His great grandfather crossed into these hills from an Eastern State that did not please him

Posted by | September 3, 2010

“THE autumn in the Hills is but the afternoon of summer. The hour of the new guest is not yet. Still the heat lies on the earth and runs bubbling in the water. The little maid trots barefoot and the urchin goes a swimming in the elm hole by the corner of the meadow.

Still the tender grass grows at the roots of the dead crop and the little purple flowers dimple naked in the brown pasture. Still that Pied Piper of Hamelin, the everlasting Pan, flutes in the deep hollows squatted down in the broom sedge. And still the world is a land of unending summer, of unfading flowers, of undying youthfulness.

Only for an hour or so far in the deep night does the distant breath of the Frost King come to haunt the land, and then when the sun flings away his white samite coverlid it is summer again with the earth shining and the water warm.”

—from ‘Dwellers in the Hills,’ (1901), by Melville Davisson Post

Melville Davisson Post’s third book ‘Dwellers in the Hills’ (1901) is a romance of the old West Virginia cattle country in which his youth was passed.  Based on his experiences as a child, the novel tells the story of three young West Virginians who take on a contract to drive a herd of cattle across the state in a limited amount of time.

Mr. Post felt that the curious distinctive life of this Southern border ought somehow to be preserved. It was the oldest cattle land in America and differed wholly from the Western life so common in fiction. It was full of ancient customs and incrusted with a folk lore and traditions all its own.

It was in fact a civilization apart. His great grandfather had crossed the Alleghanies into these beautiful hills from an Eastern State that did not please him. He came like some feudal baron with retainers armed with the heavy hunting rifle and carrying silver loaded on a pack horse. With this silver he bought from the pioneer great tracts of the fertile grass land lying along the Buckhannon River and established a cattle business. The herds were driven across the mountains to Baltimore and from this beginning a big robust richly colored civilization grew that has no counterpart anywhere in America.

Here was an ancient civilization of which no writer had ever heard. The story moves swiftly. It covers merely three days of stress. But in spite of this movement the style of the story is a perpetual pleasure. There is caught in this style as by some witchery the dreamy alluring atmosphere of the green sod, the bright rivers and the haze of the hills.

There is in it too the big virile emotions of that land, the old weird tales, the fairy things that inhabit and the dread things that haunt. The style is pictorial, the visualization striking. It is a piece of sound artistic work.

The book had its greatest success in England, where vigorous moving out of door life is more appreciated than with us. But when one appreciates the fact that outside the material aspect of a land there is always lying an immaterial aspect, and that this immaterial aspect may be weird, poetic, sterile or rich with dreams, one sees how a style woven to catch this illusive atmosphere may seem a garment too rich or too delicate for the natural incidents which it must necessarily cover.

Library of Southern Literature: Biography, by Edwin Anderson Alderman, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles William Kent, The Martin & Hoyt Company, 1909

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