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The Golden age. [volume] (Atlanta, Ga.) 1906-1920, September 06, 1906, Image 3

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2020233210/1906-09-06/ed-1/seq-3/

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Among the Thinkers and Writers of Dixie
By DAVID E. GUYTON.
JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS.
HERE was a time when a feudal sys
tem flourished throughout the South,
when mediaeval ideas and institutions
were in vogue in the Southern States,
when their fertile acres were held in
fee by the few overlords of the land,
and the mansions of the masters, belted
about by the huts of their happy slaves,
were the centers of a culture and a civ-
T
ilization such as the world had never known before
and such as the future shall never see again, even
till the twilight of the years.
This primitive order, with its picaresque types,
has passed with the days that are dust. The broad
plantation, now broken into parcels, is ruled no
longer by a single lord, but is held and tilled by
a band of thrifty husbandmen, and is dotted with
the cots of its dozen chiefs. The master, too, with
his lordly airs, has drifted away like a dream,
and his stately home has fallen a prey to the ruth
less tooth of time. The huts of the serfs have
crumbled into dust; the mirthful banjo is mute;
the laughter, the songs, and the shouts of the quar-
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Photo by Underwood & Underwood, New York.
Joel Chandler Harris in His Library.
ters no longer float out on the evening air; ami the
tribe of Uncle Remus, their tales all forgotten, are
peacefully sleeping out under the stars.
But tender memories of the glory that is gone
are burning still in the Southern breast; and planta
tion pictures are flashing from the frames of the
rarest romances of the South. From the days of Ir
win Russell, the artists of Dixie have striven to
sketch the splendors of its past; a few of the number
have succeeded in painting the picture in its primi
tive beauty. So faithfully, indeed, have these mas
ters wrought in portraying the types that are not,
that the central figures of the old regime can never
fade away; and of all the wizards who have drawn
with skill the people of the old plantations, there
is none more worthy of the primal place than the
subject of the following sketch.
Tn the little village of Eatonton, Ga., December
8, 18-18, a little boy was born in the Harris home—
a tine, sprightly fellow with big, bright eyes, rosy
red cheeks, and a cluster of chestnut curls. He was
The Golden Age for September 6, 1906.
not a prince of the royal blood; and his advent
occasioned no stir in the State; yet the day of his
coming was destined to prove worthy to be marked
with immaculate stone. His parents were plain,
honest people, and they called Itim by a common
place name; but Joel Chandler Harris has deepened
in meaning as the years have come and gone, and
the name now stands as the current synonym of
the consummation of the brightest and the best
in the legendary lore of the South.
Joel was a robust, rollicking lad, fond of the wild
out-of-doors, and keenly alive to every sight and
sound in forest and field and sky. He gathered
the rudiments of an education in the old academy
of Eatonton, but he never distinguished himself as
a student, and seems to have given more time and
attention to a few English classics hidden under
his desk than he did to his regular lessons. As a
general thing, such practice among pupils is pro
ductive of harmful results; but the present inci
dent was apparently a striking exception to the
ordinary rule; for Joel was not only an insatiable
reader, but a discriminating one as well; and only
such hooks as the Vicar of Wakefield keenly ap
pealed to his aesthetic tastes.
this being the name of his journal, he advertised
for a thrifty lad who would like to learn the
printer’s trade. Interested in the outcome of
the unique experiment, young Harris made a care
ful examination of every department of the pub
lication, and chancing to run across the article in
question, he immediately applied for the place,
ami made such a favorable impression on the edi
tor that the latter at once took him in as an aid.
Tn c piie of his youth, the apprentice proved effi
cient in performing his duties in the office, and soon
developed into such a clever printer that his tasks
claimed only a part of his time. These hours of
leisure, however, he turned to good account; for
his employer imd given him free access to the vol
umes of his vast library; and the great English
classics became the constant companions of the
lad in his boms of idleness. By this delightful
method he made himself master of the practical
and fundamental points of the language, and learn
ed the applications of rhetoric and logic rather
This habit of reading, it was,
in fact, which indirectly caused
him to withdraw from school
before he had finished his
course and to enter into active
journalistic life at the early
age of twelve. The era of his
advent into the newspaper
world was perhaps the most in
teresting period of his youth;
for it was during those days
that he gathered up materials
and hid them away in his heart,
destined to mould them into
marvels of beauty in the calm
of his riper years. From the
pages of his volume, “On the
Old Plantation,” may be glean
ed a delightful account of his
boyhood, but it is somewhat
difficult to determine with ac
curacy the dividing line be
tween fancy and fact. Never
.less enough is discernible to
give a conception of the trend
of the truth and, according to
this semi-authentic narration,
the story runs along in a play
ful vein, somewhat after the
following style:
Some ten miles from Eaton
ton, there lived a wealthy
planter by the name of Turner.
Being a somewhat teccentric
character, he determined to es
tablish and maintain a popular
rural paper. Tn the initial
number of The Countryman,
than the rubbish of theories and rules. Thoroughly
permeated with the active principles of Goldsmith,
Shakespeare and Brown, the youth, untrammeled by
the axioms of the critics, drew his own conclusions,
found his own ideals, and felt and spoke in his
own quaint way.
Thus breathing the atmosphere of books and liv
ing very close to the heart of nature, the little
free-lance began to contribute anonymous articles
to the columns of The Countryman. Though puer
ile and (‘rude, at first, they were racy and original
in character, and soon attracted the attention and
comment of the amiable and capable editor. En
couraged by the kindly criticisms of his chief, he
dipped more boldly into letters, attempted themes
of a loftier type, and succeeded in convincing
hotli himself and his friends that he might yet
triumph in the role of a writer.
But his literary achievements on the staff of The
Countryman were of slighter significance than the
knowledge he acquired of the legendary lore of
Dixie during those tranquil days. The Turner plan
tation was spacious and fertile', and dotted with
the quarters of swarms of slaves. In the calm of
the twilight, when weary of books, the silent lit
tle printer would steal away to the hut of a white
haired serf, and listen with rapture to the marvel
ous adventures of old Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and
Brer Bear and the other folk of the forest, lie nev
er grew tired of these thrilling stories as they came
from the lips of the credulous slaves; and he al
ways remembered the finds of the fable and the
speecu of the raconteur—all unconscious at the
time, no doubt, but laying up treasures for the
future.
Such were the years of his youth out on the
old plantation; and such mi lit have been tl.e
story of his manhood, had the tides of war rolled
by; bin even the hush of these sylvan haunts* was
brokt'n by the Boys in Bine; for Siu I .man plunder
ed the Turner place on his ruthless march to the
sea.
With the passing of the army practically ended
the brilliant career of The Countryman, and with
its suspension suddenly began the printer’s darkest
days. Thrifty and skillful, he found no trouble
in procuring another place; hut he passed the
next, few uneventful yeais shifting from city to
city. For a while he worked in Hit' office of The
Macon Daily Telegraph, then went to New Oilcans,
and became the secretary of the editor of The
Crescent Monthly. In the latter city he contribut
ed freely to the columns of the local papers, but
finally growing weary of the Cieole capital, he re
turned to his native State, and assumed the role
of editor-in-chief of The Forsyth Advertiser. In
this capacity, he attracted attention throughout
the commonwealth, for he touched up the topics
of local interest with a felicitous ami fearless pen.
Pleased with his pungent paragiaphs in the pages
of (he Advertiser William T. Thompson, of the Sa
vannah Daily News, engaged him in IS7I as a mem
ber of the editorial staff of his journal, retaining
him in this capacity till IS7G. During this interval
of live or six years Mr. Harris devoted himself as
siduously to the duties of a practical journalist, and
steadily extended his reputation throughout the
newspaper circles of the State.
While his spicy editorials were brightening the
columns of the Savannah Daily News, the dialect
pieces of Samuel W. Small were increasing the
interest in the Atlanta Constitution, and causing its
circulation to sweep far beyond the limits of the
State. In IS7G Mr. Small withdrew from the staff
of the Constitution, and the management of the
paper immediately invited Mr. Harris to accept
his place. Pleased with the promotion and anxious
to escape the terrors of the yellow fever, the suc
cessful young journalist straightway assumed the
duties of a department editor, and remained a mem
ber of the staff of the Constitution for an interval
of twenty-five years.
Prior to his coming to Atlanta, he seems to have
had no aspirations beyond the borders of practical
journalism; but the literary spirit of the paper soon
possessed him heart and soul, ami almost before he
was aware of it himself, he had thrilled two conti-
(Continued on page 5.)
3

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