Je suis assez semblable aux giroucttes,
qui ne se fixent que quand elles sont
John Neal and a twin sister were born in Falmouth, now Portland, Maine, August 25, 1793. The grandparents and parents on both sides were Quakers. His father died when John was an infant, and John attended school only until he was twelve years of age, after which he educated himself. He clerked in a dry goods store, became an itinerant teacher of drawing and penmanship in the towns along the Kennebec River, and" clerked in various stores in Boston and New York. In Baltimore, he and the poet John Pierpont established a retail and a wholesale store and another wholesale store in Charleston. Successful at first, they failed in 1816, when Neal was only twenty-three. He took up the study of law and supported himself meanwhile by writing. His first publication was a book review in The Portico, which led to his engagement as a regular contributor. A few months thereafter he was also made editor of the Baltimore Telegraph and for it he wrote a daily column—and thus became the earliest columnist. His first novel, "Keep Cool," appeared in 1817, and in the same year he made an index of Niles' Weekly Register. The next year he published a book of poems and a tragedy, and was co-editor of a History of the American Revolution. In 1819 he was admitted to the bar. His second and third novels, "Logan" and "Seventy-six," were published in 1822. "Seventy-six" was written in twenty-seven days, and the two volumes of "Randolph," published a few months later, in less than thirty-six. The latter contained caustic sketches of various notables. That of William Pinkney offended his son Edward, and he challenged Neal to a duel. The latter declined to fight and turned the affair into ridicule by publishing the correspondence in an appendix to his next novel, "Errata; or, The Work of Will Adams," which appeared in 1822.
In 1823 Neal suddenly turned over his law practice to a young friend, borrowed enough money to support himself for a few months, and set sail for England, where he arrived in January, 1824. Here he began contributing to the periodicals and made a special point of correcting erroneous opinions prevailing in regard to social and political conditions in the United States. He also wrote his novel, "Brother Jonathan." He returned to the United States in 1827. After a short stay in New York, he went back to Portland and brought out The Yankee. This was later removed to Boston but within a year was united with the Galaxy and Neal returned to Portland where he continued to live until his death. He continued as editor of the Galaxy and was also editor for a time of Brother Jonathan. In 1828 he married his cousin, Eleanor Hall, by whom he had five children. He died in Portland,(1) June 20, 1876.
Neal's writings have been criticized as carelessly and hastily done. He had too many irons in the fire, being lawyer, critic, novelist, real estate dealer, editor, lecturer, owner of stone quarries, and what not—a down-east Yankee, good humored, kindly, loquacious, and impulsive. Neal realized his own shortcomings, and some of his comments on his own books in his "Recollections" might easily be mistaken for the words of an unfriendly critic. Several of Neal's novels were first published by Beadle, and in Beadle's Monthly there were poems and short stories. "The White-Faced Pacer" was originally published †in the Dollar Magazine (New York), II, January, 1842, 2 as "The Switch-Tail Pacer," but an additional chapter was inserted when it was printed as a Dime Novel.
One of his earlier nows de plume was "John O'Cataract."(2)
REFERENCES: W. P. Daggett, A Down East Yankee from the District of Maine; John Neal, Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life, 1869; Rufus W. Griswold, The Prose Writers of America, 1851, 313-15; Allibone, Dict. Eng. Lit., II, and Supplement, II, Lamb's Biog. Dict., V, 1903, 642; Appleton's Cyc. Amer. Biog., with portrait; Scribner's Dic. Amer. Biog., XIII, 1934, 398-99; Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., XI, 1909, 346-47; Saturday Journal, VII, No. 336, Aug. 19, 1876; ibid., IX, No. 424, April 27, 1878; Emerson's United States Magazine, July, 1857, with portrait; Gallon's Pictorial, XI, 1856, 396, with portrait; Book Buyer, XVIII, 1899, 296 (portrait at age of 90); Publishers' Weekly, X, July 8, 1876, 134; Portland Transcript, LI, April 6, 1887, 4.
Dime Novels. Nos. 72, 96, 451. 483, 535
American Library (London). Nos. 44, 71
Library of Choice Fiction. No. 1
Boy's Library (octavo). Nos. 256, 264, 319
SPECIMEN OF JOHN NEAL'S STYLE
"The White Faced Pacer; or, Before and After the Battle." Beadle's New Dime Novels No. 535, pp. 18-19.
Thanksgiving was now at hand. All the descendants of each family, even to the youngest of the third and fourth generations, were to be gathered together once more about the huge fire-places and warm-hearted, old-fashioned supper-tables of the land. Nothing short of sickness, or a distance not to be overcome in the winter season by the steadfast energy of a New Englander on his way back to the home of his fathers, would be accepted, or even thought of, for an excuse.
It was now the twenty-fifth of November. The snow was very deep—the roads through a large portion of the country were no longer passable; the crust was thick enough to bear a loaded ox team—and, look where you might, you would see the trees bending under the weight of ice and snow, new paths broken in every direction to avoid drifts, and literally running over the tops of the fences and stone walls.
There had been services at the meeting-house for half the day, as on the Sabbath; and arrangements were made in every quarter for a late dinner—that is, at half-past twelve or one, the days being so very short, and every body having so far to go after dark.
"Come, bustle boys, bustle! Where's Nathan? Where the plague is Nathan to-day? An' Joshua, and Timothy, and the rest o' the boys? Always out o' the way when they're wanted!" screamed Aunt Nabby.
"Wal, mother, what's to pay now?"
"What's to pay! Why, don't you see that ar' stranger a ploughin' through the orchard there, an' a leadin' his poor beast by the bridle, as if they'd lost their way, an' both on 'em was tired e'en jist to death? Run arter him this minnit, one of yer, and ask him to stop and take dinner with us; tell him it's e'en a'most ready now, an' 'twill be on the table in a few minutes, an' plenty o' room, an' enough to eat, too, such as 'tis, an' he shall be welcome, an' we shall be glad to see him, and so will father—run away!"
"Pretty good, what thar is of it, hey mother?" said Nathan, as he prepared to follow the stranger, "an enough of it, too, sech as it is; that's what you want me to say, I know!" and off he ran to overtake the stranger.
By this time the large goose had been taken down from the string where it had hung twirling before the kitchen fire, and was dished forthwith in a huge wooden tray, along with the baked beans, the Indian puddings, the apple pies, the mince pies, the pumpkin pies, the custard pies, the flapjacks, the generous brown bread, the apple dowdy, the doughnuts, the apple-sauce, and the brown mugs of cider. This done, the company seated, and everything ready for grace, even to the ducks and the geese, and that everlasting cold chicken pie, without which no Thanksgiving dinner was ever complete, that ceremony followed—no trifle in that day and on such occasions, let me tell you; and hence the fashion of dishing at the last moment. That over, the old man started up from his chair, and lifting his fork, let drive at the breast of a magnificent goose, and, bidding them fall to, and help themselves, at it they went, hammer and tongs.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||Publishers' Weekly, X, 134, says he died at Palmouth, Maine.|
|2||William Cushing, Initials and Pseudonyms, 208.|