August 25, 1793|
Portland, Maine, United States
|Died||June 20, 1876
Portland, Maine, United States
|Occupation||Writer, critic, lawyer, architect|
John Neal (August 25, 1793 – June 20, 1876), was an author and art/literary critic. He was a man of diverse talents and objectives, many of which were pioneering in his day. For example, he is credited as being the first American author to employ colloquialism in his writing, breaking with more formal traditions in literature. However, he was also undisciplined and often rambling, so despite its period significance, his literary work has drifted into obscurity. He was also an early women's rights advocate, prohibitionist, temperance advocate, opponent of dueling, accomplished lawyer, boxer, and architect.
Boyhood, young adulthood, and early business
Born in a yellow frame house on Free Street at the corner of South Street in Portland, Maine of Quaker parents, he attended school until the age of twelve whereupon he entered into business. For nine years he made a living as haberdasher, clerk, dry goods dealer, traveling penmanship tutor, and miniature artist, among other things, before entering law school in Baltimore, Maryland in 1815. Neal supported himself while in school by writing for local periodicals, and he helped found a literary society, The Delphian Club. Neal wrote for and eventually edited the journal the Delphians created—a short-lived but influential and admired monthly journal titled The Portico. In short time, he turned to novels and poetry, publishing six novels and two epic poems (under the pseudonymous 'clubicular' name, "Jehu O'Cataract," a nickname given to him by the Delphians because of his rapid production). He was proud of the speed with which he threw off his volumes, often taking only a week to finish an entire novel. He wrote during this stage in his life that, "I shall write, as others drink, for exhilaration." Neal left for England in late 1823.
John Neal's time in London (1824–1827) was a mission: to win recognition in Europe of American literature and demystify the land of his birth in the eyes of the British literary elite. He attempted to fulfill this mission through his work for Blackwood's Magazine, and one novel, published in England: Brother Jonathan, or the New Englanders. He wrote in his column for Blackwood's about American life and critiqued American authors. After a falling out with the editor of Blackwood's, Neal wrote for several other leading periodicals including the Westminster Review, and as part of a debating society, he met Jeremy Bentham, who invited Neal to live with him in London. After a short trip to Paris, Neal returned to Portland, Maine.
Life back in Portland
When he returned to Portland in 1827, he was rather ill-received, as some of his writing, perhaps Errata (1823) or "Keep Cool" (1817), a kiss and tell story about his experiences in Portland as a youngster, was found offensive by many locals. Unbeknown to his denouncers, his return to Portland was planned as merely a visit, but faced with such opposition, he decided to stay. In his autobiography, Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life, he writes, “'Verily, verily,' said I, 'if they take that position, here I will stay, till I am both rooted and grounded–grounded in the graveyard, if nowhere else.'” Indeed, he spent the rest of his life in Portland, re-establishing his law practice and a short-lived literary periodical called The Yankee. He guided many an author or artist through critique and encouragement, among them Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Paul Akers, and Charles Codman. In addition to his literary work, Neal also helped found several gymnasiums in Portland (including one at the former Fort Sumner) and throughout the state of Maine. He is often referred to as "The Father of Organized Maine Athletics." He maintained a solid physique into old age, which he demonstrated when he threw a stubborn cigar-smoker off a non-smoking street car at the age of 79.
- Keep Cool, 1817
- Battle of Niagara, 1818
- Goldau, or, the Maniac Helper, 1818
- Otho; a Tragedy in Five Acts, 1819
- Logan, 1822
- Seventy-six, 1823
- Randolph, 1823
- Errata, 1823
- Brother Jonathan, or the New Englanders, 1825
- Rachel Dyer, 1828
- Authorship, a Tale, 1830
- The Down-Easters, 1833
- One Word More, 1854
- True Womanhood. A Tale, 1859
- Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life, 1869
- Great Mysteries and Little Plagues, 1870
- Portland Illustrated, 1874
- Windsor Dagget; A Down-East Yankee From the District of Maine; A.J. Huston, Publisher; 1920
- Lease, Benjamin (1972). That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 229. ISBN 0-226-46969-7.
- Neal, John; Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life; Roberts Brothers, Publisher; 1869
- Roberts, Robert B. (1988). Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-926880-X.
- Goddu, Teresa A (1997). Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 226. ISBN 0-231-10816-8.
- Nelson, Dana D (1998). National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men. New Americanists. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 344. ISBN 0-8223-2130-0.
- Martin, Harold C. “The Colloquial Tradition in the Novel: John Neal.” The New England Quarterly 32.4 (1959): 455-475. JSTOR. Langsam Library, Cincinnati, OH. 22 May 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/362501>
- "John Neal" [Obituary] Daily Eastern Argus [Portland, Maine] 21 June 1876: 3
- Lease, Benjamin (1972). That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 229. ISBN 0-226-46969-7. p.19
- Dagget, Windsor (1920). A Down-East Yankee From the District of Maine. Portland, Maine: A.J. Huston. p. 80. p.3
- Neal, John (1819). The Battle of Niagara: With Other Poems (Second edition—enlarged ed.). [Baltimore: published by N.B. Maxwell (B. Edes, printer). p. xxiii
- Neal, John. Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life Roberts Brothers, 1869. p. 325 Full text avail. on Google Books.
- Neal, John. Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life Roberts Brothers,1869. p. 256 Full text avail. on Google Books.
- Neal, John. Portland Illustrated W.S. Jones, 1874 p.23
- Neal, John. Portland Illustrated W.S. Jones, 1874 p. 29
- Roberts, p. 373
- Author Unknown. "Served Him Right." New York Times 19 July 1875: p. 3
- Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide
- Cambridge History of English and American Literature
- Photograph of John Neal from the Maine Memory Network
Selected works available online
- Works by John Neal at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about John Neal at Internet Archive
- Battle of Niagara: a poem, without notes; and Goldau, or, The Maniac Harper
- Otho: A Tragedy
- Randolph: A Novel
- Rachel Dyer: A North American Story
- Brother Jonathan (Vol I) and Vol II
- The Downeasters (Vol I) and Vol II
- John Beedle's Sleighride, Courtship and Marriage
- Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life: An Autobiography
- A Down-east Yankee From the District of Maine