Hamlin Garland's Literary Beginning

by Edwin Watts Chubb

Hamlin Garland is one of the writers whose name suggests the great Northwest. He was born in Wisconsin in 1860, went to Iowa and later to Dakota, striving at an early age to wrest a living from the soil. At ten years of age he plowed seventy acres of land. His vivid descriptions of Western farm-life are not the results of reading and casual observation, supplemented by a vivid imagination; they are the products of actual experiences.

In a personal interview with Mr. Garland, Frank G. Carpenter gives us the following interesting particulars:

"The conversation here turned to Mr. Garland's literary work, and he told me how he was first led to write by reading Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse. This book so delighted him that he wanted to write essays like it for a living, and he practised at this during the intervals of his school-teaching and studying for years. It was not until he was older that he attempted fiction or poetry. The story of his first published article is a curious one. Said he:

"'My first literary success was a poem which I wrote for Harper's Weekly, entitled 'Lost in the Norther.' It was a poem describing a blizzard and the feelings of a man lost in it. I received twenty-five dollars for it.'

"'That must have been a good deal of money to you then, Mr. Garland?'

"'It was,' was the reply. 'It was my first money in literature, and I spent it upon my father and mother. I paid five dollars for a copy of Grant's Memoirs, which I sent father, and with the remaining twenty dollars I bought a silk dress for my mother. It was the first silk dress she had ever had.'

"'When did you write your first fiction?'

"'My mother got half of the money I received for that,' replied Mr. Garland, 'as it was due to her that I wrote it. I had been studying in Boston for several years, when I went out to Dakota to visit my parents. The night after I arrived I was talking with mother about old times and old friends. She told me how one family had gone back to New York for a visit, and had returned very happy, in getting back to their Western home. As she told the story, the pathos of it struck me. I went into another room and began to write. The story was one of the best chapters of my book Main-Traveled Roads. I read it to mother, and she liked it, and upon telling her that I thought it was worth at least seventy-five dollars, she replied: "Well, if that is so, I think you ought to divvy with me, for I gave you the story." "I will," said I, and so, when I got my seventy-five dollars, I sent her a check for thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents. I got many other good suggestions during that trip to Dakota. I wrote poems and stories. Some of the stories were published in The Century, and I remember that I received six hundred dollars within two weeks from its editors. It was perhaps a year later before I published my first book. It had a good sale, and I have been writing from that day to this.'

"Hamlin Garland spends a part of every year in the West. He has bought the old home place where he was born in Wisconsin, and he has there a little farm of four acres, upon which he raises asparagus, strawberries, onions, and bushels of other things. His mother lives with him. During my talk with him the other night he said: 'I like the West and the Western people. I have been brought up with them, and I expect to devote my life to writing about them. I spend a portion of each summer on the Rocky Mountains, camping out. I like to go where I can sleep in the open air and have elbow-room away from the crowded city.'"