Story type: Literature
Two names well-known in literature belong to Ashtabula County. Albion W. Tourgee was born there in 1838, and made a wide reputation by his novels, “A Fool’s Errand” and “Bricks without Straw,”–impassioned and vivid reports of life in the South during the period of reconstruction; and Edith Thomas, who was born in Medina County, made Ashtabula her home till she went to live near New York. While she was still in Ohio, the poems which are full of the love of nature and the sense of immortal things began to win her a fame in which she need envy no others of our time.
One of the earlier Ohioans of note was John Cleves Symmes, of Butler County, who believed that the earth was penetrated at the poles by openings into a habitable region within it. He petitioned Congress for means to explore the Arctic seas and verify his theory; of course he petitioned in vain, but he won world-wide attention and made some converts. He had been a gallant officer of the United States Army, and had fought well in the War of 1812, but he died poor and neglected. He was of New Jersey birth, and of that stanch New Jersey stock which gave character to the whole southwestern part of Ohio.
Another and still more famous theorist, who is not generally known to have been an Ohioan, was Delia Bacon, who first maintained that the plays and poems of Shakespeare were written, by Sir Francis Bacon. She was born in Portage County at Tallmadge, where her father was settled as minister.
A sculptor who, if not the greatest American sculptor, has yet achieved in his art the most American things ever done in it, is J. Q. A. Ward, the author of the “Indian Hunter,” and many other noble if less native works. He was born at Urbana, in Champaign County, of the old pioneer stock; and in a region remote from artistic influences, he felt the artistic impulse in his boyhood. His earliest attempt was a figure modeled in the wax which one of his sisters used in making wax flowers, and which he clandestinely borrowed. Then he made a bas-relief of the first train of cars he ever saw, but this he did in clay at the village potter’s; and he also modeled in clay the head of a negro, well known in the place, which all the neighbors recognized. A few years later he was sent to school in Brooklyn, where he used every day to pass the studio of the sculptor H. K. Browne, and long for some accident that would give him entrance. The chance came at last; he told the sculptor the wish of his heart, and Browne consented to let him try his hand under his eye. From that time the boy’s future was assured. The famous sculptor lives absorbed in his work in New York, where his ripe years find him crowned with the honor that will survive him as long as his bronzes and marbles endure.
To Clinton County belongs the name of Addison P. Russell, whose charming books of literary comment have so widely endeared him to book lovers; but whose public services in his own state are scarcely known outside of it among the readers of “Library Notes,” or of “A Club of One.”
The inventor of the first successful electric light, Charles Francis Brush, was born on his father’s farm in Euclid, Cuyahoga County, in 1840, and still pursues in Cleveland the studies which have literally illumined the world. One of the earliest pioneers of science in geology and archaeology, Charles Whittlesey is identified with Cleveland, where the girlhood of the gifted novelist, Constance Fenimore Woolson, was passed. There, too, Charles F. Browne began to make his pseudonym of Artemus Ward known, and helped found the school of American humor. He was born in Maine; but his fun tastes of the West rather than the East.
Thomas A. Edison, the electrician whose inventions are almost of the quality of miracles, and have given him worldwide celebrity, was born in Milan, Erie County, in 1847, of mixed American and Canadian parentage. His early boyhood was passed in Ohio, but he went later to Michigan, where he began his studies in a railroad telegraph office, after serving as a train boy.
Another noted name in science is that of T. G. Wormley, long a citizen of Columbus, though a native of Pennsylvania. He wrote his work on poisons in our capital, where he had studied their effects on animal life, in several thousand cats and dogs, while a professor in Starling Medical College. His microscopical analysis was illustrated by drawings of the poison crystals, made by his wife, who learned the art of steel engraving for the purpose, when it was found that no one else could give the exquisite delicacy and precision of the original designs. Her achievement in this art was hardly less than her husband’s in science, and it is a pleasure to record that she was born in Columbus.
To Franklin County also belongs the honor of being the birthplace of the botanist, William S. Sullivant. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized him as the most accomplished student of mosses whom this country has produced.
I do not think it at all the least of her honors that Franklin County should be the birthplace of the horse tamer John S. Rarey, for whose celebrity the world was once not too large. He imagined a gentle art of managing horses by study of their nature and character, and in Europe, as well as America, he showed how he could subdue the fiercest of them to his will, through his patient kindness. In England the ferocious racing colt Cruiser yielded to Rarey, and everywhere the most vicious animals felt his magic. He was the author of a “Treatise on Horse Taming” which had a great vogue in various languages, and he achieved a reputation which was by no means mere notoriety.
Coates Kinney of Xenia was not born in Greene County, or even in Ohio; but he came to our state from New York when a boy, he has lived here ever since, and has been shaped by its life. His poem of “Rain on the Roof” is a household word, and it is the poem which will first come into the reader’s mind at the mention of his name. But his greatest poem is “Optim and Pessim,” which is one of the subtlest and strongest passages of human thought concerning the mystery of the universe; and his next greatest is his “Ode for the Ohio Centennial,” delivered at Columbus in 1888. It merits a place with the best that have celebrated, like Lowell’s “Commemoration Ode,” the achievements of the people.
In Greene County began the long journalistic life of William D. Gallagher, who was born in Philadelphia in 1808, but came while a child to Southern Ohio, and grew up in the impassioned love of that beautiful country. There was not much besides its beauty to endear it to him, for his life was a long struggle there with adverse conditions. But he never lost heart or hope; he failed cheerfully in one literary enterprise after another, and turned from literature to politics until he found the means and the chance to fail again in the field where his heart was always. In Xenia, in Cincinnati, in Columbus, in Louisville, he lived, now here, now there, as his hopes and enterprises called him, and ended at last on a little farm in Kentucky. His poetic vein was genuine; it was sometimes overworked, but at least one poem of entire loveliness was minted from it; and there are few American poems which impart a truer and tenderer feeling for nature than Gallaghers “August,” beginning–
“Dust on thy summer mantle, dust.”
The life of Whitelaw Reid, who was born near Xenia in 1837, is a romance of success from the beginning, of the kind that seems peculiarly American. His people were Scotch Covenanters, with the stern convictions of that race. It is said that his grandfather first settled in Hamilton County, but rather than run a ferry boat on Sunday, as the deed of his land bound him to do, he sold it and removed to Greene County, where his father was a farmer when the boy White-law was born. He sent his son to school and to college, and then left him to make his own way in the world, which he did by first becoming a country editor, and then going to the war as a newspaper correspondent, and taking part in several battles as an aid-de-camp. He learned to know the war at first hand, and he was well fitted to make his history of “Ohio in the War” the most important of all the state histories. He spent two years in writing this work of truly Ohioan proportions and of unfailing interest, and then he became Horace Greeley’s assistant on the New York Tribune. It was in the course of nature that after Greeley’s death he should become its owner and director, and should take a leading part in national politics. He has been our minister to France, and has acquired great wealth as well as honor; but he has remained affectionately true to the home of his youth, as his care of the old farmstead at Cedarville evinces.
Among the most eminent and useful citizens of the state was Nicholas Longworth, who came from New Jersey to Cincinnati, when just of age, in 1803. He was first to introduce the culture of grapes and the making of wine into Ohio; he planted the Catawba vine on the uplands of Cincinnati, where it flourished till the destruction of the forests changed the climate. He became very rich by his investments in lands, but he never outgrew his sympathy with the poor and struggling, and his hand was open to every one who could intelligently profit by his help. Many stories are told of his eccentricity. He was so simple in his dress that he was once mistaken for one of his own workmen by a stranger whom he had shown through his grounds, and who gave him a dime; Longworth thanked him and put it in his pocket For a long time he received the poor every Monday morning at his house, and gave whoever asked a loaf of bread, or a peck of meal, or their worth in money. His charity was of the divine order which does not seek desert in its objects. “I will help the devil’s poor,” he said, “the miserable drunken dog, whom nobody else will do anything for but despise and kick,” and he left the deserving poor to others, knowing that they were sure of friends.
Hiram Powers was the first American sculptor to give us rank in Europe. Longworth, who loved the arts as well as the industries, helped him to go to Florence from Cincinnati, where he had begun by modeling wax figures for a local museum. James H. Beard came from Painesville to Cincinnati, and won there his first success as a portrait painter. He was later to reveal the peculiar satirical gift for expressing human character in animals, for which his brother William H. Beard is perhaps even more famed. Among later artists, either born or bred in Cincinnati, Frank Dengler in sculpture, and Mr. Frank Duvaneck in painting, have shown extraordinary qualities. Dengler died at twenty-four, but not too soon to have given proof of his great talent; Mr. Duvaneck did such things in painting as to attract wide notice in America and Europe, where he headed a revolt of the young painters from the Munich School, and may be said almost to have founded a school of his own. These two young men were of the German stock which flourishes amid the Rhine-like hills of the Ohio; but another gifted Ohioan, who began his art life at Cincinnati, though he was born in Trumbull County, is of that pure American lineage commonest in the Western Reserve. Kenyon Cox, now president of the Art Student’s League in New York, is the son of the distinguished statesman and soldier, General J. D. Cox, who was one of the first to enter the army from civil life, and with Garfield and Hayes, to show military qualities second only to those of the West Point men.
Of this class of our generals was Ormsby M. Mitchell, the eminent astronomer in charge of the observatory at Cincinnati, who was among the first to go from that city to the war. He won rank and honor without fighting a battle, by virtue of the same qualities which enabled him to do more than any one else towards founding a public observatory at Cincinnati before any city in the East had one.
He was of Kentucky birth, and came a child to Ohio; but William H. Lytle, dear to lovers of poetry as the author of the fine lyric, “Antony and Cleopatra,” was born in Cincinnati, of the old Scotch-Irish stock, in 1826. He had everything pleasant in life and he enjoyed his prosperity, but when the war came he met its call halfway. At Chickamauga he fell, pierced by three bullets, in the thick of the fight. As he dropped from his horse into the arms of friends, he smiled his gratitude, and spent his last breath in urging them to save themselves, and leave him to his fate. The poem which begins with the well-known words,
“I am dying, Egypt, dying,”
will keep the name of Lytle in remembrance perhaps longer than all the poems of Phoebe and Alice Cary shall live, such are the caprices of fame; but the verse of these sisters is a part of American literature, as they themselves are a part of its history. They were true poets, and in their work a sense of
“The broad horizons of the West”
first made itself felt. They left the farm where they were born near College Hill and came to live in Cincinnati after they began to be known in literature, and later they went to dwell among the noises of New York, where they died; but the country, the sweet Miami country, remained a source of their inspiration, and now and again the reader tastes its charm in their verse.
They were undeniably Ohioan, while Pennsylvania may dispute our right to the fame of Thomas Buchanan Read, though his most famous poem, “Sheridan’s Ride,” was written and first recited in Cincinnati. We must not more than remind ourselves that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe passed part of her early life in that city, and is known to have gathered much of the suggestion for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” among the Ohio scenes where some of its most vivid events occur.
In the county of Huron a man of unquestionable claim to remembrance was born. George Kennan, whose enviable privilege it was to let the light in upon the misery of Siberian exile and to awaken the abhorrence of the world for Russian tyranny, was a native of Norwalk, where he grew up a telegraph operator. He worked at night and went to school by day, and when only nineteen, while one of the chief operators in Cincinnati, he applied for leave to join an expedition for laying a cable from Alaska to Siberia by way of Bering Strait. He was asked if he could get ready to start in two weeks, and he answered that he could get ready to start in two hours. He was appointed, and in this way he came to know the horrors which he afterwards studied more fully in a second visit to Siberia. He traveled fifteen hundred miles through that wintry prison of Russia, and saw and heard the sorrowful things which the despotism of the Czar has done to men who dare to love freedom.
His report of these cruelties has at least put their authors to shame before the civilized world, if it has not wrought so great an open change as the work of another Ohio man in dealing with even greater atrocities. It is interesting to note that Januarius A. Mac-Gahan was born in the same county as Philip H. Sheridan, of the same Irish parentage, to the same Catholic religion, and the same early poverty. He saw the light in July, 1844, in a log cabin on his father’s little farm among the woods near New Lexington in Perry County. He studied hard at school, and read constantly out of school, when a boy. When a little older, he worked for the neighboring farmers; he hoped to get a school to teach; but he could not get it in his own home, where he was thought too young, and he had to go to Indiana for it. From there he went to St Louis, where he became a newspaper reporter. In 1868 he sailed for Europe to study French and German, hoping to come home and practice law in that city. But his duty as correspondent took him to the scenes of various European wars, and launched him at last amidst the barbaric outrages of the Turks in Bulgaria. His exposure of their abominable misdeeds in 1876 roused the whole world; the English government officially examined his facts and found them indisputable. The war began between Russia and Turkey, and MacGahan returned to Bulgaria with the victorious Russian troops. There, wherever the people knew him, they hailed him as their savior. He had made their miseries so widely known to mankind as to render it impossible that they should continue. It is not strange that they thronged upon him, and kissed his hands, his boots, his saddle, his horse. In the peace that followed, a whole empire was torn from the bloody hands of the Turks, and four Christian peoples were saved from their savage rule. Bulgaria, Roumania, Roumelia, and Servia now belong to themselves, and all this has come about from the efforts of an unknown young Ohio man, who went abroad to study the languages, and changed the map of Europe. It reads like wild romance, but it is sober history.
Among all these Ohioans of celebrity we must not forget Johnnie Clem, the Drummer Boy of Shiloh. He ran away from his home in Newark, his native city, in 1861, when he was not yet ten years old, and joined the 24th Ohio as drummer; but he was afraid to be seen and sent home by an uncle who was in that regiment, and he cast his lot with the 22d Michigan. He was not only at Shiloh, but the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Nashville, and Kenesaw. He was taken prisoner in Georgia, and when his captors stripped him of his clothes he grieved for the loss of nothing except his cap, which had three bullet holes in it. After his release, he came home to get well, and then returned to the army, where General Thomas attached him to his staff. Later he was sent to West Point, where he could not be regularly entered because he was too small; but he made his studies, and Grant commissioned him as lieutenant, and he rose to be captain of infantry. He won the love and respect of all his generals, and while they lived they wrote him letters of affectionate friendship. He was once wounded by a shell, and once he lost his drum by the fragment of a bursting bomb.
J. J. Platt, who is first among Ohio poets, was born in Indiana; but his boyhood was passed mostly in Ohio, where he grew up on his father’s farm, amidst the scenes which he has loved to depict in his verse, until he became a printer’s apprentice. Since then he has dwelt in cities, both at home and abroad; but he is always happiest in dealing with the traits and aspects of country life, especially in the earlier times. He was for many years consul at different points in Ireland; and he has found in England even greater recognition for the distinctively mid-western quality of his poems than he has enjoyed among ourselves. So far as he is of Ohio, he is of Logan County, which has been the seat of his family from the settlement of the country; as his name suggests, he is of French descent.
Of Toledo, and therefore of Lucas County, was David R. Locke, who was born in New York state, but lived in Ohio from his fifth year onward. He was a printer and an editor, and after the war, he suddenly won national fame as the author of the Petroleum V. Naseby letters. These were satires of the old proslavery spirit which retarded the reconstruction of the South and harried the freedmen by mobs and lynchings. Their humor gave Locke a place in our literature which no history of it can ignore.
Another literary man who must be taken account of in the summing up of American literature was S. S. Cox, who made himself known early in the fifties when Ohio was far less heard of than now, by his lively book of travels, “A Buckeye Abroad.” He was a journalist and a politician; he was three times elected to Congress from Columbus, and when he went to live in New York, he was three times sent to the House of Representatives from that city, where he is commemorated by a statue. He was a native of Muskingum County, and was born in 1824 at Zanesville.
The latest and most brilliant contribution of Ohio to the scholarship of the East is Professor W. M. Sloane, now of Princeton University, but by birth of Jefferson County. He must rank by his “Life of Napoleon” among the American historians of the first class. He is of Scotch Calvinistic ancestry, and the son of a Presbyterian minister.
In this list of Ohioans who have done honor to our state, Mr. James Ford Rhodes happens to be last, though chance might well have placed him among the first He is the author of “A History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850,” which has a peculiar value in the field of American history, and which has given Mr. Rhodes prominent standing, with a constantly growing reputation. He is of the New England race of the Western Reserve; until within a few years his home was in Cleveland, but he now lives in Boston.
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