The Project Gutenberg eBook, Bypaths in Dixie, by Sarah Johnson Cocke
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: Bypaths in Dixie
Folk Tales of the South
Author: Sarah Johnson Cocke
Release Date: December 10, 2012 [eBook #41598]
Character set encoding: UTF-8
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BYPATHS IN DIXIE***
E-text prepared by the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
BYPATHS IN DIXIE
“DES LIKE SHE RUB’IN ON YORN.”
BYPATHS IN DIXIE
FOLK TALES OF THE SOUTH
SARAH JOHNSON COCKE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
HARRY STILLWELL EDWARDS
E·P·DUTTON & COMPANY
31 West Twenty-Third Street
By E. P. Dutton & Company
Reprinted, May, 1912
TO MY HUSBAND
When Thomas Nelson Page began his stories of the old South in the early “Eighties,” the reading people of America suddenly aroused to the realization that a vein of virgin gold had been uncovered. There was a rush to the new field and almost every Southerner who had a story to tell told it, many of them with astonishing dramatic force and power. As by magic a new department was added to American literature and a score of new writers won their way to fame. From a notably backward section, in point of expression, the South stepped easily, with the short story, into the front rank and has held her place ever since. The field once entered was explored faithfully, the eager minds of her sons and daughters running through the Ante-Bellum, Revolutionary and Colonial eras, and when Joel Chandler Harris developed the “Brer Rabbit” stories, “The Little Boy” and “Uncle Remus,” it seemed as though future work must lie in refining for the ore was all in sight.
But there was one lead almost entirely forgotten or undervalued in the scramble for literary wealth and this lead was into the Southern nursery where the real black Mammy reigned. With the better lights before us now we realize the astonishing fact that the very heart center of the Southern civilization had not been touched.
Mrs. Cocke in the charming stories contained in this volume is the happy pre-emptor of the new find. Every Southerner old enough will recognize the absolute truthfulness of the scenes and methods therein embalmed, and applaud the faithfulness with which she has reproduced that difficult potency, the gentle, tender, playful, elusive, young-old, child-wise mind of the African nurse in the white family; the mind to which all things appeal as living forces and all lives as speaking intelligences.
The naturally developed mind of the African slave had no leaning to violence. The influence of the wildness of nature, the monotones of forests, fields and running waters, the play of shadows and the wind voices lingered in it and the tendency to endow all life surrounding it with human or god-like powers as strong in an humbler way as with the early Greek. But the Greeks were warriors; the African slave tribes, never. Where one worshipped force, the other bowed to shrewdness and cunning and by these lived within a hostile environment. The rabbit that survives and multiplies was to the African slave always mightier than the lion that fell to the hunter’s gun or spear, and the rabbit was and, to a large degree still is, the best personification of the negro mind in its method of approach and treatment. Brer Rabbit in the stories retold by Harris is really the child-wise, world-old mind of Uncle Remus, himself a type. The absence from them of some of the moral laws is in itself one proof of faithful reproduction.
But in the nursery we had by necessity the moral laws grafted on the African mind by master and mistress through daily association and the singular application of these is within the memory of many grown-up Southern children. I take issue with those who declare that the black Mammy did have equal authority in the punishment of refractory children. I have never known an instance in which punishment by her was inflicted in blows. A child might be dragged forcibly to its nursery, restrained by a turned key or remorselessly carried away to solitude, in arms, but struck, never! Blows were unnecessary with the wise-old Mammy. There were the cupboard and pantry, the fruit orchard, the kitchen stove, and there were the birds, beasts and fowls to be invoked in song and story. Thus were the children restrained, guided and taught, and doubtless many a flower in our literary gardens to-day is but an old-time seed matured. This is the best side of the picture. The seed was not always well chosen; the impression, a good one. All black Mammies were not good and superstitions fertilized with fear were often sown in childish minds never to be eradicated. The writer to this day could not under any temptation bring himself to touch a spider or sleep in the dark and somehow feels that life will not be entirely complete without a chance to even up with the female Senegambian who filled his mind with weird stories Saturday nights and prepared him for religious service Sunday mornings.
Mrs. Cocke’s work speaks for itself. It is a difficult work presented with but few of the stage accessories. But I believe it is admirably done and will endure in a niche of its own. Certain it is that those to whose memories it appeals will receive it gratefully.
Harry Stillwell Edwards.
April 10, 1911.