Ohio History Journal

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NEW WEST. By Randolph C. Randall.

(Columbus: Ohio State University Press,

1964. xvi??371p.; illustrations, bibliog-

raphy, and index. $7.50.)

Randolph Randall's account of the life

of James Hall (1793-1868), to whom Her-

man Melville acknowledged a literary debt

in The Confidence-Man, provides an inter-

esting panorama of the larger life of the

eastern and Ohio Valley frontier during

the years of explosive change and growth

that came between the War of 1812 and

the War between the States.

Born in Philadelphia, where his mother

was a contributor to Joseph Dennie's in-

fluential Port Folio (later edited and pub-

lished by his older brothers, Elihu and

Harrison Hall), James Hall grew up in

the East and saw active service on the

Niagara frontier in the War of 1812. As

a young artillery officer he accompanied

an American fleet in Decatur's expedition

against Algeria. After leaving the army,

he read and practiced law in Pittsburgh

before embarking in 1820 on a thousand

mile keelboat journey to Shawneetown in

the infant state of Illinois. Here Hall was

active as a newspaper editor; as a circuit

riding state prosecutor against horse

thieves, counterfeiters, and a variety of

petty malefactors; and, briefly, as a cir-

cuit judge. Here also, under discouraging

circumstances, he launched a literary jour-

nal, the Illinois Monthly Magazine (1830-

33) and sent east for publication--in Cin-

cinnati, in Philadelphia, and in London--

the first of a growing number of fictional

and nonfictional accounts of life in the

new West.

Backtrailing to Cincinnati, Hall settled

into the social and literary life of the com-

munity that was already recognized as the

"Athens of the West." While editing the

flourishing  Western Monthly Magazine

(1833-37), he prepared a distinctive text-

book, The Western Reader (1834), and

completed his only novel, The Harpe's

Head: A Legend of Kentucky (1833).

After shifting to the successful banking

career to which he devoted the remainder

of his life, Hall continued, for a decade or

so, to write and to re-collect his earlier

pieces about the West. The most ambitious

of his late efforts was his contribution as

co-author to a three volume work entitled

History of the Indian Tribes of North

America (1836-44). Apart from his edi-

torial labors to foster a new western liter-

ature, Hall's writings provide an invalu-

able record of the life of a long-vanished

frontier culture.

Hall's contribution to American litera-

ture rests as much upon his editing as

upon his creative writing. The Western

Souvenir, A Christmas and New Year's

Gift for 1829, edited by Hall and pub-

lished in Cincinnati by N. & G. Guilford

in late 1828, represents a break from the

oppressively genteel tradition of the gift

book in its inclusion of fresh western sub-

jects. Among examples of the vitality of

the better selections are Hall's own essay

"The Indian Hater," upon which Melville

drew, and Morgan Neville's "The Last of