THE HOOSIER SCHOOLMASTER
A Story of Backwoods Life in Indiana
with an introduction and Notes on the District by the Author,
With Character Sketches by
and other Illustrations by
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
AS A PEBBLE CAST UPON A GREAT
CAIRN, THIS EDITION IS INSCRIBED TO THE
MEMORY OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL,
WHOSE CORDIAL ENCOURAGEMENT TO MY
EARLY STUDIES OF AMERICAN DIALECT IS
PREFACE TO THE LIBRARY EDITION.
BEING THE HISTORY OF A STORY.
"THE HOOSIER SCHOOL-MASTER" was written and printed in the autumn of 1871. It is therefore now about twenty-one years old, and the publishers propose to mark its coming of age by issuing a library edition. I avail myself of the occasion to make some needed revisions, and to preface the new edition with an account of the origin and adventures of the book. If I should seem to betray unbecoming pride in speaking of a story that has passed into several languages and maintained an undiminished popularity for more than a score of years, I count on receiving the indulgence commonly granted to paternal vanity when celebrating the majority of a first-born. With all its faults on its head, this little tale has become a classic, in the bookseller's sense at least; and a public that has shown so constant a partiality for it has a right to feel some curiosity regarding its history.
I persuade myself that additional extenuation for this biography of a book is to be found in the relation which "The Hoosier School-Master" happens to bear to the most significant movement in American literature in our generation. It is the file-leader of the procession of American dialect novels. Before the appearance of this story, the New England folk-speech had long been employed for various literary purposes, it is true; and after its use by Lowell, it had acquired a standing that made it the classic lingua rustica of the United States. Even Hoosiers and Southerners when put into print, as they sometimes were in rude burlesque stories, usually talked about "huskin' bees" and "apple-parin' bees" and used many other expressions foreign to their vernacular. American literature hardly touched the speech and life of the people outside of New England; in other words, it was provincial in the narrow sense.
I can hardly suppose that "The Hoosier School-Master" bore any causative relation to that broader provincial movement in our literature which now includes such remarkable productions as the writings of Mr. Cable, Mr. Harris, Mr. Page, Miss Murfree, Mr. Richard Malcom Johnson, Mr. Howe, Mr. Garland, some of Mrs. Burnett's stories and others quite worthy of inclusion in this list. The taking up of life in this regional way has made our literature really national by the only process possible. The Federal nation has at length manifested a consciousness of the continental diversity of its forms of life. The "great American novel," for which prophetic critics yearned so fondly twenty years ago, is appearing in sections. I may claim for this book the distinction, such as it is, of being the first of the dialect stories that depict a life quite beyond New England influence. Some of Mr. Bret Harte's brief and powerful tales had already foreshadowed this movement toward a larger rendering of our life. But the romantic character of Mr. Harte's delightful stories and the absence of anything that can justly be called dialect in them mark them as rather forerunners than beginners of the prevailing school. For some years after the appearance of the present novel, my own stories had to themselves the field of provincial realism (if, indeed, there be any such thing as realism) before there came the succession of fine productions which have made the last fourteen years notable.
Though it had often occurred to me to write something in the dialect now known as Hoosier—the folk-speech of the southern part of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois of forty years ago—I had postponed the attempt indefinitely, probably because the only literary use that had been made of the allied speech of the Southwest had been in the books of the primitive humorists of that region. I found it hard to dissociate in my own mind the dialect from the somewhat coarse boisterousness which seemed inseparable from it in the works of these rollicking writers. It chanced that in 1871 Taine's lectures on "Art in the Netherlands," or rather Mr. John Durand's translation of them, fell into my hands as a book for editorial review. These discourses are little else than an elucidation of the thesis that the artist of originality will work courageously with the materials he finds in his own environment. In Taine's view, all life has matter for the artist, if only he have eyes to see.
Many years previous to the time of which I am now speaking, while I was yet a young man, I had projected a lecture on the Hoosier folk-speech, and had even printed during the war a little political skit in that dialect in a St. Paul paper. So far as I know, nothing else had ever been printed in the Hoosier. Under the spur of Taine's argument, I now proceeded to write a short story wholly in the dialect spoken in my childhood by rustics on the north side of the Ohio River. This tale I called "The Hoosier School-Master." It consisted almost entirely of an autobiographical narration in dialect by Mirandy Means of the incidents that form the groundwork of the present story. I was the newly installed editor of a weekly journal, Hearth and Home, and I sent this little story in a new dialect to my printer. It chanced that one of the proprietors of the paper saw a part of it in proof. He urged me to take it back and make a longer story out of the materials, and he expressed great confidence in the success of such a story. Yielding to his suggestion, I began to write this novel from week to week as it appeared in the paper, and thus found myself involved in the career of a novelist, which had up to that time formed no part of my plan of life. In my inexperience I worked at a white-heat, completing the book in ten weeks. Long before these weeks of eager toil were over, it was a question among my friends whether the novel might not write finis to me before I should see the end of it.
The sole purpose I had in view at first was the resuscitation of the dead-and-alive newspaper of which I had ventured to take charge. One of the firm of publishers thought much less favorably of my story than his partner did. I was called into the private office and informed with some severity that my characters were too rough to be presentable in a paper so refined as ours. I confess they did seem somewhat too robust for a sheet so anæmic as Hearth and Home had been in the months just preceding. But when, the very next week after this protest was made, the circulation of the paper increased some thousands at a bound, my employer's critical estimate of the work underwent a rapid change—a change based on what seemed to him better than merely literary considerations. By the time the story closed, at the end of fourteen instalments, the subscription list had multiplied itself four or five fold. It is only fair to admit, however,