The Agricultural West in Literature


The Wild West beyond the frontier lent itself readily to interpretation in a literature developing the themes of natural nobility and physical adventure, but the agricultural West, as we have already remarked, proved quite intractable as literary material. The myth of the garden and the ideal figure of the Western yeoman were poetic ideas, as Tocqueville rightly called them, but they could not be brought to fictional expression. The difficulty lay in the class status of the Western farmer. The Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that all men were created equal, and American political institutions had reflected a general acceptance of the proposition in the widespread removal of property qualifications for the franchise as early as the 1820's and 1830's But there was a lag of half a century between the triumph of the idea of equality in politics and its embodiment in imaginative literature. The early literary characters in the pattern of Leatherstocking did not really bear upon the problem because they were outside society. In his capacity as Indian fighter and hunter the Western hero could be celebrated without regard to class lines. But we have noted how slowly the Western hunter gained sufficient social standing to be allowed to marry the heroine. This fictional emancipation of the Wild Westerner was not clearly worked out before the late 1870's. The yeoman had an even harder struggle to achieve full status


in literature. Cooper, for all his delight in Leatherstocking and his theoretical approval of political equality, stoutly resisted the tendency to break down distinctions between social classes. Indeed, as he became aroused over the "Anti-Rent War" in upstate New York he concluded that even in the political sphere the cult of the yeoman had been carried too far. He declared in 1848 that politicians eager for votes had made the small farmer into an idol before which they fell down in worship. "We can see citizens in these yeomen," continued the crusty novelist, "but not princes who are to be especially favored by laws made to take from others to bestow on them."1 The cult seemed to him a phase of the "bastard democracy" that was coming into favor, a movement to seek for the sovereign people in the gutters, "forgetting that the landlord has just as much right to protection as the tenant, the master as the servant, the rich as the poor, the gentleman as the blackguard."2 In his Littlepage trilogy, Cooper had roundly denounced the tenants in the Hudson Valley who had resorted to violence in protest against a system of tenures that made it difficult for small farmers to acquire title to land. The ideal of the yeoman society was obviously incompatible with Cooper's aristocratic ideal of a society dominated by great landed proprietors. Few writers of Cooper's generation were as frank as he in stating their conservative social bias. Perhaps they were not even conscious of it. But it was evidently at work as a force inhibiting the use of the small farmer as a character in fiction. James K. Paulding is a case in point. More than a decade after he had celebrated the career of Basil in The Backwoodsman he turned again to the agricultural West in his novel Westward Ho! published in 1832. Although the novelist acknowledges Flint's Recollections of the Last Ten Years as his source of information about the Mississippi Valley,3 he builds his plot around a group of plantation gentry who migrate from Virginia to Kentucky; the only character really belonging to the West is the old hunter Ambrose Bushfield, a composite of Leatherstocking and Daniel Boone.4 The story contains no characters representing the yeoman class. The expatriate sculptor Thomas Buchanan Read's determined


effort to depict an Arcadian West in his long blank verse narrative The New Pastoral (1855) shows even more clearly how difficult it was to devise a literary interpretation of the movement of the agricultural frontier into the Mississippi Valley. Read has an ample store of the cliches of agrarian theory. With his oaten pipe, he announces, he plans to celebrate the sweetly contented middle state between the hut and the palace, "The simple life of Nature, fresh from God!" He will write of the great mass of Western farmers who labor that the structure of society may be sustained, for these folk are morally superior to the idle rich in their purple and fine linen.5 But how can this claim be made good? Read follows a group of emigrants from rural Pennsylvania overland to Pittsburgh, down the Ohio to Cincinnati, and on into the Indiana forest. As they carve their homes from the wilderness civilization sweeps onward, and soon a golden harvest waves where once dark forests stood. But the poet is hard pressed for incident. He turns in desperation to a wilder West by describing a buffalo hunt and the lassoing of wild horses, and presents an elaborate metrical version of the standard vision of the Mississippi Valley in the future with its cheerful farms, quiet herds, cities, steamboats, a Pacific railway, and a great metropolis on the Lakes.

Onward still The giant movement goes with rapid pace,
And civilization spreads its arms abroad;
While the cleared forest-lands look gladly up,
And nod their harvest plumes.6

Of the actual process of agricultural settlement we have little except an account of the malaria among the farmers. Two of the patriarchs of the colony at last give up and make their way back to Pennsylvania--"Too stern the battle for such souls as theirs."7 The whole performance is remarkably tame, despite Read's ingratiating fluency. As in the case of Paulding's The Backwoodsman, the trouble lies not in the poet so much as in an unfortunate lack of congruence between the materials and the literary mode he has chosen. His conventionally bland manner can not convey the coarse and salty reality of his subject, and he is evidently convinced only in theory of the dignity of his characters.


Mrs. Caroline A. Soule's Little Alice, to mention only one further effort at a mild and cheerful interpretation of agricultural settlement in the West, is likewise a failure. The author states in her preface that the novel is the fruit of "four years of actual pioneer life in the valley of the Upper Des Moines, of emigrant life in a cabin on the prairie."8 She is perfectly convinced that frontier farmers are noble and that the process of advancing the agricultural frontier yields vast consequences for the good of mankind. The guests at a wedding, for example, are bathed in an aura of primitive sentiment:

Fifty sturdy pioneers, clad in clean homespun, stood about in various
attitudes, their frank open faces radiant with light from their honest
hearts. Upon the mossy logs, sat as many noble women, their coarse
garments betokening thrift and neatness, while their pleasant faces told
of their sympathy with the fair girl whose bridal they had come to

Mrs. Soule asserts that in the earliest period of settlement, hardship and danger promote the spirit of mutual aid to such an extent that "the brotherhood of men is recognized as an actual as well as an ideal thing."10 Fifteen years later the community shows many evidences of change,

but thank heaven, only a bright, beautiful change, which has brought
hundreds of struggling, debt-ridden, homeless and hungry men and
women from the crowded cities of older States, and given them peace
and plenty, houses and lands, while they in grateful return have "made
the wilderness and the solitary place glad for them; and the desert to
rejoice, and blossom as the rose."11

Yet the story that is intended to exhibit the process is as unconvincing as Read's poem. The hero and heroine are recent arrivals from New England, formerly wealthy and very genteel. Uncle Billy, an "old and experienced hunter" speaking a strong dialect, is a benign Leatherstocking whose frontier skills are employed in the fashion prescribed by Wild Western convention.12 Mrs. Soule also provides a female counterpart of Uncle Billy in the charitable but uneducated Grandma Symmes.13 These characters represent the Western flavor of the book; but they are distinctly subordinate just as Leatherstocking was subordinate to Cooper's gentry. The scheme of values in the novel is organized about the superiority


of the hero and heroine, whose merits have nothing to do with the West or with agriculture. For all her four years on the prairie, Mrs. Soule can not find the literary means to embody the affirmation of the agrarian ideal that her theory calls for. These early efforts to deal with the agricultural West in literature prove that the frontier farmer could not be made into an acceptable hero. His sedentary and laborious calling stripped him of the exotic glamor that could be exploited in hunters and scouts of the Wild West. At the same time his low social status made it impossible to elaborate his gentility. Whatever the orators might say in glittering abstractions about the virtues of the yeoman, the novelists found themselves unable to control the emotions aroused by the Western farmer's degraded rank in the class system. Since class feeling about the yeoman is the crux of the literary problem presented by the agricultural West, we are obliged to look as closely as possible into prevalent notions concerning the place of the West and its people in American society. Such an inquiry leads back once again to the contrast between civilization and savagery that lay at the root of the distinction between the Wild West and the domesticated or agricultural West. The frontier of agricultural settlement was universally recognized as the line separating civilization from savagery; but the structure of civilized society within the frontier was conceived according to two contrasting schools of thought. The agrarian tradition that stemmed from Jefferson held up as its ideal simple agricultural communities in which an approximate equality of wealth prevailed, and in which social stratification was accordingly kept to a minimum. But the equalitarian overtones of this ideal were by no means acceptable to the country as a whole. The concept of a classless society appealed only to a radical minority, and was constantly in danger of being obliterated by the much older and deeper belief in social stratification. The situation could hardly have been otherwise. Equalitarianism, especially social and economic equalitarianism, was a recent and perhaps transient notion deriving in large part from French radical thought of the eighteenth century. The ideal of social subordination, of a hierarchy of classes, of a status system, had the weight of centuries behind it. Still more important for the imaginative interpretation


of American life was the fact that the assumptions underlying the class structure of English society permeated the genre of the sentimental novel, which was built about the genteel hero and heroine. There was no coherent literary tradition embodying equalitarian assumptions. The belief in the Western farmer's social inferiority was further strengthened by certain ideas derived from the New England theocratic tradition. From this standpoint, all emigrants were actually or potentially criminal because of their flight from an orderly municipal life into frontier areas that were remote from centers of control. The attitude had developed naturally out of the Puritan devotion to social order maintained by church and state as co-operating agencies. A sermon preached before a Boston congregation by the Reverend Thomas Barnard in 1758 states the theocratic case against the backwoodsman quite clearly. Religion, he said, will flourish most where the arts of peace are cultivated, "especially Industry, among those born for Labour." For a quiet steady life in an orderly community keeps alive a regard for what- ever is virtuous and pious, facilitates attendance upon public worship, tends to implant clear notions of justice and a regard for property, and leads men toward a proper submission to their civil rulers. On the other hand, when people wander into the wilderness and settle far apart from one another, the result is "Savageness of Temper, Ignorance, Want of the Means of Religion; (which will attend a solitary State and distant Neighborhood)." Worse still, when a plenty of free land allows men to support themselves "by the spontaneous Products of Nature with Little Labour; Experience has shewn, that Habits of Idleness and Intemperance have been contracted, much to the public Damage."14 This general view is so familiar it hardly needs elaborate illustration, but a few later comments may be mentioned to indicate the persistence of the Eastern belief in frontier depravity. The most famous among such statements is that of the Reverend Timothy Dwight, President of Yale, who wrote a characterization of the "foresters, or Pioneers" of Vermont on the basis of his travels in the state in 1798 and 1806. Such men, in the opinion of the noted divine, had proved too idle, talkative, passionate, and shiftless to acquire either property or reputation in stable communities,


and therefore wished to escape the restraints of law, religion, morality and government. Unable to adjust themselves to the social state, "they become at length discouraged: and under the pressure of poverty, the fear of a gaol, and the consciousness of public contempt, leave their native places, and betake themselves to the wilderness."15 Dwight distinguishes between such dissolute foresters and the virtuous farmers who establish orderly communities after the first pioneers have moved on, but he implies that most settlers in the farther West are of the depraved class which he has described in Vermont.

The class of men, who have been the principal subject of these remarks
[he asserts], have already straggled onward from New-England, as well
as from other parts of the Union, to Louisiana. In a political view, their
emigration is of very serious utility to the ancient inhabitants... The
institutions, and habits, of New-England, more I suspect than those of
any other country, have prevented, or kept down, this noxious disposi-
tion; but they cannot entirely prevent either its existence, or its effects.
In mercy, therefore, to the sober, industrious, and well-disposed, in-
habitants, Providence has opened in the vast Western wilderness a
retreat, sufficiently alluring to draw them away from the land of their
nativity. We have many troubles even now: but we should have many
more, if this body of foresters had remained at home.16

These characteristics of life in new settlements continued to be especially clear to New Englanders who had enjoyed the advantages of theological training. The tradition was so explicit that even the young and relatively radical Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke, who had been exposed to Transcendentalism and had gone out to Louisville with vaguely evangelistic aims, struggled in vain against it. In a review of Mann Butler's History of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and James Hall's Sketches of History, Life, and Manners, in the West, Clarke allowed the West a "genius deep, rich, strong, various, and full of promise," but he was alarmed at the fact that this genius was unbridled, undirected, and ungoverned. Western mothers encouraged their children to fight, women favored duelling, grave judges gambled, and vice ate into the heart of social virtue. The West needed religious restraint, it needed moral principle, it needed greater respect for law and a disposition to follow duty as pointed out to it by wise guidance--presumably from New England.17


The covert class bias characteristic of this attitude appears even more clearly in a review of Caroline M. Kirkland's Forest Life by Cornelius C. Felton, of Harvard, in 1842. A population was growing up in the West, according to the reviewer, "with none of the restraints which fetter the characters of the working classes in other countries." No feudal feeling of loyalty tempered the natural overflow of passion or restrained the full growth of individual humors. Each man in the West considered himself a sovereign by indefeasible right, and had no idea anyone else was his better in any respect.18 To the theocratic suspicion of the Western farmer as a rebellious fugitive from society must be added the unfavorable view of him derived from the idea of civilization and progress. The conception of civilization, like the word itself, had first gained currency in the middle decades of the eighteenth century in the writings of Turgot and Rousseau.19 Its most persuasive formulation came in the 1790's with Condorcet's Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain, which was immediately translated into English and had two editions in the United States before 1825.20 The most influential aspect of Condorcet's theory of civilization was the notion that all human societies pass through the same series of social stages in the course of their evolution upward from barbarism toward the goal of universal enlightenment. He divided the history of the human race into ten epochs, the first nine stretching from the dawn of existence to the foundation of the French Republic, the tenth embracing the glorious future opened up for mankind by the triumph of Reason. The most important of these epochs for social theory were the earliest which comprised the union of autonomous families who subsisted mainly by hunting, into "hordes"; the domestication of animals, inaugurating the pastoral stage of society; and the transition from a pastoral to an agricultural stage. Other writers developed the idea that civilization actually began when a given society adopted an agricultural way of life.21 Although in Europe the successive stages of society were naturally thought of as succeeding one another in time, so that primitive conditions could be studied only through historical and archeological research, the situation in America was quite differ-


ent. When the theory of civilization became current in this country many observers were shuck by its applicability to the actual state of affairs in the West. The comment was frequently made that in America one could examine side by side the social stages that were believed to have followed one another in time in the long history of the Old World. William Darby, for example, wrote in his Emigrants Guide in 1818 that a journey from New Orleans westward to the Sabine showed man in every stage of his progress, from the most civilized to the most savage. New Orleans represented the summit of cultivation, refinement, and luxury. The plantations of the lower Mississippi likewise offered "all that art, aided by wealth, can produce." In Attacapas and Opelousas parishes the glare of luxury vanished, and in its stead the traveler encountered substantial, independent farmers living in rough though comfortable houses. In the western parts of Opelousas parish could be found pastoral hunters who recalled to the imagination the primitive ages of history. Still farther west, along the Sabine, the way of life of the scattered inhabitants suggested "the utmost verge of inhabited earth, and the earliest dawn of human improvement."22

In 1824 the Port Folio of Philadelphia quoted a remark to this same effect made by the British traveler Adam Hodgson after a journey from west to east across the United States. "I have seen the roving hunter acquiring the habit of the herdsman," said Hodgson; "the pastoral state merging into the agricultural, and the agricultural into the manufacturing and commercial."23 Jefferson himself, whom Hodgson had visited at Monticello,24 a short time later expounded the theory at length.

Let a philosophic observer [he wrote] commence a journey from the
savages of the Rocky Mountains, eastwardly towards our sea-coast.
These he would observe in the earliest stage of association living under
no law but that of nature, [subsisting] and covering themselves with
the flesh and skins of wild beasts. He would next find those on our
frontiers in the pastoral state, raising domestic animals, to supply the
defects of hunting. Then succeed our own semi-barbarous citizens, the
pioneers of the advance of civilization, and so in his progress he would
meet the gradual shades of improving man until he would reach his, as
yet, most improved state in our seaport towns. This, in fact, is equiva-
lent to a survey, in time, of the progress of man from the infancy of
creation to the present day.25


One or two examples from imaginative literature will be enough to indicate how widespread the theory was. In his Francis Berrian, published serially in 1825-1826, Timothy Flint causes the hero to remark that when he traveled westward from Natchitoches into Texas he "had occasion to experiment the truth of the remark, that in travelling towards the frontier, the decreasing scale of civilization and improvement exhibits an accurate illustration of inverted history." Berrian felt that he had traveled down six centuries in as many days. The half-savage settlers on the remote frontier, who lived as much by hunting as by agriculture, were "the intermediate race between savage and civilized man."26 A final illustration may be taken from Cooper's The Prairie (1827):

The gradations of society, from that state which is called refined to that
which approaches as near barbarity as connexion with an intelligent
people will readily allow, are to be traced from the bosom of the states
where wealth, luxury and the arts are beginning to seat themselves, to
those distant and ever-receding borders which mark the skirts and an-
nounce the approach of the nation, as moving mists precede the signs
of the day.27

This theoretical statement introduces the character of Ishmael Bush, a Kentucky backwoodsman who represents Cooper's deepest penetration into the problem of the agricultural frontier, and well deserves to stand as the counterpart of Leatherstocking, the Child of the Forest. Whereas Leatherstocking has a natural virtue and an exotic splendor derived from his communion with untouched nature, Bush and his sons are at war with nature. They are the very axemen from whom Leatherstocking has fled halfway across the continent. Cooper is so eager to make this symbolic point that he has Bush's sons chop down a grove of trees conjured up for the purpose in the midst of the treeless great plains.28 Although Leatherstocking and Bush figure in the same novel, they belong to entirely distinct conceptual systems. The line that divides them is the agricultural frontier. Leatherstocking, living beyond the frontier and following the vocation of a hunter and trapper, is not a member of society at all. Bush, the husbandman, belongs to society; his "connexion with an intelligent people" is his participation in the Social Compact to which Leatherstocking is not a party.


But if Bush has a place in the scheme of civilization that flowers at the top into Cooper's gentry, he represents the lowest of its stages at a great remove from the level of refinement.29 He is a wanderer--Cooper's readers would not have missed the biblical allusion in his name; and he also arouses suspicion as a propertyless member of the lowest social class He is just such a backwoodsman as Barnard and Dwight had described. He is clad in "the coarsest vestments of a husbandman," but wears "a singular and wild display of prodigal and ill-judged ornaments" that bespeak a half-barbaric taste. The lower part of his face is "coarse, extended, and vacant," while the upper part is "low, receding, and mean." His manner is characterized by apathy and indolence, although it is evident that he has great muscular strength. He is, in short, half animal, as Cooper insists in a simile: ". . . he suffered his huge frame, to descend the gentle declivity, in the same sluggish manner that an over fatted beast would have yielded to the downward pressure."30 The novelist makes Bush the accomplice of his brother-in-law Abiram White, slave-stealer by trade, who has abducted the heroine Inez de Certavallos and is keeping her prisoner in one of the wagons of Bush's train. And we learn that Bush has shot a deputy sheriff who tried to evict him and fifty other squatters from a tract of land back in Kentucky.31 This act of rebellion seems somehow vastly more sinister than Leatherstocking's defiance of the law in The Pioneers which was motivated by feudal loyalty to his patron Major Effingham.

All these traits of Bush are in perfect accord with conservative theory. Yet the character has an interest for Cooper that defies theory. The idea of Bush's barbarism, along with its connotations of mere criminality, carries a suggestion of moral sublimity. It is related to the moral beauty of Leatherstocking as the somber and tormented landscapes of Salvator Rosa seemed to Cooper and his contemporaries to be related to the mild and smiling landscapes of their other favorite Claude Lorrain. In exploring this esthetic aspect of Bush, Cooper was able to view him for the moment, so to speak, purely, without judging him by the criterion of refinement or the theory of social stages, and in consequence was led to write one of the best sequences in all the Leatherstocking series. Near the end of the story, Ishmael as patriarch of his tribe sets


about administering justice for the murder of his son Asa. A dim acquaintance with the Scriptures has left in his mind the barbaric notion that an eye for an eye is the law of God. When the murderer is revealed to be his wife's brother Abiram, the law of God comes into conflict with primitive clan loyalty, but Ishmael and his wife consult the Scriptures and come to the conclusion that Abiram must die. If Leatherstocking is notable for his intuitive ability to distinguish right from wrong, Ishmael too has his terrifying sense of justice. Abiram's craven pleas for one more hour of life suggest the grim expedient of binding his arms, tying a noose about his neck, and leaving him upon a narrow ledge from which as his strength fails he must in the end cast himself. That night, in a setting of wind and drifting clouds intended to suggest Salvator's style, Ishmael and his wife return to the place of execution, cut down the swinging body, and bury it.32 The same sense of justice had earlier led Bush, after ponderous meditation, to release Inez of his own volition.33 Cooper's perception of values in Ishmael Bush's character that sprang from the conditions of life in a primitively agricultural West, yet could not be accounted for by reference to the ideas of civilization and refinement, pointed the way toward a more adequate literary treatment of the agricultural frontier. But the idea of civilization was so deeply rooted in American thought that it could not be cast aside overnight. Writers who sought to deal with the agricultural West therefore continued for decades to waver between a direct response to their materials and the attitude of reserve or disapproval of Western coarseness dictated by the prevalent social theory. Cooper himself found the problem persistently challenging, although he did not advance very far toward solving it. In Home as Found, published in 1838, he returned to the Cooperstown whose early history he had chronicled in The Pioneers fifteen years before. He did not try again to draw a Western character on the scale of Ishmael Bush, but he did undertake an elaborate theoretical analysis of what happens in the wake of agricultural settlement in the wilderness. The goal toward which all such communities evolve is in his opinion clear enough: it is the establishment of a secure class of gentry whose ownership of land confers on them the wealth and


the leisure that are indispensable to the flowering of the higher graces of human nature. This social ideal obviously depends upon what Cooper calls a "division into castes," and cannot be realized under the conditions of rough equality that prevail in the earliest stages of settlement. It is true that he has a rather unexpected Arcadian dream of the adventurous first years, when for a time "life has much of the reckless gaiety, careless association, and buoyant merriment of childhood." But this is a transient phase. Only when gradations of social station, based on differences in inherited wealth, have become clearly marked, does the society reach its final and ordered stability.34

Cooper, a consistent and explicit conservative in social theory despite his carefully limited endorsement of political democracy, was quite willing to acknowledge that refinement and gentility were conceivable only in members of an upper class with enough wealth to guarantee its leisure, and a sufficiently secure social status to give it poise and assurance. The form of the sentimental novel suggested exactly these assumptions. But other novelists who tried to deal with the agricultural West felt themselves under some compulsion to extend the application of the sounding platitudes of democracy and equality from politics to social and economic life. They therefore faced a continual struggle to reconcile their almost instinctive regard for refinement with their democratic theories and their desire to find some values in the unrefined West.

The conflict would not be resolved so long as they clung to the theory of civilization with its fixed series of social stages. For the West could have only one place in such a scheme: it was primitive and therefore unrefined. This was indeed its defining characteristic. In proportion as the West lost its primitive character it became indistinguishable from the East and there was no basis for a characteristic Western literature. Writers who were attracted by Western materials had an obscure awareness that the unprecedented adventure of agricultural settlement in the Mississippi Valley was somehow worthy of imaginative interpretation. The theory of progress and civilization, on the other hand, could take no account of novelty except as an increase of enlightenment in the most advanced societies. Abstract and rationalistic as it was,


it implied that only the most advanced stage of social development produced characters worthy of admiration. The theory offered little ground for finding a value in America as contrasted with Europe, or in the American West as contrasted with the American East. From Cooper's day to that of Hamlin Garland, writers about the West had to struggle against the notion that their characters had no claim upon the attention of sophisticated readers, except through their alarming or at best their picturesque lack of refinement.


Literary historians have long been accustomed to find Joseph Kirkland and Hamlin Garland important because they contributed "the bitterness of the frontier" to the development of realism in fiction.1 It is more relevant here to ask a different question about these men. What were their origins? From what literary background did they proceed? Since there are no absolute beginnings or endings in the history of literature, Kirkland and Garland can be considered the culmination of one development just as profitably as they can be considered the pioneers of another. To see in them nothing except a prophetic mood of disillusionment is to oversimplify a rich and suggestive chapter in the history of American thought. Whatever their shortcomings as artists, they signalize a slow but far-reaching change in literary attitudes to- ward the Western farmer. In the early nineteenth century, as we have seen, the farmer could be depicted in fiction only as a member of a low social class. By 1890 he could be presented as a human being, unfortunate perhaps, but possessed of dignity even in his tribulations. The purpose of the present chapter is to trace this process through the work of representative writers who dealt with the agricultural West during the half century between the last of the Leatherstocking novels and Main Travelled Roads.2

The earliest of these was Mrs. Caroline M. Kirkland. A native of New York, she spent five years in southern Michigan during the late 1830's and early 1840's while her husband took a fling at land speculation and town building. On the basis of this exposure to the West Mrs. Kirkland wrote three books: A New Home--Who'll Follow? (1839), Forest Life (1842), and Western Clearings


(1845), besides minor sketches and stories dealing with the same materials. Her books were widely read, and deserved to be, for they have the merits of clear observation and lively reporting. They are also a valuable repository of upper-class Eastern attitudes toward the raw West.

As a grand-daughter of Samuel Stansbury, the Loyalist poet of the Revolutionary period, Mrs. Kirkland had an assured social standing that made it impossible for her to identify herself with the free-and-easy outlook and customs of the Michigan frontier.3 Instead, she conceived of herself as a traveler who happened to have made an unusually long sojourn in the wilderness "beyond the confines of civilization."4 Her first book is cast in the form of letters to cultivated friends back home. She realizes these sophisticated readers will hardly be able to believe that Western backwoodsmen "are partakers with themselves of a common nature."5 The Western indifference to class lines arouses in her by turns a lively amusement and something not far from indignation. She is greatly annoyed with people who pretend to believe in the principle of social equality. To carry out such doctrines in practice would, she assures us, "imply nothing short of a lingering mental martyrdom to the cultivated and the refined."6 Yet she responds almost in spite of herself to the generosity and kindness of the pioneer farmers. She says she always returns from her little excursions about the countryside with an increased liking for the people.

There is after all [she explains] so much kindness, simplicity and trust-
fulness--one catches so many glimpses of the lovelier aspect of our
common nature--that much that is uncouth is forgotten, and much
that is offensive is pardoned. One sees the rougher sort of people in
their best light, and learns to own the "tie of brotherhood."7

To her second volume of sketches she prefixed six Spenserian stanzas in praise of Sympathy, "Nature's blest decree," which she had learned from the Wizard of the North. The master had taught her that the backwoodsman was human after all:

The power that stirred the universal heart
Dwells in the forest, in the common air--
In cottage lone, as in th' o'er burdened mart--
For Nature's painter learned from Nature all his art.8


If the reader will compare this sentimental theory of the nobility of humble Western farmers--reminiscent of Timothy Flint's preface to George Mason--with the kittenish remark which opens Mrs. Kirkland's first volume ("I intend to be `decidedly low'")9 he will recognize how instructive a confusion of attitudes her writing exhibits.

The contradictions between her high-flown theory and her instinctive revulsion from the crudities of backwoods Michigan are reflected in her vain struggle to find a satisfactory literary form. The structure of her books is extremely simple. She writes as if she were keeping a travel diary in which, as a cultivated outsider, she makes notes concerning the natives of a strange land. The form is that which comes naturally to the first explorers of a new area. Hundreds of such narratives had been written about the West by travelers with no literary pretensions. But Mrs. Kirkland uses the strategy of writing in the first person to keep her sensibility constantly before the reader and to emphasize her detachment from her surroundings. She takes it for granted that her readers share with her a higher social status than that of the natives and underlines the assumption by plentiful literary allusions and quotations, plus a sprinkling of French and Italian phrases that authenticate her implied claim to rank as a bluestocking cast among unlettered country folk.

But she can not be permanently content with so simple a literary form and tries valiantly to devise something more complicated. In her three volumes are interpolated perhaps a dozen pieces of fiction that she tries to endow with a plot. The experiments range from the brief autobiography put into the mouth of the admirable Mrs. Danforth in A New Home10 to the more ambitious efforts which Mrs. Kirkland was encouraged to make by the success of her first book. Forest Life contains, for example, the tale of how the worthy young backwoodsman Seymour won the hand of Caroline Hay, daughter of the greatest landowner in the country,11 and an account of an English couple named Sibthorpe which ends up in the epistolary mode of the previous century.12 Several of the sketches in Western Clearings threaten to become plotted narratives, such as the story of the shiftless Silas


Ashburn who is still not base enough to resort to illegal violence against a man he considers an enemy,13 or "Ambuscades," which relates how the enthusiastic huntsman Tom Oliver forgot to hunt and became a hard-working farmer through love of Emma Levering.14 Despite the variety of these experiments in fiction, it cannot be said that Mrs. Kirkland succeeded in finding an adequate form for her Western materials. She could not discover any dependable plot structure except a love story, and her lovers develop toward the stereotypes of the sentimental tradition. In proportion as they are worked into a plot they lose any Western characteristics they may have had at the outset. There is no progress toward overcoming the lack of coherence between materials and form that constituted her literary problem. She demonstrated that the agricultural West offered interesting and even challenging themes for fiction but she could not find a satisfactory method for dealing with them.

During the next two decades the obvious strategy of writing a conventional love story against a Western background was adopted by a number of women novelists, including Mrs. Metta V. Victor, her sister Mrs. Frances Fuller Barritt, and Mrs. Caroline A. Soule, who has been mentioned before. Mrs. Victor's Alice Wilde, the Raftsman's Daughter. A Forest Romance, issued in 1860 as Number 4 of Beadle's Dime Novels, conducts the elegant and cultivated Philip More of New York to a remote region of the West. Although the sophisticated Virginia, likewise of New York, cannot understand why he wishes to throw himself away upon "a rude and uncultivated community,"15 Philip falls in love with Alice, daughter of the raftsman David Wilde. The father speaks a strong dialect but the daughter's speech is correct; her rusticity is indicated mainly by the fact that she dresses in the style of twenty years before.16 After the hero has declared his love, Alice is sent to a seminary at Centre City for a little polishing Mrs. Victor's conception of the problem she is dealing with is indicated in Alice's exclamation to her fiance: ". . . you had pride, prejudice, rank, fashion, every thing to struggle against in choosing me."17 That the triumph of love over these obstacles was widely approved is indicated by the enormous sale of the


novel--250,000 copies in the United States, besides an immense run in England.18

In The Backwoods Bride. A Romance of Squatter Life19 Mrs. Victor seized upon a conflict growing more directly out of agricultural settlement on the frontier. The elegant and cultivated Harry Gardiner has bought a large tract of government land in Michigan in the 1840's. When he comes out to take possession he finds that numerous squatters have settled on it, including Enos Carter, father of the beautiful seventeen-year-old Susan.20 Although Mr. Gardiner has bought the land as a speculation, his noble nature leads him to offer to sell to the squatters at the price he gave for it. But the squatters, perhaps under the influence of George Henry Evans, are convinced that "in the new country men are entitled to all they could cultivate."21 Enos Carter states their position eloquently:

God made this earth to be free to all; and whoever takes wild land,
and clears it, and cultivates it, makes it his own--he's a right to it.
What right have these men that never did a day's work in their lives,
coming along and takin' the bread out of our mouths?22

Mrs. Victor allows this very real conflict to develop to the point where a mob, including Enos, tries to break into Gardiner's hotel room to lynch him, whereupon the young hero kills one of the mob with a pistol.23 But the author is not willing to follow through the issue she has stated, and takes refuge in a reconciliation which leaves Gardiner the squatters' candidate for Congress.24 He can marry Susan without too great violation of the proprieties because her father was once better off and she retains some gentility from her childhood in rural New York. Mrs. Victor returns to the problem of the social status of Western farmers in Uncle Ezekiel and his Exploits on Two Continents, but this time the roles of hero and heroine are reversed. Edith Lancaster, daughter of an upper-class Englishman, is brought through great exertions of the author to an Illinois prairie Amos Potter, son of a squatter, does not have his father's backwoods dialect but is still too humble in status to satisfy Edith's father, who takes her to his London mansion.25 There she pines for her Western lover until the eccentric Uncle Ezekiel, a charac-


ter in the humorous Down East tradition, manages to reunite the young people and reconcile the father to the match.26 Mrs. Barritt, in her East and West; or, The Beauty of Willard's Mill, simplifies the problem at the expense of probability by creating an Iowa heroine of impeccable gentility. Although Minnie Willard, the miller's daughter, is unsophisticated in comparison with the urbane Constance, her highbred visiting cousin from New York, the country girl has the elegant accomplishments of writing verses and sketching in charcoal.27 Fletcher Harris, an artist sent on tour by an Eastern magazine, falls in love with Minnie and draws a picture entitled "The Fawn of the Prairie" that celebrates a lyric moment described in one of Minnie's poems.28 Yet before this marriage can take place Minnie must be sent to New York to become cultivated by looking at pictures and hearing music.29 The heroine of Mrs. Barritt's The Land Claim. A Tale of the Upper Missouri is established as genteel by being made the daughter of an Englishwoman of noble family who eloped with the gardener and came to America; in the end the heroine is restored to her grandfather, Sir Deming.30 It will be recalled that Margaret Belden, heroine of Mrs. Soule's Little Alice, could be presented as refined despite her backwoods setting because she had been reared in an affluent New England home.

Each of these authors cleaves to the theory of social stages which places the West below the East in a sequence to which both belong. The West has no meaning in itself because the only value recognized by the theory of civilization is the refinement which is believed to increase steadily as one moves from primitive simplicity and coarseness toward the complexity and polish of urban life. The values that are occasionally found in the West are anomalous instances of conformity to a standard that is actually foreign to the region. This principle is exemplified in the Western heroines, who seem to be worthy of admiration only in proportion as they have escaped from the crudity and vulgarity of their surroundings, either by virtue of birth elsewhere, or through the possession of an implausible innate refinement. The Occasional half-hearted tendency to contrast Western freshness with Eastern oversophistication will be recognized as a remnant


of the dying theory of cultural primitivism. It is quite inconsistent with the cult of refinement that furnished the intellectual frame work for sentimental fiction.

The first step toward solving the literary problem of the agricultural West was to find some means of escape from the assumption that the East was the standard of value and that Westerners were of inferior social status. If novelists were to deal with the West on its own terms, they would have to adopt some criterion besides that of refinement and would have to rid themselves of their unconscious devotion to class distinctions. In practice this meant getting rid of the theory of social stages. The stories and sketches of Alice Cary of Ohio, published during the 1850's, are the earliest body of writing in which the relation of the West to the East has ceased to be the major problem. It is significant that Miss Cary was the first native of the Ohio Valley who attempted to interpret the region in fiction. With all its shortcomings, her work supports Edward Eggleston's statement that she was the founder of the tradition of honest interpretation of the West.31 Transmitted through Eggleston to Hamlin Garland, her repudiation of the conventional way of looking at sectional relationships was destined to have important literary consequences. Her indifference toward the East appears to have sharpened her eye for detail and to have helped her achieve moments of direct reporting that still seem sharp and fresh. But her writing suffers from defects that fully account for the neglect into which it has fallen. She is seldom free of conventional sentiment and often verges toward a familiar kind of religiosity. The schoolmaster in the sketch "Two Visits,"32 whose hands evince his gentle origin if indeed his glossy black curls, pale complexion, great melancholy eyes, and fondness for Coleridge were not more than sufficient indications, is pure claptrap. Like Emmeline Grangerford in Huckleberry Finn, he shows his gentility by sketching; and like her, he prefers funerary subjects. His masterpiece is a drawing of the grave of his first love, with himself kneeling by it.33

Furthermore, Miss Cary's literary method impedes the full development of her characters. She takes over Mrs. Kirkland's habit of writing in the first person and is seldom able to get her


self out of the picture. She cannot refrain from occasional reminders that she too is a lady who knows her Spenser and Milton, and is qualified to make judgments concerning refinement or the lack of it in people and houses. In abandoning the intellectual framework offered by the theory of social stages, she was not able to construct any coherent theory to take its place. She asserts that "the independent yeoman, with his simple rusticity and healthful habits, is the happiest man in the world," but this judgment is supported by the condescending line from Gray which she quotes immediately afterward: "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."34 She believes that her Western farm and village characters are the "humbler classes" and that she is writing the simple annals of the poor, in contrast with other lady authors who "have apparently been familiar only with wealth and splendor, and such joys or sorrows as come gracefully to mingle with the refinements of luxury and art. . ."

In our country [she continues], though all men are not "created
equal," such is the influence of the sentiment of liberty and political equality, that

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,"
may with as much probability be supposed to affect conduct and ex-
pectation in the log cabin as in the marble mansion; and to illustrate
this truth, to dispel that erroneous belief of the necessary baseness of
the "common people" which the great masters in literature have in all
ages labored to create, is a purpose and an object in our nationality to
which the finest and highest genius may wisely be devoted, but which
may be effected in a degree by writings as unpretending as these remi-
niscences of what occurred in and about the little village where I from
childhood watched the pulsations of the surrounding hearts.35

This is perhaps a little more explicit than Flint's and Mrs. Kirkland's statements of similar ideas, and Miss Cary came nearer than they did to realizing her program in fiction. But her sketches are still not consistently organized about her thesis. They reveal an interesting but in the end annoying instability of attitude in the author.

The sketch which contains the touching portrait of the schoolmaster, for example, begins as a contrast between the over-austere household of the prosperous Knights and the charming


household of the poorer Lytles. But before she is done, Miss Cary manages to insert the death and funeral of little Henry Hathaway, the courtship and marriage of Hetty Knight, and the death of Kitty Lytle, presumably from heartbreak. The author is not sure where her interest lies or what she is trying to do. To mention only one other example, the sketch "Charlotte Ryan" deals with the daughter of the "last" family in the neighborhood who, brought up in poverty, goes for a visit with relatives near Cincinnati, encounters true elegance for the first time, suffers for her rusticity in the presence of the splendid Mr. Sully Dinsmore, is taken to some vague but glittering greater city by other friends, becomes herself the cynosure of all eyes at the ball, and snubs Mr. Dinsmore in return for his cruelty to her back in Ohio. But Charlotte is no happier in her silks than she had been in her homespun.36

Miss Cary's most ambitious effort to deal with the country-side about Cincinnati in fiction is Married, Not Mated, published in 1856. This confused work seems to have grown out of an autobiographical reminiscence; one of the young ladies introduced in Part II carries the remainder of the narrative in the first person. The nearest approach to a thread of plot is the story of how the headstrong Annette Furniss of Cincinnati determines to escape from domestic monotony by marrying Henry Graham, a young farmer who supplies the family with butter. Annette is a selfish creature and is really in love with Henry's unpleasant brother Stafford. The marriage therefore fails and Henry dies. By calling her hero a farmer Miss Cary seems to promise a study of rural Western character. There is a faint suggestion that Henry Graham's language and dress need to be refined by the power of love, but he is never made to speak dialect and his character is so profoundly genteel that one cannot take him seriously as a Westerner. He reads poetry, for example, in a secluded grove, and leaves a strip of willows standing along a brook because they improve the landscape. The actual work of the farm is carried on offstage by hired hands. The only labor Henry performs is the sentimental task of tending the grave of Annette's sister Nellie.37

The latter half of the novel wanders off into a tedious character sketch of the pompous Mr. Peter Throckmorton and a desperately


comic study of the cures undertaken in his behalf by a series of amateur and professional physicians. And there are other grotesque things in the book. It is nevertheless oddly interesting, in part because Miss Cary stumbles almost accidentally into a remarkable technical experiment by telling the story of Henry and Annette from several points of view, in part because she manages to render directly observed depths of squalor and neurosis, but most of all because of the character of Raphe Muggins. Raphe appears first as an adolescent backwoods waif serving the Graham household as maid of all work; later she is married and rearing a vigorous family. She and her husband are of the folk and there is no doubt in the author's mind that they belong to a social class distinct from that of the Grahams. Yet Raphe is made much more real than any other character in the story. Miss Cary not only reproduces her robust speech at length, but admires her shrewd and healthy insight into the tortured lives of the Grahams, and uses Raphe's successful marriage as a foil for the introspective complications of the principal characters. The author's unpatronizing affection for this very ungenteel Western woman all but breaks down the literary convention that consigns the character to an inferior status.38

Despite Miss Cary's occasional triumphs, Edward Eggleston's work marks a distinct advance toward the discovery of literary values in the agricultural West. It is true that he was no more able than Miss Cary to get beyond the accepted dogma that a novel is a love story; all his heroes and heroines exhibit a stereotyped variety of sentimental virtue. It is also true that his novels contain traces of the old a priori doctrine of Western inferiority. One of the principal themes of The Hoosier School-Master, for example, is the desire of Bud Means to "git out of this low-lived Plat Crick way of livin'" by putting in "his best licks for Jesus Christ."39 Eggleston remarks with approval that Patty Lumsden, heroine of The Circuit-Rider, was saved by her pride "from possible assimilation with the vulgarity about her."40 The character Nancy Kirtley in Roxy, studied in considerable detail, is intended as a representation of "that curious poor-whitey race which is called `tarheel' in the northern Carolina, `sand-hiller' in the Southern, `corn-cracker' in Kentucky, `yahoo' in Mississippi and in


California `pike.'" These backwoodsmen, like most of the Means family in The Hoosier School-Master, resemble Ishmael Bush in The Prairie. They are coarse, illiterate, lawless--in a word, "half-barbarous." Eggleston, like Cooper, is interested in the type, and his conclusions deserve quotation:

They never continue in one stay, but are the half gypsies of America,
seeking by shiftless removals from one region to another to better their
wretched fortunes, or, more likely to gratify a restless love of change
and adventure. They are the Hoosiers of the dark regions of Indiana and
the Egyptians of southern Illinois. Always in a half-barbarous state, it
is among them that lynchings most prevail. Their love of excitement
drives them into a daring life and often into crime. From them came
the Kentucky frontiersmen, the Texan rangers, the Murrell highway-
men, the Arkansas regulators and anti-regulators, the ancient keel-
boatmen, the more modern flat-boatmen and raftsmen and roustabouts
and this race furnishes, perhaps, more than its share of the "road
agents" that infest the territories. Brave men and generous men are
often found among them; but they are never able to rise above Daniel
Boones and Simon Kentons.41

After Mark Bonamy has been led into sin by Nancy, he has a momentary impulse to give up all his past life and go with her to Texas, where he may live out his degradation with no reproach from any moral censor. Among the fugitive criminals and bankrupts there he may hope to become a leader and thus make some sort of a life for himself.

This Nance was a lawless creature--a splendid savage, full of ferocity.
Something of the sentiment of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" was in him.
He would commit moral suicide instead of physical,--release the ani-
mal part of his nature from allegiance to what was better, and, since he
had failed in civilized life, he might try his desperate luck as a savage.
It was easier to sink the present Bonamy in the wild elements of the
South-western frontier, than to blow out his brains or drown himself.42

Evidently, Eggleston is willing to go as far as any New England clergyman in painting the lawless savagery of the remote frontier. And though he considers Indiana more civilized than Texas, vestiges of a dark earlier barbarism linger even there. After all, Nancy belongs to Indiana as much as Mark does. In the West of his fiction Eggleston finds petty political corruption, dishonest manipulation of the pre-emption law, and a sordid devo-


tion to profit at any cost.43 He notes that the greatest wealth of postfrontier communities has come not from hard work but from land speculation.44 Whiskey Jim, the sympathetic Minnesota stage driver in The Mystery of Metropolisville, remarks that the West isn't the country of ideas, but of corner lots. "I tell you," he exclaims, "here it's nothin' but per-cent."45

It is rather odd that, holding such conventional views of Western depravity and "materialism," Eggleston should nevertheless have been so thoroughly convinced that the region deserved literary treatment. In the preface to The Hoosier School-Master he remarks:

It used to be a matter of no little jealousy with us, I remember, that the
manners, customs, thoughts, and feelings of New England country
people filled so large a place in books, while our life, not less interesting,
not less romantic, and certainly not less filled with humorous and gro-
tesque material, had no place in literature. It was as though we were
shut out of good society. And, with the single exception of Alice Cary,
perhaps, our Western writers did not dare speak of the West otherwise
than as the unreal world to which Cooper's lively imagination had given

But this does not take us very far, and it is certainly not inadequate analysis of Eggleston's attitude toward his Hoosiers. A year later he prefaced The End of the World with a quotation from Principal John C. Shairp's lecture on Wordsworth that relates how the poet found "pith of sense and solidity of judgment," as well as the essential feelings and passions of mankind, in greater simplicity and strength among humble country folk.47 But this too fails to get at Eggleston's own attitude. For one thing, Wordsworth's theory would imply that the Kirtleys (and with them, Western poor whites as a class), as primitive children of nature, are even more admirable than the Mark Bonamys and the Ralph Hartsooks who have acquired a certain degree of literacy and cultivation. Eggleston's acceptance of the theory of progressive refinement through successively higher social stages prevented him from accepting the implications of Wordsworth's attitude. The conception of nature as a source of spiritual value could have little meaning for him. If his intense although un-dogmatic piety had allowed him to entertain the idea, he would


still have found it in conflict with the deterministic notions he had taken over from Taine and Darwin.48

Since Eggleston's statement of his intentions is so meager we must make our own inferences from his work. It has been often remarked that before he began The Hoosier School-Master he had written a brief notice of a translation of Taine's Philosophy of Art in the Netherlands for The Independent.49 The debt cannot have been great, but there are a few indications in the novels that Taine had given him at least an inkling of a pure pictorial feeling for common and familiar scenes, without overtones of moral or social evaluation. Chapter VI of Roxy is entitled "A Genre Piece." It relates how the young minister Whittaker spent an evening with Roxy and her father the shoemaker, and began to fall in love with her. Eggleston apparently wishes to call attention to the visual image of these figures grouped in a kitchen. A clearer example of the novelist's exploitation of pure visual interest is a passage in The Circuit Rider which describes Patty Lumsden spinning. Our sculptors, Eggleston remarks, ought to realize that in "mythology and heroics" Americans can never be anything but copyists. If they would turn to our own primitive life they would find admirable subjects like the girl spinning--an activity that reveals as no other can the grace of the female figure. Eggleston adds that the kitchen of the Lumsden home would make a genre subject good enough for the old Dutch masters.50

It is refreshing to find even so slight a hint that crude Western materials could be viewed disinterestedly, without the apparatus of theory that had so often beclouded the vision of observers like Mrs. Kirkland. But so long as the achievement was limited to the plane of visual perception, it could not have very far-reaching consequences for literary attitude and method. The borrowing of effects from painting had long been an established convention in writing about the West. Many authors, for example, had invoked the paintings of wild Salvator Rosa to convey their response to Western landscapes felt to be picturesque and sublime.51 Merely to turn from Salvator to Dutch masters of "realism" was not a startling advance in literary practice. What was requisite was an extension of the technique of disinterested observation to the sphere of ethics, to the psychological interior of the characters as


contrasted with their outer appearance or the houses they lived in.52

Taine did not help Eggleston very far along this road. The novelist's religiosity and recurrent retreats into sentimentalism lend a strongly archaic air to his work. Yet he did make a beginning. The aspect of his fiction that proved most valuable to the writers who came after him and is most interesting nowadays is his sincere feeling for the "folk"--for the characteristic traits of human beings in a specific geographical and social setting. This is the germ at once of what has been called his "realism" and of the interest in social history that eventually led him to abandon fiction altogether.

The notion that the lore and the mores of the backwoodsman might be interesting without reference to his function as a standard-bearer of progress and civilization, or his alarming and exciting barbarism, or his embodiment of a natural goodness, was quite late in appearing. Although travelers had reported a few snatches of the songs of French Canadian voyageurs and an occasional tall tale from the Far West, especially from the 1830's onward, apparently the first indications of an interest in the folklore of the agricultural West are contained in Alice Cary's work. Since her attitude toward these materials is at once complicated and highly suggestive for the future, it deserves more than a passing glance.

In describing her visit to the household of the grim Mrs. Knight, Miss Cary tells how Sally and Jane Ann, left alone for a few moments with their guest, entertain her by reciting riddles: "Four stiff-standers, four down-hangers, two crook-abouts, two look-abouts, and a whisk-about"; "Through a riddle and through a reel, Through an ancient spinning wheel . . ."; "Long legs, short thighs, Little head, and no eyes"; and "Round as an apple, deep as a cup, And all the king's oxen can't draw it up." They have begun a counting-out rime ("Oneary, oreary, kittery Kay . . .") when their mother comes in and angrily sends them away as if they had been misbehaving. The problem here is of course to define Miss Cary's own attitude toward the charming bits of folklore she has recorded. "Mrs. Knight," she remarks, "had been mortified when she found her daughters indulging in


the jargon I have reported, and so imprisoned them, as I have described; but if she had accustomed herself to spend some portion of the day devoted to scolding the children, in their cultivation, few punishments of any kind would have been required. If they had known anything sensible, they would probably not have been repeating the nonsense which seemed to please them so." Miss Cary offered to bring over "some prettily illustrated stories ... which might please her little girls...."53

The riddles and counting-out rime are, then, jargon and non- sense, which should be replaced in the children's minds by systematic cultivation through proper children's books--perhaps the Peter Parley series. Yet Miss Cary is interested enough in the rimes to set them down, as apparently no one before her had done. Furthermore, she considers it deplorable that Mrs. Knight refuses to allow her older girls to attend play-parties where the games depend on folk songs:

Many a time [she writes] had the young women gone to bed with
aching hearts to hear in dreams the music of--

"We are marching forward to Quebec
And the drums are loudly beating,
America has gained the day
And the British are retreating.

The wars are o'er and we'll turn back
And never more be parted;
So open the ring and choose another in
That you think will prove true-hearted."54

Despite her lapse into a conventionally obtuse attitude concerning the children's rimes, Miss Cary was at least vaguely aware that the nonliterary culture of the Western folk embodied some value.55

Eggleston likewise describes a game involving choice of a true-love to the accompaniment of chanted verses ("Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow...") of which he reports three stanzas.56 He perceives that this material raises a literary issue of some consequence, although he does not succeed very well in stating the case for the use of it. People who enjoy society novels, he declares, will consider "these boisterous, unrefined sports" a far from promising beginning for a story. Readers find it easy to


imagine heroism, generosity, and courage in people who dance on velvet carpets, but difficult to ascribe similar merits to crude backwoodsmen. This hardly seems a satisfactory statement of the issue. What he is feeling for is a value in the mores of the folk comparable to the pictorial values he could perceive in his backwoods interiors. But he argues instead somewhat irrelevantly that people crude enough to play rowdy kissing games may nevertheless be quite heroic: "the great heroes, the world's demigods, grew in just such rough social states as that of Ohio in the early part of this century." And this leads to a little homily for the benefit of sophisticated readers:

There is nothing more important for an over-refined generation than to
understand that it has not a monopoly of the great qualities of human-
ity, and that it must not only tolerate rude folk, but sometimes admire
in them traits that have grown scarce as refinement has increased. So
that I may not shrink from telling that one kissing-play took the place
of another until the excitement and merriment reached a pitch which
would be thought not consonant with propriety by the society that loves
round-dances with roues, and "the German" untranslated--though, for
that matter, there are people old-fashioned enough to think that refined
deviltry is not much better than rude freedom, after all.57

Although it seems a little stuffy even for the 1870's to call round-dances and the german "refined deviltry," we must remember that Eggleston was a clergyman. Furthermore, he is justified in attacking the snobbery of the genteel East toward the rural West. At least he has realized that folk rhymes and games are more than jargon and nonsense, since they represent a tradition "that has existed in England from immemorial time."58 If the culture of the folk attested a continuity of social evolution reaching far back into the past, it acquired a new dignity. It had a historical dimension that could never be accounted for by the abstract and schematic and even antihistorical theory of uniform progress through fixed social stages. This way of looking at illiteracy and barbarism offered a valid means of escape from the theory of civilization and refinement, and suggested how Western farmers could be rescued from their degraded social status.

The gradual emergence of a new conception of the Western folk in Eggleston and his successors can be traced clearly in the


changing attitudes toward language, which after all was the most intimate, the most flexible, the most characteristic and suggestive of all the aspects of folk culture. What were literary interpreters of the agricultural West to do with vernacular speech? We are familiar with the role of dialect in the tradition of Cooper, and indeed in sentimental fiction generally, as a simple and unambiguous badge of status. No "straight" character could be allowed to speak dialect, and every character who used dialect was instantly recognizable as having a low social rank. In books of more or less direct reporting like Mrs. Kirkland's, the upper-class observer regales his presumably upper-class readers by rendering the outlandish speech of the natives as a foil for his own elegant rhetoric. Similarly, the heroes and heroines of fiction who come into the West from outside are distinguished from the natives by their correct and elevated diction. If a Westerner is to be made into a hero, like Cooper's Ben Boden the bee hunter in The Oak Openings, the author must take pains to tidy up the character's speech. The first notable departure from this simple set of literary conventions is in the work of Miss Cary, where indifference to the contrast between East and West lessens her interest in speech as a badge of social and sectional status. Although she makes a few experiments in transcribing the Western vernacular, she is capable of reporting the speech of characters living in abject poverty, in a remote rural area, without self-conscious attention to dialect at all, using an easy, colloquial style for people of quite various classes.59

But if it was a necessary fist step to cease exploiting dialect as a badge of status, the achievement was merely negative. The effort to discover positive values in the culture of the folk would obviously suggest some affirmative use of the vernacular. The analogy of Dutch genre painting would imply a pure esthetic concern with dialect, an ability to enjoy it for its own sake without insisting on its meaning as a badge of status or (what amounted to the same thing) as an index of refinement or the lack of it. There is evidence that the germ of Eggleston's first novel, The Hoosier School-Master, was precisely such an interest in the folk speech of southern Indiana. The novelist's biographer has found a list of "Hoosierisms" jotted down by Eggleston in


February, 1863, eight years before the novel was published.60 Eggleston was corresponding with James Russell Lowell about this list of dialect terms in January, 1870, and the Harvard professor's enthusiasm doubtless did much to convince him that his linguistic interest was reputable from a scholarly and literary standpoint.61 Years later, in an issue of The Critic honoring Lowell's seventieth birthday, Eggleston wrote that Lowell had been his master more than anyone else. "His magnanimous appreciation of the first lines I ever printed on the subject of American dialect and his cordial encouragement and wise advice gave me heart to go on...."62 The indebtedness had been acknowledged long before in the preface to The Hoosier School-Master by a reference to the "admirable and erudite preface to the Biglow Papers."

To Mr. Lowell [Eggleston asserted] belongs the distinction of being
the only one of our most eminent authors and the only one of our most
eminent scholars who has given careful attention to American dialects.
But while I have not ventured to discuss the provincialisms of the
Indiana backwoods, I have been careful to preserve the true usus lo-
of each locution, and I trust my little story may afford material
for some one better qualified than I to criticise the dialect.63

The attitude of a linguist is not identical with that of a genre painter, but they have in common the fact that neither is primarily concerned with implications about social status.

If The Hoosier School-Master was indeed the leader of the procession of American dialect novels, as Eggleston later asserted,64 the fact may arouse mixed emotions in modern readers. For much of the dialect writing produced by the local color school in the two decades following the appearance of Eggleston's novel is both unskilful and patronizing. "In all use of dialect," remarked George Philip Krapp, "there is probably present some sense of amused superiority on the part of the conventional speaker as he views the forms of the dialect speech...."65 The generalization certainly applies to run-of-the-mill local color writing, which depends for too many of its effects upon the supposed quaintness of the illiterate natives of various American regions. But despite this danger in the literary use of dialect, it opened up pathways of advance in two directions. On the one hand, the perception that


the speech of Western backwoodsmen exemplified the historian's principle that "all which is partakes of that which was"66 saved it from being considered merely crude, coarse, and unrefined. The discovery added a dignity to the uneducated folk which they could never have acquired within the framework of the theory of progress and civilization. In Roxy Eggleston causes the Swiss-American girl Twonnet (Antoinette) to defend the use of "right" for "very" by pointing out to the young minister Whittaker a graduate of Yale, that "right" occurs in this sense in the Bible; indeed, she even goes on to make the revolutionary suggestion that Yale itself, students and faculty, has its own local dialect.67 This was a novel way of conceiving the differences between Eastern and Western speech. The other line of literary development opened up by the growing respect for Western dialect is merely hinted at in Eggleston's work. This is the creation of an American literary prose formed on the vernacular. Whitman had been a pioneer in this respect, but Eggleston found Whitman merely "coarse."68 And he had little more respect for Mark Twain, whose Huckleberry Finn was the first masterpiece of vernacular prose.69 Yet Eggleston was moving with the current. His style has far fewer literary flourishes than that of Mrs. Kirkland, and on at least one occasion, when his own use of a provincialism (the word "hover" as a transitive verb to describe the action of a hen brooding her chicks) was pointed out to him by a proofreader, he let it stand, merely adding a note to the effect that the word was so used "at least in half the country."70 Later in his career he became even more fully aware of the potential richness of folk speech as a literary medium. In 1888, commenting on James Whitcomb Riley's language, he wrote very shrewdly: "As dialect it is perfectly sound Hoosier but a little thin. He has known it more among villagers than among rustics. He has known it at a later period than I did, and the tremendous--almost unequalled vigor of the public school system in Indiana must have washed the color out of the dialect a good deal."71

Eggleston's scientific interest in the speech of Western farmers was carried even farther by Joseph Kirkland in Zury, the Meanest Man in Spring County (1887) and The McVeys (1888).72 The


plots of these novels are dominated by Anne Sparrow, a New England school teacher who brings an unexampled cultivation and refinement to rural Illinois, but the character of the avaricious Zury Prouder is well observed in the period before he is regenerated by Anne's virtue, and the speech of the countryside is reported with care and skill. Kirkland's ear for what people actually said was keener than that of any other writer who has dealt with the agricultural West, except Sinclair Lewis. In addition to accurate phonetic notations, he made the discovery that in conversation people often use an elliptical syntax and altogether omit various kinds of unemphatic words.

But Zury is more than a dialect. He gives the impression of having been created through the accumulation of tall tales about stinginess just as the legendary Davy Crockett was created through accumulation of tales about coon-hunting, fighting, and drinking whiskey. Kirkland says he is repeating stories told by a man who once worked for Zury and later delighted his comrades in the Union army with them; some of the yarns, he adds, have already found their way into print.73 The political speech which Zury makes with the assistance of Anne is a masterpiece of vernacular prose filled with shrewd anecdotes, like those of Lincoln, which Kirkland greatly admired.74 If the novelist's simultaneous devotion to folklore and to female gentility led him to consummate one of the strangest matings in all literature by marrying Zury to Anne Sparrow--a transaction as odd as would have been the marriage of Davy Crockett to Miss Alcott's Jo March--he was nevertheless aware that the folk elements in Zury held a new and vital kind of literary interest. Kirkland makes the point explicitly. Anne's daughter Margaret edits the "Third Page" of the Springville Bugle, a section given over to book reviews, anecdotes, pointed paragraphs, and editorials. She and her cultivated friend Dr. Strafford notice that whenever Zury has spent an evening with them her writing is much improved. "How is it, Margaret?" asks Strafford. "How does he help us so much?"

"Well [she replies, evidently speaking for the author], as nearly as
I can make out, it is the tone he gives our thoughts. If I read too much,
the T. P. grows eastern and literary. If I leave it to you, it is scientific


and political; but when Mr. Prouder is the inspiration, it is frontierish,
quaint, common-sensical, shrewd, strong, gay, and--I don't know what all."75

Despite the soft spot in the vicinity of the word "quaint," this is not a bad statement of the qualities that Eggleston and Kirkland were beginning to discover in their Western folk.

But neither the rendering of dialect nor the use of folklore proved after all to be the decisive factor in the complex literary evolution preceding the appearance of Hamlin Garland's Main Travelled Roads in 1891. It is true that when Garland was writing his memoirs toward the end of his long life he began his account of this movement by discussing the earliest uses of the "New World's vernacular"--in a few of Leatherstocking's speeches, in the Biglow Papers, and in Whittier, Bret Harte, and John Hay.76 But he passes at once to a discussion of E. W. Howe. This transition is remarkable because Howe was not interested in reporting dialect. The Western farm people of his stories have a colorless diction that tends toward conventional rhetoric, rather than the carefully constructed dialect of Eggleston's or Kirkland's characters. Garland refers to Howe's "strong, idiomatic Western prose,"77 but this is not the same thing as dialect and Garland does not probe further into the interesting problem of an American vernacular literary prose as contrasted with the reported speech of characters held distinct from the narrator.

The letter to Howe which Garland wrote in July, 1886, congratulating him on his novel Moonlight Boy, is a valuable document for the study of the various trends and currents that were at work in this important decade. It touches upon a number of attitudes and literary procedures that Garland endorsed, and develops a literary credo of some dimensions. Howe is for Garland one of the representative names standing for "local scene and character painting," the only one who represents the prairie West. He has depicted "homely, prosaic people in their restricted lives," not viewing them from a distance as picturesque, but writing "as from among them."78 The pattern of the travel narrative, as in Mrs. Kirkland's sketches, has disappeared along with the status system that elevated Easterners above Westerners. In Howe's first and best book, The Story of a Country Town (1883),


the narrator who speaks in the first person is a young man looking back upon his own bleak childhood in the prairie West.

But the most important trait of Howe's work is the constant note of sadness and disillusionment that bespeaks the fading of the dream of an agrarian utopia. The Story of a Country Town is a sardonic commentary on the theme of going West to grow up with the country. Through an eccentric character named Lytle Biggs, who sometimes speaks for the author, Howe attacks the cult of the yeoman as explicitly as Cooper had attacked it, although from a somewhat different standpoint. The notions that there is a peculiar merit in agricultural labor and that farmers are more virtuous than other men, Biggs declares to be falsehoods circulated by politicians for their own advantage79. Howe's West offers neither color to the observer from without nor consolations to the people themselves. It is a world of grim, savage religion, of silent endurance, of families held together by no tenderness, of communities whose only amusement is malicious gossip. Howe's farmers seem on the whole to be prosperous enough, but some not easily analyzed bitterness has poisoned the springs of human feeling. The Reverend John Westlock, father of the narrator, a stern minister and a successful farmer, runs away with a woman he does not love after years of a strange silent battle with himself. Jo Erring, the narrator's closest friend, is destroyed by insane jealousy. The symbol that dominates the opening and the close of the novel is a great bell in the steeple of Fairview church which is used to announce deaths in the community, and is also tolled by the winds "as if the ghosts from the grave lot had crawled up there, and were counting the number to be buried the coming year..."80

Garland described his book as "a singularly gloomy, real yet unreal, narrative written in the tone of weary and hopeless age."81 It is at this point that Howe differs most clearly from Joseph Kirkland, who considered the novel too melodramatic and told Garland that Howe's country town "never had any exist- ence outside of his tired brain."82 Yet the description of Zury's childhood in Kirkland's own novel is dark and bitter, as is the characterization of the half-insane Hobbs in The McVeys, with


its end in the ghastly lynching scene; and both Mrs. Kirkland (in her shocked description of the death of a girl from an attempted abortion)83 and Miss Cary (in her sketch of the newsboy Ward Henderson)84 had included ominous shadows in their pictures of the West. These shadows had no doubt been somewhat blurred, but in devoting himself to a prolonged exploration of the dark recesses of his own childhood, Howe was merely developing hints in the works of his predecessors. The self-castigating Westlock is only a degree more neurotic than Mrs. Knight in Miss Cary's sketch, and both characters are thwarted by a grim and colorless environment.

Although Howe's extreme conservatism made him unsympathetic with the efforts of Western farmers to organize themselves for political action in the Farmers' Alliance85 the stories collected in Main Travelled Roads owe more to Howe's melancholy than to Kirkland's rather cold fidelity to linguistic fact or his use of a tall-tale tradition. Garland did practice faithfully the lesson of exact description, and despite his lack of a good ear for language he worked hard at transcribing the actual speech of his characters. But the method was with him only a means of bringing home to his readers the farmers' sufferings. Many years later he wrote that his point of view when he came back in 1887 to his old homes in Iowa and South Dakota "was plainly that of one who, having escaped from this sad life, was now a pitying onlooker.""That my old neighbors were in a mood of depression," he continued, "was evident. Things were going badly with them. Wheat was very low in price and dairying had brought new problems and new drudgery into their lives. Six years had made little improvement in farm conditions."86 The visit coincided with the collapse of the great Western boom. Garland's success as a portrayer of hardship and suffering on Northwestern farms was due in part to the fact that his personal experience happened to parallel the shock which the entire West received in the later 1880's from the combined effects of low prices in the international wheat market, grasshoppers, drought, the terrible blizzards of the winter of 1886-1887, and the juggling of freight rates that led to the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887.

In Garland, Howe's undefined sadness, which had no acknowledgement


connection with economic distress, came into focus about the creed of Henry George's Single Taxers. "There was nothing humorous about the lives of these toilers," he wrote of his trip West in 1887. "On the contrary, I regarded them as victims of an unjust land system. An immense pity took possession of me. I perceived their helplessness. They were like flies in a pool of tar."87 In the Preface to Jason Edwards, a novel written for Benjamin Flower's Arena in 1891 and dedicated to the Farmers' Alliance, Garland states his interpretation of what had happened in the agricultural West:

For more than a half century the outlet toward the free lands of the
West has been the escape-valve of social discontent in the great cities
of America. Whenever the conditions of his native place pressed too
hard upon him, the artisan or the farmer has turned his face toward the
prairies and forests of the West.... Thus long before the days of '49,
the West had become the Golden West, the land of wealth and free-
dom and happiness. All of the associations called up by the spoken
word, the West, were fabulous, mythic, hopeful.88

But the hopeful myth had been destroyed. With an element of exaggeration that can certainly be forgiven a novelist if it appeared also in the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, Garland declared, "Free land is gone. The last acre of available farmland has now passed into private or corporate hands."89 His story is an apologue on the closing of the safety valve. Jason Edwards, a Boston mechanic, takes his family to the Western prairies in search of the free land promised by advertising circulars, only to find that all land within thirty miles of a railroad has been taken up by speculators. After five years of desperate struggle to pay interest and get title to his farm, Edwards is prostrated by a hail-storm that destroys his wheat just before harvest. The family return to Massachusetts in defeat under the protection of Alice Edwards's fiancee, a Boston newspaperman. The evil forces oppressing the farmer are represented by Judge S. H. Balser, land agent, who falsifies the evidences of a boom in order to market his lands, and sits back collecting his interest while Edwards and other farmers grind themselves to illness and despair in their fields.90 Reeves, the fiance, points the moral of the tale: "So this is the reality of the dream! This is the 'homestead in the Golden


West, embowered in trees, beside the purling brook!' A shanty on a barren plain, hot and lone as a desert. My God!"91

In view of actual conditions in the West, the ideal of the yeoman society could be considered nothing but a device of propaganda manipulated by cyclical speculators. Yet Garland continued to hope that the ideal might be realized. He endorsed the single-tax program because he saw in it a means to this end. Ida Wilbur, the radical lecturer who voices many of Garland's ideas in A Spoil of Office, announces to the hero Bradley Talcott:

I believe in thickly settled farming communities, communities where
every man has a small, highly cultivated farm. That's what I've been
advocating and prophesying, but I now begin to see that our system of
ownership in land is directly against this security, and directly against
thickly-settled farming communities. The big land owners are swallow-
ing up the small farmers, and turning them into renters or laborers.92

In view of actual conditions in the West, the ideal of the yoeman society could be considered nothing but a device of propaganda manipulated by cynical speculators. Yet Garland continued to hope that the ideal might be realized. He endorsed the single-tax program because he saw in it a means to this end. Ida Wilbur, the radical lecturer who voices man of Garlands ideas in A Spoil of Office, announces to the hero Bradley Talcott:

I believe in thickly settled farming communities, communities where every man has a small, highly cultivated farm. That's what I've been advocating and prophesying, but I now begin to see that our system of ownership in land is directly against this security, and directly against thickly-settled farming communities. The big land owners are swallowing up the small farmers, and turning them into renters or laborers.
The social theories which shaped Garlandd's early stories are evident enough. Land monopolists had blighted the promise of the West; the single tax would eliminate the speculator and allow the yoeman ideal to be realized. But Garland was seldom able to integrate his theories with the materials he had gathered by personal experience and observation. The radical ideas occur as concepts. They are seldom realized imaginatively -- perhaps never fully except in Under the Lion's Paw which exhibits a shrewd landowner exploiting a tenant. 93 Garlands strength lay rather in a simple humanitarian sympathy that was entirely congrous with the sentimental tradition. His description of an imaginary painting on the wall of Howard McLane's apartment in UP the Coule expresses an emotion deeper than his counscious doctrines. The picture is a somber landscape by a master greater than Millet, a melancholy subject, treated with pitiless fidelity. It evidently has a portentous meaning for him:

A farm in the valley! Over the mountain swept jagged, gray, angry, sprawling clouds, sending a freezing, thin drizzle of rain, as they passed, upon a man following a plough. The horses had a sullen and weary look, and their manes and tails streamed sidewise in the blast. The ploughman clad in a ragged gray coat, with uncouth, muddy boots upon his feet, walked with his head inclined toward the sleet, to shield hi face from the cold and sting of it. The soil rolled away black and sticky and with a dull sheen upon it. Near by, a boy with tears on his cheeks was watching cattle, a dog seated near him, his back to the gale. 94

This plowman is neither the yoeman of agrarian tradition nor the picturesque rural swain, nor a half-barbarian like Ishamel Bush, nor an amusingly unrefined backwoodsman, not even a victim of a perverted land system. His most direct relation is to nature, and even though this relation is one of conflict, it confers on him a certain dignity and tends to enlarge his stature by making him a representative of suffering humanity, of man in general. Garland's early stories are not a literary achievement of the first or even of the second rank, but they mark the end of a long evolution in attitudes. It had a last become possible to deal with the Western farmer in literature as a human being instead of seeing him through a veil of literary convention, class prejudice, or social theory.