Reference > Cambridge History > Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I > The New South: Lanier > Boner
  Tabb Wilson  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier.

§ 16. Boner.


Another class of Reconstruction poets felt less keenly the sting of defeat. Some in fact came to catch the new national spirit and have even expressed in poetry their devotion to the common flag. Verse was for them not so much an avenue of escape from the cares and tribulation of this life as a means of self-expression. A humble and rather negative representative is John Henry Boner (1845–1903), whom North Carolina now claims as her chief poet of the period, although in Reconstruction times she drove him from her borders. Coming from a quite different class of society from that of Tabb or McKinley, he found it easy to become a Republican after the war. Not till his demise did his fellow citizens forgive him. In 1870, when, after a campaign that approached civil war, a Democratic governor was elected, the Republicans took care of Boner by placing him in the Government Printing Office in Washington, for which he was fitted by his earlier trade as printer; but when the Democrats again gained control of the national government, Boner was dismissed on the ground of offensive partisanship. Fortunately his poetry had won him the ear of Edmund Clarence Stedman, who obtained for him in New York various tasks of compilation. He eventually became editor of The Literary Digest, which he conducted with ability until his resignation in 1897.   35
  All this time, however, he cherished memories of the South and the scenes of his boyhood. In particular, the theme that pleased Stedman, the music of the pines as the wind sighed through them or the moon rose beyond them, haunted him with a gentle yearning. The Light’ood Fire lightens his memory with fond pictures. Crismus Times is Come is an unusually faithful representation of the negro character and religion. These effusions are carefully finished. The versification is smooth, often liquid. The descriptive passages are clear and sometimes vivid. The tone of melancholy that pervades his best efforts casts the charm of subdued light over both the measures and the man. Nevertheless, Boner is deficient in imagination, and adds no new note, no original element, to American verse. He will consequently live as a poet of one poem—Poe’s Cottage at Fordham. The subject enlisted a deeper interest than even the events of Boner’s own life and much deeper than the swirling progress of his adopted section. The lines well up from a sympathy that interprets and enshrines. They flow with a haunting melody worthy of the magician in metre whom they celebrate.   36

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  Tabb Wilson  
 
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