Thursday, May 14, 2015

*in which we move away from New England and head south: Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs, Late of the Tallapoosa Volunteers, by Johnson Jones Hooper

University of Alabama Press, 1993
(originally published 1844)
201 pp
and speaking of Edgar Allan Poe, he actually read and wrote a brief blurb about The Life and Adventures of Captain Suggs (as it was called in Poe's time) in the journal Aristidean (1845) saying the following:

"We sat down to this book quietly; read, laughed — read, and laughed again. There is more true, indigenous humor in this, than anything we have yet seen, from the American press...Captain SUGGS is a man of metal — "yea! an honest, incorruptible — very jewel of a fellow." 

This "jewel of a fellow" went by the motto of "It is good to be shifty in a  new country," meaning, as the author explains, that "it is right and proper that one should live as merrily and as comfortably as possible at the expense of others."  And this is precisely what Captain Simon Suggs does throughout his life, from his teen years on.  In fact, this con artist pulled his first major scam against his own dad, a Baptist preacher.   Adventures of Captain Suggs is a chronicle of Suggs' adventures along the Tallapoosa in Alabama, and we read along as Suggs gets into predicament after predicament, always getting the better of someone and making a dollar or two in the process.  But we're not here just to see how much trouble Suggs can stir up for himself or others.

 The introduction to this book states that this book "flagrantly satirizes the Democrats, and especially former President Andrew Jackson, a lightning rod for the formation of the Whig party."  The entire collection of Suggs stories in this volume is framed as a "campaign biography," in which the editor appeals to the "Men of Tallapoosa" at the end:
"...we have done! Suggs is before you! We have endeavoured to give the prominent events of his life with accuracy and impartiality. If you deem that he has "done the state some service," remember that he seeks the Sheriffalty of your county. He waxes old. He needs an office, the emoluments of which shall be sufficient to enable him to relax his intellectual exertions. His military services; his numerous family; his long residence among you; his gray hairs -- all plead for him! Remember him at the polls!"
Trust me. After reading this book, Suggs would be the last man on earth to get my vote for the "Sheriffalty" of my county.

 His creator, Jefferson Jones Hooper, started writing his Suggs stories in 1844, publishing them first in the East Alabamian, where he served as editor.  The motto of Jones' newspaper was " We stand upon the broad platform of Whig principles," so with that as a clue, it's not too difficult to figure out as you start to wade into the book that Adventures of Captain Suggs is meant to be a flat-out satire. But even (as in my case)  if you know little to nothing about Jacksonian democracy, you may still find yourself mildly chuckling while reading  these little stories, although quite honestly they were probably much funnier in their day.

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