Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 5. Seba Smith; “Jack Downing”; Haliburton

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XIX. Early Humorists

§ 5. Seba Smith; “Jack Downing”; Haliburton

First in point of time among the new humorists came Seba Smith (1792–1868), whose Letters of Major Jack Downing appeared in 1830. Almost immediately after his graduation from Bowdoin College in 1818, Smith began to contribute a series of political articles in the New England dialect to the papers of Portland, Maine. These illustrated fairly well the peculiarities of New England speech and manners, and doubtless had a great influence in encouraging similar sketches in other parts of the country. Smith was in several ways a pioneer. He led the way for The Biglow Papers and all those writings which have exploited back-country New England speech and character. He anticipated, in the person of Jack Downing, confidant of Jackson, David Ross Locke’s Petroleum V. Nasby, confidant of Andrew Johnson. He was the first in America, as Finley Peter Dunne, with his Mr. Dooley, is the latest, to create a homely character and through him to make shrewd comments on politics and life. Charles Augustus Davis (1795–1867) of New York created a pseudo Jack Downing (often confused with Smith’s) who was intimate with Van Buren and the National Bank in the thirties and with Lincoln in the sixties. In 1835, only two years after Smith’s first collected volume appeared, Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a prolific Nova Scotian, began the series of short sketches from which emerged one of the most famous of the early Yankee characters, Sam Slick the Clockmaker.