The Charlotte News

SUNDAY, MAY 15, 1940


NC's Jonathan Daniels Discovers New England


Site ed. note: Cash had met and befriended Jonathan Daniels at a book fair in May, 1938, the same book fair at which Cash met Mary, his wife-to-be. Daniels and Cash met and communicated often after that point. Daniels, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient for A Southerner Discovers the South, was a principal sponsor of Cash for his Guggenheim in 1941. During the Thirties, Daniels was editor-in-chief of the Raleigh News and Observer, taking over after his father and former editor-in chief, Josephus, became Ambassador to Mexico in 1933. The younger Daniels would go to work as an administrative assistant to President Roosevelt from 1943 to 1945. After the War, from 1947 through 1953, Daniels served on the United Nations subcommittee devoted to the task of preventing discrimination against minorities throughout the world.


An excellent explanation of Jonathan Daniels will, I have no doubt, immediately occur to the Freudians, who know everything. That he read "Frank On a Gunboat," "Frank Before Vicksburg," "Frank On A Raft." "The Rover Boys," and other damyankee works in his innocent boyhood, and so acquired a serious complex which led him in his manhood (about the innocence of which many of the more crusty sort of old-fashioned Southerners seem to have a great deal of doubt) to follow up a book called "A The Southerner Discovers the South" with another called "A Southerner Discovers New England" (Macmillan: $3). With, for all I know, perhaps others in the offering.

But the real explanation is probably simpler. Jonathan made a good deal of money out of the first of the series and wanted to make some more. And there is no surer way of reminding the people that you once wrote a book which they bought before than to echo its title.

I must hasten to say, however, that this is not inferring the book is not a good job. It is. But it is a very different kind of job from "A Southerner Discovers the South." I doubt that Jonathan has got much below the surface in New England, whereas in the South he very often did. He himself admits cannily that he knew nothing about New England until he started on his trip last Summer, but argues that an outsider can often see more than the native. I have often used the argument myself, and it is true within limits. But it is mainly true only as applying to the obvious, for the obvious is just what the intelligent native, even though intelligent, is most likely to miss. And to actually get the feel of the mind of any people--and that is mainly what counts about them--you have to live with them from childhood. Jonathan Daniels knows a great deal about the Southern mind because in one phase or another it has been his own mind all his life and always will remain his mind, however much he may stand aside and look at it as object.


All of which, no doubt, sounds as though I were out to damn it by faint praise. But in fact, as I said, the book seems to me to be a good one and well worth buying and reading. Jonathan Daniels is a good reporter. He has a way of making people talk--not only the high-placed but the common fellows also, for his sympathy with the underdog is genuine and disinterested. He has a sharp eye for facts and knows how to pick his subjects to be interviewed. And in addition he has the gift of imagination and is a penetrating fellow on his own account.

On occasions, indeed, his observations probably get below the surface, even in New England. For instance, he observes the fact that the large and generally poor Catholic population in the section is far gone (in great part) in the vicious hatred preached by the vicious priest, Coughlin of Detroit. But he immediately goes on to observe that it is simply the reverse of certain vicious hatreds held by poor Protestants in the South. And to think that the intolerance which shows up in the poor everywhere more fully than in the better heeled and better educated classes is probably only a wrong headed way of discharging the dissatisfaction and despair bred in them by the effect of conditions over which they have no control and which they do not understand.

And again when, having repeatedly pointed out that the idea which most absolutely obsesses New England pride in all ranks is that of skill, he contrives to suggest, without saying it, that this pride may nowadays be actually more concerned with the reputation of that skill than with the possession of it.

Whenever he compares the South and New England, his remarks are apt to be illuminating.


In general, however, the book is simply a good account of the types of people who inhabit the country, from the old Yankees, some of them decadent, some of them still powerful; through the Irish politicians of the cities and the Irish, French, and other immigrant workers in the factories. Farmers, fishermen, cotton mill hands, a vast army of unemployed, aristocratic governors making an honest but not altogether effective effort to do what the situation of their states seems to them to require, brash self-seeking politicians, and a hundred others are effectively got down in these pages.

And in all of them is shown the effect of the pressing social problems of New England: the flight of its factories to the South or from one town to another in New England, under the pressure of fierce and not always scrupulous competition between the towns; the decay of places like Newport and the rich; and so on.

Like its predecessor, the book is exceedingly well written.

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