Edward Eggleston

Edward Eggleston (1837-1902) was an American minister and historian. He was also Indiana's leading writer of local-color fiction.

Born in Vevay, Ind., Edward Eggleston, too frail to attend school regularly, was taught by his father to read in several languages. His religious training was intensified after his parents' conversion to Methodism and then, after his father's death in 1846, by his mother's marriage 4 years later to a Methodist minister.

Ordained as a minister himself in 1856, Eggleston served as a circuit rider, Bible agent, and minister. He was a Methodist preacher in Minnesota churches in 1858, when he married Lizzie Snyder. They had four children. Beginning in 1866 Eggleston edited and wrote for Sunday school and juvenile periodicals. By 1874 he had abandoned Methodism; in Brooklyn, N.Y., he founded the Church of Christian Endeavor, serving as its pastor until 1879. Meanwhile he had begun to publish adult fiction serially in the magazine House and Home, of which he was editor.

Eggleston's The Hoosier School-Master (1871), much admired by subscribers and later by the public, was based on the experiences of his brother George and influenced by James Russell Lowell's dialect poems and southwestern humorous works. This realistic account of life in backwoods Indiana helped launch the local-color movement that flourished in America for 3 decades. Eggleston's reputation was furthered by The End of the World (1872), about the Millerite religious sect in pioneer Indiana, and The Circuit Rider (1872), based on personal experiences. Roxy (1878) portrays a river town much like Vevay. Eggleton's final noteworthy novel, The Graysons (1888), is a historical romance in which the young Lincoln is a character.

Eggleston had long considered his fiction a kind of history. Between 1878 and 1888 he published several biographies and histories for children. In accordance with a view he expressed in 1900 as president of the American Historical Association, he planned a comprehensive account of the growth of American civilization. His belief— much more novel then than it was later—was that the best history is a record of a people's culture, not of its politics and wars. The Beginners of a Nation, subtitled "A History of the Source and Rise of the Earliest English Settlements in America with Special Reference to the Life and Character of the People," appeared in 1896, and in 1901 he published The Transit of Civilization from England to America in the Seventeenth Century. These were the only volumes Eggleston completed before a stroke partially disabled him in 1899; a second stroke led to his death on Sept. 2, 1902, at Lake George, N.Y. The two social histories, which Carl Van Doren called "erudite, humane, and graceful," were pioneering achievements. Eggleston was survived by his second wife, whom he had married in 1891.

Further Reading on Edward Eggleston

George Cary Eggleston, Edward's brother and also a successful writer, provides an intimate memoir, The First of the Hoosiers (1903). William Randel wrote a superior biography, Edward Eggleston: Author of the Hoosier School-Master (1946). Randel is also the author of an excellent critical study, Edward Eggleston (1963).

Additional Biography Sources

Randel, William Peirce, Edward Eggleston, New York, Twayne Publishers c1963.