Joseph Glover Baldwin (1815–1864)
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112 Joseph Glover Baldwin (1815–1864) One of the best educated humorists of the Old Southwest may have been Virginia-born Joseph Glover Baldwin, who attended Staunton Academy where he studied Latin and read English and American literature. After leaving school, he read law and by the age of twenty was a practicing attorney. A failed romance caused him to leave Virginia to seek his fortune in Alabama and Mississippi, where he quickly encountered all the violence, chicanery, and lawlessness that would constitute the material for the frontier humorist and keep him busy in the legal profession. He married in 1839, prospered, started a family, and ran for Congress unsuccessfully. Restless despite his success, he followed the lure of the open and wild territories further west in California. He repeated his success in San Francisco, served as a member of the California Supreme Court, and considered a run for the U. S. Senate. As a conservative, a slave-owner, and a supporter of states’ rights, he sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War but did not live to see the conflict concluded. Baldwin began to write and publish sketches in 1853 in the Southern Literary Messenger, mostly about notable personalities he met, the practice of law in the backwoods, and memoirs of comic events. The seventeen published pieces were combined with nine new ones to form a book, Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi , issued to considerable popular success that same year. It would see ten editions before the end of the century. A reviewer in a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, found Baldwin’s book comparable or even superior to the work of Herman Melville. Adopting the mode of the British essayists, Baldwin depended less on dialect and dialogue, as used primarily by many of the other humorists, and recounted his tales with the skill of an educated raconteur, amused by the oddities and absurdities of frontier life. It was the personal essay as practiced by Washington Irving that inspired Baldwin, and his writing is richly informed by allusions to Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, and other British authors, as well as Latin and the specialized language of law. He would also try his hand at a collection of political biographies in Party Leaders in 1855 and begin work on Joseph Glover Baldwin 113 “Flush Times in California,” which he did not live to complete. Fortunately Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi represented his best and most memorable writing and earned a place for him as a major figure among his contemporary humorists. Texts:“Simon Suggs, Jr., Esq.,A Legal Biography”from The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi: A Series of Sketches (New York: D. Appleton, 1853). Simon Suggs, Jr., Esq. A Legal Biography Correspondence Office of the Jurist-Maker, City of Got-him, Nov. 18, 1852 COL. SIMON SUGGS, JR. My Dear Sir,—Having established, at great expense, and from motives purely patriotic and disinterested, a monthly periodical for the purpose of supplying a desideratum in American Literature, namely, the commemoration and perpetuation of the names, characters, and personal and professional traits and histories of American lawyers and jurists, I have taken the liberty of soliciting your consent to be made the subject of one of the memoirs, which shall adorn the columns of this Journal. This suggestion is made from my knowledge, shared by the intelligence of the whole country, of your distinguished standing and merits in our noble profession; and it is seconded by the wishes and requests of many of the most prominent gentlemen in public and private life, who have the honor of your acquaintance. The advantages of a work of this sort, in its more public and general bearing, are so patent, that it would be useless for me to refer to them. The effect of the publication upon the fame of the individual commemorated is, if not equally apparent, at least, equally decided. The fame of an American lawyer, like that of an actor, though sufficiently marked and cognizable within the region of his practice, and by the witnesses of his performances, is nevertheless, for the want of an organ for its national dissemination, or of an enduring memorial for its preservation, apt to be ephemeral, or, at most, to survive among succeeding generations, only in the form of unauthentic and vague traditions. What do we know of Henry or of Grundy as lawyers, except that they were eloquent and successful advocates? But what they did was to...


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