Voice From the Brier Patch

"One night," said Uncle Remus—taking Miss Sally's little boy on his knee, and stroking the child's hair thoughtfully and caressingly—"one night Brer Possum call by fer Brer Coon, cordin ter greement, an atter gobblin up a dish er fried greens en smokin' a seegyar, dey rambled fort fer ter see how de balance er de settlement wuz gittin' long." 

So begins Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tale, "Why Mr. Possum Loves Peace." Cleanth Brooks does not quote this particular passage in The Language of the American South, but he does quote frequently from Harris in order to establish the roots of the Coastal Southern dialect in the spoken language of the southern counties of England. And he might well have quoted the above passage, for it reveals as well a11 sorts of communally shared habits of behavior and social formalities that support Brooks's twin theses: that the "soul of a people is embodied in the language peculiar to them," and that "the richness of the Southern language" was a p(iceless resource for the region's writers.

Brooks still has the capacity to surprise and delight. The doyen of the New Criticism and one who has been called "our best reader," he has now turned his talents—as an "enthusiastic amateur"—to the relationship be tween linguistic study and literary...

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