Iowa as a Literary Field
By Johnson Brigham
Literary Iowa in the Nineteenth Century
Late in the last century readers of books awoke to the fact that the
world-including, world-inviting prairies of the Mississippi Valley
were no longer inarticulate; that in this great "Heart of the World's
Heart," among the millions who have been drawn to these prairie
states, there are lives as rich—in all that really enriches—as those
immortalized in the literature of New England, or of the Pacific
slope. It was not to be expected that the westward-moving impulse to
create would cease on reaching the Mississippi River.
In Iowa's pioneer days but little original matter found its way into
print except contributions to the rough and ready journalism of the
period. A few pioneer writers, possessed of the historiographer's
instinct, performed a rare service to the young commonwealth by
passing on to future generations their first-hand knowledge of the
prominent men and events of the first half of the century. Chief among
these are Theodore S. Parvin, William Salter, Alexander R. Fulton,
Samuel S. Howe and Charles Aldrich. The two last named published
several series of "The Annals of Iowa" which remain unfailing
reservoirs of information to later historians and students of Iowa
history. Iowa Masonry is specially indebted to Professor Parvin for
his invaluable contributions to the history of the order in Iowa. Dr.
Salter wrote the first notable Iowa biography, that of James W.
Grimes, published in 1876. Fulton's "Red Men of Iowa" is as valuable
as it is rare, for, though written as late as 1882, it is the first
exhaustive attempt to describe the tribes originally inhabiting Iowa.
The war period—1861-5—developed "Iowa in War Times," by S. H. M.
Byers, and "Iowa Colonels and Regiments," by A. A. Stuart, also many
valuable personal sketches and regimental histories.
Long before the close of the century, the name of Samuel Hawkins
Marshall Byers had grown familiar to the people of Iowa, because of
the popularity of his song entitled "Sherman's March to the Sea," and
because contemporary historians, attracted by its suggestive title,
adapted it as especially appropriate for the most dramatic event in
the history of the war for the Union.
Major Byers' most lasting contribution to literature is his poem "The
March to the Sea," epic in character and interspersed with lyrics of
the war. Reading this, one can hear the thrilling bugle call, and "see
once again the bivouacs in the wood."
Looking again, one can see the army in motion—
"A sight it was! that sea of army blue,
The sloping guns of the swift tramping host,
Winding its way the fields and forests through,
As winds some river slowly to the coast.
The snow-white trains, the batteries grim, and then
The steady tramp of sixty thousand men."
Passing over pages filled with stories of the camp and march, and with
moving pictures of the dusky throng of camp-followers who saw in the
coming of Sherman's men "God's new exodus," we come to the dramatic
"But on a day, while tired and sore they went,
Across some hills wherefrom the view was free,
A sudden shouting down the lines was sent;
They looked and cried, 'This is the sea! the sea!'
And all at once a thousand cheers were heard
And all the army shout the glorious word.
"Bronzed soldiers stood and shook each other's hands;
Some wept for joy, as for a brother found;
And down the slopes, and from the far-off sands,
They thought they heard already the glad sound
Of the old ocean welcoming them on
To that great goal they had so fairly won."
I would not be unmindful of our Iowa poet's other contributions.
Before the century's close, Mr. Byers had written "Switzerland and the
Swiss," and "What I saw in Dixie," also a book of verse entitled
"Happy Isles and Other Poems," besides much occasional verse in
celebration of events in Iowa history. So many and excellent are Major
Byers' contributions to such occasions that their author has fitly
been styled the "uncrowned poet laureate of Iowa." The title is
strengthened by two distinctively Iowa songs, one, "The Wild Rose of
Iowa," a tribute to our State Flower; the other entitled "Iowa," sung
to the air of "My Maryland."
One of Iowa's pioneer poets was signally honored by public insistence
that his "swan song" was the song of another and greater. In July,
1863, John L. McCreery, of Delhi, Iowa, published in Arthur's Home
Magazine a poem entitled "There Is No Death." The poem went the
round of the press attributed to Bulwer Lytton. A newspaper
controversy followed, the result of which was that the Iowa poet was
generally awarded the palm of authorship. But error sometimes seems to
possess more vitality than truth! Every few years thereafter, the
McCreery poem would make another round of the press with Bulwer
Lytton's name attached! Finally, in response to urgent request, the
modest author published his story of the poem.
It is interesting to note the circumstances under which the first and
best stanza was conceived. The author was riding over the prairie on
horseback when night overtook him. Orion was "riding in triumph down
the western sky." The "subdued and tranquil radiance of the heavenly
host" imparted a hopeful tinge to his somber meditations on life and
death, and under the inspiration of the scene he composed the lines:
"There is no death; the stars go down
To rise upon some other shore;
And bright in heaven's jeweled crown
They shine forever more."
The next morning he wrote other stanzas, the last of which reads:
"And ever near us, though unseen,
The dear, immortal spirits tread;
For all the boundless universe
Is life—there are no dead."
One of the curiosities of literature is the fact that the substitution
of Bulwer's name for that of the author arose from the inclusion of
McCreery's poem (without credit) in an article on "Immortality" signed
by one "E. Bulmer." An exchange copied the poem with the name Bulmer
"corrected" to Bulwer—and thus it started on its rounds. As late as
1870, Harper's "Fifth Reader" credited the poem to Lord Lytton! The
Granger "Index to Poetry" (1904) duly credits it to the Iowa author.
It is interesting to recall, in passing, the fact that nowhere in or
out of the state is there to be found a copy of McCreery's little
volume of "Songs of Toil and Triumph," published by Putnam's Sons in
1883, the unsold copies of which the author says he bought, "thus
acquiring a library of several hundred volumes."
It seems to have been the fate of Iowa's pioneer poets to find their
verse attributed to others. So it was with Belle E. Smith's well-known
poem, "If I Should Die To-night." Under the reflex action of Ben
King's clever parody, it has been the habit of newspaper critics to
smile at Miss Smith's poem. But when we recall the fact that several
poets thought well enough of it to stake their reputation on it; and
that, in the course of its odyssey to all parts of the English-reading
world, it was variously attributed to Henry Ward Beecher, F. K.
Crosby, Robert C. V. Myers, Lucy Hooper, Letitia E. Landon, and
others, and that Rider Haggard used it, in a mutilated form, in
"Jess," leaving the reader to infer that it was part of his own
literary creation, may we not conclude that the verse is a real poem
worthy of its place in the anthologies? In the Granger Index (1904) it
is credited to Robert C. V. Myers,—the credit followed by the words:
"Attributed to Arabella E. Smith"!
If support of Miss Smith's unasserted but now indisputable claim to
the poem be desired, it can be found in Professor W. W. Gist's
contribution on the subject entitled "Is It Unconscious
Assimilation?" Miss Smith—long a resident of Newton, Iowa, and
later a sojourner in California until her recent death—was of a
singularly retiring nature. She lived much within herself and thought
profoundly, as her poetical contributions to the Midland
Monthly reveal. In none of her other poems did she reveal herself
quite as clearly as in the poem under consideration. It is in four
stanzas. In the first is this fine line referring to her own face,
calm in death: "And deem that death had left it almost fair."
The poem concludes with the pathetic word to the living:
"Oh! friends, I pray to-night,
Keep not your kisses for my dead, cold brow—
The way is lonely, let me feel them now.
Think gently of me; I am travel-worn;
My faltering feet are pierced with many a thorn.
Forgive, O hearts estranged; forgive, I plead!
When dreamless rest is mine I shall not need
The tenderness for which I long to-night!"
I like to think of the veteran Tacitus Hussey, of Des Moines, as that
octogenarian with the heart of youth. This genial poet and quaint
philosopher made a substantial contribution to the century's output of
literature, a collection of poems of humor and sentiment entitled "The
River Bend and Other Poems." This author has contributed the words of
a song which is reasonably sure of immortality. I refer to "Iowa,
Beautiful Land," set to music by Congressman H. M. Towner. It fairly
sings itself into the melody.
"The corn-fields of billowy gold,
In Iowa, 'Beautiful Land,'
Are smiling with treasure untold,
In Iowa,'Beautiful Land.'"
The next stanza, though including one prosaic line, has taken on a new
poetic significance since the war-stricken nations of the old world
are turning to America for food. The stanza concludes:
"The food hope of nations is she—
With love overflowing and free
And her rivers which run to the sea,
In Iowa, 'Beautiful Land.'"
Among Iowans in middle-life and older, the name of Robert J. Burdette,
or "Bob" Burdette as he was familiarly called, brings vividly to mind
a genial, sunny little man from Burlington, who went about doing good,
making people forget their woes by accepting his philosophy—a simple
philosophy, that of looking upon the sunny side of life. The "Chimes
from a Jester's Bells" still ring in our ears, though the jester has
Reference has been made to the pioneer magazine of Iowa, the
Midland Monthly, of Des Moines. As its eleven volumes include
the first contributions of a considerable number of Iowa authors who
have since become famous, this publication may be said to have
inaugurated an era of intellectual activity in Iowa. Its first number
contained an original story, "The Canada Thistle," by "Octave Thanet"
(Miss French), a group of poems by Hamlin Garland from advance proofs
of his "Prairie Songs," an original story by S. H. M. Byers, and other
Looking back over the Iowa field from the viewpoint of 1894, when the
Iowa Magazine entered upon its short-lived career (1894-99), I
find, in addition to the authors and works already mentioned, a
nationally interesting episode of the John Brown raid, by Governor B.
F. Gue. Maud Meredith (Mrs. Dwight Smith), Calista Halsey Patchin and
Alice Ilgenfritz Jones, the three pioneer novelists of Iowa, were
among the magazine's contributors. In 1879, the Lippincotts published
"High-water Mark" by Mrs. Jones. In 1881 appeared Maud Meredith's
"Rivulet and Clover Blossoms," and two years later her "St. Julien's
Daughter." Mrs. Patchin's "Two of Us" appeared at about the same time.
Miss Alice French, "Octave Thanet" to the literary world, has been a
known quantity since 1887, when her fine group of short stories,
"Knitters in the Sun," put Iowa on the literary map. "Expiation," "We
All," a book for boys, "Stories of a Western Town" and "An Adventure
in Photography" followed. Miss French has continued to write novels
and short stories well on into the new century. In fact some of her
strongest creations bear the twentieth century stamp.
Hamlin Garland was also known and read by many as early as the
eighties. His, too, was the short-story route to fame, and Iowa was
his field. From his literary vantage ground in Boston, the young
author wrote in the guise of fiction his vivid memories of boy life
and the life of youth in northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin.
His "Main Traveled Roads," the first of many editions appearing in
1891, made him famous. Though the stories contained flashes of humor,
the dominant note was serious, as befitted the West in the Seventies
in which the author as boy and man struggled with adverse conditions.
But the joy of youth would rise superior to circumstance, as is
evidenced in the charming sketch of "Boy Life in the West." I like
to recall the prose-poem with which it concludes:
"I wonder if, far out in Iowa, the boys are still playing 'Hi Spy'
around the straw-piles…. That runic chant, with its endless
repetitions, doubtless is heard on any moonlight night in far-off
Iowa. I wish I might join once more in the game—I fear I could not
enjoy 'Hi Spy' even were I invited to join. But I sigh with a curious
longing for something that was mine in those days on the snowy Iowa
plains. What was it? Was it sparkle of winter days? Was it stately
march of moon? Was it the presence of dear friends? Yes; all these and
more—it was Youth!"
Before the century closed, this transplanted Iowan had also written
"Jason Edwards," a story of Iowa politics, "Wayside Courtships,"
"Prairie Folks," "Spirit of Sweetwater," "Trail of the Gold-seekers,"
and scores of short stories first published in the magazines.
Mr. Garland's twentieth century output has been prolific of popular
novels and short stories. His latest book, "A Son of the Middle
Border," is pronounced by William Dean Howells a unique achievement
and ranking well up with the world's best autobiographies.
A new name associated with Iowa at the close of the last century was
that of Emerson Hough. "The Story of the Cowboy" (1897) can hardly be
classed as fiction, and yet it "reads like a romance." Mr. Hough, long
a roving correspondent of Forest and Stream, first tried "his
'prentice han'" as a story-writer in "Belle's Roses," a tense story of
army life on the plains. This was followed by several promising
short stories and, in 1902, by "The Mississippi Bubble," a historical
romance of quality founded upon the adventurous career of John Law,
pioneer in the fields of frenzied finance. Three years later came his
"Heart's Desire," a beautiful love story of the Southwest. In 1907
appeared his "Way of a Man" and "Story of the Outlaw." Several other
novels have come from his facile pen. The most severely criticized and
best seller of the series is his "54-40 or Fight," a historical novel
based on the diplomatic controversy over Oregon in 1845-6. Mr. Hough
is the most successful alumnus of Iowa State University in the
difficult field of fiction.
Lingering over the index to the eleven volumes of Iowa's pioneer
magazine, I am tempted to mention in passing several other names that
stand out prominently in the memory of Midland readers.
Mrs. Virginia H. Reichard contributed an interesting paper, "A Glimpse
of Arcadia." Mrs. Caroline M. Hawley gave a valuable illustrated paper
on "American Pottery." Mrs. Addie B. Billington, Mrs. Virginia K.
Berryhill, Mrs. Clara Adele Neidig, and other Iowans contributed to
the poetry in the magazine's columns. Hon. Jonathan P. Dolliver, Hon.
William B. Allison, Gen. James B. Weaver, and many other men prominent
in the public life of Iowa contributed articles of permanent value.
Mrs. Cora Bussey Hillis was the author of "Madame Deserée's Spirit
Rival." Editor Ingham, of the Register, then of Algona, Editor
Moorhead, then of Keokuk, now a Des Moines journalist, Minnie Stichter
(Mrs. C. J. Fulton of Fairfield), Mrs. Harriet C. Towner, of Corning,
Charles Eugene Banks, born in Clinton County, now a prominent
journalist and litterateur in Seattle, Dr. J. Foster Bain, then
assistant state geologist, now a resident of London, and one of the
world's most famous consulting geologists, Barthinius L. Wick, of
Cedar Rapids, a voluminous historiographer, are among the many who,
during the last five years of the old century, did their bit toward
putting Iowa on the literary map.
Irving Berdine Richman, of Muscatine, had already written "Appenzell,"
a study of the Swiss, with whom, as consul-general, he had lived for
several years. His Midland sketch, "The Battle of the Stoss,"
was followed by a little volume, "John Brown Among the Quakers, and
Other Sketches." But the two great historical works to which he gave
years of enthusiastic research were not published until well on in the
twentieth century. The first of these, "Rhode Island; a Study of
Separation," was honored with an introduction by John Bryce. It was so
well received that the "study" was amplified into a two-volume work,
"Rhode Island; Its Making and Meaning." The second, a work compelling
years of research in old Mexico and Spain, is entitled "California
Under Spain and Mexico." These alone give the Iowa historian an
Literary Iowa in the Twentieth Century
Our study of the high places in Iowa literature has already been
somewhat extended into the new century. The transfer of the Iowa
magazine to St. Louis, in 1898, and its speedy suspension thereafter
did not deter many Iowans from continuing to write. Difficult as it
was for our unknowns to find a market for their wares in Eastern
magazines and publishing houses, the persistent few, who knew they had
what the public should want, "knocked" again and again "at the golden
gates of the morning," and in due time the gates were opened unto
Edwin Legrange Sabin's first essay in Midland fiction was "A
Ghostly Carouse,"—full of promise. His first book, "The Magic Mashie
and other Golfish Stories," in common with all his other works, throbs
with the heart of youth. His magazine verse, mainly humorous, has the
same quality. Latterly he has been illuminating history, and
especially the fast-dissolving wild life of the West, with stories
closely adhering to fact and yet rampant with adventure—the kind of
books our outdoor boys take to bed with them! To his readers Kit
Carson, Fremont, Buffalo Bill, are as much alive as are the heroes of
the stadium, the tennis court and the links. But underneath this
delightfully light literature there is well-nigh concealed a poet of
the Swinburne type, as witness this bit of verse:
"Upon the purple hillside, vintage-stained,
In drowsy langour brown October lies,
Like one who has the banquet goblet drained,
And looks abroad with dream enchanted eyes."
Mrs. Bertha M. Shambaugh's Midland sketch of "Amana Colony; a
Glimpse of the Community of True Inspiration," suggested something
more than "a glimpse," and in 1908 appeared an exhaustive study of
that "peculiar people," entitled "Amana, the Community of True
Inspiration," a valuable contribution to Iowa history.
Professor Selden L. Whitcomb, of Grinnell, had previously published
several outlines for the study of literature, but his first volume of
"Lyrical Verse" appeared in 1898. Two other books of poems followed,
one in 1912, the other in 1914. His verse is marked by delicacy of
poetical suggestion and perfection of rhyme and rhythm.
George Meason Whicher, of New York, whose name is now often seen in
The Continent of Chicago, is the author of "From Muscatine and
Other Poems" and of recent prose with Italian and Latin background.
Mr. Whicher is the author of four poems in the Midland, all
harking back to the poet's boyhood days in Muscatine, Iowa.
Dr. Frank Irving Herriott, dean of sociology at Drake University, a
voluminous writer on historical and sociological themes, has a long
list of works to his credit, all bearing twentieth century dates
except one published by the American Academy which appeared in 1892.
He wrote for the Midland a strong plea for public libraries, a
plea which, doubtless, had its influence in inaugurating the library
movement in Iowa beginning with the new century.
Another scholar in the sociological field who has made his impression
upon thousands of students and adult readers is Dr. Frank L. McVey,
president of the University of North Dakota. His historical sketch in
the Midland, "The Contest in the Maumee Valley," was followed
by other published papers and these by several books on sociological
themes, among them "Modern Industrialism" and "The Making of a Town."
There are few more scholarly literary critics than Welker Given, of
Clinton, Iowa. His Shakespearean and classical studies have won for
him an enviable place among students of the classics.
Mrs. Anna Howell Clarkson, of New York, wife of Hon. J. S. Clarkson,
long prominent in Iowa journalism and in national politics, followed
up her Midland article on "The Evolution of Iowa Politics" with
a book entitled "A Beautiful Life and Its Associations," a tribute of
loving regard to a former teacher and friend, Mrs. Drusilla Alden
A critique on "Our Later Literature and Robert Browning" in the
Iowa magazine in April, 1897, may, or may not, have turned the current
of Lewis Worthington Smith's whole life; but its critical power made
friends for the Nebraska professor and warmed the welcome given him
when, in 1902, he took up his work in the English department of Drake
University of Des Moines. While Professor Smith has published several
works on language and literature and an acting drama entitled "The Art
of Life," his literary reputation rests mainly upon his poetry. Since
the opening of the new century, volume has followed volume; first
"God's Sunlight," then "In the Furrow," and, in 1916, "The English
Tongue," and "Ships in Port." Many of the poems in the two last named
evince the impact of the World War upon a soul of strong
sensibilities. Tempted to quote whole poems, as showing the wide range
of this poet's vision, I will limit myself to the first stanza of "The
On to where Indus and Ganges pour down to the tide.
Words that have lived, that have felt, that have gathered and grown.
Words! Is it nothing that no other people have known
Speech of such myriad voices, so full and so free,
Song by the fireside and crash of the thunders at sea?"
Jessie Welborn Smith, wife of Professor Smith, is a frequent
contributor of short stories and sketches to popular magazines.
The late Henry Wallace, though for many years an agricultural editor
in Iowa, modestly began his contribution to general literature in the
Midland with a pen-picture of the Scotch-Irish in America.
Subsequently he wrote his "Uncle Henry's Letters to a Farm Boy," which
has run through many editions; also "Trusts and How to Deal With Them"
and "Letters to the Farm-Folk."
Eugene Secor, of Forest City, published poems in the Midland
which were followed by "Verses for Little Folk and Others," "A Glimpse
of Elysium" and "Voices of the Trees."
Helen Hoyt Sherman's modest "Village Romance" led to a long list of
popular books, published since her marriage and under her married
name, Helen Sherman Griffiths. Born in Des Moines, her present home is
Herbert Bashford, born in Sioux City, now living in Washington and
California, contributed to the Midland a half-dozen poems of
much promise. Mr. Bashford is now literary editor of the San
Francisco Bulletin and has several books of poems and several
popular dramas to his credit.
Mrs. Ella Hamilton Durley, of Los Angeles, formerly of Des Moines, a
pioneer president of our Press and Authors' Club, and a prolific
writer for the press, followed her journal and magazine successes with
two novels, "My Soldier Lady" and "Standpatter," a novel of Southern
California love and politics.
Caroline M. Sheldon, Professor of Romance Languages in Grinnell
College, has followed up her Midland study of American poetry
with "Princess and Pilgrim in England," and a translation and study of
Echegary's play, "The Great Galeoto."
Many still recall with interest the realistic serial which ran in the
Midland, entitled "The Young Homesteaders," also a number of
short sketches and stories of pioneer life in the West, by Frank
Welles Calkins, then of Spencer, Iowa, now a Minnesotan. Mr. Calkins
has since become a frequent contributor to magazines, and a writer of
books of outdoor life and adventure. His latest novel, "The Wooing of
Takala," appeared in 1907.
One of the marked successes in the world of books and periodicals is
Julia Ellen Rogers, long a teacher of science in Iowa high schools.
While a resident of Des Moines she contributed to the Midland a
descriptive article, "Camping and Climbing in the Big Horn," which
evinced her love of "all outdoors" and her ability to describe what
she saw. Her editorial connection with Country Life in America
and her popular series of nature studies, "Among Green Trees," "Trees
Every Child Should Know," "Earth and Sky," "Wild Animals Every Child
Should Know," have given their author and her books a warm welcome
from Maine to California.
One of the bright particular stars in our firmament, remaining almost
undiscovered until near the close of the century's first decade, is
Arthur Davison Ficke, of Davenport. Circumstances—his father's
eminence at the bar—conspired to make the young poet a lawyer; but he
could not—long at a time—close his ears to the wooing of the muse,
and off he went, at frequent intervals, in hot pursuit of the elusive
Euterpe. Though still a lawyer of record, the inward call of the soul
must soon become too strong to be resisted. Poeta nascitur. I
can see the young lawyer-poet in his own "Dream Harbor," and can feel
his glad response to the call from the dream-world:
"Winds of the South from the sunny beaches
Under the headland call to me;
And I am sick for the purple reaches,
Olive-fringed, by an idle sea.
"Where low waves of the South are calling
Out of the silent sapphire bay,
And slow tides are rising, falling,
Under the cliffs where the ripples play."
It was natural that the sons of the late Henry Sabin should write
acceptably. Though slightly older in years, Elbridge H. Sabin is
younger in literature than his brother "Ed." The first decade of the
new century was well advanced before Elbridge turned his attention
from law to literature. The brief touch of life in the open given him
while soldiering during the Spanish-American war may have suggested
the change in his career. His first essay in authorship was "Early
American History for Young Americans" (1904). He then turned his gaze
skyward and in 1907 appeared "Stella's Adventures in Starland."
Fairyland next invited him and in 1910 appeared "The Magical Man of
Mirth," soon followed by "The Queen of the City of Mirth." In 1913
appeared his "Prince Trixie."
James B. Weaver, son of General Weaver, another lawyer with the poet
soul, but with a somewhat firmer hold on "the things that are," has
written much prose which only requires the touch of the vers
libre editor to turn it into poetry. His appreciation of Kipling
and other poets and his fine character-sketches, as for example that
of Martin Burke, pioneer stage-driver and farmer, are remembered with
delight. Just once, many years ago, when, a happy father, he looked
for the first time upon his "Baby Boy," the poet in his nature
obtained the upper hand of the lawyer and he wrote:
"O golden head! O sunny heart!
Forever joyous be thy part
In this fair world; and may no care
Cut short thy youth, and may no snare
Entrap thy feet! I pray thee, God,
For smoother paths than I have trod."
Mr. Weaver was president of the Iowa Press and Authors Club in 1914-15
and the success of the famous Iowa Authors' Homecoming in October,
1914, was in large measure due to his untiring efforts.
In that Great American Desert of "free verse," the Chicago magazine,
Poetry, the persistent seeker can find here and there an oasis
that will well repay his search. One of these surprises is a poem
entitled "The Wife," by Mrs. Helen Cowles LeCron, of Des Moines. It
is the plea of a longing soul for relief from the "sullen silence,"
and the "great gaunt shadows" of the "shaggy mountains," and for a
return to "the gentle land," and to "the careless hours when life was
very sweet." Mrs. LeCron is a prolific writer of clever and timely
verse for the press, and is a poet of many possibilities.
Honoré Willsie (whose maiden name is Dunbar) was born in Ottumwa,
Iowa, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, and is a resident
of New York City. To her able editorship may be attributed the new
literary quality of The Delineator. It was Mrs. Willsie's
varied successes as a writer of papers on social problems, sketches,
short stories and serials which won for her the literary editorship of
that popular periodical. Her success as a novelist mainly rests upon
"Heart of the Desert," "Still Jim," and "Lydia of the Pines," all
published within the last four years, and each stronger than its
A successful art publisher and an enthusiastic traveler, Thomas D.
Murphy, a native Iowan, long a resident of Red Oak, is the author of a
group of well-written and profusely illustrated books of travel, all
written within the last decade, as follows: "British Highways and
Byways"; "In Unfamiliar England"; "Three Wonderlands of the American
West"; "On Old-World Highways"; and "On Sunset Highways."
Allan Updegraff is a born Iowan whose fame has come early in life. His
"Second Youth" (1917) is winning praise from the critics as "an
agreeable contrast with the stuffy bedroom atmosphere" of many books
of the period, as refreshingly "modest humor," and as having "touches
of characterization and serious feeling" which keep up the interest to
Among the native Iowans who have distinguished themselves in
literature is Willis George Emerson, of Denver, born near Blakesburg,
Iowa. Mr. Emerson is author of "Buell Hampton," and a half-dozen other
novels, the latest, "The Treasure of Hidden Mountain," also a hundred
or more sketches and stories of travel.
Of the well-known authors who, during the impressionable years of
their youth resided for a time in Iowa, the most famous is "Mark
Twain" (Samuel L. Clemens) who, after his wanderjahr, in the
late summer of 1854, took the "Keokuk Packet" and landed in Muscatine,
Iowa, and there became the guest of his brother, Orrin, and his
sister, Jane. Early in the spring of '55, his brother meantime having
married and removed to Keokuk, Iowa, he paid his brother another
visit. Orrin offered him five dollars a week and board to remain and
help him in his printing office. The offer was promptly accepted. The
Keokuk episode extended over a period of nearly two years, "two vital
years, no doubt, if all the bearings could be known." Here he made his
first after-dinner speech, which delighted his audience. Here he made
a record in a debating society. Unable to pay his brother his wages,
Orrin took him in as a partner! A lucky find of a fifty-dollar bill
enabled Twain to start on his travels. Meanwhile he contracted to
write travel sketches for the Keokuk Saturday Post. His first
letter was dated "Cincinnati, November 14, 1856." "It was written in
the exaggerated dialect then considered humorous. The genius that a
little more than ten years later would delight the world flickered
feebly enough at twenty-one." A second letter concluded the series!
Years later, just before he joined the Holy Land excursion out of
which grew his "Innocents Abroad," he visited Keokuk and delivered a
lecture. He came again after his return from the trip, on his
triumphal lecture tour across the continent. Years later he and Cable
gave readings in Keokuk, and while there he arranged a permanent
residence for his mother. In 1886, with his wife and daughter, he paid
his mother a visit, renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.
In August, 1890, he was called to Keokuk by the last illness of his
mother. It will thus be seen that, next to his home in Elmira, New
York, his "heart's home" was Keokuk.
Nixon Waterman, author, journalist and lecturer, born in Newark,
Illinois, and long a resident of Boston, was for several years an
attaché of a small daily paper in Creston, Iowa. Among his published
works is a comedy entitled "Io, from Iowa." In his several books of
verse are many poems evidently inspired by memories of old times on
the prairies of southwestern Iowa. Here is an echo from the poet's
"Strange how Memory will fling her
Arms about some scenes we bring her,
And the fleeting years but make them fonder grow;
Though I wander far and sadly
From that dear old home, how gladly
I recall the cherished scenes of long ago!"
William Otis Lillibridge, of Sioux Falls, whose brilliant career as a
novelist was closed by death in 1909, was graduated from the College
of Dentistry, State University of Iowa, in 1898. His "Ben Blair" and
"Where the Trail Divides," gave abundant promise.
Randall Parish, though born in Illinois, was admitted to the bar in
Iowa, and for a time was engaged in newspaper work in Sioux City.
Since 1904, when he leaped into fame by his historical novel, "When
Wilderness Was King," volume after volume has come from the press and
every one has met with quick response from the public.
It is hard to account for Herbert Quick. Born on a farm in Grundy
County, Iowa, a teacher in Mason City and elsewhere in Iowa, a lawyer
in Sioux City, mayor of Sioux City for three terms, a telephone
manager, editor of La Follette's Weekly, editor of Farm and
Fireside, democratic politician, at present an active member of
the Federal Farm Loan Board—with all this record of service, Mr.
Quick has somehow found time, since 1904, to make for himself a name
and fame as a magazine contributor, and, too, as a novelist who writes
novels so novel that they find thousands of readers! Among his best
known books are "Aladdin & Co," "Virginia of the Air Lanes," and "On
Board the Good Ship Earth." Mr. Quick is preeminently a twentieth
century man of affairs. Immersed as he now is in farm loans, it would
not surprise his friends at any time if he were to issue another
Rupert Hughes, eminently successful as a novelist and dramatist,
though Missouri-born, was for years a resident of Keokuk, Iowa, and
his Iowa associations were so strong that he dropped everything to
come halfway across the continent that he might participate in the
reunion of Iowa authors in 1914. Mr. Hughes' books are among the
best-selling and his plays among the best-drawing. This popular author
has turned soldier. He was an officer of the New York National Guards
in Mexico and again when war against Germany was declared he was among
the first to respond to the call for troops.
Dr. Edward A. Steiner, of Grinnell, Iowa, a sociologist with a vision,
has done more than any other man to bring together in friendly working
relationship our native-born and foreign-born Americans. He has not
only gone up and down the earth preaching an applied Christianity, but
he has also written into nearly a dozen books, all of which have had
many readers, his own experiences in the old world and the new, and
his valuable observations—those of a trained sociologist bent upon
righting the wrongs of ignorance and selfishness as he has found them
embedded in customs and laws. The World War has opened a large field
of usefulness for the Grinnell preacher of national and international
Newell Dwight Hillis, the popular Brooklyn preacher, lecturer and
author, was born in Maquoketa, Iowa, but has spent most of his life
outside the state.
A new name in fictional literature is that of Ethel Powelson Hueston.
Mrs. Hueston was reared in a family of eleven children, and her
popular first book, "Prudence of the Parsonage," written on a claim in
Idaho while caring for her invalid husband—who died in 1915—is the
story of her own experience in a parsonage in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
"Prudence Says So" is a continuation of the story. Mrs. Hueston was
recently married to Lieutenant Edward J. Best, at Golden, Colorado.
Margaret Coulson Walker and Ida M. Huntington, both of Des Moines,
have added to the information and delight of children by a number of
illustrated books. Miss Walker's "Bird Legends and Life," and "Lady
Hollyhock and Her Friends," and Miss Huntington's "Garden of Heart's
Delight," and "Peter Pumpkin in Wonderland" are favorites with many.
Miss Emilie Blackmore Stapp, literary editor of the Des Moines
Capital, has written a number of popular stories for children. Her
"Squaw Lady," "Uncle Peter Heathen," and "The Trail of the Go-Hawks"
have found many readers. She has done more than write stories. She has
organized a national club called the "Go-Hawks Happy Tribe," and the
Tribe has undertaken to raise a million pennies to help buy food for
starving children in France and Belgium. The grand total of pennies
reported September, 1917, was 255,000!
Edna Ferber, of "Emma McChesney" fame, and the author of a half-dozen
clever novels, the latest of which is "Fanny Herself," was born in
Wisconsin, but spent much of her youth in Ottumwa, Iowa, where her
father was a successful merchant.
Oney Fred Sweet, born in Hampton, Iowa, and sometime a journalist in
Des Moines, has made a national reputation as a feature writer on the
Chicago Tribune and as a contributor of verse and sketches to
Laura L. Hinckley, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, is a frequent contributor to
the leading magazines. Recent stories in the Saturday Evening
Post and in the Woman's Home Companion attest her ability
in a difficult field.
A promising young claimant for literary honors is (Lotta) Allen
Meachem, of New York, born in Washington County, Iowa. Following
several good stories in the magazines, comes her "Belle Jones—A Story
of Fulfilment," published by Dutton.
Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd, born in Iowa City, now a resident of New York,
was in early life a teacher, but since 1898 has been on the staff of
the New York Sun. Her "Misdemeanors of Nancy," in 1892, was the
beginning of a successful career in authorship. Her "Nancy," "Bettina"
and "Belinda" are better known to many than are their own next door
Men who have not learned to deny the eternal boy in their nature find
as much enjoyment as boys themselves in reading "Widow O'Callahan's
Boys," and everybody enjoys "Maggie McLanehan," both creations of
Gulielma Zollinger, of Newton, Iowa. Three other books, not so well
known, are added to the list of Miss Zollinger's achievements in
Mrs. Elizabeth (Eslick) Cooper, born in Homer, Iowa, has spent most of
her adult life in the Orient and is an authority on the status of
women in Oriental lands. She is the author of "Sayonara," a play
produced by Maxine Elliot, of many magazine articles, and of a half
dozen books, all published since 1910. Her books are vivid pictures of
life in China, Egypt, Turkey and Japan.
Among the most prominent magazine writers and journalists of the
period is Judson Welliver. He several years ago graduated from Iowa
journalism to the larger field, the national capital, and has latterly
become one of the regular contributors to Munsey's, and a
frequent contributor to other periodicals.
Another prominent magazine writer is Joe Mitchell Chapple, early in
life editor of a La Porte, Iowa, weekly. Mr. Chapple is the founder,
publisher and editor of the National Magazine, Boston, and the
author of "Boss Bart," a novel, and editor of a popular collection of
One of the youngest magazine writers forging to the front is Horace M.
Towner, Jr., of Corning, Iowa, son of Congressman Towner. A long list
might be made of his recent contributions to the leading magazines.
A group of new writers, some of them Iowans, have happily been given a
medium for reaching the public through the new Midland, of Iowa
City. Mr. Frederick, the editor, has in the main evinced excellent
judgment in the selection of stories, sketches and verse, and has won
commendation from our severest Eastern critics. The new Midland
has, doubtless, started not a few middle-western authors on their way
to the front in the field of literature.
The World War has already added the names of several Iowans to the
literature of the great struggle. The best known is James Norman Hall,
of Colfax, Iowa, whose "Kitchener's Mob" and articles in the
Atlantic have added greatly to popular knowledge of conditions
at the front. Already twice wounded, the first time in the trenches;
the latest—may it be the last!—in the air, this brave young American
can well say with Virgil, "all of which I saw and part of which I
was." After his discharge from the English army, Mr. Hall went abroad
commissioned to do literary work for Houghton, Mifflin & Company; but
his zeal for the cause of the Allies, combined possibly with a young
man's love of adventure, led him to re-enter the service, this time in
the Aviation Corps. He is now (in September, 1917) slowly recovering
from a shot which penetrated his left lung.
The Gleasons, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Gleason, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and
of New York City, have both won honors in the Red Cross work in
Belgium and incidentally have made valuable contributions to the
"human interest" story of the World War. Mrs. Helen Hayes Gleason was
the first American woman knighted by King Albert for meritorious
service at the front. Mr. Gleason in his "Young Hilda at the Wars"
begins his charming story of Hilda with this tribute to the state in
which his wife first saw the light:
"She was an American girl from the very prosperous State of Iowa,
which if not as yet the mother of presidents, is at least the parent
of many exuberant and useful persons. Will power is grown out yonder
as one of the crops."
"Golden Lads," by Mr. and Mrs. Gleason, is a vivid recital of
experiences with the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps at the front in
Though the evaluations in this review are confined chiefly to
belles lettres, it would not be fair to the reader to omit the
state's large indebtedness to Dr. B. F. Shambaugh and his scholarly
associates of the State Historical Society, of Iowa City, for their
many valuable contributions to the general, social and economic
history of Iowa; to Dr. Jesse Macy, of Grinnell, for his valuable
studies in the science of government; to the late Samuel Calvin, also
to Dr. Thomas H. McBride, of the State University, Dr. Louis H.
Pammel, of the State College, and Dr. Charles Keyes, of Des Moines,
for their contributions to science; to Dr. Charles H. Weller, of the
State University, for his "Athens and Its Monuments," and other works
throwing light upon an ancient civilization; to George E. Roberts, of
New York, a native Iowan, for his clear elucidation of national and
world problems; to the late Judges Kinne, Deemer and MacLean, and
other jurists for standard works on jurisprudence; to Carl Snyder,
Woods Hutchinson and a host of other Iowans who are contributing to
the current literature of our time.
This review, incomplete at best, would be unfair to the president of
the Iowa Press and Authors Club were it to conclude without mention of
the inspiration of her leadership. Mrs. Alice Wilson Weitz began life
as a journalist at the Iowa State Capital. In the course of her busy
and successful later career as wife, mother and public-spirited
citizen, she has somehow found time to write on literary and timely
themes. Her latest contribution to the state of her birth is a
scenario entitled "The Wild Rose of Iowa" which was to have been
produced on the screen in all the cities of the state; but,
unfortunately, the film, prepared with great labor and expense, and
with the aid of some of the best dramatic talent in Iowa, was
destroyed or lost on the way from Chicago to Des Moines. It is to be
hoped that this may soon be reproduced, for Mrs. Weitz' scenario
admirably presented in symbol the whole story of Iowa's wonderful
development from savagery to twentieth-century civilization.
A list of Iowa State University publications—a pamphlet of forty-one
pages—includes hundreds of monographs, dissertations, etc., covering
a wide range of original research.
It must have become evident from this incomplete review that Iowa is
literarily, to say the least, no longer inarticulate. It is equally
apparent, to those who really know their Iowa, that, far from being a
dead level of uninteresting prosperity, our state is rich in
suggestive literary material, ready and waiting for the authors of the
future. Topographically, Iowa abounds in surprises. In the midst of
her empire of rich rolling prairie are lakes and rivers, rugged cliffs
and wooded hills, villages and cities set upon hills overlooking
beautiful valleys through which streams wind their way seaward, her
east and west borders defended by castellated rocks overlooking our
two great rivers. Ethnologically, within these borders are communities
of blanket Indians still living in wigwams, surrounded by communities
in which are practiced all the arts of an advanced civilization.
Sociologically, side by side with her native-born and native-bred
citizens, are communities of Christian Socialists, also remnants of a
French experiment in Communism, Quakers, Mennonites, anti-polygamous
Mormons, and whole regions in which emigrants from Holland, Germany
and Scandinavia are slowly and surely acquiring American habits of
thought and life. Historically speaking, we have the early and late
pioneer period with its rapid adjustment to new conditions, with its
multiform perils developing latent heroism, its opportunities for
character-building and for public service. Later the heroic period,
during which a peace-loving people quit the plow, the workshop, the
country store, the office and even the pulpit, to rally to the defence
of the Union. Then, the reconstruction and the new-construction
period, in which Iowa prospered under the leadership of
men—men who knew their duties as well as their rights, men who
recognized, and insisted upon recognition of, that "sovereign law, the
state's collected will." And now, an epoch of reviving patriotism
coupled with a world-embracing passion for democracy, in which the
youths and young men of the state are consecrating their strength,
their talents and their lives to a great cause.