Literary Themes in the Campaign

Political cartoonists use characters and symbols they hope readers will instantly recognize; by that measure, the most familiar literary reference of 1896 was clearly the Bible, which figured in both pro-McKinley and pro-Bryan cartoons and rhetoric. Cartoonists also made use of other references. Some were classics, including Aesop's Fables; recorded by a Greek author in the sixth century B.C. and translated since into many languages; Robert Burns' poem "Tam O'Shanter," about an errant Scotsman pursued home by a horde of witches; and Shakespeare. Other references, particularly on the Democratic side, were to popular novels such as Trilby (1893), whose author, George DuMaurier, died during the campaign.

American literature was in flux in 1896, with realist authors such as Frank Norris and Bret Harte just coming into their own. Older traditions remained strong, including romantic popular fiction and reform novels. Interestingly, though Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896, cartoonists and politicians made few or no references to Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the century's most influential books. This was in keeping with inattention to issues of racial justice in the midst of a campaign focused on other concerns.

Latter-day Literature: A Lamentation.
The giants of the pen are dead. The great books have all been written, and the world does not hold a great man who is really a great writer. Literature has falled upon evil times, and now is in the hands of manikins. . . . Where is the recent books that anyone can read over twice? Where is the living historian who can paint living pictures like Carlyle? Where is the novelist who can tell a story like Dumas or Scott?
. . . Literature is small because the men who produce it are not great, The stream is like its fountain. The authors of the really great books have been great men. They have lived in a full sense and have understood what life means. Literature nowadays shows a lack of convictions. It is a materialistic age; life has lost meaning for many persons, and without a great and inspiring view of life and the world, can great things be written.
--The Critic, 2 October 1897

Salt Lake Theater.
Chas. S. Burton, Manager.
Curtain at 8:15 p.m. sharp.
One Night, Wednesday, October 21,

The play of the century, causing a thrill of sensational interest throughout the two hemispheres.
Dramatized by arrangements with Harper Bros. by Paul M. Potter, from the late George DuMaurier's celebrated novel, TRILBY.
Last opportunity to see this great play.
PRICES--$1.00, 75 cts., 50 cts., 25 cts.
Sale of seats begins Monday October 19th.
--Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 20 October 1896

(some published before that year)

Tom Grogan, by F. Hopkinson Smith
A Lady of Quality, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Seats of the Mighty, by Gilbert Parker
A Singular Life, by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic
A Houseboat on the Styx, by John Kendrick Bangs
Kate Carnegie, by Ian Maclaren
Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
Sentimental Tommy, by J. M. Barrie
Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush, by Ian Maclaren


Horatio Alger, Frank Hunter's Peril Stephen Crane, The Little Regiment and Other Stories of the American Civil War
Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware
Joel Chandler Harris, Sister Jane: Her Friends and Acquaintances
Bret Hart, Cressy
Bret Hart, The Crusade of the Excelsior
Bret Hart, A First Family of Tasajara
Henry James, The Other House
Sarah Orne Jewett, Country of the Pointed Firs
Thomas Nelson Page, In Ole Virginia
Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
Constance Fennimore Woolson, Dorothy and Other Italian Stories


"Mark Twain in His Time" is an excellent website created by Stephen Railton and the UVA Electronic Text Center, with texts, reviews, and information on literary marketing strategies and audiences in the 1890s.


OUR LEADING POET-- Paul Laurence Dunbar. Cleveland Gazette (African-American), 26 September, 1896.

Dunbar was one of the most famous black writers of the late nineteenth-century. Lyrics of Lowly Life, a collection of his poems published in 1897, is available from the Humanities Text Initiative's collection of American Verse.

DuMaurier's Trilby

[Trilby pic]

Et maintenant dors, ma migonne.
("And now sleep, my little one"--Svengali to Trilby) DuMaurier, Trilby.
New York: Harper Brothers, 1894.

Trilby featured the story of a young singer hypnotized and manipulated by her trainer, an older man named Svengali. The phrase "he was a Svengali to her Trilby" is still in occasional use today; audiences in 1896 would have recognized it much more easily. Like many bestsellers of the day, Trilby had become a play in the hands of enterprising producers, and thousands of Americans saw it on the stage.

The one unmistakable thing about "Trilby" . . . is that it declares beyond the possibility of doubt the distinction of the author's mind, the nobility of his inspiration, and his victorious originality in making that nobility clear to the imagination in a fresh, amusing way. To be amusing has not often been counted as a major gift, but it is such a gift in DuMaurier's case. He is amusing in that he is merry, bright, and sparkling as a running brook. . . . No novelist since Dickens has made so many friends, no novelist since Thackeray has held those friends through ties at once so human and so beautiful. He recalls both his famous predecessors, realls them at their best. It is with the Dickens of "The Tale of Two Cities," with the Thackeray of "Esmond," that he will stand.
--New York Tribune. from Public Opinion, 15 October 1896

Whatever may be thought by some of "Trilby," the creation of the artist, DuMaurier, few who have read that pathetic story will fail to be grieved by the news this morning of the death of its author. If many have found much that was noxious in its suggestion, few have failed to gather at least one flower from those that were scattered so lavishly there with the studied negligence of the poet and the artist that are true. Poor Trilby and poor DuMaurier, both have gone strangely to the hearts of men, and it is to the credit of men and women that Trilby gets still from them a tear for every frown.
--Raleigh News and Observer, 9 October 1896


Republican cartoonists made reference to the witches of Macbeth and to Jack Cade, a character from Henry VI who was something of a Robin Hood, but whom Shakespeare portrayed as a villianous bandit. Meanwhile, a pro-silver reference recreated a scene from Julius Caesar, and the socialist journal The Coming Nation made use of a quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream, spoken by the character Puck, which also appeared on the masthead of the Democratic journal Puck: 'what fools these mortals be!'

from William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Act IV, Scene I, lines 20-38

All: Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn; and, cauldron, bubble.
3 Witch: Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf,
Of the ravin's salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock, digg'd I' th' dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and lips of yew,
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
And thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For th' ingredience of our cauldron.
All: Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn; and, cauldron, bubble.
2 Witch: Cool it with a baboon's blood:
Then the charm is firm and good.

From William Shakespeare. King Henry VI, Part II.
Act IV, Scene II, lines 49-70

Cade: Valiant I am.
Smith: [Aside] A' must needs; for beggary is valiant.
Cade: I am able to endure much.
Smith: [Aside] No question of that; for I have seen him whipped three market- days together.
Cade: I fear neither sword nor fire.
Smith: [Aside] He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.
Dick: [Aside] But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt I' the hand for stealing sheep.
Cade: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall habe ten hoops; and I will make it a felony to drink small beer. All the realm hall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfry go to grass; and when I am king, as king I will be,--
All: God save your majesty!
Cade: I thank you, good people;-- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.
Dick: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cartoons with Literary References
16 July, People's Advocate
16 August, L.A. Times
14 September, L.A. Times
10 October, The Coming Nation
13 October, St. Louis Globe Democrat
14 November, Judge


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College