This Day (Tears of a Clown Edition)

Published:November 29, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1883, George William Bagby died. There’s something that strikes me as a little sad about the name Bagby, or perhaps I’m just influenced by the fact that he died from the effects of chronic dyspepsia and an ulcer of the tongue, which, combined with the fact that he was a failed humorist, is just kind of sad. Whatever the case, Bagby was the son of wealthy Buckingham County planters and he grew up to edit the Southern Literary Messenger, taking over from John Reuben Thompson in 1860. The Richmond-based Messenger had once been a respected literary voice and for a time was edited by Edgar Allan Poe. Bagby, however, transformed it into an organ of Confederate propaganda. Severing all ties with the Northern literary establishment, he published “purely Southern articles … that smack of the soil,” as he wrote in his June 1860 “Editor’s Table.”

Toward the end of his life Bagby struggled with his impulse, on the one hand, to describe in his essays life in Virginia as it was and, on the other hand, to sentimentalize Ol’ Virginny. The results, for good and for ill, can be found in this 1910 edition of The Old Virginia Gentleman and Other Sketches, edited by Thomas Nelson Page.