Opie Read, Rebirth of the Kentucky Colonel
Despite the fictional account "A Kentucky Colonel" critics still wonder about the origins of the Kentucky Colonel title from the book, but there were lots of colonels Read just redefines the landscape of one.
Opie Read, Author of "A Kentucky Colonel"
The actual [term] "Kentucky Colonel" evolved spontaneously around 1875 during the centennial of Boonesborough. By this time the ideal of "colonels" were becoming well-known in the Commonwealth, taking on a different meaning than a person serving in the military. We can prove this best by searching online today "Kentucky Colonel" without a period, comma or semicolon in archival, library and newspaper databases.
Opie Read was one of the best authors of Americana literature of his time, he wrote several very popular "real-life" fictional works at the time and was responsible for mapping and publicizing the terms Arkansas Planter, Tennessee Judge, and Kentucky Colonel.
In 1883 he established The Arkansas Traveler. He put into it the full force of wit and humor for which he has become noted. The Arkansas Traveler gained for its author a widespread reputation as a humorist during the ten years that he published it. Then he began to write novels. They were immediately popular. His first story was ''A Kentucky Colonel," followed in rapid succession by "Emmett Bonlore," "Len Gansett," "A Tennessee Judge," ''The Jucklins," "Old Ebenezer," ''An Arkansas Planter," "On the Swanee River," "Bolanza," "A Yankee From the West," "The Wives of the Prophet," "Twenty Good Stories," "In the Alamo," "Judge Elbridge," "Mrs. Annie Green," "Up Terrapin River," "Waters of Caney Fork," "An American in New York," "A Kentucky Editor," "Opie Read in Arkansas," "Son of, the Swordmaker," "Turkey Egg Griffin," "The Carpet Bagger," "The Starbucks," and "Our Josephine." Soon after he gave up the Arkansas Traveler Mr. Read went to Chicago.
The Tendency and Influence of Modern Fiction (1899)
The chairman of the evening, Arthur W. Underwood, said in introducing Mr. Read, "It is very seldom that the Sunset Club discharges its speakers in batteries of four, but something is due to the speakers. Four barrels is a light load, I am told, for a Kentucky colonel, and I have the pleasure of introducing the original ' Kentucky Colonel, Mr. Opie P. Read."
Mr. President and Gentlemen.
The drift of latter-day fiction is largely shown by the department store. The selling of books by the ton proves a return to the extremes of romanticism. People do not jostle one another in their eagerness to secure even a semblance of the truth. The taste of to-day is a strong appetite for faddism; and a novel to be successful must bear the stamp of society rather than the approval of the critic. The reader has gone slumming, and must be shocked in order to be amused. Reviewers tell us of a revolt against realism, that we no longer fawn upon a dull truth, that we crave gauze rather than substance. In fact, realism was never a tad. Truth has never been fashionable; no society takes up philosophy as an amusement.
But after all, popular taste does not make a literature. Strength does not meet with immediate recognition; originality is more often condemned than praised. The intense book often dies with one reading, its story is a wild pigeon of the mind, and sails away to be soon forgotten; but the novel in which there is even one real character, one man of the soil, remains with us as a friend. In the minds of thinking people, realism cannot be supplanted. But by realism, I do not mean the commonplace details of an uninteresting household, nor the hired man with mud on his cowhide boots, nor the whining farmer who sits with his feet on the kitchen-stove, but the glory that we find in nature and the grandeur that we find in man, his bravery, his honor, his self-sacrifice, his virtue. Realism does not mean the unattractive. A rose is as red as a toad. And a realistic novel of the days of Caesar would be worth more than Plutarch's Lives.
Every age sees a literary revolution, but out of that revolution there may come no great work of art. The best fiction is the unconscious grace of a cultivated mind, a catching of the quaint humor of men, a soft look of mercy, a sympathetic tear. And this sort of a book may be neglected for years, no busy critic may' speak a word in its behalf, but there comes a time when by the merest accident a great mind finds it and flashes its genius back upon the cloud that has hidden it.
Yes, there is a return to romanticism, if indeed there was ever a turn from it. The well-told story has ever found admirers. To the world all the stories have not been told. The stars show no age, and the sun was as bright yesterday as it was the morning after creation. But a simple story without character is not the highest form of fiction. It is a story that may become a fad, if it be shocking enough, if it has in it the thrill of delicious wickedness, but it cannot live. The literary lion of to-day may be the literary ass of tomorrow, but the ass has his bin full of oats and cannot complain.
One very striking literary tendency of to-day is the worship of the English author in America and the hissing of the American author in London. And this proves that American literature is scarcely more popular in England than it is at home. But may not American publishers after a while take up a London hissing and use it as an advertisement. Hissing is surely a recognition, and proves that an author has not been wholly neglected.
The novel, whether it be of classic form or of faddish type, makes a mark upon the mind of the public. Fiction is a necessary element of modern education. A man may be a successful physician or a noted lawyer without having read a novel; but he could not be regarded as a man of refined culture. A novel is an intellectual luxury, and in the luxuries of a country we find the refinements of the nation. It was not invention but fancy that made Greece great. A novel-reading nation is a progressive nation. At one time the most successful publication in this country was a weekly paper filled with graceless sensationalism, and it was not the pulpit nor the lecture-platform that took hold of the public taste and lifted it above this trash — it was the publication in cheap form of the English classics. And when the mind of the masses had been thus improved, the magazine became a success.
One slow but unmistakable drift of fiction is toward the short story, and the carefully edited newspaper may hold the fiction of the future.
Modern Eloquence, 1900, J. D. Morris and Co.
Fiction about Kentucky Colonels
Read, Opie Percival, A Kentucky Colonel, 1890, Chicago: Laird & Lee(Available in all formats)
Johnston, Annie F., The Little Colonel Stories, Illustrated by Ethelred B. Barry, 1917
Botkin, Benjamin Albert, A Treasury of American Folklore, 1944, New York: Crown Publishers
William N. Famous, Colonel Crook Stories, 1909, Excelsior
Norris, Zoe Anderson, Twelve Kentucky Colonel Stories; 1905, J.S. Ogilvie Publishing