Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

"Pardon Jones" Letters: Old Southwest Humor from Antebellum Louisiana

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

"Pardon Jones" Letters: Old Southwest Humor from Antebellum Louisiana

Article excerpt

"Pardon Jones" Letters: Old Southwest Humor from Antebellum Louisiana. Edited by Ed Piacentino. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009. 240pp. Cloth: $37.50, ISBN 978-0-8071-3437-5.)

Around the dinner table as a child we often received large servings of Old Southwestern humor along with the nutritious meals. Strange as it may seem as I write in the waning years of the opening decade of the twenty-first century, my father was born in the nineteenth century. Yes, nineteenth century. He came into this world in 1887 somewhere in the environs of Jonesville, Louisiana, some twenty-odd miles across the Mississippi to the west of Natchez. Our father never attended school, but after his parents taught him to read, he developed a passion for books. After "reading the law" without the supervision of a practicing attorney, he was admitted to the bar in 1909, and in his early twenties, William Lee Guice began his sixty-year successful practice of law on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

What has this to do with C. M. Haile's "Pardon Jones " Letters! A lot. One book that our father most enjoyed as a youngster was the humorous classic from the Old Southwest, Joseph G. Baldwin's The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi, originally published in 1853.1 Most of the large servings of humor mentioned above came from its pages. Daddy's rendition of the humorous sketches painted by Baldwin served as a primer that provided me with a taste for the humor of the rugged southwestern frontier. Without the pleasant memories of those stories I most likely would not have accepted the invitation to review this book so capably edited by Ed Piacentino. Because both the flavor of the humor and the issues discussed by "Pardon Jones" are so far removed from the mindset of the present generation of readers, my personal readiness for this dose of humor proved to be a distinct advantage.

The well-annotated dialect letters of Pardon Jones published in the New Orleans Daily Picayune constitute most of the book's 218 pages of text. Preceding them is a twenty-four page interpretive introduction that prepares the reader for the humorous and informative letters. Following them is an extensive fourteen-page glossary that helps the uninitiated understand every word of the dialect. Indeed, readers who enjoy wrestling with vocabulary will find the glossary as entertaining as it is helpful. Of course, those who have read extensively in the sources generated by antebellum pioneers of the Gulf South may not need to consult the glossary often.

Who was Pardon Jones? This nom de plume belonged to an energetic, enterprising New Englander named Christopher Mason Haile. Haile moved down to Louisiana while in his early twenties as one of the contingent of prospective journalists hopeful of prospering during the "flush times" of the 1 830s. He settled in the tiny Mississippi River town of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish. There he founded the bilingual Planters ' Gazette Gazette de Planteurs), a weekly that stayed in publication for five years. Despite his intentions to remain politically neutral, Haile scarcely concealed a Democratic bias, often couching it in wit and humor. …

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