strongest impetus to a fresh study and appraisal of American dialect was given by James Russell Lowell1 in his Biglow papers (1848, 1866) and in the Introductions with which he prefaced them. The early masters of the short story, Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne, looked askance at dialect, as did Longfellow and Whittier in their abolition poems. But Bret Harte2 gave new force to Lowell's views by his effective use of dialect in the stories of the forty-niners, and from 1870 to the present time dialect has played a leading part in the attempt to portray and interpret American character against the background of social environment. Edward Eggleston,3 who brought a new dialect into literature in The Hoosier schoolmaster (1871), spoke for all his colleagues when he said:
If I were a dispassionate critic, and were set to judge my own novels as the writings of another, I should say that what distinguishes them from other works of fiction is the prominence which they give to social conditions; that the individual characters are here treated to a greater degree than elsewhere as parts of a study of a society—as in some sense the logical results of the environment. Whatever may be the rank assigned to these stories as works of literary art, they will always have a certain value as materials for the student of social history.With the exception of the negro dialects and those that are more French or German than English, American dialects fall into three groups, those of New England, the South, and the West. The dialect employed by Bret Harte has often been criticized as belonging to no one of these groups. The charge is made that it is merely an importation of cockney English. The critics, however, when pressed for proof, have been able to cite only the use of which in such initial sentences as
Which I wish to remark,This is undoubtedly cockney English, but it is American as well, though it has always been and still is rarely heard.4
And my language is plain.