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Augustus Baldwin Longstreet
Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet's book of humorous sketches entitled Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c., in the First Half Century of the Republic, published in 1835, marks the beginning of the literary genre known as Southwestern Humor, which flourished in America from 1835 to 1861 and was practiced by such writers as George Washington Harris, Johnson Jones Hooper, Thomas Bangs Thorpe, Joseph Glover Baldwin, and Joseph Beckham Cobb. Set in what were then the southwestern states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri, Southwestern humor originated in the political and oral traditions of this growing region and consists of tales and sketches that are often violent, ribald, and masculine but which also depict some effort at realism and descriptions of the region which had not been attempted previously. Though the movement declined with the ending of the Southwest as a frontier and with the beginning of the Civil War, traits of Southwestern humor became hallmarks of late-nineteenth century realism and local color, particularly in the writings of Mark Twain.

Longstreet was born on September 22, 1790, in Augusta, Georgia. As a young man out of law school, Longstreet rode as a circuit lawyer in rural Georgia. During these trips Longstreet heard folk stories and experienced the back-country lifestyles that he came to record in Georgia Scenes. Longstreet served as a superior court judge and representative in the Georgia Assembly. Moved by the death of his eldest son, Longstreet pursued a career in the Methodist ministry. Longstreet went on to serve as president of four universities, including a newly founded Emory College from 1839 to 1848 and the University of Mississippi from 1849 to 1856. After resigning from Ole Miss because of political pressure, he lived briefly in Abbeville, Mississippi, before becoming president of the University of South Carolina in 1858.

When the Civil War began in 1861, he returned to Mississippi, where he supported the southern cause with his writings. His nephew, General James Longstreet, served as one of the South's principal military commanders, and his son-in-law, L.Q.C. Lamar, organized the 19th Mississippi volunteer regiment and saw action against Union General George McClellan in Virginia during the North's peninsula campaign of 1862. Longstreet lived the latter part of his life in Oxford, Mississippi, where he died on July 9, 1870. He was buried in St. Peter's Cemetery in Oxford.

In a review of Georgia Scenes in the Southern Literary Messenger (March 1836), Edgar Allan Poe called Longstreet "a clever fellow, imbued with a spirit of the truest humor, and endowed, moreover, with an exquisitely discriminative and penetrating understanding of character in general, and of Southern character in particular." Looking to the future promised by Longstreet's book, Poe called it "a sure omen of better days for the literature of the South."

Although Longstreet wrote two other works of fiction and numerous political tracts, he is best known for Georgia Scenes. The scenes were originally published in Georgia newspapers, mainly the States Rights Sentinel, which Longstreet owned and edited. The stories, which often come with a moral lesson, satirize all classes of characters in early nineteenth-century Georgia, and they carry an anti-Jacksonion Democracy agenda.

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Longstreet was one of the first chancellors of the University of Mississippi

Longstreet's grave
Longstreet is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery in Oxford, not far from the grave of his son-in-law, L.Q.C. Lamar; other writers buried in this cemetery include William Faulkner and his brother John.

Publications

Fiction:
  • Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, Etc. in the First Half Century of the Republic: By a Native Georgian. Augusta, Georgia: S.R. Sentinel Office, 1835.
  • Master William Mitten: Or, a Youth of Brilliant Talents Who Was Ruined by Bad Luck. Macon, Georgia: Burke, Boykin, and Company, 1864.
  • Stories with a Moral: Humorous and Descriptive of Southern Life a Century Ago Ed. Fitz R. Longstreet. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1912.

Nonfiction:
  • Letters on the Epistle of Paul to Philemon: Or, the Connection of Apostolical Christianity with Slavery. Charleston, South Carolina: B. Jenkins, 1845.
  • A Voice from the South: Comprising Letters from Georgia to Massachusetts, and to the Southern States: With an Appendix Containing an Article from the Charleston Mercury on the Wilmot Proviso. Baltimore: Western Continent Press, 1847.

Bibliography:

Books:
  • Inge, M. Thomas. The Frontier Humorists. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1975.
  • King, Kimball. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. Boston: Twayne, 1984.
  • Wade, John Donald. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South. New York: Macmillan, 1924. Edited with an Introduction and a Wade bibliography by M. Thomas Inge. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969.

Articles:
  • Beam, Patricia. "The Theme and Structure of Georgia Scenes." Journal of English 15 (September 1987): 68-79.
  • Ford, Thomas W. "Ned Brace of Georgia Scenes." Southern Folklore Quarterly 29 (1965): 220-227.
  • Pearson, Michael. "Rude Beginnings of the Comic Tradition in Georgia Literature." Journal of American Culture 11.3 (Fall 1988): 51-54.
  • Oriand, Michael. "Shifty in a New Country: Games in Southwest humor." The Southern Literary Journal 12.2 (1980): 3-28.
  • Romine, Scott. "Negotiating Community in Augustus Baldwin Longstreet's Georgia Scenes." Style 30.1 (1996): 1-25.
  • Snipes, Wilson. "The Humor of Longstreet's Persona Abram Baldwin in Georgia Scenes. Studies in American Humor 4.4 (Winter 1985-1986): 277-289.

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