First Books: The Printed Word and Cultural Formation in Early Alabama

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First Books: The Printed Word and Cultural Formation in Early Alabama. By Philip D. Beidler. (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, c. 1999. Pp. xii, 185. $34.95, ISBN 0-8173-0985-3.)

Philip D. Beidler's First Books is a case study of the relationship between literature and social ideology in antebellum Alabama. Beidler studies literary creations by "Alabamians" ranging in time and tone from Lewis Sewall, who published a satirical poem about The Hero of the Burnt-Corn Battle in 1815, to Daniel R. Hundley, who published Social Relations in Our Southern States in 1860. Beidler delves deeply and with multifaceted analysis into the major productions of Joseph Clover Baldwin, Augusta Jane Evans, Caroline Lee Hentz, Henry Hitchcock, Johnson J. Hooper, Daniel P. Hundley, Octavia Walton Le Vert, Abner S. Lipscomb, A. B. Meek, Albert J. Pickett, William Russell Smith, and Harry Toulmin. He relates some of these Alabama authors to authors of regional, national, and international renown, such as William Cullen Bryant, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Walt Whitman. It appears that Beidler thoroughly enjoyed creating First Books: he massages the connections and evidences of kinship with the skill and euphoria of a seasoned genealogist who has just retrieved, from papers found in some remote attic, the long lost branches of the family tree.

This work clearly reflects Beidler's detailed understanding and honest appreciation of early nineteenth-century southern history, especially the Old Southwest and Alabama. He provides an insightful analysis of the legacy of the relationship between literature and social ideology in the postwar era of the nineteenth century. Beidler examines the creations of educators, professionals, politicians, journalists, historians, writers, and "sociologists," but, though religion is a major factor in social ideology, he excludes creations by any leading divines of the period. …

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