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JACOB RIVERS University of South Carolina - Columbia Johnson Jones Hooper’s Dog and Gun.: A Forgotten Sporting Classic TO SCHOLARS OF THE LITERATURE OF THE EARLY AMERICAN SOUTH, THE name of Johnson Jones Hooper is synonymous with that of his most famous imaginative creation, the resourceful Captain Simon Suggs, a picaresque rogue whose unselfconscious moral vacuity has delighted reading audiences for well over a century and a half. So successful had Hooper been in capturing the universal traits of the trickster and confidence man through Suggs’s brilliantly understated characterization and so well had his outlandish schemes for self-aggrandizement taken hold on his contemporary readers’ imaginations that Simon Suggs, the fictional character, often usurped and replaced the identity of his creator in the public’s consciousness. As a struggling young author and newspaper editor on the Alabama frontier, Hooper welcomed the fame and notoriety despite the confusion of identity it entailed, for it opened doors for him as an author and as an editor that none of his other efforts ever would. The great success of the first, 1845 edition of Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs, Late of the Tallapoosa Volunteers, was followed by eleven more reprintings in as many years, validating Hooper’s artistic achievement and suggesting the enduring appeal of his genius and creativity. Based largely on his success in satirizing human greed and deceit through Suggs and his all-too-deserving victims, Hooper achieved an ascendancy in the art of comic portrayal that has earned him a prominent position among of the major Southwestern humorists. But Hooper’s versatility as a gifted sporting writer is so entirely eclipsed by his fame as a humorist that few know anything about his sporting and nature writing at all. As a result, his considerable talents in this important subgenre have heretofore been virtually ignored, almost as if his biographers and analysts have feared that acknowledging his intimate familiarity with the arts of the field might somehow detract from his stature as an artist. Moreover, because his single book-length contribution to the genre did not appear until 1856, late in his career and just before the fire-eating sectionalism which would soon consume all of his authorial energies, Dog and Gun is often treated as the belated 612 Jacob Rivers afterthought of a once-gifted writer who had squandered his best talents in the political skirmishes that so often attracted his pen. However, in view of the many sporting sketches that Hooper published, primarily in William T. Porter’s Spirit of the Times, and considering the changes they reveal in Hooper’s maturing emphasis on ethical sportsmanship and the natural history of the game indigenous to his region, it would seem that instead of viewing Dog and Gun reductively as a poor excuse for the artistic brilliance that created Simon Suggs, it is more profitable to consider the volume as a kind of culmination of Hooper’s sincere commitment to a sporting ethos that paralleled and complemented his career as an editor and humorist. What Dog and Gun reveals more than anything else about its gifted author is that he passionately endorsed proper sporting etiquette as the best way that a sensitive intellect could demonstrate both his love for the excitement of the chase and his respect for the game and the natural world of which it formed a part. Perhaps sensing better than many of his contemporaries the all-consuming nature of the bitter struggle that lay ahead, Hooper found himself unwilling to allow so important a part of his life as the magical world of the Alabama countryside and the sporting adventures he had enjoyed there to slip into oblivion without hastily pulling together a book that called upon its readers to approach the natural world and the arts of the field with respect, reverence, and awe. It had taken Hooper most of his adult life to arrive at this high level of involvement with the land and the game, a reverential approach to the natural world that in his youth had simply formed a convenient backdrop for his satire. In regard to the responsible sporting ethos that clearly informs the intent and purpose of Dog and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 611-634
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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