William Dean Howells: A Study

William Dean Howells: A Study

William Dean Howells: A Study

William Dean Howells: A Study

Excerpt

I was born," says William Dean Howells, in Years of My Youth, "on the 1st of March, 1837, at Martin's Ferry, Belmont County, Ohio. My father's name was William Cooper Howells, and my mother's was Mary Dean; they were married six years before my birth, and I was the second child in their family of eight."

The father's ancestors were Welsh; they made clocks and watches, first in Wales and later in London, from which capital a descendant afterward returned to Wales to found a homelier repute on the excellence of his flannel. In 1808, the novelist's grandfather, with his young wife and year-old son, landed in America, where his flannels were already prized; but his Welsh savings melted away in American enterprise, and a series of ventures, ending mostly as misadventures, brought him to anchor at last in Hamilton, Ohio. Here, as owner of the local book and drug store, he alleviated the bodily ills and mental hungers of his townsfolk. Meanwhile, the year-old son had grown to manhood, and in Wheeling, West Virginia, had met and married Mary Dean. This gave the future novelist an Irish grandfather, and a grandmother whose German phlegm (she sprang from the thrifty Pennsylvania Germans) was a needed offset to the Celtic yeast. Relative ignorance and advanced culture are but a step or two apart in our progressive country; the boy who was to rise to the headship of American letters had two grandparents who dropped their h 's and a third who could not read English and asked, "What fur a tay is it? . . ."

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