Neal, John (1793 - 1876)

Genre: General Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry

John Neal was an important voice in 19th-century literature as a writer and critic who wrote one of the earliest histories of American literature.

Born in Portland, he moved to Baltimore when he was 21 to start a dry goods business. When the business failed, he became the editor of The Portico, a monthly literary magazine that also had a short life.

Neal's first novel, Keep Cool, Written in Hot Weather, by Somebody M.D.C., &c., &c., &c. Author of Sundry Works of Great Merit, Never Published, or Read, From His Story. Reviewed by Himself --- "Esquire", was published in 1817.

The next year he published two narrative poems, "Battle of the Niagara, a Poem, without Notes," and "Goldau, or, the Maniac Harper," for which he used the pen name Jehu O'Cataract.

Shortly after Neal traveled to England in 1823, he met Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher, who hired him as his secretary. While in England, Neal wrote a series of five articles on 135 American writers for Blackwood's Magazine. This is noteworthy, as the Blackwood editors had no use for American writers or writing.

Although riddled with error, the series is considered the first effort to chronicle and explain American literature and was reprinted as American Writers in 1937.

When Neal returned to Portland in 1827, he opened the city's first gymnasium as he had become a strong proponent of physical well being as a means of advancing social and political well being. Neal, who was an early advocate for equal rights for minorities and women, severed his relationship with the gym when the majority of members would not support his nomination of African-Americans for membership. He established gymnasiums in other Maine cities and taught boxing and bowling at Bowdoin College.

In addition to his writing, Neal was also known as an editor, architect, lawyer, historian, and women's rights advocate. He wrote numerous magazine articles on American artists and is considered one of the United States' first major art critics.

Although a strong opponent of dueling, he was not against using his fist or his physical strength to challenge an opponent. One of the more frequently cited Neal stories is one in which he, at 79 years old, is noted for throwing a defiant cigar-smoking passenger off a street car.

Selected Bibliography

  • Otho: A Tragedy in Five Acts, (1819)
  • A History of the American Revolution: Comprehending all the Principal Events Both in the Field and in the Cabinet, (1819)
  • Logan: A Family History, (1822)
  • Errata: or The Works of Will. Adams, (1823)
  • Seventy-Six, (1823)
  • Randolph, a Novel, (1823)
  • Brother Jonathan, or The New Englander, (1825)
  • Rachel Dye: A North American Story, (1828)
  • Address Delivered Before the Portland Association for the Promotion of Temperance, (1829)
  • City of Portland: Being a General Review of the Proceedings Heretofore Had, in the Town of Portland, on the Subject of a City Government; With the Petitions and Signatures, and Remarks Thereon, (1829)
  • Authorship, A Tale, (1830)
  • The Down-Easters, (1833)
  • Man: a Discourse, Before the United Brothers' Society of Brown University, September 4, 1838, (1838)
  • John Beedle's Sleigh Ride, Courtship, and Marriage, (1841)
  • True Womanhood: a Tale, (1859)
  • One More Word: Intended for the Reasoning and Thoughtful Among Unbelievers, (1854)
  • Account of the Great Conflagration in Portland, (1866)
  • Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life, (1869 autobiography)
  • Great Mysteries and Little Plagues, (1870)
  • Portland Illustrated, (1874)
  • The Moose-Hunter, or, Life in the Maine Woods. Beadle's dime novels; no. 72, (1864)

Biographical and critical studies of John Neal

  • A Down-East Yankee from the District of Maine, by Windsor Pratt Daggett, A. J. Houston, (1920)
  • The Life of John Neal, 1793-1876,Irving Trefethen Richards, (thesis), (1925)
  • Observations on American Art; Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876), edited with notes by Harold Edward Dickson, Pennsylvania State College, (1943)
  • That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution, by Benjamin Lease, University of Chicago Press, (1972)
  • The Genius of John Neal: Selections from His Writings, by Benjamin Lease and Hans-Joachim Lang, Lang, (1978)