Georgia Scenes

When Georgia Scenes came from an Augusta, Georgia press in 1835, the literary world realized (to varying degrees) that here was a new kind of book. It took a discerning critic like Edgar Allan Poe to recognize so immediately that its “verisimilitude” was an outstanding trait. What was so radically new about the work was its author’s intention not to pretty life up. He would view the world and human nature head-on without idealization or sentimentality. Neither would he sensationalize experience by- dwelling overmuch on life’s grim, violent, or bizarre aspects. To do so would be yet another form of distortion equally false as idealization; though when he encountered these unattractive truths of life, he would certainly not ignore or diminish them. Furthermore, he would choose his human subjects as he found them. And for the most part, he encountered “plain people”—the yeoman farmer, the dwellers in small towns and rural commu­nities, the simple folk satisfied to be let alone to live their “com­monplace” lives. His canvas would also include members of an “upwardly mobile” middle class intent on making its way in the world; the manly gatherings for the hunt, horse race, gander pulling, or shooting match; the participants in a rural frolic; the more sophisticated devotees of parlor gatherings for cotillions and musical entertainments. His work would be set solidly on Georgia soil; and Georgia scenery (both natural and man-made) would be easily discernible as Georgian. No detail w-ould be too insignificant to chronicle in presenting this slice of life. For exam­ple, when we encounter a picture of a Georgia log cabin with mud-daubed log chimney, then we must know that such is as close to a photograph thereof as we will ever see. When the rules by which a shooting match is carried on are set forth by a charac­ter, then we can assume that this is precisely the way it was done; and make no mistake! Longstreet’s ear was particularly keen; and his realistic dialogue rich with carefully rendered Georgia dialect (as Poe noted) is an especial strength. His different characters speak differently, as they indeed must have in real life. The fact that Longstreet so often takes time to note a particular localism (for example, that the word “rotation” in middle Georgia dialect means “fight”) should impress on the reader the particularity with which he draws his picture, and the extreme care he lavishes on the specificity of his canvas. To expand the art figure: his writing is thus akin to the masterpieces of the Dutch genre painters.

As strong and important as are all these points of verisimili­tude, the most striking realism (and indeed most difficult to achieve) comes in making believable characters, so true to human nature that we know them immediately as being of our own experience. He shows that man is capable of loyalty, honesty, kindness, modesty, and sensitivity, but just as likely to have propensities (usually just kept barely under control) for violence, cruelty, and extreme vanity and selfishness. Man can at times be intelligent, even wise, but just as often pig-headed, silly, short­sighted, and obtuse. He can discern or fail to discern the value of the world around him or the qualities of the people nearest him. His priorities can be admirably placed or stupidly mistaken. In essence, Longstreet, many decades before the “official” school of literary Realism in the late Nineteenth Century, had created Real­istic fiction far closer to the stated aims of that school than many of its accepted authors. For unlike, for example, Stephen Crane, Longstreet did not have to over-react to the excesses of Romantic idealization by overemphasizing the grim aspects of life. He in­stead strikes a healthy balance between human nature’s higher and lower motives and thus presents us with a truer Realism.

It is somewhat puzzling that the scholarly world has taken over a century and a half to begin to appreciate the value of GeorgiaScenes—or of Longstreet as the founder and first practitioner of the school of Realism in America. As some intelligent recent criticism has begun to reveal, “in 1835 Longstreet was a rather lonely pioneer of literary realism, one whose accomplishment was not easy to measure, then—or, apparently since.” Well put! In 1835, Georgia Scenes was “at least as good a book of fiction as had yet been written in America.” It is “as ‘good’ a book as Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, published two years later” and “has as much art, imagination, perception, and insight as Haw­thorne’s early work.”1 If given its proper due, honestly and fairly, Georgia Scenes should stand at the beginning of our modern realistic literature, that strain of Realism that draws its long line through Clemens, James, Wharton, Dreiser, Anderson, Stein­beck, Hemingway, Cather, and Faulkner. If looked at in this way, Georgia Scenes may lay claim to being a (if not the) seminal work of our modern literature and, as such, one of the truly important works of its generation.

Longstreet himself was aware of what he was doing—not, of course, that he was founding a “school,” but that he was repre­senting life, or rather “recording” life (to use his own word) as he found it, giving readers of a future time the unvarnished record. The most telling proof of his artistic intention and purpose came in a letter of 1836:

The leading object of the Georgia Scenes, is to enable those who come after us, to see us precisely as we are. … I have often desired to see the Greeks and Romans, as they saw each other— To be present at their amusements—hear their wits and wags— enter their dwellings—see their tables—witness their paternal and maternal government—hear their children—look into their schools &c., &c. The time will come, perhaps, when the same desire will be felt to know all about us; and to gratify that desire, I am now writing.2

Longstreet continues that he initially intended writing only for a future generation of readers, that his scenes were to be left “with my children, to be handed down in the line of descendants, until time should give them an interest that would justify their publica­tion in a book.” What he had not foreseen was the immense popularity in Georgia of the individual scenes as they appeared in local newspapers, publications that were picked up and reprinted in papers throughout the entire state. Their reception as they greeted the public in 1833 and 1834 in the Milledgeville Southern Recorder and Augusta State Rights’ Sentinel surprised and “as­tonished” him not a little. It was this and strong encouragement from “persons from all quarters of the State” that led him to publish his book in 1835, rather than “hand it down” to his descendants. The great popularity of the newspaper appearances and then the quick sale of the little book itself demonstrate that beyond simply recording social history in realistic fashion, the scenes were making their way not from historical data’s interest to “a future generation” but “by their own merits” (as Longstreet put it)—that is, by their own merits as stories, artistically crafted and satisfying!}’ well-told,

Longstreet was an especially gifted storyteller in a region noted for this gift. As a raconteur, he already had an established reputa­tion far and wide in his sphere around his native Augusta even before he put pen to paper. He practiced many of these scenes on fireside family circles and in the homes of neighbors and friends long before they found their way into newspaper print. Hence, their vitality partly stems from their oral narrative base, polished and made more effective through retelling by a seasoned and mature storyteller, and of course partly too from the strong realistic dialogue that dominates them.

As for the customs, events, scenery, individuals, and sayings- and-doings themselves, Longstreet gathered them all firsthand. Many of the characters and events were themselves lifted directly from real life. Of “The Debating Society,” for example, Long­street wrote in 1836 that it is “as literally true, as the frailty of memory would allow it to be.”3 The school setting (designated as “W—n” in the book) is Willington Academy, Abbeville District, South Carolina, the school that Longstreet himself attended as a youth. McDermot, he writes, is George McDuffie, “present” governor of South Carolina; Longworth is the author himself; Pentigall he identifies as Robert Pettigrew “now” of Savannah; Craig is John Creagh of Alabama. In “Native Georgian” and “A Sage Conversation,” Ned Brace is drawn after twro old friends, Dred Pace and Edmund Bacon. Longstreet continues that the events and details of “The Wax-Works” and “The Fox-Hunt” are “nearly literally true” as they happened and are given “even without coloring.” All the other sketches, too, “are founded in truth.” A critic had questioned certain details of “The Song”; but Longstreet answers him with a firm defense of its realism in a telling statement. To the accusation that the chapter was “over­drawn,” he replies with a resounding “Not so. Though your opinion is perfectly natural; seeing that we do not often meet with its original in real life. I have seen it in Georgia, as fifty more will testify.” His veracity as a realist is on “trial” here; and he will marshal his “fifty” witnesses to his honesty in good lawyer fash­ion. He had seen the events himself. Therefore, they are true. He gives his word. That this defense meant so much to the author is yet another clear indication of his artistic credo and of what he valued as an artist.

By the time he wrote the scenes, he was already a very well- rounded man of varied experience—lawyer, politician, news­paper editor, farmer, author, husband and father, and gentleman; His position as circuit judge (from 1822 to 1825 of the Ocmulgee Circuit) brought him into intimate contact with rural Georgia. His upbringing in Augusta, a thriving well-established town by the year of his birth in 1795, also showed him the town side of Southern life. Further, he was quite a “rough” and “rounder” as a youth, and as one of his biographers puts it, w*as “uneducable” and “ran wild,” rebelling against the regimen of his academy in Augusta, which he later termed his “hated penitentiary”—then turning bully at Gum Tree Academy in Edgefield District, South Carolina. Linder the tutelage of Moses Waddel at Willington (from 1808 to 1811), he settled down, became a good student, and went on to graduate from Yale in 1813, then from law school in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was admitted to the bar in 1815, then married in 1817. He served in the Georgia General Assembly in 1821, and returned to politics again in 1824 and 1832. In 1834, in the midst of writing his scenes, he founded the Augusta State Rights’ Sentinel, a paper espousing his conservative, consti­tutional, states’ rights beliefs. At Willington he had roomed with William Calhoun, brother of the illustrious states’ rights leader from Abbeville District, South Carolina. In fact Longstreet fol­lowed John C. Calhoun to Yale. (His parents and Calhoun had been acquainted long before.) Thus Longstreet had both book­learning—in literature, law, and political philosophy—and a fund of rich, “real-life” experience from which to draw when he put pen to paper. No rigid specialist or “professional” in the modern acceptation of the term, he knew fully the world he was describing in the best sense possible—from first-hand experience, yet viewed all from the perspective of some intellectual distance, of seasoned maturity (he was forty when his book came from the press), and of a fully-developed value system based on the sus­taining virtues of Western civilization. A mark of the strength of his Southern world was that it still allowed, in fact encouraged and properly valued, such broadness.

If literary critics had only paid more attention to what Long­street himself said in his preface to his book and taken him at his word, then the intent of Georgia Scenes would be far clearer to us today. Here, in his preface, as in the above-quoted letter of 1836, he said that his art consists of “nothing more” than “combina­tions of real incidents and characters.” He continues speaking about the verisimilitude of close detail: “The reader will find in the object of the sketches an apology for the minuteness of detail into which some of them run, and for the introduction of some things into them which would have been excluded w’ere they merely the creations of fancy.” (After the tedious excesses of Realism committed by Howells and Dreiser, including items on a long grocery list, Longstreet need not have worried about his comparatively innocent amassing of detail to create the effect of the concreteness of life.) About the language, his preface states: “it is language accommodated to the capacity of the person … speaking.” In other w’ords, the author tells us clearly that this will be a book of real life, taken from the real life—written from close observation of character—and that “mere fancy” will enter into it only in the process of combining the realities. The importance of his adjective “mere” should not be lost on the reader. What clearer statement of Realistic purpose can one demand, especially when followed by a book that even more clearly puts Realistic theory into practice. It is not sufficient to call Georgia Scenes the precursor of “local color” writing (as some have done)4 or the seminal book of Southern humor that generated writers like T. B. Thorpe, W. T. Thompson, G. W. Harris, and Johnson Jones Hooper (as most acknowledge). Both of these are obviously true and no mean contribution. However, the volume, as shown, exceeds both these pioneering accomplishments in standing as the foundation of Realistic literature in America. Criticism by James B. Meriwether and J. R. Scafidel has pointed the way to this truth; and hopefully now the literary histories yet to be written will take sufficient note.

Beyond its relevance to the development of literature in Amer­ica, Georgia Scenes accomplishes an equally great feat: the great­est strength of the volume lies in its treatment of the universals of character and motive. I know no writer who better portrays the values of rural people with greater understanding, especially their frankness, independence, straightforwardness, modesty, and loy­alty. The country youths of the volume, in particular, seem very real. They are not desensitized by too much pushing and shoving, of clawing their way to the top among a clutter and crush of too many people. They view social climbing as conceited and silly. They have spirit and vitality, take pride in themselves, and relish life. Longstreet does not sentimentalize his “good country peo­ple” however. They can be hard-headed, violent, and uncom­prehending. Longstreet’s is no idyllic rural realm, but a place of vices and virtues realistically considered. The crude often stand very close to the ennobling.

The host of memorable characters must include Ransy Sniffle of “The Fight”—the dirt-eater who feeds “copiously on red clay and blackberries” and weighs 95 pounds—in blackberry season; Sniffle, the fomenter of fights between strong men because he himself is not and is incapable thereof, but who can thereby experience the sensation vicariously by watching. Such a list must also include the marksman Billy Curlew in “The Shooting- Match,” the histrionic plowboy of “Georgia Theatrics,” Ned Brace in “Native Georgian,” the schoolmaster in “The Turn Out,” Miss Aurelia Emma Theodosia Augusta Crump in “The Song,” Mrs. Julia Slang in “The Mother and her Child,” and Mrs. Barney, Mrs. Shad, and Mrs. Reed in “A Sage Conversation”—not to mention the host of animals that have individualized personalities more real than the people of the fiction of many of Longstreet’s contemporaries in America. These include horses like Bullet, Kit, Sally Spitfire, or Smooth-tooth, or the ill-fated gander in “The Gander Pulling.”

Yet the greatest achievement in character portrayal comes in the two narrators Lyman Hall and Abram Baldwin. These two men tell eighteen of the nineteen stories.5 In unfolding their first person narratives, they reveal their own characters. This revela­tion is subtle and has often been overlooked; but again Longstreet has pointed the way to an active and intelligent reading in his preface when he says 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.” Thus, from the outset, before the reader encounters the two narrators, he has been told that Hall and Baldwin are distinctly different, that Hall moves in a man’s world and Baldwin in a woman’s. In his simple, under­stated way, Longstreet has given us an important due for active reading.

On the surface, the two men have a great deal in common. They in fact appear to be very much alike. What wonder then that they are old friends and at one point are even described as “room­mates.” They belong to the same circles, have common friends like Ned Brace, and appear in several sketches together. The two even tell “The Turf” in unison as a “we” narrative. Both are bookish, quote poems, and make allusions to authors as various as Shakespeare, Horace, Dante, Somerville, and Racine. On occa­sion, both use stilted, bookish language. They are both “profes­sionals”; Hall is a lawyer and Baldwin is often out “on business,” though we never learn what the business is. Both have town backgrounds, dress well, have manners that are considered more “civilized” than the usual. Their dress, language, bearing, equi­page, and manners are immediately recognized by the rural folks as distinctly different from their own. They are both almost always “outsiders” in their stories—even when they are in urban, “civilized” settings. And they are always “travelling,” “on the road,” “on a visit,” “in a remote part of one of the countries,” away at school, “called by business to one of the frontier coun­ties,” on a trip to Savannah, a guest at a party, invited on a fox­hunt, etc. In fact, of the eighteen Georgia scenes they narrate, fifteen are told in a “strange” setting and among strangers. As travelling outsiders, they are in a sense “accidental tourists” who observe or eavesdrop upon lives that are not connected with their own. They are both single and make no mention of any close family ties. Both men are intellectuals. Both have a similar interest in social history and tend to a moralizing, “prudish” attitude toward life. Hall decries drinking and gambling; Baldwin dislikes waltzes and the new dances because he deems them prurient, etc.; but of the two, Baldwin appears the more prudish of the pair. Hall is not above making a racy pun; Baldwin would never think of it.

However, as James Meriwether has pointed out, the differences between the two men are the crucial elements of their characters. He writes:

Both like music; but Baldwin describes himself as “extrava­gantly fond” of it, and Miss Crump’s pianistic and vocal vil­lainies drive him out of the house, while Hall is still able to endure them. Hall is less sensitive, more stable emotionally than Baldwin. . . . Baldwin is the more moody and emotional; at one point Hall asks a singer for a “lively air” to cheer up his friend, who had been strongly affected by a pathetic song. Early in the book Baldwin reveals a better sense of humor than does Hall; but his sensitivity leads him toward misanthropy, and fre­quently he is too easily discouraged and cast down … In his last sketch Baldwin is reduced to being a passive observer and hearer of the conversation among three “aged matrons” .. . [and] makes his exit from the book on a note of futility and passivity.6

Indeed, at the beginning of his last story, Baldwin comments that he “lovejs] the aged matrons of our land.” Although he is often in the social company of younger women, he more often than not has disparaging comments to make about them. In the longest of his narratives (“The Charming Creature as Wife”), one flighty, spoiled young lady in particular becomes the villain of the piece by causing her intelligent, promising (but innocent and naive) young husband to drink himself to death. Other women in his gallery are a silly, doting mother who is very cruel to her maid (Mrs. Slang in “The Mother and her Child”), an ear-torturing harpy (in “The Son”), and what seems to him a fickle, insensitive old girl friend (in “The Dance”). Miss Crump he images as Hecate, a “female flying through the air towards the city” pre­sumably on a broomstick. “A Sage Conversation” places him where he is most comfortable—in the company of motherly “old matron” rural gossips, with whom he shares a good many affini­ties. Unlike Hall, as Longstreet had told us in his preface, he is not often in a man’s world—and is never seen in action. Instead, he w’axes in turn either nostalgic, sentimental, and romantic or crabby, cynical, and prudishly critical.

The primary uncharted theme of Georgia Scenes—beyond de­picting the externals of Georgia life realistically and closely—is the consideration of the “civilizing” process … that discipline which can improve society but also result in the alienation of the individual. Being “civilized” can lead to an acute consciousness and abstraction that robs the abstracter of vitality and leaves him passive and without hope. Narrator Baldwin is just such a man: too analytical, too distantly observing, too super-conscious to enter into life himself. In Hall and Baldwin, we have two such similar “civilized” characters that start out on roughly the same footing. In the process of the book, we see how one is able to enter life, and how one is shut from it. Georgia Scenes shows the active reader quite clearly the reasons for the difference, why, in this respect, one succeeds and one fails. Hall is able to enter into life (and in effect have an active life of his own) because he is accept­ing of the now’ (Baldwin can only look to the past and decry the present) and because he is open to possibilities, is more flexible, more tolerant, less impersonal, more spontaneous, capable of getting excited and not ashamed to show it. In sum. Hall is not the overly critical cold fish that is Baldwin.

Baldwin thus belongs more to the past century’s “Age of Rea­son” mentality, is too stiff and formal, far less resilient, too scientifically detached. He responds to abstractions, analysis, and to Art rather than to the “real thing.” He is resigned to failure. At times, he is moody, cynical, morbid, gloomy. He lacks will. Hall tells twelve stories, Baldwin six. Even the one store’ that the pair narrate together is seen into print and signed by Hall. Baldwin becomes the disembodied intellectual, enervated, misogynist, misanthropic, robbed of the will to do. He is essentially isolated and passes from the scene as an eavesdropper upon the conversa­tions of elderly matrons in a strange house. He thus leaves the book wfith something close to a whimper—now the genuine accidental tourist indeed with no life of his own.

It is obvious to all that he is lacking in essential manly “grit.” We have been prepared for such an anticlimactic departure from the book, for in “The Song,” having to hear songs badly per­formed was sufficient to run him away from the company to soothe his agitated nerves in solitude with “sixty drops of laudanum”; and later at the conclusion of the same story (after being told the party began singing hated Italian songs after he fled) he is said to “swoon” and “hear no more.” In the world of Georgia Scenes, not even women “swoon”—even for good rea­sons. For this is a cliche and an artificial convention hardly ever dreamed of in Longstreet’s Realistic world.

Appropriately, it is Hall that has the last word in this book. In the volume’s final chapter, he narrates his adventure at the shoot­ing match. Here, Hall too is a traveller, as he had been in the first chapter of the book; but this time he is invited by a stranger to travel along with him. And on this occasion, he accepts rather than confronting, affronting, and embarrassing the young stranger whom he chanced to meet in chapter one. “The Shooting-Match” ends with the locals accepting Hall wholeheart­edly and extending him an oath of loyalty and brotherhood. Hall properly appreciates the gesture and realizes the magnitude of its import. Unlike chapter one, this final episode on the road has drawn Hall into the circle of community; and even though the strangers realize that his fancy dress, “flowery” educated lan­guage, and manners distance him from them in some superficial respects, they find common ground. There is absolutely no class “struggle” or resentment because these “simple” men have the dignity of possessing values in common with the “high and mighty of the land,”—the same values that matter more than the trappings of wealth, power, and fame. It is thus finally these shared values that bond them and bind the community into an organic whole. From this common ground, the one “class” can regard the other with genuine respect across their superficial “barriers.” It has been Hall’s attitude of openness, acceptance, modesty, and good faith that have helped draw him in and seal this bond, although it is dear that the countryman has made the first move and extended his hand—as is proper of a host to a stranger. Yet it is equally clear that Hall’s consciously receptive attitude and demeanor encouraged the gesture. Complex? Yes indeed, as such interchanges are in real life. In Georgia Scenes, there are several pictures like this, of a community striving to adhere and strengthen itself against modern fragmentation and dead-end divisiveness, enervation, futility, and sterility. It is Bald­win’s world that leads to wastelands and hollow men, not the genuine manners and simple folkways of the countryside—or of educated men like Hall who can appreciate them.

Hall, though they may be new to him, is game for the races, fox hunts, “going the extra mile” of initiating friendships, accepting invitations to shooting matches, etc. Unlike Baldwin, he does not hold himself aloof from the world and reject the proffered sacra­ment of communal fellowship. He has come a long way from being the self-righteous champion of the law, inveighing against an imagined eye-gouger in chapter one. Even here in this initial scene, however, he had done so out of ignorance, zeal, and pas­sion and had acted spontaneously rather than with intellectual coldness and calculation.

Baldwin, on the other hand, does nothing without calculation and does not change in the book, except perhaps for the worse—his temperamental coldness settling in and his will to do failing even more completely. He stands even further on the outside of life at book’s end and is reduced to abstraction, voyeurism, and eavesdropping, while life goes on without him. As such, Baldwin is an incipient Bartleby the Scrivener. At the same time, he looks forward to the extreme isolation and acute sensitivity of Roderick Usher, the intellectual coldness of Ethan Brand, Rappacini, and Chillingworth, and perhaps even the futility, insecurity, and disembodied intellectualism of a Prufrock, Ike McCaslin, or Quentin Compson. Whatever his “profession,” it is clear that Baldwin is a writer, perhaps a largely unpublished one, but a writer nonetheless. We know’ this from two places in the text. In “The Turf,” feeling (rightly) that action-scenes are not his forte, he requests Hall to attend the races to help him record the event. The reason he is going is not the excitement of the race, or the fellowship with either Hall or the community— but instead “to acquire a knowledge . . . with the hope of turn­ing the knowledge thus acquired to some good account.” Hall, be it noted, goes along to help Baldwin, as a gesture of friend­ship, because Baldwin had requested him to, and ironically ends up being the one to write the sketch. This should not surprise the reader, for by now we know’ Baldwin as a muser and thinker, not a doer. By contrast, Hall goes fox hunting for the first time and relishes the activity itself. He is exhilarated by the chase and can’t come down off his emotional high. The experi­ence is enough for him; recording it would be no more impor­tant than the event itself. Baldwin only studies life and human nature like a scientist to, as he says, “turn the knowledge to some good account.” He views people as specimens to be dis­sected with clinical coldness and objectivity. He makes his de­ductions from the amassed data like the good Neoclassical man that he is. As such a distant recorder of humankind, he is “intelligent,” but not so wise. In “A Sage Conversation,” he reveals that he “records conversations . . . taken down” for the future reader “forlorn as may be the hope that their main object will ever be answered”—that is, of his writing ever being read, much less appreciated. Baldwin is such an insecure writer, such a defeatist! With an attitude such as this, it is no wonder that he pens half as many sketches as Hall.

Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that the one author whom Baldwin describes to us at length is the Scots poet Tannahill, whose rejection by a publisher and general lack of appreciation from the public caused the sensitive man to lose his mind and die (from suicide?} at the “scene of one of his earliest songs.” True to form, Baldwin comments that sadly, Tannahill destroyed his best manuscripts with him. W’hile this is indeed sad, perhaps his death was finally a sadder event, but not to Baldwin, who, as we have seen, values Art over life. It is the singing of Tannahill’s gloomy poem on winter that drives Baldwin to tears. Might he not fancy seeing himself in Tannahill’s story?

“The Fox-Hunt” is the chapter that show’s in miniature Hall’s progress throughout the entire book. Here, Hall begins by quot­ing two rather tedious pages of poetry by Somerville on the subject of the fox hunt. Past this inauspicious beginning, we progress to the invitation for Hall to experience a fox hunt for himself. Even though this is his first hunt among experienced veteran hunters, and he has no proper horse but dignified, sedate old Smooth-tooth, he agrees to give it a try. As usual, Hall is game, is open to life and its possibilities, even while knowing clearly w’hat a foolish figure he will present by riding a slow old horse on a rollicking chase. To his credit, he is not satisfied with the book “experience” or the effete “poetic” beginning; he gives the real thing a try. Not judging art to be an end in itself, he goes on to participate in life itself. Notice the reversed order of priori­ties. Baldwin participates in the horse race to get art out of it. Hall reads a poem about a hunt and then goes on to experience one for himself, thus placing life over art as the end result. Though Hall is nervous and justifiably insecure about his greenhorn position among seasoned hunters, and though while riding on the hunt he gets lashed in the face by branches and nearly hanged by a grapevine, he gives it his best—and even more, the result is that he enjoys it immensely. Perhaps as his most important achieve­ment in the story, he is accepted by the “locals,” the circle of stranger-hunters among whom he now makes a part.

For Hall, “The Shooting-Match” is thus a repetition of the progress of “The Fox-Hunt.” In this last chapter, Hall again accepts an invitation—is open to possibilities—is game. Though he is thrown into competition with the best marksmen of the area, though he is made to shoot a heavy, strange, peculiar gun the likes of which he has never seen, he still is up for the shot. He gives it a go once again; and the end result is success—measured most importantly once again in acceptance by his fellow shooters. Here the strangers pledge their loyalty and brotherhood. It is a very telling commentary on their hospitality, but even more so on Hall’s attitude of desiring to belong and enter the marrow of life. The outsider thus accepts the invitation; and after playing by the rules of the actual physical game and of the even more compli­cated, delicate, and important social game of manners, he in turn is once again accepted into the circle. His attitude has been the key. The people who witness it don’t need books to be very wise indeed in judging the ways of people.

A far different future from Baldwin’s awaits Hall. Abram Bald­win is likely to meet the fate of his namesake .Abraham Baldwin(1754—1807), educator, a founder of the University of Georgia, the quintessential Yale “academic,” who died very much alone, clinging only to a surrogate family. The real-life Lyman Hall (1724—1790) was courteous, dignified, mild, calm of temper. He supported both education and farming. A patriot and an effective and stalwart political figure of Georgia during the Revolution, a virtuous, forceful, diligent governor of the state, he died on his plantation, celebrated and a patriarch to his people, the virtual symbol of a sterling sense of duty and manhood.8 Such is the prediction for our fictional Lyman Hall. Of such character traits as his are made the founders of Republics and the men who are to keep their principles in vigor.

While Baldwin watches from the periphery, Hall plunges in- doing, not just cogitating (going somewhat reluctantly at times, but entering life just the same). Hall is not satisfied with being just a “recorder” of Georgia scenes, but takes a (actually tfie) central role in the book. We are given ample notice that this would hap­pen from the many times he has accepted the various challenges

and invitations life offered him. Indeed, he has made much prog­ress since his rejection (and his being rejected) in chapter one. Thus, to reiterate, a major theme of Georgia Scenes is of the “civilized”-artist-intellectual-bookish man coming to grips with the world his flesh and blood self must live in, accept, and make his peace with—and, further, what the central attitudes are that allow this success, and, by extension, of the contrasting attitudes that lead on to failure. In essence, then, Baldwin exists in the volume primarily as a character foil to Hall, who is the true center and focus of the book. It would have been simpler for Longstreet to have used only one narrator; but wise artist that he was, he knew clearly what he was about in casting his work in this double narra­tive form. Georgia Scenes is a far richer, far more sophisticated, far greater book than most of us have ever imagined. It is time it re­ceived its due as the legitimate precursor of modern realistic fiction in America. As critic Meriwether points out, how’ appropriate that Longstreet lies buried in St, Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford, Missis­sippi, only a short distance from Faulkner, his greatest literary heir. Athens, Georgia                                                                                

  1. Respectively, James Meriwether, “Longstreet: Realist and Artist,” Missis­sippi Quarterly, Tall 1982), 363; and James Cox, “Humor and America,” Sewanee Review (October-December 1975), 588.
  2. Scafidei, ed. The Letters of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, (diss. Univer­sity7 of South Carolina, 1977), pp. 99-100.
  3. Ibid, p. 98.
  4. Most notably, Kimball King, “Augustus Baldwin Longstreet,” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Joel Myerson, Vol. 3 (Detroit, 1979), p. 204.
  5. The one story they do not tell is “The Militia Company Drill” by “Timothy Crabshaw,” pen-name of friend Oliver Hillhouse Prince of Athens, Georgia. Longstreet apparently felt this sketch was sufficiently in the spirit and of the purpose of Georgia Scenes to include it.
  6. Meriwether, p. 359.
  7. In writing of the real-life Abraham Baldwin, Longstreet also shortened his Christian name to “Abram.” See Scafidei, ed. Letters, 131 (letter of 26 November 1841).
  8. Longstreet himself paid tribute to Hall in a letter of 25 June 1834: “May the County which is honoured with his name, never dishonor his principles” (Letters, 37).

About James Everett Kibler

James Everett Kibler is a novelist, poet, and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Georgia, where he teaches popular courses in Southern literature, examining such figures as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Wendell Berry, and Larry Brown. Born and raised in upcountry South Carolina, Kibler spends much of his spare time tending to the renovation of an 1804 plantation home and the reforestation of the surrounding acreage. This home served as the subject of his first book, Our Fathers’ Fields: A Southern Story, for which he was awarded the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Writers Award for Nonfiction in 1999 and the Southern Heritage Society’s Award for Literary Achievement. More from James Everett Kibler

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