Monday, November 19, 2012

Mark Fleming; Charles Lanman's "The Hermit of Aroostook"

Mark Fleming
Professor Coronado
English 226
12 December 2012
An Introduction to Charles Lanman’s “The Hermit of Aroostook”
In the infinitely overflowing source of written word, anthologists and historians are posed with a problem. That is, what texts should they choose to remember and choose to include in the larger bequeathed narrative? American historians’ selections have marginalized the state of Maine—making the “Down Easters” feel as if they belong to the “least important state” in the Union.[1] Maine, however, possesses a rich history that includes turbulent 19th century relations among the Americans, Native Americans, and British. With this specific to their certain territory, Maine and New Brunswick area writers express individual opinions that are supported by their location-based needs. In this tradition, Charles Lanman’s 1847 text “The Hermit of Aroostook” addresses both the aforementioned relations and opinions. The following paragraphs shall consider how Lanman’s story exemplifies the Aroostook Valley’s important involvement in international conflict, national literature, and Native American relations.
Charles Lanman (1819-1895) was a nineteenth century author, government official, artist, librarian, and explorer. With a grandfather who served in the United States Senate, Lanman studied art and developed a critical insight in journalism and writing. This allowed him to serve in organizations such as the Cincinnati Chronicle, the New York Express, U.S. War Department library, and the U.S. House of Representatives library.[2] At the age of 28, Lanman left his mercantile career to explore the rapidly expanding United States of America. He documented his encounters, observations, and struggles; a compilation of these writings later published in an 1854 collection titled Adventures in the Wilds of North America. “The Hermit of Aroostook,” was included in that compilation; however, it was initially published in The American Whig Review seven years prior.
The autobiographical tale—of an encounter with an eccentric recluse who lives on a plot of land a considerable distance from civilization—mentions three real-world characters. The titular character and subject of the observational piece goes by the name Roger Egger. “The Hermit of Aroostook” explains Egger’s life in more detail than any other historical text. The reason for this is that Egger was a citizen who contributed very little to the advancement of society; he kept to himself. Regardless of his public functions, he still possesses a valuable opinion that perpetuates the piece so greatly. In explaining himself, Egger mentions his renowned brother-in-law who goes by the name Mr. [William] Jerden. Jerden, in contrast to Egger, is well remembered and revered as an English literary editor. Critic William Bates summarizes Jerdan’s career in the following passage, “Reputations were thought to depend upon [Jerdan’s] nod; he could make, or unmake, the fortune of a book … [But] he held his sceptre with a feeble grasp, and made but a poor use of the power which his position afforded him. Thus he and his magazine … went down, after … thirty-four years.”[3]
“The Hermit of Aroostook” occurs in both Aroostook County, Maine, and Victoria County, New Brunswick. Roger Egger’s house falls on the shores of the St. John River. In other words, Egger’s house is located directly on the United States border, but an 1851 Canadian census identified Egger as a lodger that had lived in the same New Brunswick residence for 42 years.[4] In both Lanman’s story and the 1851 census, Egger declares that he specifically lived in the same residence since 1809; holding true, this would make him one of the earliest settlers to the area. Moreover, the United States did not name or declare the stated colonies until 1839, so many settlers were not certain if they lived in the United States or a North American British Colony.[5] This confusion led to the 1838-1839 conflict between the Americans and English titled the Aroostook War. President Martin Van Buren readied 10,000 troops and secured 10 million dollars in case of battle.[6] The resolution came when United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster helped commission the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty that established the country’s current boundaries. With such actions by the United States government, the territory was of significant value. Egger states in “The Hermit of Aroostook,” “An extensive lumbering business is now carried on in the valley, but its future prosperity must depend upon its agriculture … The soil of this valley is rich … Rye, barley, and oats all flourish hear, but much more buckwheat is raised than any other grain besides wheat.”[7] Here, Egger and the United States government think on the same level. While the United States government wanted to acquire as much of this potentially profitable land as possible, Egger wanted to wait out the sale of his land until it appreciates to its maximum value.
“The Hermit of Aroostook” is such an encompassing piece of text because it confronts more than just political problems, national relations, and international conflict. It documents the contrasting opinions, interests, and ideologies of nations; particularly, Lanman highlights these aforementioned opinions when discussing Egger’s view on literature. That is, in 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson published Nature, and the world received its first major taste of both American Transcendentalism and uniquely American literature. In the subsequent decades, an American literary renaissance flourished as figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allen Poe published their early works. The anthologized history analyzes these author’s narratives; however, Egger’s views on literature show a conflicting viewpoint. Egger was an Englishman who spent most of his adult life in the United States. In his literary discussion with Lanman, he states, “The earth-born men, with whom I hold daily communion, are the mighty Shakespeare, the splendid Gibbon, the good and loving brother poets Thompson and Wordsworth, the gifted but Wayward Burns, the elegant and witty Addison, and the ponderous Johnson.”[8] Why does Egger only read English authors? America had a developed literature.  In 1840, only one of every 579 United States citizens was illiterate, so the vast majority of adults could read.[9] Egger’s perspective provides a unique insight; though he left England with no intention to return, he still limits himself to English literature. Why can only English authors provide Egger with such satisfaction? The answer rests in the fact that American literature had not established the same credibility as English literature. Perhaps, this was because major critics like Jerden were back in London, deciding what is and what should be considered substantial literature.
In addition to international and literary happenings, “The Hermit of Aroostook” exemplifies the relationship between Native Americans and the state of Maine. While American relations with, and depictions of, Native Americans have been largely negative in American writing, “The Hermit of Aroostook” shows that Aroostook Valley was different. That is, Native Americans and whites occasionally collaborated with one another, but all together, they were usually segregated. Two Native American territories span Aroostook and Victoria Counties; they are the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet tribes. Many European travelers and local residents confused the two tribes since their structures allowed them to interact closely with one another.[10] Current historical records, however, indicate that the Maliseet people’s headquarters were located on the St. John River, the setting for Lanman’s story. Therefore, there is a greater probability the “Indians” that assisted Egger and Lanman in the exposition are Maliseet people. The friendly relations that exist in the piece were common during the time. Smallpox nearly obliterated the Native American population upon contact with Europeans, but the early 1800s marked a change for these tribes. Eastern states provided a system of state-based care for the Maine Indians; thus, this support encouraged and allowed a rapid growth in the 1850s.[11] At the time of Lanman’s story, Native Americans thrived in tourism, consumer crafts, logging, and other lucrative industries. “The Hermit of Aroostook” exemplifies the positive growth for the Maliseet people. That is, the Maliseet people are willing to help Lanman and Egger, who are respectful and appreciative of their assistance. All in all, this exemplifies how the state of Maine was one of the few states that effectively implemented government assistance to Native Americans.
In general, Egger interests Lanman so greatly because he possesses such a contrasting viewpoint. Lanman comes from an established American family and Egger from an established English family. As so explicitly defined in the conclusive paragraph of “The Hermit of Aroostook,” Lanman hails from New York City while Egger has spent the last two years alone. The two men are from different worlds, yet they can both identify as Americans. With this, Lanman’s text is greatly an account of untold and new perspectives that captivate our author. To consider Maine the “least important state” is a travesty. Such statement is not in line with the current anthological trend where perspectives from underrepresented times, places, and peoples are essential. In addition, these uncovered voices are the last steps in completing the narrative of a certain time and place. With its views on international, literary, and national occurrences—“The Hermit of Aroostook” is a valuable piece of text that triumphantly counters the general overflowing source of written word.

[1] Swett, Sophie. Stories of Maine. New York City: American Book, 1899. Print.
[2] The State Historical Society of Missouri. Lanman, Charles (1819-1895), Collection, 1826-1869. The State Historical Society of Missouri. The State Historical Society of Missouri, 4 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
[3] Bates, William. The Maclise Portrait-Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters. London: Chatto and Windus, Picadilly, 1883. Print.
[4] New Brunswick Census Bureau. Public Archives of Canada. New Brunswick Census Return 1851: Victoria County, Andover Parish. By New Brunswick Census Bureau. 6,  1851. Print.
[5] Crouse, R. "The Early History of Crouseville, Maine 1800 - 1875." Crouse Family History, Second Edition. Seattle, WA: Rogue, 2000. N. pag. Print.
[6] Crouse, R. "Crouseville Border War” Crouse Family History, Second Edition. Seattle, WA: Rogue, 2000. N. pag. Print.
[7] Lanman, Charles. ""The Hermit of Aroostook"" Adventures on the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces. Ed. Charles Lanman. Vol. 1. Philadelphia, PA: Sen. John W. Moor, 1856. 312-24. Print.
[8]  Lanman, Charles. ""The Hermit of Aroostook"" Adventures on the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces. Ed. Charles Lanman. Vol. 1. Philadelphia, PA: Sen. John W. Moor, 1856. 312-24. Print.
[9] Gatto, John Taylor . "Eyeless in Gaza." The Underground History of American Public Education (2010): n.p. Print.
[10] Redish, Laura. "Native Languages of the Americas: Maliseet(Malecite, Malecites, Malisit)." Native Americans: The Maliseet Indian Tribe (Malecite, Malecites, Skicin, Maliseet Indians). Native Languages of the Americas, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
[11] "Native American Culture Timeline: The Story of Maine" The Story of Maine Timeline. Maine Public Broadcasting Network, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.


  1. I thought that the introduction was interesting, and I really liked the word choice. I felt like there wasn't much of a transition into some of the paragraphs, but overall I thought it was interesting

  2. I thought that overall, this was a really good introduction. It showed good reasoning why it is an important piece of literature and should be added to the canon. I thought the way you explained the many different aspects and topics was especially interesting. I did think there were a few places where the transitions could use some work. I also thought some of the wording was a little confusing in some spots. However, I thought that overall it was a well-written introduction. It made me interested to read the original text to find out exactly what was said about the topics you mentioned.

  3. Based on your introduction, it seems like the text is different than most of what we read in class. Your introduction made me interested in reading it. It was well-written and encompassed everything that should be talked about in an introduction: the author, the text, and the history. As it's been said before, some of the wording was a little confusing, but overall I think you have a good start.


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