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mockery, the hollow pleas and the useless attempts
to perpetuate their names in marble, of those who
have failed to carve them upon the hearts of their
fellows, is a sermon of more than uncommon

Coincident with these short-stories are a num-
ber of essays, each one of which was originally
designed to accompany a tale in the other book.
Because, however, of pressing work the author
was never able to complete, fully, his purpose.
They are a series of able, clear sighted essays
exhibiting a keen knowledge of character and a


shrewd penetration into Kentucky life, tempered
by a fine sense of humor and an innate sympathy.
They are delightful for the clarity, the lucidity of
the views of town and rural life in Kentucky
the peaceful, not the bloody impression so long
unjustly associated with the State.

The " Blue-Grass Region " is particularly fine.
He says in part " grass is almost Kentuckian,"
and a little further on " the County Court Day in
Kentucky " is full of the ridiculous and the hu-
morous amid the gathering of the country folk.
Throughout the whole picture the subtle apprecia-
tion of the humanity of that life, the delicacy of
insight, and the gift of aptly worded speech, mark
it a book of genuine worth. Those who follow
the work will find it to be a source of information
as to the life and manners of that period, and, as
such, it will remain a treasured record. The
County Court Day is fast passing into memory.

"The Choir Invisible " is based upon a previous
story from the pen of Mr. Allen entitled " John
Gray," which, in the subsequent volume, was con-
siderably enlarged and improved. Once more the



author is amid the earlier scenes of his work
in the Colonial settlement of Lexington amid the
virgin forests. The idea of the whole is the
gradual evolution of a strong man's soul and his
hopeless love for a noble woman married to an-
other; it is essentially the problem novel, yet so
shorn of the repulsive features of the type by the
artistry of its handling as to command intense in-
terest and admiration.

The key-note of the entire production is con-
tained within the few words of the same Reverend
James Moore " And so the whole past sounds
to me; it is the music of the world, it is the vast
choir of the ever-living dead " ; and, elsewhere
it is stated, " he too has long since joined the choir
invisible of the immortal dead."

In this book James Lane Allen exhibits his ex-
ceptional familiarity with early Kentucky history;
the manners and problems of the day, Virginia
Colonial life and its influence; and the rise of his
Alma Mater, Transylvania University.

The productions of Mr. Allen are constructed
with the eye of a scientist dissecting, investigating,



illustrating, the results of powerful phenomena.
A strong, virile man, a genius is such a phe-
nomenon. So in his vigorous work, " The Reign
of Law," the writer has attempted the unfolding
of an unusually endowed man, born of common-
place parents; one who has to struggle to acquire
his lawful and rightful heritage.

It is the time of the rise of the great project for
building a University of Kentucky. The young
country lad enters the Bible College by dint of
two years stint and heartrending sacrifice. The
vital disillusionment; the return of the prodigal,
of the soul, not of the flesh; the sweet womanli-
ness of Gabriella; are of fundamental worth, not
only for the intrinsic interest of the story, but also
as a psychological study, a profound analysis of
human motives, a satire of happy strokes on the
dull, rigid religious intolerance of the hidebound

Aside from these notable features of his effort,
the author has interwoven ideals of exceptional
merit, furnishing illuminating side-lights. While
speaking of the struggle to erect and build up a



great University, he says in part " For such an
institution must in time have taught what all its
courthouses and all its pulpits laws human and
divine have not been able to teach ; it must
have taught the whole commonwealth to cease
murdering. Standing there in the heart of the
people's land, it must have grown to stand in the
heart of their affections; and so standing, stand
for peace. True learning always stands for
peace. Letters always stand for peace. And it
is the scholar of the world who has ever come into
it as Christ came; to teach that human life is
worth saving and must be saved."

If the book possessed no other merit than that
of the first chapter, an essay devoted to an out-
line of the methods of growing hemp, it would
maintain an enviable position in the fields of South-
ern letters. The broad knowledge of the cultiva-
tion of this important commodity, and the telling
accuracy with which the method of its production
and its social value is sketched, mark the author
a man of versatility as well as high scholarly at-



The elemental passions of nature are always
interesting; the frank confession of them borders
dangerously near the repulsive. " Summer in
Arcady " deals with these fundamental forces of
animal nature the favorite theme with Mr.
Allen is sex and its relationships. If artistry can
cover and hide beneath its fold the bare, repulsive
features of the ideas involved, if style can dress
the nakedness of reality in a garb sufficient to
soothe the sensitiveness of critics, then well and
good. Like Tolstoi's " Resurrection," only in
somewhat similar measure, this little idyl of the
Kentucky countryside treats of passion growing
into the sublime love self sacrifice; the growth
of sensuous pleasure into the realm of soul delight.
Throughout the entire sketch there is the predomi-
nating note of the inexorable law r s of nature. It
is nature in all of her moods abounding as the
machinery and decorations of the story; the softly
lighted Kentucky woods are as prolific as the
riotous actions of youth.

Humorous, half sarcastic touches frequently oc-
cur like the following: "Has it ever been re-



marked that when a scandal like this occurs in a
country neighborhood, somebody soon afterwards
gives a dinner to several ladies? "

As a continuance of this same bold note, the
latest novel of James Lane Allen, the " Mettle of
the Pasture," deals with the imprudent follies of
youth and the resultant tragedies. It is the fa-
vorite saying of the writer that close communion
with Mother Earth has given the people of the
Kentucky countryside the vitality and hardihood
of blue-grass and limestone lands. Within this
volume he delineates the noble characteristics of
Kentucky womanhood in all the purity and faith
of Southern blood; he reveals with brilliancy the
meaning of human spite; the powers of constant
friendship, but, above all and foremost, he is pri-
marily the evolutionist, the scientist, the natural-
ist. . The character of Rowan is the result of two
conflicting types of humanity: on the one hand
are ranged the qualities of the gay, pleasure lov-
ing sportsman, on the other are those of the
theologian, the scholar, the jurist, the supporter
of moral and statute laws. The boy is made to



stand before the portraits of his forefathers and
recall the causes of his conflicting nature as he
recounts the pathetic character of his downfall;
the scene is impressive, but considerably marred
by the too evident creaking of plot machinery.
Within it all, there are passages of humor and
sarcasm his apt remarks concerning the legal
profession of the old town.

Mr. Allen is at once the product and the apostle
of evolution. He has evolved himself from the
provincial position that was the customary birth-
place, and, sad to state, the resting place, of many
of his compeers. He has risen above the plane
of sectional narrowness : the themes that have re-
ceived treatment from his pen possess the signifi-
cance of world literature. The method of pre-
sentation he uses has something of an air of dig-
nity, a profound consciousness of artistic power,
that sits well upon the comprehensive character of
his studies.

Courage is the true expression of his attack
upon such difficult citadels. Versatility is his
praise and due. It is from a sense of justice that



we concede him this reward; the bold venture into
the novel, to himself, sphere of nature study, of
esthetic principle, and the correspondingly success-
ful manner with which he acquitted himself give
ample grounds for the decision.

A romantic background was at hand. Like his
fellows of this school of social historians, he en-
joys the distinguishing mark of intense interest in
his fellows. The life of his people was to him
one stupendous kaleidoscopic drama. Moliere's
" Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme " suggests the
reality, the attentive faculty to minutiae, that char-
acterizes Allen and the distinguished French dra-
matist. There is something of the same quality
of tragic humor in the man who did not know
that he had been using prose all his life and the
Rev. James Moore who did not seem to know
that he had been a man all his life until the
widow kissed him. Rare unconsciousness of self
as exhibited in these sagacious characters demands
followers on both sides of the sea.

Allen has a poetic faculty. Wordsworth and
Keats and Shelley must admit him to their midst



because of his delightful appreciation of the won-
ders in field and vale. The eternal sadness of
these glorious wonders of the Creator sanctioned
and controlled by the laws of evolution and se-
lection, affect him deeply. As in Shelley's " To
a Skylark "

" Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those
That tell of saddest thought."

So in his stories he never breaks the shackles,
never forgets the eternal order of sorrow and
suffering in his poet's world of beauty. There
is an ever-present strain of melancholy.

For relief from the pessimism of this view,
he indulges in philosophy and theology. Charity
and love are his creed; he must treat his villains
even with a touch of regretful sympathy. Like
Shakespeare, he could not bring himself to handle
harshly those that erred; they were villains
enough in character without the addition of an
author's vindictive spirit.



On the one side he must have lived with Dar-
win, Spencer, Huxley, and Tyndall; on the other
he must have associated with Balzac and De Mus-
set with a dash of De Maupassant. From the
romantic and realistic schools, and from the cold
philosophies of trained scientists, he has drawn
material of inestimable value to himself. More
commendable than this, he has not inclined vio-
lently toward either one group or the other. He
has used a romantic Southern background and
dealt in cosmopolitan modes of thought. He has
achieved a double service. It is the South in
truthful colors; and it is a presentation without
the taint of objectionable sectionalism.

Mr. Allen has the habit of moralizing. That
is a natural attribute of one who has reveled in
ethical problems. The hypothesis of heredity,
the dogmas of theology, and the theories of evolu-
tion are all in " The Reign of Law." It is a
great contest of circumstances and environment
versus nature. Unlike Dr. Faustus the hero
meets a woman instead of a Mephistopheles, and
gains thereby an extension perpetual of spiritual



life beyond the avaricious dreams of him who
cried in Christopher Marlowe's tragic lines:

" let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul ! "

When in his moralizing mood, Mr. Allen has a
fashion of taking his reader into his confidence.
So many secrets are thrust upon his unsuspecting
companion that he is wont to believe that Thack-
eray with his " Vanity Fair " and " Pendennis "
have returned to claim their own. There is the
same grasping of opportunities of making a sly
pass at the follies of his characters and acquaint-

The evolution of James Lane Allen can be re-
solved into four interesting groups of his works.
The first of these divisions is " A Flute and
Violin " and " The Blue-Grass Region of Ken-
tucky," along with others treating distinctively of
Kentucky life. Then the moods of nature re-
ceive attention in " A Kentucky Cardinal " and
" Aftermath." Evolution and the moulding



power of circumstance next gain a hearing in *' A
Summer in Arcady " and in * The Reign of
Law," together with " The Mettle of the Pas-
ture." Last of all comes the historical and prob-
lem novel in combination represented by " The
Choir Invisible."

The whole tenor of the works of James Lane
Allen can be attributed as the result of his ca-
reer and positions held in life. He was born near
Lexington on December 2ist, in the year 1849,
at a period which allowed him to attain an age
sufficient to appreciate the multitudinous horrors
of civil strife and feel keenly the results of dis-
union. His people were of English and Scotch-
Irish descent from the State of Virginia and
Pennsylvania. His boyhood and early life was
spent amid hardships and cramping circumstances;
he attended the Transylvania University at the
time of its reopening just after the War, where
he finally obtained a Master of Arts degree with,
we may imagine, considerable sacrifice; there-
after he taught, became a professor of ancient
languages in a small college founded by the



" Christian Church," with the intention of enter-
ing Johns Hopkins University to obtain a degree
of Doctor of Philosophy. The press of the call
of literature, however, was too powerful, so that
he gave up the idea of going further in the pro-
fessional field of teaching, and devoted himself to
literature. He is a man of broad, Saxon frame,
surmounted by a generous, noble head with a fine
face and graced with courteous manners; tall and
stately, he is a typical specimen of the " old
school " of Southern gentlemen.

Descended from a race whose foremost prob-
lems were those in which nature was vitally promi-
nent, it was but natural that the love of his fore-
fathers should make a notable impression upon
his character and writings. Mr. Allen has con-
sistently held his stories and essays to a Kentucky
background, yet no less sweeping have the books
become as efforts of national, international, uni-
versal appeal. The words from his pen are read
abroad as at home. An evolutionist of vigorous
views, a naturalist of comprehensive sympathy, a
scientist of accurate vision, he has combined the



trio into an intricate composition of classic value.
His works are in part sweet and tender; in parts
cold and keenly analytical; in places the fruit of
intuitive genius; in whole sections and divisions,
in the books themselves, there enters the pervad-
ing, guiding spirit of a master mind.

Within the covers of a single volume he at-
tains the sublime pinnacle of emotion in the tragic
fates of humanity, presents the ridiculous and
ludicrous phases of contemporary existence;
shrewdly satirizes the foibles and maskings of
those men who make up his friends and com-
panions. He touches all sides.

Page, Cable, Harris, Craddock, Russell all are
essentially masters of dialect. Allen of this
Southern school neglects it and boldly tells the
simple tale of a frank and manly people. As a
man who holds up the proverbial mirror of life
as it is, there is a strong flavor of Dickens, as a
lover of nature's moods he is the prose com-
panion of his Southern fellow artist Madison
Cawein. The South should be justly proud of
these, her sons, for as Doctor Johnson pithily



remarks, " the chief glory of every people arises
from its authors."

When James Lane Allen is measured for his
never failing love of mankind, for his sincerity
and humanity, for his noble delineations of a
noble race, his touching revelations of unknown
phases of Kentucky life and manners, the South
and posterity in general will hold him in treasured
memory for he has become a classic.




" But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and
forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is
the kingdom of heaven."

WHEN Jesus of Nazareth held out his
arms in invitation to the little chil-
dren his act was an appeal to the
whole realm of humanity. It was
an appeal to that supreme characteristic of
the heart, the innocence of childhood. Thus in
calling to the children and offering protection,
it was not only those particular little ones
who were blessed, but an example was also
presented to the whole of mankind; an ex-
ample to stir the child nature of mankind, which
must ever live in the hearts of all, young and old
alike. The love of children and the power to
appeal to that purity of outlook, which has al-
ways distinguished the very young, has ever been



the mark of a heart full of human sympathy and
of spontaneous kindness.

Out of the South came one young man with
the gift of this understanding. To him the hu-
man heart was a legend for his reading; he
profited much and well by his study of it.
Throughout, the life of Joel Chandler Harris,
the possessor of this insight into the fine-spun
senses of the soul, it was a veritable mission of
his to transmit his pleasure in the simple and
wholesome things of life in such form that thou-
sands might enjoy it with himself. It was a noble
mission, though a task fraught with long labor
and continued effort. Yet to him reward was
deemed generous were he but able to inspire a
finer ideal of life or to impart a real source of
enjoyment to the lives of others through the vir-
tues of his simple narratives.

As Mr. Harris spoke of this reward himself,
when dedicating his first book after fifteen years
of popularity, to the illustrator of the last edition,
Arthur Burdette Frost:




" I seem to see before me the smiling faces of
thousands of children some young and fresh, and
some wearing the friendly marks of age, but all chil-
dren at heart and not an unfriendly face among
them. ... I seem to hear a voice lifted above
the rest, saying: * You have made some of us
happy.' "

He realized that in itself the happiness and
peace occasioned by his stories could be, at best,
but transitory and illusive in its concrete, prac-
tical effect on his readers' lives. He sensed the
truth, nevertheless, when he realized that the sum
total of this power must culminate in a multitude
of invisible forces acting for the intrinsic benefit
of those who had followed his books.

This appreciation of his power to lighten the
lives of his countless readers was sufficient.
Within this same dedication the pith of his
philosophy is breathed in the words: "Insub-
stantial though it may be, I would not at this
hour exchange it for all the fame won by my
mightier brethren of the pen." Akin to the
peace of God must have come the satisfaction of



having taken the child nature of your people into
the regions of ideals where many found much
worthy of seeking.

This lesson of good will to men was learned on
a Georgia plantation in Putnam County. Harris
was born there in 1848. It was a pleasant place
to be born; in that land the people were of a
kindly, sympathetic race that made the South of
those years something beyond our understanding.
The life was an isolated one; those gathered to-
gether there were intimate, intimate with one an-
other and with the nature of their environment.

Young Harris was nurtured within the influ-
ence of this atmosphere. Through his negro
interpreters the animal and vegetable kingdoms
became a very human dominion. Their quaint
philosophy, their gentleness of demeanor and the
superstitions of the older negroes of the planta-
tion became his without the asking, assimilated
in that easy manner of an impressionable mind.

Educational facilities, though efficient in quality,
were meager in number and widely scattered.
Outside of the plantation library and the oc-



casional tutor, opportunities were thus rendered
scarce indeed for any methodical scheme of edu-
cation. Joel Chandler Harris managed to at-
tend, however, before his twelfth birthday some
few sessions of the Academy at Eatonton. No
matter how small, it seems, a boys 1 school at that
time, it must be called an Academy; a pleasing,
yet harmless affectation.

The great events in the lives o'f those who
lived in 1860 entered into his life history. As
to what it meant, there has been an attempt to
explain; a helpless silence is a small appreciation
of the magnitude of the war's influence. About
that period an advertisement appeared in The
Countryman for a boy desirous of learning the
printer's trade. With the spirit of a Benjamin
Franklin, Harris accepted. The Countryman
was edited by an accomplished gentleman, one
Col. Turner, whose publication enjoyed the unique
distinction of being the only one of its kind issued
upon a plantation. After a short period Harris
began his initial contributions to the newspaper;
the little items under the name of The Country-



man's Devil indicated the beginning of his long
and brilliant journalistic career. On The Planta-
tion is, indeed, the intimate recollections of his
personal experiences during that time, tempered
somewhat by the glamour of intervening years.

Marked by a ceaseless eagerness to advance
himself, he soon was given access to the extensive
plantation library of Col. Turner. Under the
benign influence of the old masters that were
wont to hold forth in undisputed possession of a
Southerner's book shelves, he gained an educa-
tion, acquired a perspective of what true learn-
ing was, and saw the manner of great men in its

Within this period and before it and after it,
an unconscious preparation for the duties of his
subsequent work was silently moulding Joel Chand-
ler Harris. From one occupation to another he
fast became a competent journalist. He served
an apprenticeship as secretary to William Evelyn,
editor of the Crescent Monthly, which had been
founded in New Orleans about 1866, and was
devoted to literature, art, society, and science.



It was a comprehensive field for a young man to
understand. He also served on the Macon Daily
Telegraph and the Forsyth Advertiser. William
Tappan Thompson, editor of the Savannah News,
became the first genuine literary patron of Harris.
In view of his able manner of conducting himself
in his journalistic work, he was invited to become
a member of the editorial staff of the Atlanta
Constitution. It devolved upon him to occupy
the place of S. W. Small, who had been filling
a portion of the editorial columns of his paper
with a series of dialect sketches entitled stories of
" Old Si." Mr. Harris, therefore, was induced
to write several editorials himself in the manner
and language of a distinctive negro character.
As a result he created Uncle Remus. The points,
the allusions, and the morals presented in these
columns were placed before an appreciative and
constantly widening audience with such excellent
effect that within a short period Joel Chandler
Harris found himself in the possession of an en-
viable reputation.

The cause of this unusual popularity is not dif-



ficult to unearth. The finding of it means the
revelation of those basic principles upon which
Harris founded his achievements. The first of
these is an unfailing humanity. Such a compre-
hension of the human heart and human nature
as Harris possessed would in all likelihood amaze,
were it not for the manner of its exhibition.

We see the result in a series of volumes that
have proven power. We do not appreciate the
delicate analysis, the sensitiveness, the subtlety,
with which this master mind grasped the prob-
lems of mankind's varied life and manners and
dissected them to a nicety, discarded the irrele-
vant, and as a dramatic sequence created a series
of stories simple enough to point a telling moral
to a child, humorous enough to demand genuine
laughter from middle age, philosophical enough
to please the jaded palate of those of advancing
years. Where is the method? There is a pur-
pose; you can hardly call it system. Summed up

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Online LibraryHarry Aubrey ToulminSocial historians → online text (page 6 of 8)