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Edward EgglestonEdward Eggleston

Hoosier Connection: Edward Eggleston was born in Vevay, Indiana. Throughout his life, he lived in various parts of Indiana, including Vevay, Madison, and Decatur County. His experiences as a circuit preacher and a schoolteacher figured heavily in his writings.

Works Discussed: The Hoosier Schoolmaster, The Circuit Rider, Roxy

Edward Eggleston was born on December 10, 1837, in Vevay, Indiana. His father was a lawyer and politician, and his mother was the daughter of frontiersman Captain George Craig. Most of Eggleston’s childhood was spent in Vevay and at the Craig farm in the countryside, so he attended both a country school and a town school. Both models would figure heavily in his writing. Following his father’s death in 1846, Eggleston lived in different parts of southeast Indiana, including Decatur County, New Albany, and Madison. Eventually, the family, which now included his stepfather, a Methodist preacher, moved back to Vevay in 1853. His high school teacher there, a local poet named Julia Dumont, nurtured Eggleston’s desire to become a writer.

Eggleston's Madison Home
Eggleston's Madison home

In 1854, he was sent to live with his father’s family in Amelia, Virginia. There he studied at the Amelia Academy, but after thirteen months in Virginia, his moral opposition to slavery, as well as his poor health, necessitated his return to Indiana.

Back in Indiana, Eggleston tried a brief stint as a grammar school teacher but soon decided to move west. Instead, he abandoned this plan and settled in Minnesota, where he made his living as a laborer for the summer of 1856, which apparently benefited his respiratory problems. He returned to Indiana and spent six months as a Methodist circuit rider, preaching throughout the Southeastern part of the state.

Again, Eggleston’s health began to suffer, and he abandoned the circuit to move back to Minnesota, where he spent the next nine years of his life in various preaching jobs. He married Lizzie Snider of St. Peter, Minnesota, in 1858, and they had three daughters, Lillie, Blanche, and Allegra. His family inspired him to write children's stories, several of which were published in the Little Corporal. In 1866, he moved to Evanston, Illinois, to become the associate editor of the Chicago based magazine. One year later, he landed a position as editor of the National Sunday School Teacher. In 1870, Eggleston moved to New York, becoming literary and superintending editor of a well-known journal called the Independent. This position was short-lived, however, as he soon left to become editor-in-chief of Hearth and Home. While Eggleston’s tenure there also lasted only a year, the weekly family magazine allowed him the opportunity to publish his short stories.

Eggleston's home in Vevay
Eggleston's home in Vevay

A series of stories loosely based on the teaching experiences of his brother, George Cary Eggleston, was eventually transformed into a full-length work, The Hoosier Schoolmaster, published in 1871. The story followed the experiences of a new teacher at a country school in southeast Indiana. Although his characters were flat, his stories predictable, and his style formulaic, Eggleston's fiction was remarkably popular in its time. Today however, his novels are noted for their stark realism and valued chiefly as period pieces rather than fine literature. They allow readers a glimpse into the lives of Hoosiers in the years following Indiana's settlement by white people.

The rugged landscapes of the state, while not a primary focus, form a constant stage for his stories. The struggle to claim the land for agricultural use inspired Eggleston to touch on the theme of deforestation, and here one of his characters in The Hoosier Schoolmaster sympathizes with nature's plight:

"Poor old tree!" said Shocky, pointing to a crooked and gnarled elm standing by itself in the middle of a field. For when an elm, naturally the most graceful of trees, once gets a "bad set," as ladies say, it can grow to be most deformed. This solitary tree had not a single straight limb.

"Why do you say 'poor old tree'?" asked Ralph.

"Cause it's lonesome. All its old friends is dead and chopped down, and there's their stumps a-standin' jes like grave-stones. It must be lonesome. Some folks says it don't feel, but I think it does. Everything seems to think and feel. See it nodding its head to them other trees in the woods, and a-wantin' to shake hands! But it can't move" (53-4).

An autumn view of Madison
An autumn view of Madison

Following the unexpected success of The Hoosier Schoolmaster, Eggleston began to write novels exclusively, publishing four more in the next four years. In his 1874 novel, The Circuit Rider, Eggleston employs a traveling Methodist preacher as his protagonist. For the story, Eggleston drew upon his own knowledge of circuit preaching in southeast Indiana. While another formulaic, melodramatic work, The Circuit Rider contains several references to the natural world. Here, the narrator admires the beauty of autumn:

Did you ever have the happiness to see a quiet autumn Sunday in the backwoods? Did you ever observe the stillness, the solitude, the softness of sunshine, the gentleness of wind, the chip-chip-chlurr-r-r of great flocks of blackbirds getting ready for migration, the lazy cawing of crows, softened by distance, the half-laughing bark of a cunning squirrel, nibbling his prism-shaped beech-nut, and twinkling his jolly, child-like eye at you the while, as if to say, 'Don't you wish you might guess?' (32-3).

Eggleston's novel Roxy is perhaps his most mature work, in part because it was written at a time when he was questioning his strict religious doctrines. A sense of awe toward nature permeates the novel, as his characters often reflect on the beauty of the Ohio River Valley. This passage comes from the narrator:

One can never have done admiring the beauties of a late afternoon on the Ohio.... At some seasons of the year, when onion buying and hay shipping were active, the town had some appearance of life; but it was never so peaceful and sleepy-looking as about the first of August.... The roses have long since ceased blooming. The red seed-vessels look bright among the green leaves of the rose-trees. One can hear everywhere, on such a day, the voices of the red-bird and the twittering of the martins and the chatter of chimney-swifts . The grapes are hardly reddening yet, but you can hear at this season the thud of the ripe summer apples, as they fall from time to time upon the ground (424).

Following Roxy, Eggleston traveled in Europe for nearly a year. When he returned to the United States, he decided to write about American History, and published several articles and full-length books over the last twenty years of his life. He also managed to find time to write three more novels. Eggleston suffered a stroke in 1899, and another in 1902 took his life. Although he is not remembered as a literary great, his contributions to the study of American History and his realistic portrayal of the landscapes and backwoods dialects of nineteenth century Indiana have secured his place in the canon of American writers.



Banta, R.E. Indiana Authors and their Books 1816-1916. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1949.

"Edward Eggleston." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 12: American Realists and Naturalists. 1982.

Eggleston, Edward. The Circuit Rider. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878.

---. The Hoosier Schoolboy. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1882.

---. The Hoosier Schoolmaster. New York: Orange Judd and Company, 1871.

---. Roxy. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878.