Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790–1870)
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25 Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790–1870) Although the larger body of humorous writing in the Old Southwest arose almost simultaneously as a groundswell in several parts of the region,the man usually nominated as the father of the movement is Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. The eldest of the major figures in years, he first began to publish his sketches in 1833 and 1834 in local Georgia newspapers, the Milledgeville Southern Recorder and his own paper, the Augusta State Rights’ Sentinel. By bringing them together into a book in 1835 called Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c., in the First Half Century of the Republic, he not only established most of the major themes, content, and comic strategies of the writing to follow, but called the attention of the South and the nation to the power and appeal of local narrative and regional culture. When Edgar Allan Poe reviewed the book for the March 1836 Southern Literary Messenger, he found himself laughing out loud more “immoderately” than he ever had over any other book. He summarized or quoted at length every single story and promised to “give it a niche in our library as a sure omen of better days for the literature of the South.” Like so many of the writers who would follow in his footsteps, however, Longstreet was accomplished in many fields of endeavor and never meant to be a litterateur. Born in 1870 in Augusta, Georgia, he attended Yale College, read law, and was admitted to the bar in 1815, but his interests led him into politics and public service.He was elected a judge,owned a newspaper,was ordained a Methodist minister, and served as president of several educational institutions—Emory College, Centenary College in Louisiana, the University of Mississippi, and South Carolina College. As a strict anti-abolitionist, he stood up against the attacks on slavery by the northern branch of his church and wrote a series of pro-slavery letters collected in 1847 as a book, A Voice from the South. Longstreet moved his family to Mississippi during the Civil War and watched federal troops burn his home before he retired to Georgia. He spent his latter years in Bible study and writing defenses of states’ rights advocate John C. Calhoun. Although he tried his hand at a novel and wrote a good many more sketches and tales, nothing else Longstreet did brought him the fame and attention 26 Southern Frontier Humor that attended Georgia Scenes. He understood how educated language and ordinary speech could be brought into comic conjunction to good effect, how a sophisticated narrator could be used to gain satiric distance on rowdy and racy backwoods life, and how reality itself often provides the antic sensibility with sufficient material for engaging fiction. Longstreet created two distinct fictional voices through which he narrated his tales, Lyman Hall and Abram Baldwin, both educated but markedly different in attitude. He noted in the preface for his book that“Hall is the writer of those sketches in which men appear as the principal actors, and Baldwin of those in which women are the prominent figures.”But as the careful reader learns, things are more subtle than that, with one speaker more rational and distant and the other more emotional and sensitive. All of these devices influenced not only the humorous writers to come but anticipated the realistic movement in American fiction later in the century. These are among the reasons that Georgia Scenes saw eleven editions published between 1835 and 1897 and several more with critical introductions in the twentieth century. Texts: “Georgia Theatrics,” “The Horse-Swap,” and “The Fight,” from Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c., in the First Half of the Century of the Republic (Augusta, GA: State Rights Office, 1835). Georgia Theatrics If my memory fail me not, the 10th of June, 1809 found me, at about 11 o’clock in the forenoon, ascending a long and gentle slope in what was called “The Dark Corner” of Lincoln. I believe it took its name from the moral darkness which reigned over that portion of the county at the time of which I am speaking. If in this point of view it was but a shade darker than the rest of the county, it was inconceivably dark. If any man can name a trick or sin which had not been committed at the time of which I am speaking, in the very focus of all the county’s illumination (Lincolnton), he must himself be the most inventive...


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