Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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wooden pins, served the whole school for a writing desk. At
a convenient distance below it, and on a line with it, stretched
a smooth log resting upon the logs of the house, which answered
for the writers seat. Michael took his seat upon the desk,
placed his feet on the seat, and was sitting very composedly,


Reproduction of one of the original illustrations of " Georgia Scenes "

when, with a simultaneous movement, Pete and Bill seized
each a leg, and marched off with it in quick time. The conse
quence is obvious ; Michael s head first took the desk, then the
seat, and finally the ground (for the house was not floored),
with three sonorous thumps of most doleful portent. No sooner
did he touch the ground than he was completely buried with
boys. The three elder laid themselves across his head, neck,


and breast, the rest arranging themselves ad libitum. Michael s
equanimity was considerably disturbed by the first thump, be
came restive with the second, and took flight with the third.
His first effort was to disengage his legs, for without them he
could not rise, and to lie in his present position was extremely
inconvenient and undignified. Accordingly, he drew up his
right, and kicked at random. This movement laid out about
six in various directions upon the floor. Two rose crying.
" Ding his old red-headed skin," said one of them, " to go
and kick me right in my sore belly, where I fell down and
raked it running after that fellow that cried school-butter. "

" Drot his old snaggle-tooth picture," said the other, " to go
and hurt my sore toe, where I knocked the nail off going to
the spring to fetch a gourd of warter for him, and not for
myself n other."

" Hut ! " said Captain Griffin, " young Washingtons mind
these trifles ! At him again."

The name of Washington cured their wounds and dried up
their tears in an instant, and they legged him de novo. The left
leg treated six more as unceremoniously as the right had those
just mentioned ; but the talismanic name had just fallen upon
their ears before the kick, so they were invulnerable. They
therefore returned to the attack without loss of time. The
struggle seemed to wax hotter and hotter for a short time after
Michael came to the ground, and he threw the children about
in all directions and postures, giving some of them thumps
w T hich would have placed the ruffle-skirted little darlings of the
present day under the discipline of paregoric and opodeldoc for
a week ; but these hardy sons of the forest seemed not to fee.1
them. As Michael s^head grew easy, his limbs, by a natural
sympathy, became more quiet, and he offered one day s holiday
as the price. The boys demanded a week ; but here the
captain interposed, and, after the common but often unjust


custom of arbitrators, split the difference. In this instance the
terms were equitable enough, and were immediately acceded to
by both parties. Michael rose in a good humor, and the boys
were, of course.


[William Tappan Thompson was born at Ravenna, Ohio, in 1812.
After going South he was chiefly engaged in journalistic work,
mainly in connection with the Savannah Morning News, with which
he was associated until his death, in 1882. He first came into promi
nence as a humorous writer through his amusing " Major Jones
Letters," contributed to his paper, The Miscellany, published at
Madison, Georgia, from 1840 to 1845. This has remained his most
famous book, but in addition to it he published several other volumes
of humorous sketches.]


PINEVILLE, December 27, 1842

To MR. THOMPSON: Dear Sir Crismus is over, and the
thing is ded. You know I told you in my last letter I was
gwine to bring Miss Mary up to the chalk a Crismus. Well,
I done it, slick as a whistle, though it come mighty nigh bein
a serious undertakin. But I 11 tell you all about the whole

The fact is, I s made my mind up more n twenty times to
jest go and come rite out with the whole bisness ; but whenever
I got whar she was, and whenever she looked at me with her
witchin eyes, and kind o blushed at me, I always felt sort o
skeered and fainty, and all what I made up to tell her was for
got, so I could n t think of it to save me. But you s a married
man, Mr. Thompson, so I could n t tell you nothin about popin
the question, as they call it. It s a mighty grate favor to ax of


a rite pretty gall, and to people as ain t used to it, it goes mon
strous hard, don t it ? They say widders don t mind it no more n
nothin. But I m makin a transgression, as the preacher ses.

Crismus eve I put on my new suit, and shaved my face as
slick as a smoothin iron, and after tea went over to old Miss
Stallinses. As soon as I went into the parler whar they was all
settin round the fire, Miss Carline and Miss Kesiah both
laughed rite out.

" There, there," ses they, " I told you so, I knew it would
be Joseph."

" What s I done, Miss Carline ? " ses I.

" You come under little sister s chicken bone, and I do
blieve she knew you was comin when she put it over
the dore."

"No, I didn t I didn t no such thing, now," ses Miss
Mary, and her face blushed red all over.

" Oh, you need n t deny it," ses Miss Kesiah ; " you b long
to Joseph now, jest as sure as ther s any charm in chicken

I know d that was a first-rate chance to say something, but
the dear little creater looked so sorry and kep blushin so, I
couldn t say nothin zactly to the pint, so I tuck a chair and
reached up and tuck down the bone and put it in my pocket.

" What are you gwine to do with that old bone now, Majer ?"
ses Miss Mary.

" I m gwine to keep it as long as I live," ses I, "as a Crismus
present from the handsomest gall in Georgia."

When I sed that, she blushed worse and worse.

" Ain t you shamed, Majer ? " ses she.

" Now you ought to give her a Crismus gift, Joseph, to keep
all her life," sed Miss Carline.

" Ah," ses old Miss Stallins, " when I was a gall we used to
hang up our stockins "


" Why, mother ! " ses all of em, " to say stockins rite
afore "

Then I felt a little streaked too, cause they was all blushin
as hard as they could.

" Highty-tity ! " ses the old lady "what monstrous fine-
ment. I d like to know what harm ther is in stockins. People
nowadays is gittin so mealy-mouthed they can t call nothin by
its rite name, and I don t see as they s any better than the old-
time people was. When I was a gall like you, child, I used to
hang up my stockins and git em full of presents."

The galls kep laughin.

" Never mind," ses Miss Mary, " Majer s got to give me a
Crismus gift, won t you, Majer ? "

" Oh, yes," ses I ; " you know I promised you one."

" But I did n t mean that" ses she.

" I Ve got one for you, what I want you to keep all your
life, but it would take a two-bushel bag to hold it," ses I.

" Oh, that s the kind," ses she.

" But will you keep it as long as you live ? " ses I.

" Certainly, I will, Majer."

" Monstrous finement nowadays old people don t know
nothin bout perliteness," said old Miss Stallins, jest gwine to
sleep with her nittin in her hand.

" Now you hear that, Miss Carline," ses I. " She ses she 11
keep it all her life."

" Yes, I will," ses Miss Mary " but what is it ? "

" Never mind," ses I, " you hang up a bag big enuff to hold
it and you 11 find out what it is, when you see it in the mornin."

Miss Carline winked at Miss Kesiah, and then whispered to
her then they both laughed and looked at me as mischievous
as they could. They spicioned something.

" You 11 be sure to give it to me now, if I hang up a bag ? "
ses Miss Mary.


"And promise to keep it," ses I.

"Well, I will, cause I know that you wouldn t give me
nothin that wasn t worth keepin."

They all agreed they would hang up a bag for me to put
Miss Mary s Crismus present in, in the back porch ; and bout
nine o clock I told em good evenin and went home.

I sot up till midnight, and when they was all gone to bed I
went softly into the back gate, and went up to the porch, and
thar, shore enuff, was a grate big meal bag hangin to the jice.
It was monstrous unhandy to git to it, but I was tarmined not
to back out. So I sot some chairs on top of a bench and got
hold of the rope and let myself down into the bag ; but jest as
I was gittin in, the bag swung agin the chairs, and down they
went with a terrible racket. But nobody didn t wake up but
old Miss Stallinses grate big cur dog, and here he cum rippin
and tearin through the yard like rath, and round and round he
went tryin to find what was the matter. I sot down in the bag
and did n t breathe louder nor a kitten for fear he d find me
out, and after a while he quit barkin. The wind begun to blow
bominable cold, and the old bag kep turnin round and swing
ing so it made me seasick as the mischief. I was fraid to move
for fear the rope would break and let me fall, and thar I sot
with my teeth rattlin like I had a ager. It seemed like it would
never come daylight, and I do blieve if I did n t love Miss
Mary so powerful I would froze to death ; for my hart was
the only spot that felt warm, and it didn t beat moren two
licks a minit, only when I thought how r she would be sprised
in the mornin, and then it went in a canter. Bimeby the cussed
old dog come up on the porch and begun to smell about the
bag, and then he barked like he thought he d treed something.
" Bow ! wow ! wow ! " ses he. Then he d smell agin and try
to git up to the bag. " Git out ! " ses I, very low, for fear they
would hear me. " Bow ! wow ! wow ! " ses he. " Be gone !


you bominable fool ! " ses I, and I felt all over in spots, for I
spected every minit he d nip me, and what made it worse, I
did n t know wharabouts he d take hold. " Bow ! wow ! wow ! "
Then I tried coaxin "Come here, good feller," ses I, and
whistled a little to him, but it wasn t no use. Thar he stood
and kep up his eternal whinin and barkin, all night. I could n t
tell when daylight was breakin, only by the chickens crowin,
and I was monstrous glad to hear em, for if I d had to stay
thar one hour more, I don t blieve I d ever got out of that
bag alive.

Old Miss Stallins come out fust, and as soon as she saw the
bag, ses she : " What upon yeath has Joseph went and put in
that bag for Mary ? I 11 lay it s a yearlin or some live animal,
or Bruin would n t bark at it so."

She went in to call the galls, and I sot thar, shiverin all over
so I couldn t hardly speak if I tried to, but I didn t say
nothin. Bimeby they all come runnin out.

" My Lord, what is it ?" ses Miss Mary.

" Oh, it s alive !" ses Miss Kesiah. "I seed it move."

" Call Cato, and make him cut the rope," ses Miss Carline,
"and let s see what it is. Come here, Cato, and git this
bag down."

" Don t hurt it for the world," ses Miss Mary.

Cato untied the rope that was round the jice and let the bag
down easy on the floor, and I tumbled out all covered with corn
meal from head to foot.

" Goodness gracious ! " ses Miss Mary, " if it ain t the
Majer himself!"

" Yes," ses I, " and you know you promised to keep my
Crismus present as long as you lived."

The galls laughed themselves almost to deth, and went to
brushin off the meal as fast as they could, sayin they was
gwine to hang that bag up every Crismus till they got husbands,


too. Miss Mary bless her bright eyes she blushed as
butiful as a mornin-glory, and sed she d stick to her word.
She was rite out of bed, and her hair wasn t komed, and her
dress wasn t fix t at all, but the way she looked pretty was
rale distractin. I do blieve if I was froze stiff, one look at her
charmin face, as she stood lookin down to the floor with her
rogish eyes and her bright curls fallin all over her snowy neck,
would fotch d me too. I tell you what, it was worth hangin in
a meal bag from one Crismus to another to feel as happy as I
have ever sense.

I went home after we had the laugh out, and set by the fire
till I got thawed. In the forenoon all the Stallinses come over
to our house and we had one of the greatest Crismus dinners
that ever was seed in Georgia, and I don t blieve a happier
company ever sot down to the same table. Old Miss Stallins
and mother settled the match, and talked over everything that
ever happened in ther families, and laughed at me and Mary,
and cried bout ther ded husbands, cause they was n t alive to
see ther children married.

It s all settled now, cept we hain t sot the weddin day. I d
like to have it all over at once, but young galls always like to
be engaged awhile, you know, so I spose I must wait a month
or so. Mary (she ses I must n t call her Miss Mary now) has
been a good deal of trouble and botheration to me ; but if you
could see her you wouldn t think I ought to grudge a little
sufferin to git sich a sweet little wife.

You must come to the weddin if you possibly kin. I ll let
you know when. No more from Your frend, till deth,

Jos. Jones



[Joseph Glover Baldwin was born in Virginia, near Winchester,
in 1815. In early manhood he went into the lower South, finally
settling in Sumter County, Alabama. He practiced law in Alabama,
with some political recognition, until he moved in 1854 to California.
In 1858 he was elected to the supreme court of California, but re
signed the position after three years and returned to the practice of
law. He died in San Francisco in 1864. He obtains his position in
literature through two volumes: the humorous sketches, originally
contributed to the Southern Literary Messenger, published in book
form in 1853 as " Flush Times in Alabama and Mississippi," and a
volume entitled "Party Leaders," published in 1855, in which he
sketched with considerable ability the careers of several prominent
political leaders in the South.]


And what history of that halcyon period, ranging from te
year of grace 1835 to 1837, that golden era when shinplasters
were the sole currency, when bank bills were "as thick as
autumn leaves in Vallombrosa," and credit was a franchise
what history of those times would be complete that left out the
name of Ovid Bolus ? As well write the biography of Prince
Hal and forbear all mention of Falstaff. In law phrase the
thing would be a " deed without a name," and void ; a most
unpardonable casus omissus. . . .

I have had a hard time of it in endeavoring to assign to
Bolus his leading vice. I have given up the task in despair,
but I have essayed to designate that one which gave him, in
the end, most celebrity. I am aware that it is invidious to
make comparisons and to give preeminence to one over other
rival qualities and gifts, where all have high claims to distinc
tion ; but then, the stern justice of criticism in this case
requires a discrimination which to be intelligible and definite


must be relative and comparative. I therefore take the respon
sibility of saying, after due reflection, that, in my opinion,
Bolus s reputation stood higher for lying than for anything
else; and in thus assigning preeminence to this poetic prop
erty, I do it without any desire to derogate from other brilliant
characteristics belonging to the same general category, which
have drawn the wondering notice of the world.

Some men are liars from interest ; not because they have no
regard for truth, but because they have less regard for it than
for gain. Some are liars from vanity; because they would
rather be well thought of by others than have reason for
thinking well of themselves. Some are liars from a sort of
necessity, which overbears, by the weight of temptation, the
sense of virtue. Some are enticed away by allurements of
pleasure or seduced by evil example and education. Bolus was
none of these ; he belonged to a higher department of the fine
arts and to a higher class of professors of this sort of belles-
lettres. Bolus was a natural liar, just as some horses are
natural pacers, and some dogs natural setters. What he did
in that walk was from the irresistible promptings of instinct
and a disinterested love of art. His genius and his perform
ances were free from the vulgar alloy of interest or temptation.
Accordingly, he did not labor a lie. He lied with a relish ; he
lied with a coming appetite, growing with what it fed on ; he
lied from the delight of invention and the charm of fictitious
narrative. It is true he applied his art to the practical purposes
of life, but in so far did he glory the more in it, just as an
ingenious machinist rejoices that his invention, while it has
honored science, has also supplied a common want.

Bolus s genius for lying was encyclopedical ; it was what
German criticism calls many-sided. It embraced all subjects
without distinction or partiality. It was equally good upon all,
" from grave to gay, from lively to severe."


Bolus s lying came from his greatness of soul and his com
prehensiveness of mind. The truth was too small for him.
Fact was too dry and commonplace for the fervor of his
genius. Besides, great as was his memory, for he even
remembered the outlines of his chief lies, his invention was
still larger. He had a great contempt for history and histo
rians. He thought them tame and timid cobblers mere
tinkers .on other peoples wares ; simple parrots and magpies
of other men s sayings or doings ; borrowers of and acknowl
edged debtors for others chattels, got without skill ; they had
no separate estate in their ideas ; they were bailees of goods
which they did not pretend to hold by adverse title ; buriers of
talents in napkins, making no usury ; barren and unprofitable
nonproducers in the intellectual vineyard naticonsumerefruges.

He adopted a fact occasionally to start with, but, like a
Sheffield razor and the crude ore, the workmanship, polish, and
value were all his own. A Tibet shawl could as well be cred
ited to the insensate goat that grew the wool, as the author of
a fact that Bolus honored with his artistical skill could claim
to be the inventor of the story. . . .

There was nothing narrow, sectarian, or sectional in Bolus s
lying. It was, on the contrary, broad and catholic. It had no
respect to times or places. It was as wide, illimitable, as elastic
and variable, as the air he spent in giving it expression. It was
a generous, gentlemanly, whole-souled faculty. It was often
employed on occasions of thrift, but no more and no more
zealously on these than on others of no profit to himself. He
was an egotist, but a magnificent one ; he was not a liar be
cause an egotist, but an egotist because a liar. He usually
made himself the hero of the romantic exploits and adventures
he narrated ; but this was not so much to exalt himself as
because it was more convenient to his art. He had nothing
malignant or invidious in his nature. If he exalted himself,


it was seldom or never to the disparagement of others, unless,
indeed, those others were merely imaginary persons or too far
off to be hurt. He would as soon lie for you as for himself.
It was all the same, so there was something doing in his line
of business, except on those cases in which his necessities re
quired to be fed at your expense.

He did not confine himself to mere lingual lying ; one tongue
was not enough for all the business he had on hand. He acted
lies as well. Indeed, sometimes his very silence was a lie. He
made nonentity fib for him, and performed wondrous feats by
a " masterly inactivity." . . .

In lying, Bolus was not only a successful but he was a very
able practitioner. Like every other eminent artist he brought
all his faculties to bear upon his art. Though quick of percep
tion and prompt of invention, he did not trust himself to the
inspirations of his genius for improvising a lie when he could
well premeditate one. He deliberately built up the substantial
masonry, relying upon the occasion and its accessories chiefly
for embellishment and collateral supports, as Burke excogi
tated the more solid parts of his great speeches and left unpre
pared only the illustrations and fancy work. . . .

Bolus s manner was, like every truly great man s, his own.
It was excellent. He did not come blushing up to a lie, as some
otherwise very passable liars do, as if he was making a mean
compromise between his guilty passion or morbid vanity and a
struggling conscience. He and it were on very good terms
at least, if there was no affection between the couple, there was
no fuss in the family; or, if there were any scenes or angry
passages, they were reserved for strict privacy and never got
out. My own opinion is that he was as destitute of the article
as an ostrich. Thus he came to his work bravely, cheerfully, and
composedly. The delights of composition, invention, and narra
tion did not fluster his style or agitate his delivery. He knew


how, in the tumult of passion, to assume the " temperance to
give it smoothness." A lie never ran away with him, as it is apt
to do with young performers ; he could always manage and
guide it, and to have seen him fairly mounted would have given
you some idea of the polished elegance of D Orsay and the
superb manage of Murat. There is a tone and manner of nar
ration different from those used in delivering ideas just con
ceived, just as there is difference between the sound of the voice
in reading and in speaking. Bolus knew this and practiced on it.
When he was narrating he put the facts in order and seemed
to speak them out of his memory, but not formally or as if by
rote. He would stop himself to correct a date ; recollect he was
wrong he was at that year at the White Sulphur or Saratoga,
etc. ; having got the date right the names of persons present
would be incorrect, etc., and these he corrected in turn. A
stranger hearing him would have feared the marring of a good
story by too fastidious a conscientiousness in the narrator.


Superior to many of the settlers in elegance of manners and
general intelligence, it was the weakness of the Virginian to
imagine he was superior too in the essential art of being able
to hold his hand and make his way in a new country, and
especially such a country and at such a time. What a mistake
that was ! The times were out of joint. It was hard to say
whether it were more dangerous to stand still or to move. If
the emigrant stood still, he was consumed, by no slow degrees,
by expenses ; if he moved, ten to one he went off in a galloping
consumption by a ruinous investment. Expenses then neces
sary articles about three times as high, and extra articles still
more extra-priced were a different thing in the new country
from what they were in the old. In the old country, a jolly


Virginia, starting the business of free living on a capital of a
plantation, and fifty or sixty negroes, might reasonably calculate,
if no ill luck befell him, by the aid of a usurer, and the occasional
sale of a negro or two, to hold out without declared insolvency,
until a green old age. His estate melted like an estate in
chancery, under the gradual thaw of expenses ; but in the fast
country, it went by the sheer cost of living some poker losses
included like the fortune of the confectioner in California,
who failed for one hundred thousand dollars in the six months
keeping of a candy shop. But all the habits of his life, his
taste, his associations, his education even-thing the trust-
ingness of his disposition his want of business qualification
his sanguine temper all that was Virginian in him, made him
the prey, if not of imposture, at least of unfortunate specula
tions. Where the keenest jockey often was bit, what chance
had /ie? About the same that the verdant Moses had with the
venerable old gentleman, his father s friend, at the fair, when
he traded the Vicar s pony for the green spectacles. But how
could he believe it ? How could he believe that the stuttering,
grammarless Georgian, who had never heard of the resolutions
of 98, could beat him in a land trade ? " Have no money deal
ings with my father," said the friendly Martha to Lord Nigel,
"for, idiot though he seems, he will make an ass of thee."

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 14 of 35)