Authors: Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American short-story writer, humorist, and educator

September 22, 1790

Augusta, Georgia

July 9, 1870

Oxford, Mississippi

Biography

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet belonged to a New Jersey family that, late in the eighteenth century, had migrated to Augusta, Georgia, where he was born. Like his friend John C. Calhoun, he attended Yale and the Litchfield Law School in Connecticut. He practiced law and entered politics after his marriage in 1817 to Frances Eliza Parkes, of Greensboro, North Carolina. Georgia Scenes, his most famous work, appeared, under the pseudonym Timothy Crabshaw, in the Milledgeville Southern Recorder and in his newspaper, the Augusta State Rights Sentinel, which he founded in 1834 and edited until 1836. He endorsed Calhoun’s nullification doctrines and wrote fiercely in defense of slavery, appealing to scriptural warrant. He was a devout Methodist. After his ordination, he served as the president of Emory College, Oxford, Georgia (1839–1848), of Centenary College (1849), of the University of Mississippi (1849–1856), and of South Carolina College, later the University of South Carolina (1857). Although he welcomed secession, he was unprepared for the Civil War when it came; he appears to have been much chastened by the time it ended.

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

(Library of Congress)

Edgar Allan Poe, reviewing Georgia Scenes in the Southern Literary Messenger, praised its vigor and realism. Certainly the work, with its picturesque and humorous portrayal of the coarseness and starkness of the lives of poor southern whites in the eighteenth century, heralded a new era in American letters. Stories such as "Georgia Theatrics," "The Horse-Swap," and "The Fight" depicted a frontier setting of fights, duels, races, drunkenness, and gambling. The influence of this work is apparent in the strain of frontier humor that runs through the writings of Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

Author Works Short Fiction: Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, Etc. in the First Half Century of the Republic, 1835 (commonly known as Georgia Scenes) Long Fiction: Master William Mitten: Or, A Youth of Brilliant Talents Who Was Ruined by Bad Luck, 1864 Nonfiction: Letters on the Epistle of Paul to Philemon: Or, The Connection of Apostolic Christianity with Slavery, 1845 A Voice from the South, Comprising Letters from Georgia to Massachusetts, 1847; Letters from President Longstreet to the Know-Nothing Preachers of the Methodist Church South, 1855 Bibliography Blair, Walter. Native American Humor, 1800–1900. New York: American Book, 1931. This classic in American humor studies provides a general discussion of nineteenth century humorists, an extensive bibliography (which is outdated but useful in its listing of "Individual Writers of Native American Humor"), and more than one hundred selections from a wide range of authors. The chapter on "Humor of the Old Southwest" discusses Longstreet among his contemporaries. Brown, Carolyn S. The Tall Tale in American Folklore and Literature. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987. Brown traces the origins of the popular tale in both folklore and literature. Chapter 3, "Flush Times: Varieties of Written Tales," has an extended analysis of Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes. Brown does not oversimplify in her discussion of Longstreet’s sketches but rather explores the complexity of his work within the tall-tale tradition. Fitzgerald, Oscar Penn. Judge Longstreet: A Life Sketch. Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church, 1891. Bishop Fitzgerald’s biography covers Longstreet’s life and work in eloquent terms—and at times does little to dispel some of the reigning legends surrounding Longstreet. Exaggerations aside, this biography distinguishes itself by the inclusion of many letters to and from Longstreet, allowing a more personal glimpse into the life of a complex and talented man. King, Kimball. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. Boston: Twayne, 1984. King’s study provides an excellent general discussion of Longstreet’s life and work. Much of the book discusses Georgia Scenes, Longstreet’s major work of short fiction, and gives a wealth of background material on both the writing and subject matter of Georgia Scenes. The annotated list of secondary sources is a very useful component of this book. Rachels, David. "Oliver Hillhouse Prince, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, and the Birth of American Literary Realism." The Mississippi Quarterly 51 (Fall, 1998): 603–619. Shows that Longstreet published "The Militia Company Drill," a work by Prince, as his own; claims that because Prince did not receive recognition for the work, his role in the founding of American literary realism has been ignored. Romine, Scott. "Negotiating Community in Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes." Style 30 (Spring, 1996): 1–27. Argues that rather than simply asserting and justifying class privilege, Longstreet undertakes a complex negotiation of class roles. Lyman Hall, the primary narrator, initially demonstrates a socio-narrative style—that is, a social style reflected in narrative stylistics—that keeps the lower class at a social and moral distance; by the end of the text he is able to negotiate with the lower class a mutual perception of class roles. Wade, John Donald. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South. New York: Macmillan, 1924. This engaging biography of Longstreet, the result of Wade’s extensive research, tells about the life of a literary man whose interests and activities ranged far beyond that of writing humorous sketches. Wade refers not only to the Georgia Scenes but also to Longstreet’s career as a lawyer and judge, his religious and political interests, and his terms as president of several leading universities in the South. Wegmann, Jessica. "‘Playing in the Dark’ with Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes: Critical Reception and Reader Response to Treatments of Race and Gender." The Southern Literary Journal 30 (Fall, 1997): 13–26. Claims that Georgia Scenes advocates theories of a paternalistic, God-ordained slavery. In many of the stories in the text, an African American or a white woman attempts to exert authority and, using humor as a vehicle to trivialize, Longstreet subdues them, bringing them back under white patriarchal rule.

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