Stephen Vincent Benét and the American dream

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Stephen Vincent Benét and the American dream

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Chairman of the Graduate Council

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PREFACE This study has considered only the principal works of Stephen Vincent Benet with a few of his radio scripts written during World War II.

It is primarily concerned

with the concepts of national liberty and individual freedom as Mr. Benet interpreted them.

It does not

touch upon many aspects of this versatile author. The xvriter wishes to express her most sincere appreciation to the following persons who have helped make this work possible:

Dr. C. L. Sonnichsen, sponsor,

and Chairman of the English Department of the Texas Western College, Dr. Joseph Leach, of the English Staff of Texas Western, Mr. Baxter Polk and Mrs. Well Thompson of the Library staff and their able corps of assistants. Their inspiration, counsel, and courteous criticism have contributed much to the study.


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A SEED IS PLANTED........................



THE WIND OP F R E E D O M ....................



TEMPEST OF W A R ..........................



MODERN B R E E Z E S ..........................







V I T A .............................................



iv .

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CHAPTER I A SEED IS PLANTED Stephen Vincent Benet loved America— its people, its history, its traditions and its freedoms.

He was not

interested in oratorical mouthing either of the word "America or Liberty."

Nor was his praise that "blind

rhapsody of a nation intended, by celebrating the poet’s nationality, to celebrate the poet ."1


deep love

for the United States was founded not on a feeling of blood kinship and earth, but on an honest conviction that this country is unique in the annals of the world in permitting human freedom.

He knew that his America had its quota of

human misery, corruption, and plain asininity and one will find all these things in his books.

But stronger than any

other motive is Benet’s preoccupation with the idea that the United States is a place where that abused and dis­ torted word "Liberty" actually means that an individual has human rights and freedom from both bodily and intel­ lectual bondage. He says that "America is a country of hope— a country of freedom— a country where all nations in the

^ a u l Engle, "The American Search," Poetry (December, 19^3)* P- 160.

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world get along as good neighbors under the same big sky."^ People can worship in any way and in any church they wish— Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Buddhist— and no man can be persecuted or imprisoned for his beliefs.

Each man can

have a voice in his government; each man may voice a com­ plaint against abuse; each man can own a few acres of land. Each child has an equal chance of getting an education and each person accused of crime has a right to a fair trial. Men elect their leaders and if they are displeased with these officials, they remove them by the ballot, not by the guillotine.

They grumble about their government,

their taxes, their schools, their neighbors, but they are loyal to their country, to their flag and to the cause of democracy. The people of America do not assert that they have solved the problem of how people should live.

They have

made mistakes; they will make mistakes; but they look to the future always— "to a future of free men and women where there shall be bread and work, security and liberty for all the children of mankind ."3 claimed in many and varying voices:

This credo Benet pro­ some were loud and

shrill, almost drowning the narrative; some were only a

^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 3« 3 Ibid.

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3 soft echo to the story being told; but always some phase of freedom was being presented.

This idea of freedom for

all the peoples of the earth was a life-long obsession with him; it runs like a silver thread throughout his writings. Stephen Vincent Benet, the son of James Walker and Frances Neil Rose Benet, was born July 22, 1898 , in Bethle­ hem, Pennsylvania.

The Benet family, of Spanish descent,.

originally came from the Island of Minorca.

They came to

America in the early part of the eighteenth century and settled in Florida.

Evidently the family, even then, was

permeated with a love of freedom, for the grandfather was quoted often as resenting acts of depredation made upon the populace of Minorca in earlier days.

Nor did the

autocratic government of Spain appeal to him.

The great-

great-grandfather, Esteban, a master mariner between Spain and the Americas, was opposed also to any form of governmental oppression.

Esteban’s uncle was assassi­

nated in Havana for his democratic beliefs.

"This fact

pleased the more brutal instincts of his descendants. One can fancy that this ancestor assumed godlike pro­ portions to the liberty loving lad. Furthermore, a strong tradition of army service seemed to prevail in the family.^

Stephen’s father,


Stanley J. Kunitz, Twentieth Century Authors, pp. 116-117. ^Rico Brenner, Poets of Our Time, p. 3*

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grandfather, and great-grandfather were army officers.


grandfather was the first appointee from Florida to West Point.

He was made Chief of Ordnance and rose to the rank

of Brigadier General.

Even though the family lived in

Florida, he was a loyal Northerner and supported the cause of the North In the Civil War.

He was a garrulous old fel­

low and had a gift for telling interesting anecdotes.


haps as Stephen Vincent Benet listened to his grandfather’s tales, the seeds of liberty were implanted In the malleable mind of the little boy who loved his grandfather and his grandfather’s stories. Benet’s father was a Colonel, whose varying assign­ ments in his army career made many changes of locality neces­ sary.

When Stephen was seven the family moved from Pennsyl­

vania to California.

Here he entered school, but a few years

later the family moved eastward again. ment was to Georgia.

This time the assign­

So, from the very first years of his

life, he touched the vastness of America and came to know its many aspects; his college years in Connecticut added to this knowledge and Intensified the essential Americanism of his spirit.

This he tells about in one of hie earlier

poems: This flesh was seeded from no foreign grain But Pennsylvania and Kentucky wheat And it has soaked in California’s rain g And five years tempered in New England sleet.

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works, I, Poetry, 7.

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5 By both inheritance and tradition the boy Benet was influenced toward writing.

His older brother, William

Rose, and his sister Laura, became writers.

At all times

Colonel Benet kept a well-stocked library of fiction, bi­ ography, adventure, history and poetry for the children to use. them.

Nor was he ever too busy to sit and converse with William Rose Benet says that he could recall many

conversations between a bespectacled, small boy and an older man who always reminded one rather of a rapier, the latter biting his mustache and drawling his words with twinkling eyes.

Both draped themselves crookedly over

their respective chairs; the tendency on the part of the males of that family being never to sit straight in a chair if one could avoid it.

"They may have been dis­

cussing the Wilderness Campaign or Antietam (or some other phase of Southern History).

It was in my brother’s

most pronounced pro-Southern period, which had followed on a period of polemic Socialism, during which time, he would receive letters in red ink from his parent, ad­ dressing him as ’Dear Comrade.'"^ The boy Stephen lost himself completely in the books he read.

He lived the characters of both fiction

and history and played the part of many great men in

^William Rose Benet, "Round About Parnassus," Satur­ day Review of Literature (November 10, 193^) j P« 279*

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6 little plays written by himself and his brothers and sisters.

They had a hay loft that made an excellent

stage, even though Steve1s old gray donkey and the dog, Prince, furnished a rather unappreciative audience at times. But as a child Stephen Benet scribbled more than ir

he dramatized.

Always he was trying to put into words his

actual or fancied experiences.

Throughout his school years

he sent in numberless stories, verses and dramatic skits— some of which were accepted.

He won the medal in the

Children’s League Department of S t . Nicholas magazine and also received a special money prize for a poem called "The o

Regret of Dives."

(His "Dives" rhymed with hives). Signi­

ficant, indeed, is the fact that most of his early efforts touched in varying degrees the subject of freedom. At seventeen he published his first book of verse, Rive Men and Pompey.

This book consists of six poems

written mostly in iambic pentameter, although in them, as in later works, the author played with blank verse, rhymed couplets and lyrics.

The poems were in the style

of Browning’s dramatic monologues.

They dealt'with every9 day episodes in the private lives of great Romans. With ^William Rose Benet, "My Brother Steve," Saturday Review of Literature (November 15, 1941), pp. 4-24. 9 Brenner, op. cit., p. 3«

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the same skill with which he portrayed the leaders of America in his later works, the young writer painted the old Romans.

He "rescued them from the musty old Latin

texts and revealed them in moments of trivial human emotion rather than in those of epic g r a n d e u r ^ Cicero ponders over a letter to one of his friends, lamenting the horrors and the sorrows of Civil War and rejoices that his own family is safe in the country. downfall,

Pompey, after his final

is comforted by the thought that the ideals of

the Republic still endure— and Lucullus, exiled to his farm, rejoices over the fruit trees blooming in Roman soil and says they are "a far greater triumph than all my conquests. The idea of a certain limited freedom for mankind (even pity for the slaves) seems to be the motif: of the poems.

in each

Luis Untermeyer, the critic, called this

book, published at seventeen, "little short of astounding .''12 Shortly after the publication of this book, Benet entered Yale University, where he spent four happy years "as rich in human contacts as in the classroom studies." 13

1( ^Ibid., p. 6 . 1 1 Ibid.

12Louis Untermeyer, Modern American Poetry, p. 7^8. ^^Brenner, .ojo. cit., p. 3-

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8 Benet writes of his years in college in his novel The Beginning of Wisdom.

He has Philip Sellahy, his hero,

speak admiringly of certain teachers— "Billy Phelps, the most gracious and attractive of all the literary tradi­ tions of Yale— ^Stanley Cathcart, that acrid, eccentric genius with a mind that had the illuminated solidity and continuous, fluctuating brilliance of a fire opal— a pro­ fessor of paleontology, who made the dinosaur as familiar a beast as the camel— an assistant -professor of history with an eye for the purple and the scarlet of kings and queens.IT 14 William Lyon Phelps, the beloved Billy Phelps of Philip Sellaby’s memories, said of Benet, "He was uni­ versally popular, having a peculiarly lovable disposition. His gift for satire and irony was exercised in such a manner that it charmed its victims.

He was one of the

most sparkling conversationalists I have met anywhere. He has a combination of northern energy with southern relaxation that makes him irresistible."1^ Despite the hours that Benet spent in talking, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and in studying, which he also enjoyed, he did much writing.

His writing of experi­

ences and characters, real or imagined, continued and he

-*-^Ibid., p. 8 .


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began to work more seriously on verse as a medium of ex­ pression, again trying many verse forms.

Much of this

work was accepted by the publications, the Yale Record and the Yale Literary Magazine and in his Junior year - he served on the editorial board of the latter. When the United States entered the War of 19141919* Benet enlisted and served three days until his de­ fective eyesight was discovered (he says he ruined his eyesight reading about the SouthI) and he was discharged. He then obtained a Job as cipher clerk in the State De­ partment and was listed in Yale1s Literary Magazine among 16

"Editors in Service." ' By 1919 he was back at Yale and was made Chairman of the Board on this magazine.

In this capacity he had

free rein and wrote copiously on varied subjects.


contributed original matter, book reviews, comments, and editorials on dozens of subjects, two of which were his old favorites— freedom and war.

He wrote of Utopias, of

which men have dreamed and written for years untold. These Utopias were impossible places where, despite the varying circumstances, "all men were free ."17

1 ^Ibid.•. p. 8 . 17 Ibid., P- 11 ♦

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Modern warfare, he says, except for the "incurable romantics of the Aviation," is not an adventure; it is a "disgusting, muddy, thorough card-index sort of business— We shall fight for an end unknown to us under a cause *1 O

which we do not understand, -

and he adds that doggedly,

ignorantly, blindly, we shall drive on to a "hidden and bloody consummation.

Whether the thing we get will seem

worth the price we pay must rest indifferent to u s . it is by such means that men get their freedom." 1 ft


But war and his lifelong obsession with freedom did not absorb all his time by any means.

He wrote about

the poets of old, of Keats and Shelly, of music, art, poli­ tics, education, literature, and the current topics of the day.

And he kept working in verse, experimenting and re­

vising and often destroying what he had written.

Many of

these poems were published in Yale publications.


of the best are preserved in the Yale Book of Student Poetry for 1919 Benet’s second book of verse, Young Adventure, was published in 1918 by the Yale University Press. Later


I k M - , p. 1 1 .

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11 in life he spoke of this collection as "weedy rhymes. As in his other verse, no one style dominated him.


he tried many verse patterns and even dipped into free verse but veered away from it because of his dislike of "formlessness."

Whatever form of verse suited the emotion

he wished to portray, he used, and how well he suits his rhythm to his idea is shown throughout his writings, but especially in John Brown *s Body.

Some lines march in

stately fashion; others dance lightly and airily along; some weep with the dead and dying; and others boom and thunder with the shouts and salutes of the victorious. Time and again Benet dipped personally into bust­ ling, complicated, modern life.

He mingled with all classes

and talked and talked, but listened, too, always consider­ ing and weighing everything that was said.

He had an un­

canny insight into the needs and motivations of people. His strong sense of humor, which later developed into the delicate irony so characteristic of his later works, was quite pronounced in this period. He was chosen Class Poet and graduated in 1919 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.

Then he did a year’s graduate

work, majoring in English.

His Master’s Degree was awarded

him in 1920.

On a fellowship he went to France and studied

at the Sorbonne. 20

Ibid. , p. 11.

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12 In France Benet met Rosalie Carr, a writer on the staff of the Chicago Tribune.

Shortly after their return

to the United States, they were married in Chicago. next few years were the ’lean years.”


Always, the necessity

for making a living was pressing upon him.

He was deter­

mined to write and during this period of time did adver­ tising work of many kinds (not very successfully) and wrote much in both prose and poetry.

He also did many

of his short stories and longer fictional works.


many of these were sold, Benet was not pleased with his work of this period. In 1926 the Guggenheim Foundation granted him a fellowship.

He and his family went to France where he

spent a year outlining, writing, and polishing a theme he had for a long poem.

He chose for his subject the old

love of his younger days, the Civil War. The result was John Brown *s B o d y .

In "cinematic

fashion, projecting widely separated episodes, depicting numerous characters, varying its tones, interjecting com­ ments, like the captions of the old silent moving pictures, PI

it presents a-sweeping drama of the Civil War.”


critics say that this effect is bad; others assert that "John Brown's Body is cinematic in the very best sense

21 Ibid., p. 1 7 .

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13 OO that the word can hear;’


that Benet used the very best

techniques of the cinema most effectively— cutbacks, closeups, and simultaneous portraiture. At its publication, the book was an instantaneous success.

The first edition sold 22,000 copies and the other

editions were equally successful.

It won for Benet the

Pulitzer Prize and the Roosevelt Medal, and made him fi- . nancially secure. short time.

He returned to Prance to live for a

Then he made his home in Rhode Island and

later in New York.

He continued writing— novels, short

stories, ballads, and poems— for more than twenty years. 2R His novels were the least successful of his works. His short stories were better.

His poetry ranged from a high 24 level to jingles of a Riley variety, but as a whole he

showed unquestioned poetic mastery. His range of subj'ects and styles is amazing— from hill-billy stuff through the supernatural and fantastic, to the glittering sophistication of the modern New Yorker. The following excerpt might have been taken from one of Vachel Lindsay's poems:

22Eugene O ’Neill, Jr., "S. V. Benet’s John Brown's Body," Saturday Review of Literature (August 6 , 1949)* P* 3^* 2 3]£unitz and Hagerty, ojs. cit., p. 1152 ^Ibid., p. 1 1 6 .

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. 14 He could fiddle down a possum from a mile high tree., He could fiddle up a whale from the bottom of the sea.25 hut some lines rise up to epic grandeur: Rise up, John Brown, (Amoulderin’ in the grave) Go down, John Brown, (Against all Egypt’s land) Go down, John Brown, And set my people free. The basic problem in the kind of poetic narration found in the Western Star and John Brown's Body is to find a verse form flexible enough to give expression to variety of material— known historical facts, violent action, dialogue, speculative summary— and yet i:tight enough to retain the necessary minimum of tautness."


Benet used a flexible blank

verse. To avoid monotony, the accounts of certain characters are told in rhymed couplets of four beats, but with consider­ able variation in the total number of syllables.


ly, there are plain prose insets but even they seem to have a certain cadence. Whatever style Benet used, it was suitable to the emotion he wished to portray.

In early adolescence and

throughout his college years, Benet had dreamed and planned of writing a series of long narrative poems about America.

25stephen Vincent Benet, Ballads and Poems, p.


26gtephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works, I, 186. ^ P a u l Engle, "The American Search," Poetry, pp. 160- 161 .

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15 It is regrettable that he was able to finish only two of the books planned to show the "onward move" and strength of the American people.

He leaves a deplorable gap be­

tween the colonization period and the troubled time of the Civil War, and between the Civil War and the present time.

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CHAPTER II WIND OF FREEDOM Although much of the work which Benet had planned was uncompleted, in his finished writings we find the spirit and the essence of what Americans have been and are and the sure knowledge of what they will become.

"Americans are al-

xtfays moving on "1 is the first line of the narrative poem Western Star.

As no other could, this line expresses the

true American spirit.

If our nation is to survive, Ameri­

cans must move on— on to greater visions of liberty and equality for all— regardless of race, creed or color. Throughout the ages, man has longed for liberty; from the start of America there were enough liberty-loving men to keep the seeds of self-government "Implanted in our begin­ nings "2 alive and growing.

Benet tells us that he does not

see a clear-cut neat pattern for the Americans of the future, •3 only a "vast formless fortune and bane" with the voice of freedom the dominant factor.

1Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 3* ^Stephen Vincent Benet, We Stand United, p. 72. 3Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 7.

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17 One agrees with Benet

that "no neat design of

what they are"^ can he made of Americans past or present— there are too many of them!

With astounding omniscience

Benet seems to understand all types of freedom-loving and freedom-seeking people— the rollicking adventurer, the re­ pressed Puritan, the hound apprentice, the petty thief, the drah prostitute, the Jewish trader, the lonely trapper, the fiery-eyed fanatic, the "steel and fire" Southern lady, the chivalric Southern cavalier, the dreaming girl, the cackling hag, the eager youth, the land-hungry man., the vision-haunted poet, the run-away slave, the faithful house servant.


describes too many to enumerate here hut one can sum them up concisely hy saying that he portrays the great and the lowly of America.

Perhaps the easiest way to handle them

is to classify them roughly according to the three great periods of time covered in Benet*s books— the Colonial, the Civil War, and the present, and to begin with the period of colonization. "There was a wind over England"


in Queen

Elizabeth*s day and it blew news of the lush Virginia land; it rattled the casement windows of the middle class of England; it shrieked around the battlements of the courtierfe* castles; it stirred the dust in the basement areaways ^Ibid. , p. 7 * 5ibid., p. 17-

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18 of the poor and enslaved.

Raleigh, the Queen's beruffled

favorite and other "hungry lords of the court, greedy as cuckoos, bold as kingfishers,"^ had visions of gold beyond measure.

The "glover, the mercer, the hatter, the tailor,

the baker"^ all were alert for new produce and new markets. That persistent wind rocked the wave's against the wharves of England and gave the common sailor a vision of new ho­ rizons .

It carried hope to the hinds and outcasts living


oh "nettles in Merry England" ; it whispered of new begin­ nings to "the poor, the restless, the striving, the broken 9 knight, the cast-off soldier, the younger sons." It breathed independence to beggars and half-starved boys bound to miserly masters; it assured the vast throng of "dissenters and non-conformists and Puritans"10 that re­ ligious freedom would be theirs in the new world.


wind "carrying -the promise of freedom "11 moved all of -them so that a vast upheaval took place and the migration to America began.


Ibid. 5 p. 17.

7 Ibid., p. 2 0 .

^lbid., p. 2 0 . 9

Ibid., p. 21.

1 QIbid., p. 8 7 .

i:iStephen Vincent Benet, Tales Before Midnight, p. 82.

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19 Typical of the restless youth of England affected by the news of America was Dickon Heron, who was


prenticed to a mercer but whose penchant for the bustle and push of the London streets gives us an interesting peep into Queen Elizabeth’s time..

A fire within him

made him willing to get to America on any terms that he could, so he came as a bond-servant to a shabby noble­ man who had "followed like a hound the heels of favor and notice"


for twenty years in the Court - a shoddy

rgentleman, to whb.m Dickon gave service and loyalty of sorts.

How Dickson was cheated, beaten, Jailed, freed,

wed; how he acquired some acres of his own and how he finally was killed by the Indians, make a good bypath of interest. Matthew Lanyard came for another reason.


finds deep satisfaction in reading of men like this one in whose soul a seed was planted— the seed of religious freedom: It is hard to trace The slow growth of convictions from this seed, Till they harden and yet it'happens, And when it happens to men of Matthew’s kind You have a force in the world.3-3 This force compelled Matthew to leave his comfortable home and flourishing trade in England and to seek a home In America. [

12Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 87. 13Ibid., p. 123.


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20 Jacob Stein, the Jewish scholar, spoke for a multi­ tude of the oppressed of the earth when he said that in this vast strange land, he saw "the Promised Land, not only for his seed but for nations yet to come."^


thought many of his people who, later on, came in great numbers.

They endured the hardships without complaining

for they "knew there is always a price to be paid for the freedom and the name of a people. Men came westward for many other reasons— for adventure, for land, for gold, but the rollicking, men­ dacious John Smith— Benet calls him "an American Chimera" — came because he had seen the land and had "fallen in love 16 with it. His story in Benet1s poem has more human inter­ est than it does in the history books.

As if by magic

Benet makes all his historical characters "alive and real despite the crucifying flatness of their legendary charac­ ters as pinned down in history books. introduction intrigues us:

he sat

John Smith’s

on a stool in a tavern

windily bragging of his adventures to all and sundry who

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Tales Before Midnight, p. 88. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, The Last Circle, p. 8l. ■'■^Stephen Vincent Benet, The Western Star, p. 22. 17

Christopher La'Parge, "The Narrative Poetry of Stephen Vincent Benet," The Saturday Review of Literature (August 5, 1944), p. 106~.

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21 cared to listen.

He had been everywhere and had seen

everything— had been a prisoner of the Turks, a beggar in Muscovy, a paladin in Transylvania.

According to him,

he had been shipwrecked twenty times— had been a lover of fair ladies in a dozen lands; there was no end to his "vast mountain of t a l e s t h a t

irritated deeply other men who

were fashioned in more conventional moulds.

Liar that he

often was, most of this "arrant creature's" tales are sub19 stantiated by historical records. During the first years in the Great Enterprise, Smith rendered invaluable services by his irrepressible hopefulness, practical wisdom and vigor­ ous government.

And withal he had the gift of laughter!

These men found that the new world was something more than an extension of the old; its exploiters, the men who had planned with such "cunning of brain and strength of hand,"


had thought it would be Just a new England.

They had planned for gold and iron, for farming and trade, for towns and steady things. tracks fading out in the dew."

But "their plans were deer20

The first settlers who

came "were resolved to be Englishmen"



but they ate the

* Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 43-

■^Charles Leonard Stuart, editor, People's Cyclopedia, unnumbered pages. 20Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 116.

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22 "white corn kernels," breathed the heady air of freedom, and were "new-born on American ground, baked by American pT suns, washed by American rains," and never were English again.

This democratizing process began with the "plant­

of people fighting a wilderness— one at Jamestown, Virginia one at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

For over a century there

had been other men exploring, hunting new trade routes, or seeking gold; there had even been one attempt to make a settlement and to plant tobacco.

This settlement had

been swallowed up by the forest leaving only the name "Croatan" carved on a tree and a haunting legend. In 1607 to the low-lying lands along the James River came three small ships to "plant" people.


their primary purpose was to seek gold and new trade, these men carried with them the idea of determining whether people could live in this strange land— and says Benet, "that is important."


They were neither

slaves nor convicts but free men— that, too, is im­ portant.

Many had died enroute— "bad water, crowded

21Henry Steele Commager, "The Poets of America’s Heroic History," Senior Scholastic (September 20-25, 19^3), PP. 22-23. 22Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 8.

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ing" of America with homemakers, with two little groups

23 quarters,, stinking beef"2^ and an overlong voyage caused illness and death among the poorer ones— "it is so they perish. . . the blown chance pollen lost in the wilder‘ 24 ness." More notice was taken of the one gentleman who died of sunstroke on the little West Indian island where they had stopped for water than of these many humbler ones who died enroute.

This fact is not in accord with Benet*s

sense of democracy: It does not say where they buried Edward Brookes, Who had come for gain or adventure or recklessness, But who died of sunstroke among the lizards, Though, being a gentleman, he is remembered . . . They are not remembered, the bodies cast overside While the Captain stands for a moment with bowed head.25 We agree with John Smith that the "voyage was top-heavy with fine gentlemen."^6 These gentlemen were scattered in the three ships, "each man thinking himself as good as the rest."27


had too much time to ponder on which of them had been se­ lected to govern the Colony.

Seven names together with

their charter and the sealed orders of the East India

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 46. 22tIbid. , p. 47. 25Ibid., p . 48. 26Ibid., p. 47. 27Ibid., p. 49.

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24 Company had been put into a small ironbound chest which some wag called "Pandora’s Box"— and a veritable Pandora’s Box it proved to be.

Even before it was opened it oc­

casioned plots and counter-plots, gossiping, wrangling, and suspicions galore.

To be sure the gossip was only

the idle, human diversion of hot-blooded men cooped up together in too-close quarters through long "itching weeks" when one gets to hate a man for the way he talks, eats, walks, "snores at night or dips his hand in the dish."


But it worked harm because hates and suspicions engendered during the long voyage rankled long after the landing, and caused a "badly Jangled council" in the new land. But life seemed fair and full of hope the spark­ ling day in April when the men first saw the long-lookedfor-shore— "the promise and the glory of America."



was a land as strange to them as the mountains and the craters of the moon would be to us today.

They were be­

wildered by it— by its vastness, its silence, its cruel air of indifference. children,"



They were "awed and dazzled like

but they landed and explored.

After the

Ibid., p. 49.

29stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Workd of Stephen Vincent Benet, I, 445. 30

Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 7 .

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25 long days in the little ships they were intoxicated by the first flood of the Virginia spring— the white dogwood, the wild strawberries, the cornflower blue sky, the silver stream, the tall trees— all the strange sounds and sights of the land, and they ran and played like children in the sand.

Indeed, " ’twas a land, a land I They blest themselves arid were gay." 31 But later in the afternoon, they

were attacked by the Indians "creeping like bears through the grass, with bows in their mouths."3^

with typical

British courage that verges on stupidity they stood close together, a noble target for the Indians’ arrows, and fired blindly into the underbrush.

Several Englishmen were wound­

ed but the Indians, seemingly unhurt, faded like spirits in­ to the shadows.

Upset by their first taste of Indian warfare,

they decided to open their Pandora’s Box; they felt the need of guidance. So they landed, and the world’s greatest experiment in democratic living began.

Their charter guaranteed them

"rights as Englishmen"^3 even here at the end of the world— all the "liberties, franchises and immunities" of those

Stephen Vincerit Benet, Western Star, p. 51* 32Ibid.,



■^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 8. L IB R A R Y TEXAS WESTERN COLLEGE


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26 within the realm of England were theirs, but a most sig­ nificant thing is the fact that they were to be governed by several men— "no one-man rule."^ Time passed; all nature was bountiful in game and provisions.

Sometimes the Indians fought them; sometimes

they were friendly, but always there was a feeling of sus­ pense and unreality: It was like a strong enchantment, a waking dream But the drums in the forest said, ’We watch, we watch’ They are white men with thundersticks but they are few.’ The loops of the grapevine whispered, ’They are few. ’ Perhaps we will fight them, perhaps we will give them corn. It is hard to know. This is new. It is hard to know.35 So the Indians watched and wondered— wondered at the white man’s feeble efforts to make a home in the wilderness. These men were very ignorant about living in the wilderness.

The heat was intolerable, there was no rain,

the river water was low and bacteria-laden; hordes of in­ sects came like clouds out of the forest and marshes "on small, innumerable buzzing, deadly wings.'0

The men

sickened and died; every morning there were new corpses

34Ibid. , p. 8. 33Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 553^Ibid., p. 6 2 .

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27 dragged out of their cabins like stiffened dogs "to lie in the hateful earth of this wilderness"^— the El Dorado where they had hoped to find gold.

Their high-sounding talk of O gold and trade, of new life and "freedom for all'0 was for­ gotten in the daily misery of living.

By the end of the

summer, the few left alive were Life-sickened shadows, dragging weary limbs Mechanically to the rotten bulwarks, Staring into the forest with dull eyes Knowing they had to watch for something there But half-forgetting what.39 John Smith lay sick with fever, there was no rule or order of the affairs of life, and all seemed lost.

"And then, ..40 no man knows why, there came the savage bringing corn. Considering how quickly the white man forgot this lifesaving episode, this seems pathetic; so often it seems the fate of man to feed that which destroys him.


himself says that the way the Indians were treated was the first great wrong done in the name of Freedom in America. That the Indians were friendly was proved by this incident which historians have never been able to explain.


thinks they were "compelled by . . . some old, barbaric

37Ibid., p. 64. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, They Burned the Books, p. 21. 39gtephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, pp. 68- 69. ^°Ibid., p. 68.

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courtesy of* m a n ’s, wild as his heart, red as his hunter’s 4i dreams," and he adds, Hear the words . . . For now the long wrong begins and the long wars, But they were men, not demons, that we broke For the good land and the sweet waters And the corn.42 These men did not find gold, they did not make much money in new trade, they lived through seemingly un­ bearable hardships.

Once, in utter despair, they abandoned

Jamestown and fled in open boats down the river only to meet the relief ships.

What superb courage it took to returnI

Only men in love with freedom would have done it.


praises them for this courage but as always he also seems to have an understanding heart and "a shrewd eye for the weak and the afraid, the inefficient and the foolish."


He writes with sympathy of one of the councilors who was sent home in disgrace to England. "He could not make 44 * ropes of sand. Some men can." So great is Benet’s artistry that one can see the poor old man trying to ex­ plain to an uncaring world that he was right and the other men wrong:

2j~1 Ibid. , p. 6 9 .

42Ibia., p . 7 2 . 43paul Engle, "Five Years of Pulitzer Prizes," The English Journal, XXXVIII (February, 1949)iy 6 l. [ I

44stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 53*

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29 My one contention was to avoid contention, I never turned my face from danger once Or hid my hands from labor. I never had . . . But the o'ne squirrel roasted. . . . ^ I never denied any man a penny whistle. By heat, by cold, by fear, by inefficiency, by pestilence, by death— for many paid the price of blood for the "sweet­ smelling land"— by some or all of these things, the men found that "freedom is a hard bought thing. Despite these things, in twelve years they had built a colony; women had come over and children had been born. By 1609 people were coming to Virginia in hordes: Like bees to a clover field They are coming to starve, to freeze. . . Yesi They are coming now and You will not stop them coming With frozen ice or the roaring of the great waters, The blind white pestilence, walking abroad at noon The arrow at midnight, the lightning stroke. They are coming now, all death will not stop their coming. ^ And nothing did stop them; from all the cities and counties of England there was a constant flood of people wanting a new life. On a hot summer day in July, 1 619 , there was a forward step in this new life; the Governor of Virginia

^ I b i d . , p. 5 2 . ^Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Ben£t, II, 5 6 . ^Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 8 l.

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called an Assembly.

He, his councilors and twenty-one

other men met in a little wooden church at Jamestown on the edge of* nowhere.

These men did not discuss laws

which we would consider very important; they dealt with cattle, canoes, Indians, stealing, ministers, marriage, births and burials— the little, necessary, inescapable things of their time.

What they worked on is not im­

portant; the outstanding thing is that other men besides the governor and the council met, argued, and had a part in making the laws that governed their lives.

It was not

self-government yet— not by any means— but it was a start for these men who had lived in England under a very dif­ ferent regime.

"The seed of freedom took root in the rich

earth between the rows of tobacco, under the warm Virginia ,,48 sky." Meanwhile something else began to happen, too.


a certain John Pory came over from England in 1619 to write of Virginia and its "painted salvages," he had this entry: "Our cow-keeper here. . . on Sundays goes accoutered dressed all in freshe flaming silk; and a wife. . . . of a collier of Croyden weares her rough bever hatt with a faire pearl hattbahd."^9

Then, too, when the first family landed in

iLg Stephen Vincent-Benet, America, p. 10. „

49lbid., p. 14.

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Virginia, they brought with them a serving maid, Anne Burras.

She, after a short courtship, married John

Laydon, a day laborer.

This "sticks in the mind, for

they were serving maid and laboring man and yet,— they 50 were half of the first families of Virginia." All this was part of the American dream "that any man should 51 have a chance to do his best and rise in the world." Indeed Dickon Heron knew whereof he spoke when he said that America was "the world where a man starts clear once he's paid the price of getting here"32

and that he had

come to get gold but would die like a squire of ground with his sons about him for "something's grown:.that 'I „52 never planned. This intangible something, though Dickon could not have expressed it, was the something that Benet celebrated throughout Western Star— a new sense of human values, a "new sense of manhood, a new •c-o quality, a new tolerance." Very different in many ways were the Pilgrims from the Virginians.

These Pilgrims were a quiet, God-fearing

3°Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 8l. 31Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 10. 32Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 159* 33Henry Steele Commager, "The Poets of America's Heroic History," Senior Scholastic (September 20-25* 19^3) pp. 22-23*

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32 group of family men with the ’’humble, stupendous arrogance of men who are quite sure God is with them.”5^

They left

England because they were "harried, mocked and spurned. . . 55 for their faith” of God as they saw it. But the wind blowing the fabulous Virginia land affected these grave, pious people also.

They pondered and prayed long

•and frequently before they made a decision.

They had

heard that the "chance of living was something like one 56 in eight." So it is not surprising that only one hundred and three decided to go.

There were men of various trades

and natures among these— the one thing that most had in co m m on

was their religious faith.

Women were there, too,

as widely diversified as the men, but knit closely to­ gether by their common fate— a heritage of deprivation, hard work, end fear. not show. . . . show f e a r . " ^

This fear was something

they must

It is hard for men to have their women So they suppressed their fears and like

the men, carried through dread, loneliness, need, frost, fever, cold, heat, and "the rebellious mind, the sleeping ,,58 seed that will not waken yet, the small seed of liberty. There is an unforced, almost childish sweetness about the

55Rosemary and Stephen Benet, A Book of Americans, p.l4. 5^g-fcephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 116. 57rbid., p. 139* 58ibid., p. 152.

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33 whole band of religious freedom seekers— "the honey of the iron, the naive, devoted, confident wonder that made 59 them Pilgrims.” They prayed but they worked; they longed for the bliss of God but took precautions against scurvy. And always underneath, ran- the motif of owning land and of being free to worship God as they pleased in the new land. All of them dreamed of a world where no man "would be 60 whipped or bound but all men live like brothers." So with a dream instead of a charter they set sail for Virginia.

They were staunch in faith but few in number.

Benet says,. "You could write the whole roll down on a single sheet of paper . . . even the dogs, and when you have written them down, you write New England"^ as it was in the begin­ ning.

It was a disagreeable voyage; there was much hymn ..6 l

singing; the "godly prayed and the ungodly spat overside," and the leaders worried about having no charter.


practical men, they had tried to get a charter from King James but he did not trust them and would not give their expedition his royal blessing; he "let it be known that if the Pilgrims behaved themselves and did not make trouble, he would let them alone" go.

but that was as far as he would

The Virginia Company gave them a patent or right to

59jbid.^ p. 133• 60Ibid., p. 180. 6lIbid., p. 133^ S t e p h e n Vincent Benet, America, p. 13.

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3^ settle in Virginia, but they did not settle in Virginia; they settled in New England.

Historians give us many

reasons for their change of plans; the simplest one is probably the right one— they had got off course.


sixty-five long days they had been on a badly crowded ship and they had found land, not the fertile land of the far-famed Virginia, but good solid land that seemed w o n d e r - . ful after the long sea voyable.

"They looked at the land, „63 and it seemed good, a fair land and suddenly they were sick of the s h i p ’s smells and of the sea— so they landed. But before they landed, the men, realizing that their patent was worthless in this bleak country, drew up the Mayflower compact vrfbfcda forty-one men signed. Carver was made first governor.


This compact said that

they were "loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James"6^ and while this document did not guarantee liberty, democracy and equality for all, still new words had been 65 said— these "words had been written down." Later on men remembered this charter and that pledge. be done; ordinary men— the quiet fathers

The thing could oj_


Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 135* ^ S t e p h e n Vincent Benet, America, p. 14. 65rbid., p. 15.

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35 geo together and. have a voice in running their own af— .

Indeed, this was a notable advance in the growth

of liberty. j.t would be tedious, though perhaps interesting, to relate step by step as Benet did, the trials and suf­ ferings of these people.

Like the first settlers of

Jamestown these men and women fought unbelievable hard­ ships in an ever-encroaching wilderness.

Theirs was an

ordeal by cold instead of a trial by heat, but the suf­ fering and the sickness were the same.

Half of them died

during the first winter, but though strong men died and "gallant women," they saved every child born alive. There are many stories of these Pilgrims related by Benet


that peculiar "particular"- attention to detail that is characteristic of his writing— that makes these men and women move and breathe for us.

They were indeed "human

beings aboard the Mayflower, not merely ancestors."



deed It would be Interesting to know more about many of them;

"pepper-pot" Miles Standish of whom they said, "It

I s n ’t where your inches stop. starts” *^ 7 m an";67


J-t's where your courage

Morton of Maypole fame who ''was a merry

John and Priscilla Alden and their famous court­

ship ; and Dorothy Bradford, the young wife who, through

66Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 13367ptosemary and Stephen Vincent Beneo, op.— c i o .,

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despair, chance, loneliness or fate,"^ fell over the side of the Mayflower and died in the freezing water. One wonders was the "heady” cup of freedom too strong a draught for her?

There must have "been many of these

small intimate things of the heart that "cannot be written— not with a pen."


They suffered untold agonies; but when the spring came even with the "colony cut in half," the living took heart— the sun shone brightly, the land was green and "the birds sang sweetly" as of yore in rural England. not too, part of the American dream?

Is that

It is a basic fact,

"plain, simple, bare as the hills and rocks of New England that the living must renew their courage and make the best of a bad situation.

The Indians helped; they taught the

inept Pilgrims to plant and use corn, to tread the clams from the beach, to catch the eel in the river, in short, to learn to take care of themselves in a savage land. Through the first years they lived on the edge of star­ vation, but in the end they did what they had come to do. "Prom the trees of the forests and the resolute iron of their own hearts, they had built an abiding place where it7l they could worship God as they chose. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 144. ^ I b i d ., "

7°Stephen Vincent Benet, "A Tooth for Paul Revere, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent .Benet, II, 2 5 . 71Stephen Vincent Benet.' America, p. 15-

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37 So another seed of freedom was planted in America. At Jamestown men kept the rights they had "brought from overseas,

"found the wilderness made men e q u a l , s e t

up an assembly in which all classes had a right to speech; at Plymouth men declared they had a right to worship God as they pleased and set up a system of local self-govern­ ment which, while it did not include everybody, was quite different from and vastly more democratic than that under which they had lived in Europe. And in both settlements, a man had value as a man. These first settlers were a motley of good and bad; the good predominated but there was at least one one murderer among the Pilgrim Company.

In the main ,

they were simply ordinary people— "farmers, stocking weavers, younger sons, adventurers, carpenters, plowboys—


no roll of the rich and great was theirs."

In the next

great migration to Massachusetts Bay Colony, a real knight, Sir Richard Saltonstall, came over, and later many men and women of wealth, rank, and title came.

But on the whole

the "rich and the great, the complacent and the docile, stayed at home."73

It has been said that of those who

72Ibid., p. 16 . 73Ibid., p. 16 .

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38 came

God winnowed the wheat to plant in the wilderness."7^

William Bradford’s Journal tells "the dangers were great but not desperate; the difficulties were many but not in— vincible."

Later., when America moved westward, there

was a saying that "The cowards never started and the weak died on the w a y . " ^

This statement is also true of the

first Americans; it had to be.

One does not leave every­

thing one has known and cross unknown seas without strength, resolution, daring, belief in God and confidence in one’s self, without a desire to be free and to be a man or "some equally compelling and driving force.

And if you bring *7 nothing but emptiness you do not live." There were, it is true, some weak and vicious rascals who came for this or that--usually to save their own necks-,-and a few of them survived, took roots, learned to stand on their own feet and became good Americans.

And so it was "in the be­

ginning; the seed is sown and it grows in the deep earth and from it comes what the sower never dreamed."



fledgling Americans were a people not yet fused into a nation; but they were a promising beginning. a wind that blew over England

"There was

and it blew throughout all

nations from this little start in America— bearing the hope of freedom.

7^ibid. 75lbid., p. 17. 7%bid. 77stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 132.

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CHAPTER III TEMPEST OF WAR The years passed; the little "seeds of liberty" planted along the Atlantic shore had thrived and borne fruit

both material and spiritual— far beyond the great­

est hope.

Though the period between the settlement of

America and the Civil War is interesting, full as it is of stirring national movements and sectional sentiments fast crystallizing into belligerence, it is easy to under­ stand why Benet x*rrote John B r o w n 1s Body first in the series of narrative poems planned.

No war is really "romantic or

glamourous but the temptation to read romance and glamour into the Civil War is almost irresistible.


Benet tells us that it was a war in which the major problem was always freedom of some sort.

The emancipation

of thousands of the enslaved was one issue; the solution of the mooted question of state rights was another.


was a war fought between brothers whose Ingrained inde­ pendence and love of liberty were stronger than blood t i e s ; It was a war fought with courage, with tenacity, with resourcefulness, with magnanimity and with idealism.

-^Henry Steele Commager, "America1s Heroic Tragedy," Scholastic Teacher (February 1, 1950)* P- 1 0 *

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No other war in our history has affected the lives and thoughts of our people so much.

It is deeply imbedded

in the American imagination, the American tradition,the American character.

There have been more tales, legends,

songs, novels, and movies founded on its incidents than on any other national event.

And no other author has

studied it more closely than did Stephen Benet. He came to know its strategy and its tactics, its leaders and its armies thoroughly and intimately.

But better yet

he understood its spirit— "understood it with poetic 2 insight and imagination." No doubt Benet also understood the devious paths by which the nation founded to preserve the freedoms could have arrived at a state of mind which would tolerate slavery for thousands of its subjects, the black Negroes in the cottonfields of

the South and the foreign mill

hands in the factories of the North: Thirteen sisters beside the Sea Builded a house called Liberty And locked the door with a stately key. None should enter it but the f r e e . . . . Surely a house so strong and bold, (The wind is rising, my sonl) Will last till Time is a pinch of mould! There is a ghost when the night is old There is a ghost who walks in the cold. . . . The black ghost wanders his house of pain. There is blood where his hand has lain It Is wrong he should wear a chain.->

2Ibid., p. 10. 3stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, I, pp* 16-17*

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Through cupidity and stupidity, however, many of the people in ohis house of the free had enslaved o thers. Another wind was beginning to blow throughout the land— the wind of rising indignation that was to culminate in the Civil War . Benet very cleverly contrasts the effects of the many currents of conflicting thought upon the minds of typical people of the North and of the South— with deep sympathy for both.

There was no one unaffected by this

"rising wind"; people were talking everywhere— in the offices, factories, blacksmith shops, stores, and homes, and at the crossroads.

Emerson and Thoreau dreamed of

an ideal state that Benet says was "so purely framed it never could exist” ;

the Abolitionists denounced the whole

institution of slavery as the greatest of human wrongs; they spoke wildly at times, but from a burning conviction.


protested against every extension of slavery; they denounced all laws that allowed a Southern master to recover slaves who had escaped; they set up secret organizations to help these miserable people escape from bondage.

"They were a

minority, but a convinced, obstreperous, devoted, and resolute minority and in denouncing slavery, they denounced the whole South.


^Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown»s Body, p. 26. 5stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 68.

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42 To their followers, the Abolitionist leaders were neroes of God ; to the plantation owners and their sympa­ thizers , they were fanatic zealots meddling in something that was none of their business.

When Abolitionists wrote

Uncle Tom *s Cabin and other books and articles about the abused Negro and his wrongs, writers in the South replied in kind,

saying that most of their slaves were taken care

of better than the foreign-born mill hands in the North. That was true enough but did nothing to settle the dis­ pute.

Even those in the South who owned no slaves and

did not believe in slavery found themselves arguing that the South could and should manage ther own affairs even if she had to leave the Union to do so.

Gradually at

first, then rapidly, the two diametrically opposite points of view hardened.

The little flutter of the "wind of dis­

cord" had grown until it was like the rushing sound Of winged stallions, distant and terrible, Trampling beyond the sky, The hissing charge Of lightless armies of angelic horse Galloping down the stars.° Meanwhile in the North, serious, deep-thinking men who were not Abolitionists said that the question should not be state's right or slavery, but the preservation of the Union at any cost— even War I

One of the greatest of

^Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body, p. 23.

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43 these was Daniel Webster* who said at the end of one of his great speeches, after he had shown the sorrows of those en­ slaved and had shown how out of all the "wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations,""^

something new had come.

This new thing was a dream of the liberty and freedoms of men

for "without freedom anyone sickened,""^ and out of this

sickness and travail would also come a stronger and more firmly united America.

With a voice like a deep bell, he

o added,

"I'd go to the Pit itself to save the Union!" Then, as so often happens, some one had a vision

and, though it was probably only a dream, believed that God had told him to free the slaves: I saw Thee when Thou didst display The black man and his lord To bid me free the one, and slay The other with the sword.° This man was John Brown, a farmer, whose hands and finger­ tips had the "shepherd’s gift . . . gift,"10

it was his one sure

but he thought of himself as G o d ’s prophet.

Throughout life "all he did consistently was to fail and so it was at Harper’s Ferry.

By an ironic twist of

fate, the first man killed by John B r o w n ’s

Sword of

Gideon"^ was a member of the race which he had arawn

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Tne Devil and Daniel Webster," Thirteen 0 ’Clock, p. 177*

^Ibid., p. 182 .

( . \ £ n c e n t ’B e . n e . t

_ S e W e t e A V / o r K s , V o 1.-It-; f - 3 1-

10Ibid., p. 5511Ibid., p* 5 8 .

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44 the sword to free.

The events of* the unfortunate raid

are insignificant in themselves and are recorded in history in a very few lines as "an unsuccessful attempt .12

to capture the armory'*

After a "drunken day" and two

nights of agony in which the "cold chain of lightless hours . . .

slowly fell like leaden b e a d s " o n l y five

men were left alive.

But Brown, the "bearded patriarch 14 with the burning Old Testament eyes," refused to sur­ render.

The militia stormed the arsenal; the rebellion

was oyer— "all but the long dying."


The trial was long "drawn-out."

Displeased with

his lawyers' arguments, he refused legal advice and plead­ ed his own cause.

His plea was eloquent but brief; he

was glad to die for his cause— the cause of "God's de­ spised poor"— the cause of liberty. December 2, 1859.

He was hanged

As they drove to the place of exe­

cution, Brown, a farmer to the last, looked at the bountiful Virginia land and said,

This is a beautiful

12Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 68. -^Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body, pp. 40-41. lJ*Ibid., p* 34. 15Ibid., p. 43-

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^5 country.

Save for a prayer, these were his last words.

These things, mistakenly done in the name of freedom, make one 1s heart ..ache. By dying, John Brown was made a martyr: dead he was worth ’’infinitely more than living""^ to his cause. So he told his friends who wanted to rescue him.


right he was, history has demonstrated. 1R Soon his body lay " the grave” l8 but the wind of freedom blew "through his bones" and thence throughout the land, faintly and locally at first but stridently and nationally as time went on: It has grown stronger. It is marching on. It is a throbbing pulse, a pouring surf, It is a rainy gong of the Spring. Echoing, John Brown’s body, ~ John Brown's soul. > North and South the young men heard this flutter of the blowing wind— the beginning of the T'empest of War— and pondered these things.

Throughout the land the women

prayed that war might not come.

They besieged Heaven with

Innumerable prayers Inexorably rising, till the dark Vault of the midnight was so thronged and packed The wild geese could not arrow through the storm Of terrible, ascendant, women's prayers.19

l6 Ibid., p. 60.

l8Ibid., p. 6 2 .

iTjbid., p. 59-

p. 53.

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rSouth Carolina seceded from the Union in i860 and other states followed rapidly.

A month later the first shot

was fired at Fort Sumter, and the war that began with that shot lasted four long dreadful years: Worth and South they assembled, one cry and the other cry, And both are ghosts to us now, old drums hung on a wall, But they were the first hot wave of youth too- ready to die And they went to war with an air, as if they went to a ball .20 The struggle was gallantly and bitterly fought. The men who died for the Worth thought they died to pre­ serve the Union their fathers had made before them; the men who died for the South thought they died for the in­ dependence their fathers had sought.

Both sides fought

for freedom as they interpreted it. Benet says truly that an account of the great battles with their commanders, their tactics, their victo­ ries and defeats, would not tell the true story of the war that could only be found deeply imprinted in the hearts 01 innumerable, ordinary people, unknown to history, who "suf­ fered, endured, were brave, and made every sacrifice for the cause they believed in .''21

Bene€ selected certain

2 °Ibid., p. 7^*

^1Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p* f5»

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47 types, incidents, and personalities to use in telling the story and it is indeed a "marvel of selection, condensation, and interpretation."^ Of the Northern people shown, Jack Ellyat of Con­ necticut was typical of the carefully raised child of God­ fearing, rather pedantic parents of the North.

He was

deeply idealistic, imbued with the philosophies of Alcott and Emerson and was decidedly psychic. that Benet1s

Some critics say

Northern characters, such as Jack Ellyat,

are more convincing than his Southern because the former have psychologies whereas the latter are stock figures dominated by "manners and fate." lieve because Benet

This is hard to be­

has such warmth and vigor of human

feeling; not only do the creatures of his imagination seem to live but the historical characters are so re­ vitalized by his art that they seem as real as the imaginary.

Vas this because Benet kept always a


understanding of the human being as opposed to the public figure or because he retained that greater humor which sees all tragedy and all triumph in the Just perspective * 24 of m a n ’s fallibility?"



cit., p. 11.

• s _ CarLToy, as quoted in John Brown ’s Body, Introduction, p. xv. ^Christopher LaFarge, "The Narrative Poetry of Stephen Vincent Benet," Saturday Review of Literature (August 5, 1944), p. 106.

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48 il

jThis particular young man, Jack Ellyat, was stirred bjr the talk

about the abuse of the Negro; he had heard

that "they ‘called them 'niggers" and cut off their ears when they ran away."

He had seen a cowering run-away

slave once and was haunted by his eyes— the "eyes of a tortured horse."

In his straight-thinking, freedom-

loving, highly imaginative mind he saw outlined against the evening sky the "riderless horses of wrath never 27' bridled nor tamed" racing over the land borne by the currents of sectional bickerings.

He volunteered for

service and his slightly priggish attitude toward the rougher characters with whom he came in contact is amusing.

He despised them but he wanted to impress

them by the performance of "vast fictive heroisms."


His dislike for the dirt, the flies, the forced marches, the coarse talk of the men, was a natural reaction— Jack's shame at thinking "on Sunday" of the camp-followers (who put the Union or the Rebel flags on their garters as ohe case demanded) is also typical of the normal boy who wants to see not that type of woman but "a girl in a white dress ;

^Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown1s Body, p. 25* 2 6 Ibid., p. 2 6 . 27 Ibid., p. 24.

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^9 ,'who washes her hair.,,29

Jack's desire to run is also as

natural as his determination to go "back into the face of fire; always our boys have feared but they have fought. Jack's idea of the South had been gleaned from lurid sources.

It was a land of jasmine and juleps., of moon­

light and magnolias— Where all the girls were beautiful The men wore -varnished boots, raced horses and played cards And drank mint juleps till the time came round For fighting duels with their second cousins Or tar-and-feathering some God-damn Yankee. Jack was captured and found the Southern army a strange composite of ragged, rugged individualists.


encountered as many different types of men as there were in the Northern army but few of the bold and dashing creatures he had imagined. Jack's escape led him deep into the xsroods.

It is

one of life's paradoxes that this proper young man should find the romance of his life in the person of a draft— evader's daughter, Melora \Ailas.

Their wooing oegan in

a. pig—pen and culminated in a hay—loft. rated.

They were sepa­

For months after the war was over, Jack searcneo. ;

29 Ibid., p. 125-

^°Ibid., p. 25*

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50 i for

her., to no avail.

War had seemingly swallowed the

family; Jack returned wearily home to find everything changed and sad.

He became resigned to thinking of

Me lor a as a phantasy of fever— a dim "fragrance lost with his first youth.

Then one day he saw coming up a

long slope a slow creaking cart "drawn by a horse as gaunt 32 as poverty and driven by a woman with great eyes." The story of Melora’s wanderings has become a kind of legend. Her name, Melora, lends itself to the slow-dripping minor of the water and the earth "the minor of the country barber shops."•33

Probably many of the "unquiet" people on the

road had Just as good and romantic reasons as Melora to belong to that vast nomadic group of Queer rootless families plucked up by war To blow along the roads like tumbleweeds . . . Crooked creatures of a .thousand o f devious trades That breed like gnats from the debris of w a r . ^ j Clay Wingate, a Southern youth, was also an idealist; he was a man haunted by strange and unreal dreams.

He wonder­

ed why wars should be and what was the use of it all.


like Jack, was slightly psychic; at almost the same hour that Jack was startled by the rising wind of fancied horses

Vincent Bsnet, John B r o w n ’s B o d y , p. 3^9•

^ 2 Ibid., p. 370. 3 3 l b i d ., p. 336 . 3 ^ibid. , p. 33^-

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51 galloping down the stars;11 Clay was chilled by a "noise beyond the sky that harry of unseen cavalry riding the it!35 wina the precursor of war. It really wasn't slavery or spates' rights, love of freedom or fear of being thought a coward that made Clay go to war; it was something so "dim it must be holy"— the tradition of Dixie Land as exemplified in Wingate Hall and his friends' plantations.

Of course in

his talk and that of his friends, it was, "Liberty! pendence!



A slightly perverted twist of freedom,

this— a life of leisure founded on the labor of slaves! Not all Southern men portrayed were of Clay's station in life^however.

The mountain boy, Jim

Breckinridge, was one of the Southern volunteers who came to fight with only his rifle, his pants and his suncracked hands.

He had no quarrel with anyone; he'd heard

some "trash-lot of furriners . . . called Yankees"^° were to be his foes.

But he was not easy in his mind-rthe

"preachin' man" had uttered words that have cried through the centuries to all men and nations:

There is neither

Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free brothers ^tt3f

we are all

However, when his cousin Luke told him that

Ibid., p. 30* 36Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, II, 73* 37Stepheh Vincent Benet, We Stand United, p. 206.

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52 the Keleeys with whom his family had. a feud had. gone over to the Yankees, he was reconciled, and. reckoned, it "don't rightly matter long as the Keleeys take the other side ."83 Among the many and. varied individuals fighting for the South there were more of Jim's class than of Clay's. Like the Southern men, the Southern women repre­ sent many types, also.

Clay Wingate loved Sally Dupre

hut he was a Wingate of Wingate Hall while her mother had eloped with her French dancing teacher. spoke of this misalliance in whispers I)


So Clay kept

silence and Sally, afraid to raise her eyes lest they betray her secret, let him go away wearing one of Lucy Weatherby's ribbons.

Lucy was not scissored from the

same material as Sally and Clay's mother.

She was a

light and easy girl and Benet makes her a study in xireak, vain female character.

Clothed in a beautixully fitted

black-and-blue riding habit ("Black is so striking with blonde hair, you know, and blue intensifies the color of my eyes ")39 Lucy, rode by the side of Clay's troop as it left for war, and, purely by accident, stopped in front of Sally’s house, letting the men cluster about her to

38Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent B e n e t , II, 7^39Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brownjs Body, p. 170 .

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53 beg for favors.

When they were gone, she dismounted.,

kissed Sally and comforted herself with a cup of tea, talking_of the ''dear boys," riding habits and the cost of meat: I Just naturally love every boy in the Black Horse Troop, D o n ’t you, Sally darling? Thej^re all so nice and polite . . . W a r ’s terrible, isn’t it? All those nice boys going off— I feel Just the way you do, darling— we Just have to show them Whenever we can that we know they are fighting for us, Fighting for God and the South and the cause of the right.40 I And Sally, whose heart was filled with anguish, agreed, sipped her rose-leaf tea and thought that she'd make a voodoo doll of wax with Lucy's face and stick pins in i t . . Lucy, the light, is a perfect prototype of the woman who tries to mean too much to too many beaux.


became engaged to poor, ridiculous,fat Curley, who owned a large plantation.

He soon lay dead on the battlefield.

Afterward.;,- Lucy tried to make his face appear but too many others kept crowding out of the dar^ ones I

especially the new

She wept for them all— "slight tears at night and

a long dreamless sleep that left you looking pretty.

2j"°Ibid., p. 176 . 4 lIbid., p. 170 . 42 Ibid., p. 171*

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54 ^ private joss was her reflection in the mirror and she begged it to tell her that she would "never get wrinkles and always have b e a u x . A

lovely marionette was Lucy,

operated by only one string— self-love.

She fades from

Benet’s story as she flees to Canada— "her brother’s health 44 was so bad!" Naively she added that she’d heard that British officers looked handsome in their uniforms. But no paper-doll woman was Sally Dupre.


grimly took over the work of the house from the flutter­ ing, bewildered old maiden aunts and later went into the fields and made good crops grow; as she worked, she sang the song that many Southern women had to learn: Yellow corn-meal and a jackass colt, And a door that swings on a broken bolt. Comfort the old and pity the wise And see your lover with open eyes. Mend the broken and patch the frayed, And carry your sorrow undismayed When your lover limps in the falling rain, Never quite to be whole again. Clear the nettle and plant the corn . . . Till the house is built from the dust again With thrift and love for the house and chief, A scone on the hob for the son of grief, A knife in the ribs for the pleasant thief. Sally stared at the future with "equal eyes," un­ afraid, though she saw ruin and desolation about her and .

43 Ibid., p. 275.

^Ibid., p. 342. 45lbid., p. 373-

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55 I realized that indeed "freedom was a hard bought thing"^^ even the freedom thought wryly that personal freedom

of the humble black. she,

Moreover she

too, had achieved a sortof

the escape from the binding traditions

of her aunt's age-old conventions. Clay Wingate's mother, Mary Lou, as "slightly made and as hard to break as a rapier-blade"



worthy to stand beside Sally as an example of the best in Southern womanhood.

With the men of the plantation

gone and part of the Negroes also, her work was- unending: She was at work by candlelight She was at work in the dead of the night .Smoothing out troubles and healing schisms And doctoring phthisics and rheumatisms The brewing, the darning, the lady-daughters The births and deaths in the negro quarters . . . And the shirts and estrangements were neatly mended And all of the things that are never ended. ' But no matter how long or how hard she worked, she remembered the creed her mother had taught her— a creed which she passed onto her lady-daughters To take the burden and have the power ^g But always seem the well-protected flower. She trusted in God but "she liked formality" ° and said that she supposed in Heaven people would be equal but .

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, II, 55* ^Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body, p. l6 l. 48 Ibid., p. 162 .

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56 in this world, it would be better for "gentility to keep +. , , n48 to g e n o i n t y . This narrow view had the driving force of an arrow, says Benet,

and helped the Southern women

to stand erect while the very foundation of their life was shaken.

The unfortunate part is that with the pride

want a rankling, undying hatred of all things Northern. Never once did it occur to these women who "made courage from terror and bread from bran and propped the South on a swansdown fan"

that their life had been built on the

false assumption that freedom and ease of life for some could be founded on the unpaid labor and the misery of others./ The stories of the many humble folk both Southern and Northern, are equally well-told and interesting— though their backgrounds were far removed from Wingate Hall. There were Luke Breckinridge and his "hole-y" shirts, the men from Tennessee who drawled that "evolution might do for Yankees it50 but that Lee never came from anything with a tail, the jllinois and Iowa men who called suspenders "galluses and n5! swore with the sharp pops of a mule-driver’s whip all these and many more can be found among the dozens of types of

4 8 ibid. ^ ibid., p. 163. 5 °ibid., p. 189-

^ I b i d . , p. 117-

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independent Americans that pass through Benet1s narrative. Sophy, the chambermaid, "little and scared and thin," is symbolic of the unhappy, overworked serving maid the world over.

Her desire to be like Lucy, the well-dressed and

"sweet-smelling," is pitiful.

She walks out of the story—

barefoot behind Luke— to a life of independence among his mountains and "hawgs."

Though she never suspected it, she

was infinitely more important in God’s scheme than the Lucys of the world.

These men and women of the mountains—

Benet calls them "our last f r o n t i e r — are truthfully de­ picted.

He says that our frontier is A pioneer island in a world that has No use for pioneers— the unsplit rock Of fundamentalism, calomel, Clan virtues, clannish vices, fiddle-tunes, And a hard God. But they’re dying now Or being educated, which is the same . . . But when the last, lost, wild rabbit of a girl Is civilized with a mail-order dress. Something will pass that is America.05 Benet can, of course, in his fictional characters—

such as Jack, Clay, Sally, Lucy, and the others

show to us

any emotion caused by the war which ne thinks would be natu— and true.

He does the same for his historical figures; with­

out over-emphasis on some qualities or lack of attention to

52j£bid., p. 85-^Ibid.,

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others., he does word pictures of the great leaders of the Civil War that are well drawn and accurately done. ( The greatest of these is Abraham Lincoln.

Tall, lanky, big­

boned and awkward, he could impress people with his dignity even when he padded up and down the "sacred White House in a night shirt and carpet slippers.

He was the "ape-

buffoon, the small lawyer, the crude, small-time politician"


— but he was more than that.

He was honest,

kind, ambitious, self-confident, understanding— and al­ ways he carried "The Dream" within his heart.


in the homely vernacular of the hunting man, Lincoln com­ pared himself to an old deaf hunting-dog h e ’d known— a dog renowned for being "hell on a cold scent and, once he gets his teeth in what h e ’s after he don’t let go CC until he knows h e ’s dead." He said that he knew that the .' . . world’s k-ennel holds ten thousand hounds Smarter and faster and with finer coats To hunt your hidden purpose up the wind And bell the trace you leave behind. But' 3 when even they fail and lose the scent, I will keep on because I must keep on Until you utterly reveal Yourself -g And sink my teeth in Justice soon or late. ’

5-^Ibid., p. 85 . Ibid., p- 72 . 55stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works, II, 92.

56 Ibid., p. 193-

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59 i


For twenty yeans he had carried in his heart the

burning desire that the last slave in this country should be free.

But he put the Union, first and last, before the

slave and said that if freeing slaves would bring back the strong union of the states then he- would free the slaves. If freeing of some and leaving some enslaved would help his cause, then that would be the course to follow; but he added, "Should such freedom mean the wreckage of the Union that I serve, I would not free a slave."



he said that his eyes were blinded "with the great wind"



and his heart was sick with

running after peace ,"-3


like a child, he bargained with God: . . . I make A promise to You and to myself If this last battle is a victory . . . My proclamation shall go out at last To set those other prisoners and slaves From this next year, then and forever free. So much for my will. Show me what is Yours I • A truly great hecarried so long in

man, this Lincoln, and the dream his heart was Benet1s dream, too

freedom and equality for all. SHerman was a thorough, rough-bearded, honest but unlucky commander.

He had been many things before he

57rbid., p. 1 8 8 . 5^Ibid., p. 19359ibid., p. 195.

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became a soldier

a banker, a lawyer, head of a Southern

Military School, president of a "little one-horse railroad"


all good training for certain phases of feeding,

financing, and managing an army.

He deplored the after-

math of his famous "march to the sea" but believed sin­ cerely that he was doing his part in the preservation of the Union. Grant, too3 had some of Lincoln’s vision.


he was a West Point Graduate and had served in the Mexican War, he had been dismissed from the Army and was considered the family failure.

Then came the Civil War.

Grant felt

the "Wind of Freedom," too,* he offered his services to his country "in any capacity."

No answer was sent to him

for a long time, so, on his own initiative, he drilled raw recruits carrying sticks,— a ridiculous figure i\rith a red bandana tied on instead of officer’s regalia.

After his

recall to service, he was called "Grant the Butcher"


and his soldiers didn’t love him but he fed them and served in his slow, tenacious way his country well, accord­ ing to his interpretation.

SOibid., p. 1 01 . ^ T b i d . , p. 103. 62Ibid., p. 2 8 6 .

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6l f

There were many other great Northern officers who

served their cause well

it was the right one in the eyes

of God— the emancipation of their black brothers. The delineation of the gallant Southern leaders has more romance— the "Waverly-streak"^ that was so strong in the South appeals to us.

The sketch of "Jefferson Davis

is . . . the best biography of him ever written— and all in one page.


It is Davis seen through the eyes of the re­

markable Judah Benjaminj the brains of the Southern Cabinet. "You are the South,


said Benjamin to the tired President .

of the Confederate States. Davis was a gentleman and a scholar; he came of a good family even though the "swanwomen" of Richmond could not remember his grandfather and '

63r Di d ., p. 106 . ^Coranager, .op.- cit., p. 11.


^DBenJamin, himself, was one of the most romantic and incredible figures of our history. His family had come to America to "a land where your stock . . . your birthplace or your name did not matter beside what ^you were and what you could do." (Stephen Vincent Benet, We Stand United, p. 60). Hs stayed in the South because he had fallen in love with a young black—haired girl with the Gentile eyes" (Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown— s Body p 71). Realizing that this country had not fully "achieved the state of perfect brotherhood— that accords to all, Jew and Gentile, the same Justice^ he. 1 led to. .Cubain” an_open row boat— when he realized that the Confederacy was doomed to failure, then to England where he became a leading barrister. 6%fcephen Vincent Benet, John B r o w n 1s B o d y , p. 7 1 .

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62 thought he had a- comparative touch of the parvenu. He had had excellent educational advantages but lacked the common touch that makes men love a leader.

The last touch

of humiliation was that he should snatch up his wife’s coat by accident at the moment of his capture and so be seen— the I!proud man turned into sorry farce before the ignorant gapers."^

While Davis’s dream was a miasmic

mist, he believed in it with a religious fervor— his South of the warm moonlight night On the bayou, or the New Orleans lamps, The white wine bubbles in the crystal cup^ The almond blossoms, sleepy with the sun.oy And over all floated the harmonious minor cadence of the songs of the contented, happy Negroes in their quarters.

A wondrous dream, indeed, but not the American

one I Benet eulogizes Robert E. Lee more than is his won't j in fact, he paints almost too perfect a picture of him: The man was loved, the man was idolized, The man had every Just and noble gift. He took great burdens and bore them well, Believed in God but did not preach too much . . . . He was the prop and pillar of a State, The incarnation of a national dream.

67Ibid., p. 17968Ibid., p. 325* 69ibid., p. 71. 70Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works, I, 171-172.

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i To compress many of Benet's

lines into one sentence:


was a military genius; he was honest and intelligent; he was handsome with a perfectly proportioned figure; he was a good father, a loving husband and a faithful, considerate friend. remarks.

Benet ponders at length on two of General Lee’s Once he said that it was well "war should be so

terrible, lest men become too fond of it."^1

The other

enigmatic saying of Lee was: "I am always wanting some72 thing." We wonder with Benet what Lee could want that he never had.

It was not God or love or mortal fame; it

was not anything he'd left undone.

He XNras a man

Who had, yo u ’d say, all things that life can give Except the last success— and had for that Such glamour as can wear sheer triumph out.t2 We wonder if Lee perhpas wanted a more perfect exposition of democracy?

The South was his homeland and to it he

gave all his heart and support but he was a very intelli­ gent and deep—thinking man— he could not have condoned slavery. Benet waxes almost as eulogistic in his treatment of Stonewall Jackson, to whom he gives a staggering array of virtues and says bluntly that Lee was not just punning

^ I b i d ., p* 173* ^2Ibid., p • m -

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64 j when he wrote to Jackson saying, "You have only arm,

Imy r i g h t . T r u l y great Americans, all

lost your left these men,

and though they were often mistaken the love of freedom actuated them all. Despite the soul-searchings and the agitation of the whites during the vast upheaval of the South1s 'teudal system," the peoples most affected by this Titanic struggle were the enslaved, themselves.

Everywhere the black earth

stirred; a wind blew over the black earth: A wind blows into black faces, into old hands Knotted with long rheumatics cramped on the hoe, Into old backs bent double over the cotton, The wind of Freedom, the wind of the Jubilo.’ Long before Fort Sumter, quiet-faced men, who held 75 their "lives in their hands” dropped a word privately to a Negro wherever they could, saying that slavery was wrong and pointed out the route to freedom.

Repeatedly they said, 76 "No man owns the earth. I t ’s too big." And, "No man owns 73 another man; that’s too big a thing, too. Simple words, over and over repeated, and long remembered.

These words

were circulated among the slaves— many of the older of whom '

73Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body, p. 277^ I b i d ., p. 3^6. 75Stephen Vincent Benet, "Freedom’s a Hard-Bought Thing," The Free Company Presents, p. 1297^ibid♦

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; remembered being sold into slavery.

By a word here and

a word there, those whose spirits were not entirely crushed fanned the flame of freedom wherever they found it.


Aunt Rachel talked of the "freedom sickness"77 and said that slavery was a "darkness in the sky and a cloud with 78 a sword in it." Many there were who tried to escape; some were caught, whipped, and given harder labor; a few succeeded in escaping.

Poor Spade, whose back was a mass

of scars from beatings received in other unsuccessful trials, had to- try again, for the "love of freedom is mighty hard to root out of the heart." 79

How he lived for weeks on roots,

green corn, snakes and a rabbit; how he fought the Angel of Death in the yellow foaming tide of the river; how he exulted as he crawled weakly up the "Freedom" side of the river; how he sought and eventually found food among a hostile people; how he was tricked into working in the notorious Crater— all this is founded on true stories and is a blot on our civilization. ap-fcei?

Lincoln* s proclamation freeing tne slaves,

wild rumors ran through the Negro quarters

each Negro .

77 r bid., p. 123.

78Ibid., p. 124. 79Ibid., p. 134.

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66 i would get a mule and "lib like Adam in de Golden rule";^^ tney would all get shoes, new clothes, "roastin'-ears, hills of barbecue, rivers of pot-licker and nobody's got 81

to work there, never no more."

So all "God's chillun"

came from the lost plantations, like children strayed. Grinning and singing, filled with the strange fever called freedom, they followed the "blue sojers" who would lead them to where "Mr. Linkum" in a tall, gold silk hat sat at a big desk with a bag of gold for each old grey fieldhand.

Some wandered away to a strange death or to a

stranger life; some, hungry and disillusioned, found their way back home to the old plantations, there to live the old life of toil.

In many instances, they were

paid no money but there was a difference; they now had this new wild thing That means so much but can't be held in the hand That must be there, that yet«s so hard to find g2 This dream, this pentecost changing— this Liberty. Some like CudJo, the incomparable butler of Wingate Hall, never considered leaving.

He could neitner reao. nor Oq write, "but he knew quality, black or white. If neces­ sary, they stole food for their white family; they took j

8°Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body , p. 34^. 8lIbid., p. 3^7. 82Ibid., p. 3^783Ibid., p. 36.

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[ care 01 everything, "buried "the silver, had courage to do the thousands of things that cemented the bonds between them and their white family.

One old fellow, Sam, served

Colonel Cappalow for thirty years, pretending that the 84 year was still i8601 The Colonel had changed his money to the Confederate paper— how they lived was a mystery. Akin to these two faithful ones was Aunt Bess, the monucental nurse and cook, "half a nuisance and half a mother," who petted, punished, scolded, comforted and loved all the Wingate children of two generations. of the war, Old Cudjo tried conjuring.

During the xvorst part He scattered the

feathers of an owl .then burned the nest, slipped to the graveyard, "made de hand and buried de trick in Baptis' Q/T


But the war-winds kept blowing— And de wind keeps scrabblin’ under de do* Scratchin’ and scratchin’ his buzzard claws . . . Dat wind’s restless and dat winds wile And dat wind aches like a motherless chile W o n ’t nuthin’ feed you, achin’ *rind?°'

Had Cudjo realized how many young men it would take to feed this aching "wind of discord, '* he would have been aghast.

The old fellow looked on the runaway "sheep-

84gbephen Vincent Benet, "The Die-Hard, Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, II, 86. 85Stephen

Vincent p.


8 7 j b i d . , p.


8 6 I b i d .,






B o d y , p.

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himself ,

68 with scornful eyes, muttering to Aunt Bess and

Freedom*s a ghost and Freedom* s foolish talk.11^8

How can anyone be free when his loved ones are hungry and need him?

In truth these faithful ones were

Curious blossoms from bitter ground Master of masters who left you bound. Who shall unravel the mingled strands Or read the anomaly of your hands? They have made you a shrine and a 'humorous fable,1 But kept you a slave while they were able.^9 Benet says that he,himself

"having too white a

heart," cannot sing an epic sufficiently strong to portray the heroic qualities of such a people. Since Benet is interested primarily in catching the echo of the wind of freedom as it blows through the human heart, he is not much interested in the dramatic episodes of history.

He has, in fact, been criticized

for his fuzziness in describing battles.

His battles

do "remain an entanglement and a b l u r " ^

hut we fancy

that is exactly what thejr seemed to those involved. Throughout his writings Benet always strives to interpj»gt ©verything through the consciousness of some inoi vidual; there is always the conviction that the act of expressing "history means little unless it ends in a

88Ibid., p. 3^7. 8^Ibid., p. 160. 9°Henry Wells, The American Way of Poetry, p. l8l.

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69 human image, and the act of expressing poetry means little unless io works through mortal object, through used, known, touched . . .

accustomed detail.

But the critics agree

that Benet’s descriptions

of men

en masse are wonderful.

That is

of the

Potomac"— We see many

true of the "Army

types of confused men— all striving to help the cause of Liberty

as they



Army of the Potomac, advancing army, Alloy of a dozen, disparate, alien States, City boy, farm-hand, bountyman, first volunteer, Old regular, drafted recruit, paid substitute . . . And other men, nox\rise different in look or purpose, Whom the first men greeted at first with a ribald cry ’Here they come! Two hundred dollars and a Ka-owi’ Rocks from New England and hickory-chunks from the West, 02 Bowery boy and clogging Irish adventuror . . . It was indeed a "confused huge weapon, forged from many different metals5'92

that had to be blunted and reforged 92 many times xvith "anguish and bloody sweat" before they conquered the "millstone" of Lee. This "millstone" of Lee, the fabulous army of Northern Virginia is Justly celebrated in legend and song; history has never recorded such another.

And again Benet

is interested in the struggling souls, the individual warriors:

91Paul Engle, "The American Search," Poetry, p. 160. 92Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown.’s Body, p. 1 8 3 .

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70 Strange army of ragged individualists, The hunters, the riders, the walkers, the savage pastorals, The unmachined, the men come out of the ground. . . . The lazy scorners, the rebels against the wheels. . . The fighters who fought for themselves in the old clan-fashion. Army of planter’s sons and rusty poor whites, Where one man came to war with a hair-cloth trunk Full of fine shirts and a body-servant to mend them, And another came with a rifle used at King’s Mountain And nothing else but his pants and his suncracked hands . . . Praying army, Full of revivals, as full of salty Jests, Who debated on God and Darwin and Victor Hugo . . . And called yourselves ‘Lee’s miserables faintin’. . . Swore and laughed and despaired and sang *Lorena’ Suffered, died, deserted, fought to the end. Sentimental army, touched by ’L o r e n a ‘33 Legend has made this army a "stainless host," but it was in reality Just a collection of weary, footsore men— Benet calls this army in retreat "one long groan of human anguish six miles long."

g ii


It was made up of men

who found life sweet and didn’t want to be killed.

It in­

cluded grumblers, cowards, bullies, sneaks, savage, cursers, deserters, pray-ers, spies— but there was something in it

93Ibid., p. 1 8 9 . Ibid., p. 316.

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71 that matched the legend.

We think that something was

their indestructible spirit; the men were not fighting for slaves— most of them were too poor to own slaves— but their ingrained American sense of independence had been offended.

"We won't lie down and let the North ,-95

walk over us about slaves or anything else. ' fought on— "on to the end of the dream.

So they

Or to death.,

as the remnant of the erstwhile dashing Beauty Stewart's cavalry did one afternoon.

They were splashing in the

rain down a little winding road, singing and clowning to keep stark despair from seizing their hearts.

Their song

boasted that no Southern gentleman could be killed;


merely lived on by the "strength of his will like a damned oQ old rooster too tough to kill."'' We can see these ragged men on their half-starved horses, their broken plumes trail­ ing, plodding and singing lustily: Ladies and gentlemen, here we go, The last great event in the Minstrel ShowI The Yanks are here and thelTanks are there, But no Southern gentleman shows despair. He Just goes on in his usual way, Eatin a meal every fifteenth day. . . See the sergeant, eatin’ the hay Q_ Of his faithful horse, in a life like wayi^'

9^Ibid., p. 190. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, I, 317* 97xbid., p. 317 .

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This little remnant of Stewart1s Cavalry met a corps of Northern soldiers * well-fed and well-armed. When the "blue-chinned surgeon" was helping to pick up what was left of them, he wondered "Why in hell did they fight like that . . . when they knew they were licked? ..98 The world has wondered, also.

Part of the American Dream,

perhaps? "The years ride out from the world" " and eventu­ ally the war was ended. States, was ended.

Human slavery, in the United

The possibility of secession by any

state and the splitting up of the United States into many different republics was ended.

The nation, .conceived

in Liberty and born in 1776, became one individual nation in 1 8 6 5 .

There were many problems to be solved.


in his second inaugural address, expressed the sentiment of most Americans toward both the victors and the vanquished With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan— to do all which may achieve and cherish a Just and lasgjng peace among ourselves and with all nations.

98 Ibid., p. 3 2 2 .

"Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown1s Body, p. 332. 100Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 7 6 .

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73 There breathes the true American spirit; it was in that spirit that Lincoln made war and it was in that spirit that he would have made peace if he had not been assassinated.

The whole problem of reconstruction would

have been handled more wisely and sanely if he had managed it; instead, it was clumsily done, on the whole, by vin­ dictive men who wanted to punish the South more than they wanted to make a great country.

But, as in other.wars,

there was "no blood purge, no mass executions, no heads rolled ."1^1

There was a bitter time for the Southerners

and for the poor, ignorant Negroes, who were preyed upon by rascals of both sides, there were carpet-baggers and scalawags galore, but by l8T73 the governments of the Southern states was in the hands of white men again. A great Southern orator said, "As ruin before was never so overwhelming, never was restoration swifter.


soldier stepped from the trenches into the furrow . . . fields that ran red with human blood in April were green with the harvest in June."


The nation had suffered

a great and drastic shock but it did bind up its wounds. 'lAs Benet pictured this period, the love of freedom, independence and order did not vanish from America during the Civil War or in the years that followed.

Despite all

the fumbling mistakes, and glaring faults of the Recon­ struction period, a united, free people went forward to a greater national life.

lQ0 Ibid., p. 78.

1 Q 2 Ibid.. p. 7 9 .

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CHAPTER IV MODERN BREEZES "Americans are always moving on"^

but there were

many times throughout the years following the Civil War that the wisest thinkers in both America and Europe aslced themselves the question toward what state of national consciousness and political ideo.logy were the people of this nation traveling?

Benet, himself, asked this in

many of his short stories and poems concerning the trends of the early part of the twentieth century.

He was never

too much pleased with the modern world, however, and his rather querulous questioning of developments following the World War up to the late thirties represents a marked de­ scent from the enthusiasm he displayed for the earlier years of the American dream. Many and startling have been the variations of this dream of perfect liberty}

since the first New England and

Virginia settlers wrought a practical manifestation of their vision— the Plutarchian republic of those who founded the first colonies, the farmer-dominated republic of Jefferson, the fighting independence of the frontier of Andrew Jackson,

1Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 3 .

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the "neither slave nor master" idea or Lincoln, the cultural aristocracy and gentleman’s code of the Southern plantations, the "plain-thinking and high-living of Concord— a Puritan dream of New England.

Benet tells us there have

"been tens of thousands of dreams of communal living that have flickered briefly and died— dreams like the "New Zions, the New Harmonys, the community experiments of every kind from the phalansteries of Fourier to the 2 religious experiments of the Shakers." For every pos­ sible way of living together has been tried by the people in America.

Just as long as the experiment did not vio­

late the nation’s laws or infringe on their neighbors’ rights, they were allowed perfect freedom— there was room enough. However, in the half century following the Civil War the American dream seemed t o 'concentrate on three things— work, growth, and money.

There was much ado in

business, in politics, in the acquisition of vast fortunes— the rush, the roar, the building, the money, the shouting of the "big voices" set the tune of the time.

Typical of

these are the "big" men of whom Johnny Pye, who was run­ ning away from the Fool-Killer, asked his simple questions about the welfare of the American people or the best way

2Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 8l.

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76 to chart a life.

Puffing out his chest, the big-time

politician expounded, "With the help of God and in ac­ cordance with the principles of our great party. . . . Another of Johnny's disillusionments was the great minis­ ter who boomed his oratorical half-truths to deceive the masses of credulous listeners who had come seeking spirit­ ual bread.

The quack doctor was likewise a wonderful

picture of an old-time "medicine-man" with his doctored spring water that would cure everything.

The Captain

was a little boy playing at being valorous, enjoying the parades and fine uniforms and being surprised and cha­ grined at the dirt, horror, and sudden death of battle with the Indians. Mone.

coulcL ine-lp

Throughout this hectic time of growth, however, there were millions of people living quietly, soberly, and honestly, who said in vigorous, protesting voices that growth and money were not their idea of the American dream; it was something more, something better.

At the

same time, the standard of living was rising; the average middle-class citizen lived better, ate better, had better educational advantages and more freedom of opportunity than most men anywhere. And America was still the land of freedom— a freedom that called to all the world.

"Prom the Civil

3stephen Vincent Benet, "Johnny Pye and the Fool’ Killer," Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, p. 102.

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77 War to 1930 5 thirty-two million aliens had come to the United States"

from the uttermost ends of the earth.

They came for the same old reasons— liberty, opportunity, a chance for something better than they had known.


were fooled and "coughed out their lives in- tenements, cursing the day— and some died in the steel mills and xfere buried in cindery ground."-*

Some were deluded by

false advertisements and agents who told them they’d be millionaires, while instead they ground out their lives in the mills and the mines and the factories.

"Oh, the

death and the broken hopes it takes to make a country I" But those with the heart and the soul"° found what they had come for.

Benet claims that the way of freedom was

open to all— for some it was easier than for others. "Adamic, Pupin, Steinmetz, Riis, Lazarus, Knudsen, Cermak, Saroyan, are as American names as Adams, Smith, Brown, D o u g l a s . B y their native gifts, energy, and worth they have made themselves American and have enriched America by so doing. Shortly after the turn of the century, America became a World Power.

The Spanish-American War and the

^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 8 7 .

5ibid., p. 88. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, "0 ’HalJLoran ’s Luck," Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet/ II, 60. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 880

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78 annexation of* several bases in the Pacific gave rise to the term "American Imperialism."

But Benet tells us that

it w a s n ’t like any other imperialism on earth.

We did not Q say to any people, "You must be our slaves. . . . " We

did say, "Educate yourselves. and hospitals.


We believe in schools

We d o n ’t believe in slavery under the Stars

8 and Stripes."

We remembered our own beginnings and our own

hard road traveled to gain independence.

We do not believe

in the "big-stick" diplomacy but in a good neighbor policy. The Idea of the master-race— the master-state— has never yet appealed to the American mind and Benet sajrs no man who believed in this doctrine could guide and direct this nation of Individualists. Always the struggle between the conservative and the liberal, the bickerings between capital and labor, have persisted, and that serves as a balance wheel for a country.

A few outstanding things emerged in these years;

big industries did not cater to the rich.

They were built

on the Idea that it was better to make more and cheaper articles for more people to use— the Ford car, the dollar watch, the cheap ready-made dress, the movie— these are good symbols of American industry.

That is good; part of

the American dream is to help the less fortunate.

^Ibid., p . 93♦

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79 As America progressed into the late twenties and thirties, many of* the former freedoms were lost but our society remained fluid, not static.

Some high officials

were born in very humble surroundings; others were de­ scendants of the aristocracy of Europe.

All nationalities

were represented in the leading men of the country— Swedish, Austrian, German, Jew-*-This was— and is— a country where a man "stands on his own feet." No

military caste.: existed

that exerted political power; rich or poor might enter the academies of West Point and Annapolis and only scholar­ ship could keep a student there. Benet says that we have not reached an ideal state, by any means, and probably never will, but always we have worked toward the idea of a better future for the common man who Is our "strength and our backbone and on whose possibilities for self-government, co-operation and de­ velopment our whole system is b a s e d . W e have made foolish mistakes; we will make more; but when we do make them, we will remedy them.

For by long years of

training in self-government, long practice in free speech, we have the power of self-remedy.

And sooner or later, It

Is always used and the will of the people reigns— imperfect­ ly but inevitably.

9Ibid., p. 100.

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' 80 America has always had an 11inward-looking11 policy and has pondered on her own problems instead of looking outward, across the sea.

Americans were glad to help in

ansr emergency with food* medicine, supplies * or money; but they were surprised to find themselves involved in a state of war with a European power in 191^. changed our national viewpoint materially.

This war

Benet wrote

much about war at this time— the long marches, the mud, the monotony, the boredom, the petty routine, the "brass hats," the horror, the young man's surprise at finding that death could come to him, the dead's protest that they had died in vain.

They had fought for democracy and freedom.

"It was their thought that they had done well but there were still oppressed people and kings ."10

And another dead man

is appalled at the condition of the world: Noxtf they say we must have one tyranny or another And a dark bell rings in our hearts. Was the blood spilt for nothing, then?-L'L Benet also voiced the cry of the women of the world who said it"was one thing to kill the soldiers trained to fight but another thing to kill the helpless, "the good, . . . the Just,"


and an infinitely worse thing to make

war on the"children: l0Stephen Vincent Benet, "Short Ode,"Burning City,p.10. ^ Stephen Vincent Benet, "Ode to Walt Whitman," Burning City, p. 35* 1O Stephen Vincent Benet, James Shore's Daughter,p .190.

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8l The dead child held in the arms for so "brief a space -,o The other child not found, never found at all. Benet says this war was not utterly futile, how­ ever, because from it the League of Nations was evolved as a new part of the American dream.

The evident purpose

of the famous "Fourteen Points" was to bring Justice to all peoples and nationalities and to insure their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one 14 another. Other men besides 'Wilson had dreamed this dream; the common people of many nations had dreamed of and wished for it long— and it could have been real­ ized.

Evil, selfish forces defeated these plans and

"brok Woodrow Wilson's heart."111' He died a "martyr, not to Just his own ideas but for every man everywhere who wishes peace, security, and liberty."1!15 From the time of this war to the years preceding the next, Benet wrote of people}of fantasies and fables, of the extraordinary "Nightmares" which deepen from the "fantastic-amusing to the fantastic-terrifying.


are studies of modern wives and husbands, tired of hearing

^Stephen Vincent Benet, We Stand United, p. 40. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 110. ^ I b i d ., p. 1 1 1 . 1% a s i l Davenport, as quoted in Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, XI, Introduction, xii.

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82 the same old story over and over-,

of divorced men and

women in varying stages of disillusionment, of habitues of night-clubs whose greatest ambition seems to be their recognition by the headwaiter, of bishops and their beg­ gars , of well-meaning parents who are as vicious in their smothering kindness as the

cruel ones are in their sadism,

of the country folk and the townfolk, of the teachers of outworn education, of the successful and the failures, of the great and the lowly. Reading story after 'story about these people we wonder if perhaps the Fool-Killer wasn't right when he cynically asked, !:How can a man be a human and not be a **)O ^ fool?" The bitter answer to this query that Benet puts into Johnny's words is, "When he's dead and gone and l8 buried." Then this versatile writer takes a country doctor and, as if by magic, makes us see that the same basic qualities of "self-sacrifice and devotion"1^ to o ne’s work do actuate the American people of today as they did our forbears.

However, through all these

rather cynical stories, we sense that Benet never loses

^Stephen Vincent Benet, "The Story About the Anteater," Tales Before Midnight,.p. 16. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, "Johnny Pye and the FoolKiller, 0]3. cit., p. 108. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, "Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates," Tales Before Midnight, p . .140.

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83 his innate love of man.

He merely feels that life is

too good to waste in holding a "grudge like Die-Hard, or in philandering, like the man to whom everyone was very nice"


and that life is entirely too full of inter­

esting things to squander it in being "rich and proper, like the magnificent sheep who were Schooner Fairchild’s classmates; and eternity is too good, as Doc Mellhorn 20

found, to waste it in playing a harp. '

Benet says that

in spite of the seeming incongruity of our next door neighbors being '’carriers of the torch," the people of the present are the same type basically as those who sowed the seeds of Freedom in America.

We of the America of

today are filled with desires for so many things— power, position, money, prestige, friends, child-prodigies, bet­ ter homes, bigger cars— always for some freedom to do that which "one wants to do most."


All these are petty wishes

compared to the great underlying urge for land and freedom from oppression.

The poor apprentice expressed the motif

theme of America when he said that he had come to this land to have a "couple of acres of my own


and to be

"never anyone's man but my own. r2S ‘

20Davenport, oja. cit ♦, p. xiv. 21Stephen Vincent Benet, "Glamour," Twenty-five Short Stories, p. 108. 22Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star, p. 106. 2 3ibid., p. 91-

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84 Benet*s

patriotism rose— or sank— to the level

of* propaganda in the years Just preceding his death. He had been ashamed of his love for America, even in times when it was unfashionable to love one’s country. "To the cynics and unbelievers, America has been merely a symbol, either great or gaudy.

To Benet it has been

the bread and the water, the soil and air of life, a land of promise always." 24 Nor was he afraid of the word "propaganda."

He considered it "the Idea which

fights as effectively as the soldier.

Benet wrote:

I am neither afraid nor ashamed of the word propaganda. I am neither afraid nor ashamed of the fact that American writers are speaking out today for a cause in which they believe. I cannot conceive it to be the business of the writer to turn his eyes away from life because the fabric of life is shaken. A modified form of propaganda was nothing new to him.

All his life he had been trying to sell Americans

the dream of America and then when he so clearly saw the Fascist idea in all its evil, reaching out like a gigantic octopus to fasten its tentacles upon all mankind, he knew it had to be fought. be warned.

He knew an oblivious public had to

His "weapon was the word and

. . . Benet

rolled up his sleeves and began turning out

w e a p o n s .


2^Norman Rosen, We Stand United, introduction, p.viii. ^ I b i d ., p. vi. 26 Ibid., p. v.

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85 His radio scripts, his poems and articles en­ compassed much and most effectively.

The "Dear Adolf"

series was taken from actual letters written by Americans to Hitler during the war and sent to Benet by the War De­ partment.

There were six broadcasts, each a compilation

of several letters— from farmers, business men, laborers, housewives, soldiers, and foreign-born Americans. Each was a marvel of its kind.

If Hitler and his satellites

heard them and realized the relentless determination and united strength behind each of them, in the words of the flippant young soldier, Hitler would have needed "a double rug with maraschino" on which to chew and rage, and surely, apprehension and fear would have filled his heart— for words like those of the foreign-born Americans would burn in the guilty soul.

They said:

You will know my voice! It is the voice of the peoples you have crushed and starved and shot— the voice of the poor of Europe, held down but unsubdued. The voice of suffering peoples, tricked . . . and beaten by your armies— but waiting— waiting in ter­ rible patience for the daiyn . . . the liberation . . . the end of you and your kind. It is underground, that voice. . . . It burrows like a mole. . . . It whispers like the night wind. . . . It does not speak loudly— yet. But when it speaks, your hangmen die. . . . My voice comes from America— I speak for its alien-born. . . . What did we find in America when we escaped from oppression? . . . Helping hands were stretched out to us. We found that neither race nor birth nor faith stood in the way of our advancement— our becoming men among men. . . . we found . . . a land that taught us the meaning of liberty and made us free men. . . . With a great price we. bought this freedom. . . . We would pay it again, Herr Reichschancellor, skin for

27gtephen Vincent Benet, We Stand United, p. 5 8 .

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86 skin— life for life. . . . Ten times over we would pay it. • • . It is a beautiful thing— This dream of . . . a free, lucky country where life is good and human be­ ings are equal. These things Benet said over and over.

They became

a wonderful weapon in the hands of a writer like Benet with which to fight oppression.

No writer has ever given us

such a resume of Freedom's sojourn on earth as he: I have been known by many names, in many places and times. I crawled out of the sea, and the slime . . . and the gods . . . looked at me and said, *That's a queer, neiy fish. He'll never last on land.* I hid in the forests, . . .■ and the dinosaurs clanked about me arid said, 'Who's this impractical dreamer? We'll eat him alive. . . . * But . . . I lasted them out and went on. I built the free cities of Greece and the law that was Rome. I went-on to China . . . to Pales­ tine . . . to the new world, in small ships. . . . I wrote 'All men are created free and equal. . . . I shivered at Valley Forge. . . . At Gettysburg . . . few believed but the Union lives— and government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. . . . I have been called many names— San Martin. . . . Bolivar, Hampton . . . Juarez, Rousseau and Socrates. . . . Always, there has been the dream and the men . . . willing to die for it. I call forth the dream and the men . . . from all nations, when man stands on his feet and looks his fate in the eyes. Only yesterday, bn Corregidor my name was Bill Smith . . . and Jesus Maria Garcia was my brother's name. . . . Liberty can be lost but Liberty grows like grass in the hearts of the common man. . . . And the tyrants rage and are gone but the dream and the deed endure— and I endure forever.29


Ibid., pp. 59 - 6 7 . Tyrone power was the "foreignborn" narrator and his rendition added to the dramatic effect. ^Stephen Vincent Benet, "Toward the Century of Modern Man," We Stand United, pp..205-206.

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Benet tells us that our earth is only a small star in a great universe.

Yet, if we choose, we can make it a

planet unvexed by wars, untroubled by hunger and fear, un­ divided by stupid distinctions of race, color, or creed. May we have the courage to remember this and to have the wisdom and understanding to comprehend the greatness of m a n ’s spirit— a spirit that suffers and endures so much for a goal beyond his own brief span.

Above all may we

have ’'brotherhood, not only for this day but for all the days to come— a brotherhood not of words but of acts and „30 deeds. We are all children of earth. In that humbling thought, Benet tells us that all the peoples of the earth are our brothers— if they hunger, we must hunger; if they are oppressed, we are oppressed. "If their freedom is taken away, ‘our freedom is in danger."


If we realize these things and work toward their accomplish­ ment, then this earth shall know Justice and righteousness, freedom and security, equal opportunities and equal chances for all to do their best, not only in our own lands, but throughout the world.

"And in that faith let us march 3°

forward toward the clean world our hands can make.


3°stephen Vincent Benet, "Brayer," We Stand United, pp. 209 - 2 1 0 .

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CHAPTER V CONCLUSION Seven years have passed since Benet’s

death hut

his dream goes on because it still means things of vital importance to the world. all.

It means freedom and hope for

It means good neighbors, not masters.

It means

men making their own destinies and running their own government.

It means men of peace who can fight with

"God’s own wrath" in them when their country is at­ tacked.

It means an entire land and a people who be­

lieve in man and the free world that man can make. Shortly before his death, Benet compiled a list of the voices of the past, speaking the American dream.


to some of them: Our fathers were Englishmen which came over the ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord £who delivered themj . . . let them therefore praise the Lord. . . . Let them confess . . . his wonderful works before the sons of men. William Bradford, l647«^ In the name of God . . . we . . . do covenant and combine ourselves together in a civil body politik The Mayflower Compact, 1620

1Stephen Vincent Benet, A m e r i c a , p. 118.

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. . . shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities within . . .£ourJ. . . dominions. . . . as if born within . . . England. The Virginia Charter, 1607.1 The . . . foundation of civil power lies in the people . . . £who3 may . . . establish what form of government seems to them most meet. . . . Roger Williams, 1644.2 The Public must and will be served. . . . 2

William Penn, 1 6 9 3 .

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased, at the price of chains and slavery? . . . as for me, give me liberty or give me death! Patrick Henry, 1775.^ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . . governments are instituted among men, deriving their Just powers from the consent of the governed. . . Thomas Jefferson, 1776.


Observe good faith and Justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. . . . George Washington, 1796.


In charity to all mankind, bearing no malice or ill-will to any human being, and even compassionating those who hold their fellow man in bondage, not know­ ing what they do. . . . John Quincy Adams, 1 8 3 8 .^

^Stephen Vincent Benet, Ame r i c a , p. 118. 2I b i d ., p. 119* ^Ibid., p. 120.

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90 Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson,1836.3 God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defent it. . . . Daniel Webster, 1834.^ Government . . . and the officers of the govern­ ment . . . are created for the benefit of the people. Henry Clay, 1829-^ Government of the people, by the the people shall not perish from the

people, for earth.. . .

Abraham Lincoln,

4 1863.

I shall fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. Ulysses S. Grant, 1864.


Thunder on, Democracy. . . .Liberty is to be subserved whatever occurs. . . . Walt Whitman.


Public officers are the servants and agents of the people, to execute the laws which the people have made. . . . Grover Cleveland, 1882. America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destinjr as he chooses. 5 Woodrow Wilson, 1917 • The four freedoms . . . freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. . . . 5 Franklin D. Roosevelr.

3Ibid., p. 120. 4 Ibid., p. 121. 3Ibid., p. 122. R eproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

91 "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!" American Song, 1$42.


So believed and said the men of America in the past.

And so we of the present must believe and say.

We must have a burning, living, and fighting belief in what these men have said.

Otherwise, we cannot carry

a free world forward to a state of peace and security for all peoples. Throughout Benet’s writings we find the principles on which the American Dream was founded stated in varying forms but nowhere are Benet’s

beliefs stated as clearly

as in the conclusion of America after he has quoted the ideas of other famous Americans: That is what we say. That is what we mean. That is how we grew. That is what we are. Those are the things we believe. That _is the American dream.®

^Stephen Vincent Benet, America, p. 122.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


Anderson, G. K., and B. L. Walton, This Generation. New York: Scott, Poresman and Co., 1939* Barrows, Elizabeth, An Anthology of Pulitzer Prize Poems. New York: Random House, 1931. Benet, Stephen Vincent, America. Rinehart, Inc., 1944.

New York: Farrar and

_______________ , Ballads and Poems. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1931_______________ , Burning City. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., on Murray Hill, 1916. _______________ , Freedom1s a Hard Bought Thing. Dodd Mead and Co., 1942.

New York:

_______________ , James Shore 1s Daughter. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Doran and Co., Inc., 1934. _______________ , John Brown1s Body. Garden City, New- , York: Doubleday Doran and Co., Inc., 1928. _______________ , Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, I,,Poetry. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1942. _______________ , Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet. II, Prose. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1942. , Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet, II, Prose. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1942. _______________ , The Last Circle. And C o ., 1946T

New York:

Farrar, Straus

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

93 } Tales Before Midnight. and Rinehart, Inc., 1932.

New York:


_______________, They Burned the Books♦ and Rinehart, Inc., 19-4-2.

New York:


_______________, Thirteen 0* Clock. Rinehart, Inc., 1932. __________ , This Is War.1942.

New York:

New York:

Farrar and

Dodd, Mead and Co.,

_______________, Twenty-Five Short Stories. Garden City, New York: The Sun Dial Press, 19^3* _______________, We Stand United; and Other Radio Scripts♦ New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc. _______________, Western Star. Inc., 197K3^ _______________, Zero Hour, Inc ., n . d .

New York:

New York:

Farrar and Rinehart,

Farrar and Rinehart,

Benet, Rosemary and Stephen Vincent, A Book of Americans. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1933* Brenner, Rico, Poets of Our Times. Brace and Co., 1931*

New York:

Brooks, Van Wyck, America's Coming of Age. Viking Press, 1930V


New York:


Gregory, Horace and Zaturensky, Marya, A History of American Poetry. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 19^6. Hackett, Alice, Fifty Years of Best Sellers. Bowker Co., 19^5*

New York:


Kunitz, Stanley Jr., and Hagery, Howard, Twentieth Century Authors. New York: H. W. W i l s o n C o .,1942. Matthiesson, F. 0., American Renaissance. University Press, 19-4-1*

New York:

Stuart, Charles Leonard, People Vs Encyclopedia. Syndicate Publishing Co., 1914.


New York:

R eproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

94 Trent, W. P.,^Erskine, John, Sterman, S., and Van Doren, C., Cambridge History of American Literature. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1933. Untermeyer, Louis, American Poetry Since 1900. Henry Holt and Co., 1927. ., Modern American Poetry. Brace, and Co., 1930. Nells, Henry, The American Way of Poetry. .Press, 1943.

New York:

New York:


New York: Columbia

Periodicals Bacon, Leonard and 14 other Authors, "As We Remembered Him," The Saturday Review of Literature, XXVI (March 27, 19^3), 4-7. Benet, William Rose, "My Brother Steve," The Saturday Review of Literature, XXIV (November 15, 194l), 22-25• ________________ , "Round About Parnassus," The Saturday Review of Literature, (November 10, 1934), 279* Commager, Henry Steele, "America's Heroic Tragedy," Scholastic Teacher (February, 1950), pp. 10-11. _______________ , "The Poet of America's Heroic History," Senior Scholastic, XLIII (September 20-25, 1943), 22-23. Engle, Paul, "Five Years of Pulitzer Prizes," The English Journal, XXXVIII (February, 1949), 59-66. Jones, Frank, "Bon Voyage, S. V. B.," The Nation (September--12, 1942), p. 217. La Farge, Christopher, "The Narrative Poetry of Stephen Vincent Benet," The Saturday Review of Literature XXVII (August 5, 1944), 106-107. Massey, Raymond, "United We Stand," The Saturday Review of Literature, XXVIII (April 14, 1945),24.

R eproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

95 O 1Neill

Eugene, "S. V. B e n e t *s : John B r o w n ’s Body," The Saturday Review of Literature, XXXII.

z., m. :>.,

"The American Grain," Poetry, XLVIII (August,

1936), 276-282 .

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.



I was born in Burnet, Texas, May 26, 1892 on Sunday morning while the family was at church.

The choir

sang "Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow" but my family often has"; thought that circumstance slightly ironical. My father, Thomas Andrew Chamberlain was County Surveyor of Burnet County for fifty-two years.

In the

later years of his service, the only person to "scratch" his name on the ballot was my mother who disagreed with him politically! Baumgartner.

My mother’s name was Maria Louisa

In Germany,her -father 1s name was Von

GcLrttner but after coming to America for ja more demo­ cratic xray of life, grandfather changed his name to Baumgartner. I x\ras fortunate enough to be born into a family of tx^elve which was augmented during school months by one to six cousins xtfho lived in the county. Some one of these many cousins taught me to read before three years of age.

Many events of early life are outstanding in my

mind but perhaps the fact that I had read Shakespeare's Complete Works before school age is the most -unusual.

R eproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


97 At fifteen, I graduated from Robert E. Lee High School.

Since both a Second Grade and a First Grade Certi­

ficate were required of this school's graduates, I taught the following year at Mount Pleasant near Burnet.

It was

a wealthy farming community whose people enjoyed life. It g’ s problematical what -.the children learned but I learned to dance and enjoyed community living. I taught the next year at Winters, Texas, and then entered the Training School for Teachers in San Antonio. I taught in San Antonio -until I married in 1917*


husband, Benjamin H. Robinson, was in the Diplomatic Service and we lived four interesting years in Mexico City.

Then we came to El Paso where we have lived since

through flood, fire, and bandits!

We have one daughter

and two sons, all of whom attended College of Mines. Mary Josephine graduated in 1939-

The boys were called

into the Armed Forces before graduation.

Madden, the

older, after two and one-half years overseas, graduated with a Master's Degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with honors.

Andrew, the younger one, after

one and one-half year£ overseas duty graduated from the University of Texas as a Mechanical Engineer. I returned to teaching in 1923 when my husband was hurt in a mining accident.

Since then I have tried to

teach art in the El Paso Public School System.


p e n s io n

c ,de c o p ^ n , owner.

In 1934,

Fodder re p ro d u c e p ro h M e , w#hout permission.

98 I entered College of Mines and received from it a B. A. Degree in 1939A bare recital of facts of one's life sounds flat because all lives are so enriched and colored by friends, co-workers, pupils and one's instructors that all the romance and Joy of living cannot be shown.

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