whenever he wished, and to make himself familiar with every nook and corner of the surrounding country. It was in these early years that Harris laid the foundation for his future work. There was not a negro myth or legend in which he was not interested; there was not a negro custom or peculiarity that he did not know; and there was not a sound or idiom of the negro language that he could not reproduce.
‘No man who has ever written,’ says Thomas Nelson Page, ‘has known one-tenth part about the negro that Mr. Harris knows, and for those who hereafter shall wish to find not merely the words but the real language of the negro of that section and the habits of mind of all American negroes of the old time, his works will prove the best thesaurus.’In addition to his interest in the life about him Harris soon came to have an equal interest in Turner's large library. Among his favourite books were the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, the essays of Addison and Steele, and later the Bible and Shakespeare. His best loved writer, however, from first to last, and the one whose genius was most like his own, was Goldsmith.
‘The only way to describe my experience with The Vicar of Wakefield,’ he said in his later years, ‘is to acknowledge that I am a crank. It touches me more deeply, it gives me the ‘all-overs’ more severely than all others. Its simplicity, its air of extreme wonderment, have touched and continue to touch me deeply.’Among the writers of New England Harris seems to have cared least for Emerson and most for Lowell.
‘Culture,’ he once wrote, ‘is a very fine thing, indeed, but it is never of much account either in life or in literature, unless it is used as a cat uses a mouse, as a source of mirth and luxury. It is at its finest in this country when it is grafted on the sturdiness that has made the nation what it is, and when it is fortified by the strong common sense that has developed and preserved the republic. This is culture with a definite aim and purpose . . . and we feel the ardent spirit of it in pretty much everything Mr. Lowell has written.’