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Friday, April 4, 2014

Bret Harte

I've forgotten everything I ever knew about Mr. Bret Harte, the subject of the sketch in the header, so I looked him up on Wikipedia to revive my memory somewhat. I do remember reading The Outcasts of Poker Flat when I was in high school and enjoyed it, although my mind is telling me that I don't remember anything about the story other than I liked it. And we did have a fairly long look at his life and some of his writings besides the aforementioned story in our class taught by our "Socialist" teacher at the time. I call the teacher "Socialist" because of his ravings about Marx in the class and I didn't understand what he doth talk about until later. It has nothing to do with Mr. Harte. 

Harte was born in 1836 and moved to California in 1853 where he received experience in the mining and camping world while working as a miner, teacher, and journalist in the Humboldt Bay area and from which he later wrote his stories, including The Luck of Roaring Camp. Mister Harte married Anna Griswold in 1862 in San Rafael, California and must have had a miserable life with her because she "was impossible to live with" said Henry C. Merwin an early biographer.

In school, I never learned the extent of his writings, which are considerable according to the bibliography on Project Gutenberg, which lists about 65 publications, including his poem written for Charles Dickens, Dickens in Camp. I hereby furnish the first stanza or two below to give you a taste of his poetic ability, which Frederick S. Myrtle says "Bret Hart has been generally accepted as the one American writer who possessed above all others the faculty of what may be called heart appeal, the power to give to his work that quality of human interest which enables the writer and his writings to  lie in the memory of the reading public for all time." (From the foreward to the poem.)

     "Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting
              The river sang below;
       The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting
               Their minarets of snow.

       The roaring camp fire, with rude humor, painted
               The ruddy tints of health
       On haggard face and form that drooped and fainted
               In the fierce race for wealth;"

And there you have it, and my thanks to Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg. I will read further of the works as time goes by for inspiration for my own simple writings.              

10 comments:

  1. That poem really sets the scene and tells us a lot about the people.

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    1. It's a fine tribute to Charley, too.

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  2. I like that poem, Oscar. Poetry has been swirling around my reading habits for about a year now and I will have to search out more from this author. I haven't read Harte but I do remember Mark Twain's take on his work. Also from Wikipedia: "Writing in his autobiography four years after Harte's death, however, Mark Twain characterized him and his writing as insincere. Twain criticized the miners' dialect used by Harte, claiming it never existed outside of his imagination." Ouch!

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    1. David, I will never know what was in his mind, but maybe he used that particular dialect to irritate Mr. Twain or maybe he just made the dialect up, or maybe his hearing was bad, but he was a miner at one time.

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  3. Thanks for the cameo of Harte who was a voice of regional American writing in the 19th century, from that cultural outpost in San Francisco. He not only was a writer but nurtured other western writers who would have gone otherwise unheard in that era when NY was the cultural capital. "Outcasts" is really wasted on young readers. I remember missing the point of it until years after school.

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    1. Yes, communication between the coasts took a long time and the folks in the west didn't get much of a hearing in New York publishing circles, even the pulps were printed on cheap paper.

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  4. Yes, I know more about him once upon a time. Good quick re-introduction here.

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    1. Thanks, Charles. Unless you go looking for him, you don't usually find him.

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  5. I have really grown to love BH. Ironically it is more for later and in my opinion better crafted stories than the ones we read in school. The stories featuring Yuba Bill the stage driver and Jack hamlin the gambler, for instance, and classics like THE WIDOW OF SANTA ANA VALLEY come to mind, all from much later. People always criticise him as sentimental, but I think he can be very effective at times. Also, it must be admitted he created characters that, although they are now cliches [gambler, stage driver, frontier judge and lawyer, dreaming prospector] were virtually unknown to literature when he started.

    Pretty impressive accomplishments when you think about it.

    Good blog, amigo :)

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  6. Thank you, Albie, and I agree with your comment.

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