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Bret Harte in 1872
August 25, 1836|
Albany, New York, United States
|Died||May 5, 1902
|Spouse(s)||Anna Griswold (1862–1920)|
Life and career
Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, on August 25, 1836. He was named Francis Brett Hart after his great-grandfather, Francis Brett. When he was young his father, Henry, changed the spelling of the family name from Hart to Harte. Henry's father – Bret's grandfather – was Bernard Hart, a Orthodox Jewish immigrant who flourished as a merchant, becoming one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. Later, Francis preferred to be known by his middle name, but he spelled it with only one "t", becoming Bret Harte.
An avid reader as a boy, Harte published his first work at age 11, a satirical poem titled "Autumn Musings," now lost. Rather than attracting praise, the poem resulted in his family's ridicule. As an adult, he recalled to a friend, "Such a shock was their ridicule to me that I wonder that I ever wrote another line of verse."
His formal schooling ended when he was 13 in 1849. He moved to California in 1853, later working there in a number of capacities, including miner, teacher, messenger, and journalist. He spent part of his life in the northern California coastal town of Union (now Arcata), a settlement on Humboldt Bay that was established as a provisioning center for mining camps in the interior.
The 1860 massacre of between 80 and 200 Wiyots at the village of Tuluwat was well documented historically and was reported in San Francisco and New York by Harte. When serving as assistant editor for the Northern Californian, Harte editorialized about the slayings while his boss, Stephen G. Whipple, was temporarily absent, leaving Harte in charge of the paper. Harte published a detailed account condemning the event, writing, "a more shocking and revolting spectacle never was exhibited to the eyes of a Christian and civilized people. Old women wrinkled and decrepit lay weltering in blood, their brains dashed out and dabbled with their long grey hair. Infants scarcely a span long, with their faces cloven with hatchets and their bodies ghastly with wounds." After he published the editorial, his life was threatened and he was forced to flee one month later. Harte quit his job and moved to San Francisco, where an anonymous letter published in a city paper is attributed to him, describing widespread community approval of the massacre. In addition, no one was ever brought to trial, despite the evidence of a planned attack and references to specific individuals, including a rancher named Larabee and other members of the unofficial militia called the Humboldt Volunteers.
Harte married Anna Griswold on August 11, 1862, in San Rafael, California. From the start, the marriage was rocky. Some suggested she was handicapped by extreme jealousy while an early biographer of Harte, Henry C. Merwin, privately concluded that she was "almost impossible to live with".
Harte's first literary efforts, including poetry and prose, appeared in The Californian, an early literary journal edited by Charles Henry Webb. In 1868 he became editor of The Overland Monthly, another new literary magazine, but this one more in tune with the pioneering spirit of excitement in California. His story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp", appeared in the magazine's second issue, propelling Harte to nationwide fame.
When word of Charles Dickens' death reached Harte in July 1870, he immediately sent a dispatch across the bay to San Francisco to hold back the forthcoming publication of his Overland Monthly for twenty-four hours, so that he could compose the poetic tribute, "Dickens in Camp". This work is considered by many of Harte's admirers as his verse masterpiece, for its evident sincerity, the depth of feeling it displays, and the unusual quality of its poetic expression.
Determined to pursue his literary career, in 1871 he traveled back East with his family, to New York and eventually to Boston, where he contracted with the publisher of The Atlantic Monthly for an annual salary of $10,000, "an unprecedented sum at the time." His popularity waned, however, and by the end of 1872 he was without a publishing contract and increasingly desperate. He spent the next few years struggling to publish new work (or republish old), delivering lectures about the gold rush, and even selling an advertising jingle to a soap company.
In 1878 Harte was appointed to the position of United States Consul in the town of Krefeld, Germany, and then to Glasgow in 1880. In 1885 he settled in London. During the twenty-four years he spent in Europe, he never abandoned writing, and maintained a prodigious output of stories that retained the freshness of his earlier work. He died in Camberley, England, in 1902 of throat cancer and is buried at Frimley.
His wife, by then known as Anna Bret Harte, died on August 2, 1920. Despite being married for nearly forty years, the couple lived together for only sixteen of those years.
In his Round the World, Andrew Carnegie praised Bret Harte as uniquely American:
"A whispering pine of the Sierras transplanted to Fifth Avenue! How could it grow? Although it shows some faint signs of life, how sickly are the leaves! As for fruit, there is none. America had in Bret Harte its most distinctively national poet."
Writing in his autobiography four years after Harte's death, however, Mark Twain characterized him and his writing as insincere. Twain criticized the miners' dialect used by Harte, claiming it never existed outside of his imagination. Twain accused Harte of borrowing money from his friends with no intent to repay and of financially abandoning his wife and children. He referred repeatedly to Harte as "The Immortal Bilk."
Dramatic and musical adaptations of Harte's work
- Several film versions of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" have been made, including one in 1937 with Preston Foster and another in 1952 with Dale Robertson. Tennessee's Partner (1955) with John Payne and Ronald Reagan was based on a story of the same name. Paddy Chayefsky's treatment of the film version of Paint Your Wagon seems to borrow from "Tennessee's Partner": two close friends – one named "Pardner" – share the same woman. The spaghetti western Four of the Apocalypse is based on "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" and "The Luck of Roaring Camp".
- Soviet movie Armed and Very Dangerous (Russian: Вооружён и очень опасен, 1977) is based on Gabriel Conroy novel and another Harte's stories.
- Operas based on "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" include those by Samuel Adler and by Stanford Beckler.
- The Tales of the Argonauts, a volume of short sketches published in 1875
- Plain Language from Truthful James, known also as The Heathen Chinee, was a satire of racial prejudice in northern California, but was embraced by the American public as a mockery of Chinese immigrants, and shaped anti-Chinese sentiment more than any other work at the time.
- The Stolen Cigar-Case, featuring ace detective "Hemlock Jones", was praised by Ellery Queen as "probably the best parody of Sherlock Holmes ever written".
- The Society upon the Stanislaus is a tragicomic poem, like Plain Language from Truthful James set in the northern California mining camps, and told by the same narrator, "Truthful James."
- Nord-Amerika, seine Städte und Naturwunder, sein Land und seine Leute was authored by Austrian Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg, with contributions by others including Harte.
- Bret Harte Memorial in San Francisco
- Bret Harte Court, a street in Sacramento, California
- Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, California is named after him.
- Bret Harte Lane in Humboldt Hill, California.
- Bret Harte Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois
- Bret Harte Preparatory Middle School (Vermont Vista) South Los Angeles, California
- Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose, California
- Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland, California
- Bret Harte Middle School in Hayward, California
- Bret Harte High School in Altaville, California is named after him and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005
- Bret Harte Elementary in Cherry Hill, New Jersey
- Bret Harte Elementary in Sacramento, California
- A community called The Shores of Poker Flat, California claims to have been the location of Poker Flat, although it is usually accepted that the story takes place further north.
- Bret Harte Road in Frimley (the town in which Harte was buried) is named after him.
- Bret Harte Place in San Francisco, California is named after him.
- In 1987 he appeared on a $5 U.S. Postage stamp, as part of the "Great Americans series" of issues.
- Bret Harte Lane, Bret Harte Road, and Harte Ave in San Rafael, California.
- Bret Harte Road in Berkeley, California.
- Bret Harte Road in Redwood City, California.
- Bret Harte Road in Angels Camp, California.
- Bret Harte Road and Bret Harte Drive in Murphys, California.
- Bret Harte House, at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.
- Bret Harte Park in Danville, California.
- The town of Twain Harte, California, is named after Mark Twain and Bret Harte.
- The Beulah song "Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut" references "The Luck of Roaring Camp" and "Outcasts of Poker Flat" and asks, "How does it feel to roam this land like Harte and Twain did?"
- Designed in 1875 by Karl L. Müller, a vessel bearing the name Heathen Chinee pitcher was manufactured by Union Porcelain Works. The vessel is elaborately decorated with depictions of Bill Nye and Ah Sin, the character's featured in Harte's poem, as well as the Flemish King Gambrinus, an official patron saint of beer and Brother Jonathan, the forerunner of Uncle Sam.
- Some sources say he was born in 1837 or 1839. Even his gravestone has the wrong year, 1837. See also Bret Harte Birth Year Set as 1836, Berkeley Daily Gazette, August 15, 1936
- Scarnhorst, Gary. Bret Harte: Opening the American Literary West. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000: 3. ISBN 0-8061-3254-X
- Kanfer, Stefan (1989). A Summer World. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux. p. 40. ISBN 0374271801.
- Scharnhorst, Gary. "Ways That Are Dark": Appropriations of Bret Harte's "Plain Language from Truthful James". Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Dec. 1996), pp. 377–399.
- "Autumn Musings" is reported to have been published in the New York Sunday Atlas, according to Theodore Bryant Kingsbury, "Vanity of Earthly Things," Charlotte Observer (North Carolina), December 13, 1903, p. 14. The Atlas may have been one of the Albany newspapers using that title 1843–1855.
- Scarnhorst, Gary. Bret Harte: Opening the American Literary West. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000: 4. ISBN 0-8061-3254-X
- Gerten-Jackson, Carol. "CGFA – John Pettie: Portrait of Bret Harte". CGFA. Retrieved 2006-06-07.
- Nissen, Axel. Bret Harte: Prince and Pauper. University Press of Mississippi, 2000: 64. ISBN 1-57806-253-5
- Scharnhorst, Gary (2001). "Introduction". In Bret Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Writings, p. xvi. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-043917-X.
- Newburgh Daily Journal May 6 1902
- Nissen, Axel. Bret Harte: Prince and Pauper. University Press of Mississippi, 2000: 243–244. ISBN 1-57806-253-5
- Andrew Carnegie, Round the World, The Project Gutenberg EBook
- Organization at pikappalambda.capital.edu
- Davies, David Stuart (1998). Shadows of Sherlock Holmes, p. xvii. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 1-85326-744-9.
- "Bret Harte Memorial, (sculpture)". Save Outdoor Sculpture!. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
- Scott catalog # 2196.
- Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
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|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Bret Harte at Project Gutenberg
- Brooks, Noah (September 1902). "Bret Harte: A Biographical And Critical Sketch". Overland Monthly, and Out West Magazine (Roman) XL (3): 201–207. Retrieved 2009-08-15.
- Complete bibliography
- Online Bret Harte bibliography
- Bret Harte Etexts
- Historical Deadwood Newspaper accounts of The Bret Harte and Mark Twain Collaboration Co-author play "Ah Sin" 1877, The Main Character and Namesake Ah Sin Comes to Deadwood 1883
- Bret Harte Photographs part of the Nineteenth Century Notables Digital Collection at Gettysburg College
- Works by Bret Harte at LibriVox (audiobooks)
- Guide to the Bret Harte Collection at The Bancroft Library