Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu
Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, 1790-1870
Longstreet, Augustus Baldwin, 1790-1870. Writer. Longstreet is remembered today for his collection of humorous stories, Georgia Scenes (1835). A native of Augusta, Ga., he earned a degree from Yale University in 1813, studied law in Litchfield, Conn., and returned to his home state. He later attained professional success as a lawyer, a superior court judge, a proprietor and editor of a newspaper (the State Rights Sentinel, which he used as a forum for his political views, especially for a defense of slavery and nullification), a Methodist minister, and president of four institutions of higher learning (Emory College in Georgia, Centenary College in Louisiana, the University of Mississippi, and the University of South Carolina).
His experiences as a lawyer and judge in Georgia furnished Longstreet with an opportunity to observe southerners of every social class, and he made use of these people as characters for Georgia Scenes. Ostensibly related by two refined narrators—Hall, a country gentleman, and Baldwin, an urbane judge—the 19 sketches are populated by crackers, dirt eaters, crafty horse traders, and other indigenous southern types. The clash of the narrators' values and highly literate writing styles with the values and vernacular speech of the rural people that Hall and Baldwin encounter is the basis for much of the humor of the volume.
Walter Blair called Georgia Scenes "the first and most influential book of Southwestern humor." Longstreet's themes and techniques foreshadowed those in the works of such antebellum humorists as Johnson Jones Hooper and George Washington Harris, who followed in this tradition, a tradition that attracted Mark Twain during his writing career. In his use of the South and its people to create a sense of place in fiction, Longstreet opened new territory later traveled by such local colorists of the post-bellum period as Richard Malcolm Johnston and Thomas Nelson Page and by writers of the 20th century, from William Faulkner to Eudora Welty.
Georgia Scenes is also important as social history. In it Longstreet wished to depict representative "Characters, Incidents . . . in the First Half Century of the Republic" in his state because he realized that complex social and economic forces had already begun altering the mores and daily activities there. In the book, for example, the narrator Hall described in detail a no-holds-barred Georgia fight, a backwoods shooting match, and the brutal sport of gander pulling; the narrator Baldwin contrasted the attitudes and popular tastes of the time with those of his youth. For the most part, Longstreet projected an optimistic view of the narrowing of the gulf between wealthy planters and poor whites, but he recognized that both classes would lose something of their unique lifestyles in the process. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Georgia Scenes is Longstreet's generally objective portrayal of southern poor whites, a group frequently viewed with complete disdain by other antebellum writers.
Mark A. Keller
Middle Georgia College
Kimball King, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1984); James B. Meriwether, Mississippi Quarterly (Fall 1982); John Donald Wade, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study in the Development of Culture in the South (1924, new ed. 1969).