equally true to speak of Miss Murfree as
Brownell speaks of Cooper, " some, at all events,
of those gentle and placid beings that he was so
fond of creating are very real." Nevertheless,

72



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

the placidity and the amiable bending to the
moods of fate so evident in the women of Cooper
is markedly lacking in the heroines of Craddock's
tales, who are more nearly the primitive, bold,
and virile offspring of a civilization in its first
youth, accustomed to contend with the rigours of
an unsettled existence. The sacrifices of their
placidity and amiability does not imply, however,
any corresponding sacrifice of reality which is, to
the contrary, enlivened and revitalized to a still
greater extent.

The life of Miss Mary Noailes Murfree has
been one particularly fitted by nature and chance
circumstance to obtain the accurate material
evinced in her character work. She was born
in Tennessee on an old plantation called " Grant-
lands " on January twenty-fourth, 1850, where
she lived for six years. Thence she went to Nash-
ville, remaining in that city for seventeen years,
finally moving to St. Louis. A return was made
within a short period to her native state.

While a child she was afflicted by a fever which
resulted in partial paralysis, inducing permanent

73



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

lameness. Thus somewhat barred from an ac-
tive participation in the customary pastimes of a
most robust childhood, she naturally gravitated
for her amusement to the companionship of books.
This was but the beginning of a long and remarka-
bly excellent training of a mind already most fa-
vorably endowed for the particular sphere of work
which she was destined to pursue. Her educa-
tion was obtained both in the South and in the
North, followed by an extensive study at home.
While in Tennessee it was the custom of the fam-
ily to spend the summer at a mountain community
named " Bersheba "; during the war residence at
this spot was rendered compulsory because the
contending armies made inhabitation of the old
homestead an impossibility. Thus, here it was
that her keen powers of observation and active
analysis were given full play in gathering ideas
and devising plans for future success in delineat-
ing mountain life.

The plots of these tales are all simple. There
is nothing especially intricate or involved, for it
is merely a section of real life removed from its

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

physical surroundings to the printed page, done
in a manner, however, to command intense interest
in the trivialities of a rather uneventful existence.
Following the method of George Eliot, she draws
the scenes as a series of every day incidents hap-
pening in their natural sequence without any ap-
parent regard as to the literary effect. Craddock
moves from incident to incident in the routine of
the mountain dweller's life as George Eliot let
her fancy make much or little of the inconsequent
flurries in the I9th century middle English coun-
try life. The culminations of the plots, the dra-
matic scenes, and unexpected denouements are all
vivid witnesses to the writer's art. Many situa-
tions rise to the plane of dramatic intensity termi-
nating in a strong, emotional denouement, realiz-
ing in maximum measure the several possibilities
of the actor's parts. It would be very easy to
degenerate into melodramatic rant and bombast
in these sketches of elemental passions. Miss
Murfree maintains to the contrary a firm grip
upon the " spine of the story," finally turning the
trivial incidents, the petty occasions, the com-

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

munity events, into a harmonious composition
wherein truth to life and perfect versimilitude are
commingled into one graceful unity.

The plots, and the situations in which they are
laid, demand moderate length. In this aspect of
the work Craddock has erred somewhat. Her in-
clinations to be accurate and to faithfully repre-
sent the actual state of mountain life have led her
to trespass upon the reader's good will in a too
large a degree ; for it would be well if she realized,
" not that the story need be long, but that it will
take a long time to make it short." The capacity
for sustained attention is exhausted by the lengthy
exposition of " pathetic circumstance and dramatic
relations " wherein the successive incidents are
fraught with their own particular high, emotional
tension. It is undoubtedly this tedium of emo-
tional crises or series of continually exciting situa-
tions that is largely responsible for the impres-
sion that the volumes suffer from sameness or
monotony.

Individually these movements are of considera-
ble intrinsic worth. Commanding scenes replete



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

with pure dramatic fire stand out in silhouette
against this varied background. Notable is the
arrest of the militant " Prophet " of Great Smoky
standing in the pulpit delivering an impassioned
recital of his fall from divine grace ; at this tense
moment the hostile sheriff strides to the rude ros-
trum and evicts the trembling orator from his
stand of sacred authority. The climax is reached
when the officer of the law lays his instrument of
authority upon the open Bible; u Ye can read,
pa'son," he said. " Ye kin read the warrant fur
your arrest."

Miss Murfree's plots are constructed with an
idea of presenting a whole group of characters,
their friends and kindred of the clan, and the mis-
cellaneous what not that may perchance drift
across the rural horizon. She is apparently de-
termined to give the characterization of the ex-
istence accurately, fully, and with a dispassionate
scientific method tempered by whatever art such
a course would permit. She is not tempted pri-
marily by any allurements of artistic perversion
for art's sake. It is this very quality that lends

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

the most valuable property and enduring attrac-
tion to her romances. Hawthorne had no such
particular mission of psychological investigation,
yet the spirit of Craddock is of the same artistic
type. As a consequence of the former's freedom
from giving such an absolute portrayal, his plots
have " a unity, an unwavering creative purpose "
which is not the fortunate possession of Craddock.

This is not intended to deny the creative ability
to Craddock. It is observed merely to illustrate
the material difference in the limiting circum-
stances, for Miss Murfree is undoubtedly one of
the most original, most creative of the Southern
writers. Hawthorne constructed primarily with
an artist's eye; Craddock with the finely adjusted
ideal of a scientific delineation. The former pos-
sessed an infinite capacity for subordination and
synthesis in large measure indicative of his
talent; the latter writer, from the nature of her
material, could not produce such artistic contrasts
and dramatic unities.

Within the realm of the humble mountain trag-
edies lies the corresponding germ, the identical

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

primitive spark that burst into such immortal
flame in the closing scenes of " Hernani." The
same pride of race and racial instinct, the same
elemental passions pulsate in the minds of actors,
the same devoted, self-sacrificing love of woman
throbs in the untutored mountaineers as in the
more polished players of Hugo. Consequently, it
is a matter 'for little amazement that the romances
and tales of Craddock instantly attracted serious
literary attention.

Able and extraordinary powers of description
have proved a fruitful source of dispraise. In
the majority of Miss Murfree's works the unwar-
rantable use of numerous descriptions is a very
serious detriment, one that has furnished much
ground for those who are inclined to depreciate
her powers. That she is endowed with a nicety
of imagination, a sharpness of perception, alert at
once to detect the most subtle shades and tints in
the natural kaleidoscope, and, at the same moment,
to translate her impressions into passages of in-
spiring beauty, is not to be denied. Perhaps it is
her purpose so to imbue the whole fabric of the

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

sketches with the dominating beauty of the moun-
tain scenery that the entire composition is laden
with the natural atmosphere. To produce such
a result her facility in this direction would demand
far less of nature descriptions than she has used;
doubtless the temptation to employ such a faculty,
over which she has the most complete mastery,
was one she found difficult to resist. The con-
stant insertion of irrelevant bursts of ecstasy over
the multitude of mountain beauties, in situations
of dramatic importance, is discouraging to those
following eagerly the fortunes of a Jack Espey
or a Cely Shaw, yet to insert some telling piece
of natural beauty as a peaceful interlude to re-
lieve the emotional tension is a mark of skillful
dramatic handling. It is a stable method of many
masters. Shakespeare has " Duncan " remark
upon the beauty of his fatal resting place soon to
be filled with the horror of an outraged hos-
pitality.

" This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses."
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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

By this a distinct and useful purpose was ac-
complished.

Her skillful depicting of interior arrangements,
of mountain dens and moonshiners' retreats, of
the simple household duties and domestic difficul-
ties, reflects a dexterous use of the scenic prop-
erties. No one watches the setting of the stage
with more care than Miss Murfree. She has the
faculty of differentiating between the several
values of light and shade, of delicate colorings
and transient reflections in the natural setting, so
that the entire background may be in harmony with
the figures in the rural stage. Everywhere there
are the most tangible signs that Craddock is
making a determined effort to follow the com-
mandment of Poe constant creation of an at-
mosphere.

Miss Murfree possesses that remarkable power
tp transmute the illusive witchery of mountain
grandeur into the dispassionate garb of prose.
Her love of nature is a dominant, vitalizing bond
which she submits to with grace and genuine
love for it. She seems to experience the delight

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

of a Lamartine in the seductive charms of a mag-
nificent landscape bathed in the voluptuous sheen
of a springtime day. Rioting in a galaxy of ex-
pressions for the multitude of color varieties in a
manner to rival a Swinburne in the gracious flow
of language about a trivial topic. " Bronze-
green," " chrome-green," " slate gray," " ultra-
marine," " lapis lazuli," and " azure " deck the
page until the scene rises in all its impressive mag-
nificence as an actual, visual experience. Ruskin
exclaimed about the light upon the Campagna, " I
cannot call it color, it was a conflagration," like-
wise the reader must be moved to exclaim upon
the dazzling beauties of this virgin wilderness in
the hills. On every hand the rosy-flushed azalea,
the mountain laurel, the snow-white lily of the Chil-
howee, the shy woodland violet in its dusky laven-
der hood, form beds of perfume beneath the resin-
ous pines; down these natural vistas between the
shaded tree boles the stately cumulous clouds ride
before the background of a Southern topaz sky.

Through her inclination to the beauties of the
sky, Miss Murfree has made herself a veritable

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

literary astronomer. The stars and comets, the
manifestations of celestial phenomena, are made
to do duty as agents of the plot machinery.
" His Vanished Star " and many other tales utilize
the superstitious awe in which the ignorant and un-
lettered hold the terrifying oddities in the natural
scheme of things. She is a well informed and
competent observer of the celestial happenings.
The use and reference to the sky and cloud ef-
fects, to the sunsets and the commingling of color
in the heavens, are frequent and ably done a
masterly and experienced hand executing charming
descriptive effects.

Every story is replete with the devotion of a
nature lover: There is something of Thoreau in
the sketches of the woodland creatures and the
homes of the inhabitants of these trackless realms
with the many mysteries of the natural store-
house. The swaying pines and chestnuts, the
rhododendron and the mountain lily, are as ac-
curately etched upon the imagination as if trans-
muted to the printed page by some mysterious
alchemy. With that photographic exactness in



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

description that has so distinguished Kipling, Miss
Murfree manages to tell her view of natural
phenomena as well as to portray with every sem-
blance of actuality the character of her moun-
tain acquaintances. Not alone possessing an am-
ple astronomical knowledge, she has combined
with this a keen watchfulness for the variations
of animal and plant life. Through each page
the scientific nature lover is constantly in evidence.
The geological formations of Great Smoky and
the Chilhowee are presented with singular fidelity
to detail.

Craddock's powers of description are not con-
fined, however, to the portrayal of natural phe-
nomena. The physical characteristics of th
people, the oddities of speech and dress, the in-
teriors of their homes and the illicit stills, are
masterfully presented to the eye. There is the
pervading evidence of an artist's sense for har-
monious color schemes and vivid contrasts revel-
ing in this unexplored field of creative work.

A robust, style, distinguished by its unusual
clarity and masculine method, is the salient feature



CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

of this author's exposition. A generous use of
epithet, varying from the prosaic to the most
poetic turns of speech, as she becomes inspired
with the grandeur of the gorgeous panorama
spread before the eye on every hand. At times
her remarkable power in describing the superb
solitudes of the Bald and Chilhowee leads her
into digressions and lengthy ramblings in the very
execution of which the style loses its chief virtue,
seeming to share in the vacillating forgetfulness.
It matches in tone and color the ecstasy of the
author, who seems at intervals utterly enraptured
with the scenery, oblivious of every other claim;
instead of the terse, clear Anglo-Saxon words
*nated to a distinctly American landscape and a
particularly English people, she borrows from all
sources terrifying, high-sounding phrases inappro-
priate for such an occasion. Phrases too lengthy,
too sonorous, making of each scene that should
have been distinguished for its simplicity, instead,
a top-heavy, irrelevant word display.

This feature has worked a most pernicious re-
sult. In those very passages of superb descrip-

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SOCIAL HISTORIANS

tive analysis, she demolishes the true ring of each
sentence by either some characteristic repetition
which has occurred numberless times elsewhere or
some ill-chosen vagrant from another type of
vocabulary. While the author has in general
handled well the descriptive phrases, the delicately
modulated structures, the perfectly adapted sen-
tences, nevertheless, the perfection of the entity
has been visibly marred by such lapses from a
purely graceful style. Such, for instance, as re-
ferring to the sun in the evening as " the last
segment of the vermillion sphere " ; cows called
with seeming gusto " bovine vagrants "; the moon
repeatedly "gibbous"; the simple brook is de-
scribed as " the tinkling of a mountain rill a
keen detached appogiatura rising occasionally
above the monody of its munderous flow." She
frequently refers to the small insects as having
songs " charged with somnolently melodious post-
meridian sentiment." Endless recurrence of this
brand of phrase must of necessity mar a composi-
tion no matter how masterly.

Yet rarely has dialogue been more finely ren-
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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

dered in native dialect than in Craddock's lines.
Everywhere resplendent with the gift of interpret-
ing the myriad lineaments of the shy mountaineers,
bounteously supplied with an experience calculated
to penetrate the mysteries of their reticent, re-
tired dispositions, nurtured in the solitude of these
coves and forests, Craddock has accomplished a
marvelously accurate exposition of the countless
phases of human nature in the hill country. The
ability to keep in true perspective the slow, rumi-
nating conversation of this hasteless people, with
their countless seeming digressions and irrelevant
statements, while concurrently to maintain the in-
terest of the spectator, finally using each digres-
sion, every single reference, as a separate pig-
ment for the closing dramatic composition, re-
quires the mastery of an essentially delicate art.
Within a single speech the reproduction of a dia-
lect and the psychologic interpretation of the
speaker's character are reflected in the drawling
intonations, the somnolent manner of enunciation,
or the flitting from topic to topic in the speech of
some of the characters, as a " Miss Bates " of



SOCIAL HISTORIANS

Jane Austin's imagination, or the meandering con-
versation of a " Mrs. Nickleby."

Miss Murfree has been charged with an undue
amount of such conversational digressions as well
as the unnecessary wealth of description. This
particular criticism is not well founded. The
numerous digressions have been made because of
the need to insert suitable agents which should be
at once attractive in themselves and at the same
time maintain the semblance of real conditions in
the mountaineer's method of speech. A cursory
view of the speeches and tales as a production con-
forming to some particular rule of dramatic unity
is highly unjust; there are real lives portrayed in
these volumes and fidelity to actual conditions must
in justice be well considered also.

Again, these digressions furnish in large meas-
ure a means of indicating those lapses into slow
thought between his fitful efforts at conversation
when the mountaineer is aroused, perchance, from
his constitutional apathy. Thus it is that, in nu-
merous cases, the apparently purposeless digres-
sions and unwarranted employment of nature de-

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CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK

scriptions, faultless and beautiful in themselves,
have in reality a justified use, demanded by actual
conditions.

Properly controlled, dialect is a potent instru-
ment. Native speech is so often palely imitated
by a mere translation of the author's own thoughts
into the ridiculous jargon composed of note book


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Online LibraryHarry Aubrey ToulminSocial historians → online text (page 4 of 8)