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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Richard Malcolm Johnston (1822–1898)

ONE of the most distinctive and pleasant features of American literature in its development since 1870 has been the work of Southern writers. They have portrayed in sketch, poem, and story,—notably in the latter form,—the scenes, types, and natural beauties of a picturesque and romantic part of the United States, rich in colors and flavors of its own, and a most hopeful field for literary cultivation. Different authors, men and women, have drawn with sympathetic insight the characters peculiar to their own sections or States, and a product of originality and value has been the result. To mention but a few names: Mr. Page and Mrs. Stuart have done this for Virginia and Alabama, Miss Murfree for Tennessee, “Octave Thanet” for the Southwest, Mr. James Lane Allen for Kentucky, and Messrs. Harris and Johnston for Georgia. The last mentioned, R. M. Johnston, holds an honorable place amid the elder authors of the South because of his lively, humorously unctuous, and truthfully limned studies of Georgia folk.

Richard Malcolm Johnston was born in 1822 in Hancock County, Georgia, and was graduated from Mercer University in that State in 1841. He was admitted to the bar, and practiced his profession at Sparta, Georgia; but like the legion before him who have felt themselves called to scholarship and literature, he turned from the law, declining such a substantial bait as a judgeship, and in 1857 became professor of belles-lettres in the University of Georgia, holding the position until the breaking out of the war in 1861. Afterwards he opened a select classical school at Rockby, in his native county, and it became a noted institution in the South. In 1867 the school was moved to the suburbs of Baltimore; and since its abandonment Colonel Johnston has resided in that city.

The stories which gave him reputation, ‘The Dukesborough Tales,’ first appeared in the old Southern Magazine, and were published later in book form (1871). Some time before, he had printed his ‘Georgia Sketches: By an Old Man’ (1864). In 1884 came ‘Old Mark Langston: A Tale of Duke’s Creek’; in 1885 ‘Two Grey Tourists’; ‘Mr. Absalom Billingslea and Other Georgia Folk’ dates from 1888; ‘Ogeechee Cross-Firings’ from 1889; and still later books of fiction are ‘Widow Guthrie’ (1890); ‘The Primes and their Neighbors,’ ‘Mr. Fortner’s Marital Claims’ (1892); ‘Mr. Billy Downs and his Likes’ (1892); and ‘Little Ike Templin and Other Stories’ (1894). Colonel Johnston has also written a biography of Alexander H. Stephens, a sketch of English literature (in collaboration with Professor William Hand Browne), and several volumes of essays.

Colonel Johnston’s representative work is found in the ‘Dukesborough Tales.’ All his later fiction bears a family resemblance to this inimitable series, in which is reproduced the old-time Georgian country life among white folks from a supposed contemporary’s coign of vantage, and in a way to give the reader a vivid sense of local custom, tradition, and trait. The sly fun of these genial stories is delicious; the revelations of human nature are keen, while the temper is kindly and tolerant. Johnston does for the white people of a certain period and section what Page and Harris do for the negroes; and he does it once and for all. His death occurred in 1898.