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.
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