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James Hall, Literary Pioneer of the Ohio Valley

James Hall, Literary Pioneer of the Ohio Valley

Copyright Date: 1941
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    James Hall, Literary Pioneer of the Ohio Valley
    Book Description:

    For generations the attention of students of American literature has been directed toward the Atlantic seaboard, but the rise of regional literature and the development of genuine artists in various parts of the United States has caused them to turn their scrutiny westward. High on the western horizon of the early 1800’s stands James Hall, a literary pioneer in the Ohio Valley, one of the minor literary figures whose influence on the artistic consciousness of the frontier was widely felt. Author, critic, journalist, editor, publisher, and historian -- few men have had more to do with the early cultural development of the Middle West. Every historian of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys is indebted to Hall for facts and details of life in America in the early nineteenth century. A circuit judge when there were only 55,000 people in all Illinois -- he had an unparalleled opportunity to observe the life and customs of the times. A publisher of the first literary magazine west of the Ohio when there were more Indians and horse thieves in the state than there were literate readers -- he had a virgin field for awakening the artistic, literary, even scientific, interest of the frontier. He organized the first State Historical Society of Illinois, was state treasurer, published two newspapers, welcomed Lafayette on his triumphal tour, edited the first literary annual in the West, awarded a prize to Harriet Beecher (Stowe) for her “New England Sketch,” published in his magazine. Moving to Cincinnati when it was at the peak of its sectional importance, an intellectual and cultural oasis on the frontier, Hall continued his sponsorship of education and culture. James Hall’s own published works were multitudinous in the fields of fiction, biography, poetry, criticism, history, and anthropology. His picture of the prairies in his day is still one of the best accounts ever written and his Indian Tribes of North America a monumental volume, but none of his works is of first-rate importance. Nevertheless, because of the tremendous variety of his activities and the breadth of his influence, he left his stamp upon the history and the literature of the region. Hall’s work is an honest, vigorous record of the path of the American pioneer in the days of the rapid growth and expansion of a new nation, and an understanding of his contribution is obligatory for every serious student of American literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3632-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    THE pioneer in American history was a man of many qualities. Uprooted economically, isolated socially, often dependent entirely on himself for food and clothing and shelter, he had to develop skills of all kinds to survive. For the pioneer, specialization as we know it today was incompatible with survival. When a man had to make his own ammunition, shoot his own game, skin and cure and cook his meat, seed and cultivate and reap and grind his grain, fell logs for his cabin and rive trees for his floor, and do a hundred other things as indispensable for human existence,...

  5. Ancestry, Birth, Youth
    (pp. 6-21)

    JAMES HALL was descended from the English and Scotch-Irish stock that had become well established in America by the end of the seventeenth century. Richard Hall, the first member of the family of whom there is record in this country, entered land rights for himself and his wife in Calvert County, Maryland, in 1663, later taking up about five thousand acres. He was elected to the provincial assembly in 1665. Both he and his wife were prominent members of the Society of Friends, but there is no indication that this Quaker affiliation was continued by their descendants. Richard Hall died...

  6. Down the Ohio
    (pp. 22-30)

    A YOUNG man in Pittsburgh in 1820 probably had many reasons for desiring to float downLa Belle Rivière. For that city was the gateway to the entire western country. Emigrants commonly came to Pittsburgh in wagons, on horseback, or even afoot, then transshipped their goods to keelboats or rafts and floated down the current of the Ohio. The wagons and cargoes of the pioneers often lined the banks of the Monongahela as the men waited for higher water to provide a safe passage. As Hall watched the passing stream of emigrants, there is no doubt that his thoughts turned...

  7. Lawyer and Journalist
    (pp. 31-44)

    HALL lost little time in establishing himself in Shawneetown. After all, he had a living to make and a profession by which to make it. TheIllinois Gazetteof July 29, 1820, announced to its readers that James Hall, attorney at law, Shawneetown, would “practise in the Counties lying upon the Ohio and Wabash, in this state.” By the winter of 1821 he had already become prominent enough to receive a political post, and he was named prosecuting attorney for ten counties in the neighborhood of Gallatin County. In this position he gained state-wide fame by prosecuting and winning the...

  8. Politician and Editor
    (pp. 45-62)

    IN THEIllinois Monthly Magazinefor January 1832 Hall described the settlement that was his home from 1827 until he left Illinois for Cincinnati. Vandalia, the county seat of Fayette County and at that time the state capital, had a population of about eight hundred. It had been laid out in the wilderness in 1819 by the official order of the state government. Located on the Kaskaskia River, which Hall claimed was navigable for six months of the year, Vandalia was an important commercial center in early Illinois. Hall observed that it was a healthful community, although as in all...

  9. Editor and Banker
    (pp. 63-85)

    SHORTLY before Hall removed from Vandalia to Cincinnati he wrote an account of the Queen City in which he traced the genesis of the settlement from 1788, pointed out its good fortune in becoming the depository of army supplies and later in being chosen as the site for a branch of the national bank, and sketched the commercial advantages of its location. In 1831, Hall declared, Cincinnati was conspicuous for the great number of its artisans and mechanics, carpenters being the most numerous. The population of the city was industrious and quiet. The Sabbath was honored. Only a few thieves...

  10. Romancer and Historian
    (pp. 86-102)

    JAMES HALL began his career as a western writer by composing travel letters.¹ He initiated this correspondence shortly after he left Pittsburgh in 1820 and used as his material the scenes and incidents of his westward trip. Written by a young man starting out on a tour of adventure, these letters were naturally enthusiastic and lively. Indeed, when Hall came to write a preface for the collected series, he was quick to disclaim any connected purpose or any underlying unity. “It will be seen that neither a history nor a book of travels is attempted, but a mere collection of...

  11. Hall as Literary Critic
    (pp. 103-123)

    THERE may be some injustice to James Hall in denominating him a literary critic. Certainly he never thought of himself in that light. He left behind him no work of literary criticism; he published no collection of interpretive or judicial essays; he even failed to bring together between two covers the scattered remarks about books and authors that appear in his periodical contributions. Nevertheless, there is some reason for classifying him as, at least on occasion, a literary critic.

    No editor of a journal that is devoted to literature and art and that publishes reviews can avoid acting as arbiter....

  12. Hall as Storyteller
    (pp. 124-151)

    THE most famous early writer of the West and the most distinguished early writer of western fiction — such is the praise accorded Hall by that careful student of Middle Western literary culture, Ralph Leslie Rusk. Side by side with this estimate may be set the verdict of Vernon Parrington, that militant champion of literary realism and Jacksonian democracy. To Parrington, Hall’s work, like that of Timothy Flint, was full of tawdry romantics and pleasantly idealized, if basically untrue, scenes. Hall’s initial interest in backwoods eccentricities and people was nullified by the romantic preferences of nineteenth-century readers. Parrington insisted that...

  13. Hall as Poet
    (pp. 152-158)

    AS A contributor to, and editor of, periodicals during much of his life Hall naturally tried his hand at verse as well as at prose. Yet there is little indication that he ever regarded poetry as more than a casual labor. He attempted no long narrative or dramatic poem, and he produced most of his short lyrics in the early part of his writing career. Scattered through the volumes of thePort Folioand the monthly magazines that he edited are a number of songs and lyric fragments, some of which approachvers de société, while others are mild anacreontics...

  14. Characteristic Ideas
    (pp. 159-191)

    THE reader of Hall’s historical and periodical work cannot fail to observe several recurrent ideas, ideas that were fundamental in the author’s thinking and that he reiterated constantly. As a kind of propagandist for the West he stressed the need of development and integration; he supported every movement that he felt would aid the unification of the section and raise its civilization to a higher plane. Convinced of the increasing importance of the West in national affairs, he spoke insistently in its support.

    But Hall was not blind to the imperfections of the new states, and much as he resented...

  15. Hall and the Critics
    (pp. 192-206)

    JAMES HALL was too partisan and forthright a writer for his work to find a consistently favorable reception. More than one critic challenged his interpretations or picked out artistic flaws. Yet, in the main, Hall’s numerous books were well received by his contemporaries. Critics assumed that his was an authentic western voice and welcomed his work. At a time when every traveler, missionary, soldier, Indian trader, and pioneer resident of the West penned his experiences or dictated them to some amanuensis, a great deal of rumor and misinformation was accepted as fact. Hall never pretended to extraordinary literary ability but...

  16. Bibliographical Comment
    (pp. 207-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-218)