Talking Book

A good day’s work


Hmm… It’s a peculiar task before me this week, reviewing a book (yet another book) about “befoah th’wah.” That in itself is nothing unusual—between Thomas Page and Joel Harris, it sometimes seems as if a law has been passed that no one can write about anything else. But stories about darkies by one of their own? Now that is a rara avis. How to start? Well, let’s see:

THE author of this collection of stories writes very well and makes interesting matter of his tales of negro superstition, astuteness and wit. Nevertheless to a Southern mind there is just the least suspicion of a false note in his delineations of negro character. There seems to be lacking that fullness of understanding which only those born and reared in dominance over this particular people can wholly possess.

Yes, that’s the right note. And I know our readers down here in Nashville know that this Yankee—even with his one drop, based on the lithograph inside the book’s cover—doesn’t know his “Negroes” like we know them (a rose by any other name…). But how to explain this “false note”? Let’s see…

And while the pictures here given are of interest, and the blending of old-time superstitions of hoodoos and conjure folk with the child-like shrewdness of the darkey in his practical views of life are well-done and readable, yet the study seems to show evidence of a knowledge that is carefully garnered, but not innate as that of the only perfectly satisfactory writers in this line have always been.

Yes, that’s it. The one “innate” drop is the fly in the buttermilk. One can’t master the mode of plantation writing without pure mastery within. Signed, sealed, delivered. And time for a cup of tea on the verandah to celebrate: LUCRETIA?! MY OOLONG IN TEN MINUTES OUT FRONT! DON’T FORGET THE SPLASH OF MILK.

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