Seba Smith


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born in Maine, graduated from Bowdoin (1818), founded the daily Portland Courier (1829), and achieved fame when he began to publish in his newspaper (1830) a series of letters from “Major Jack Downing,” a Down East Yankee, whose comic rustic speech and homespun sagacity made him an outstanding character in the development of American humor. Although Smith created the character as a Yankee peddler, he soon had him turn his attention to local politics, and then, as the letters began to be printed in other newspapers and Downing began to capture the popular imagination, he made him into a confidant of Andrew Jack son, so that he might shrewdly satirize Jacksonian Democracy and matters of contemporary politics.

This use of his character and Smith's freedom from party politics made him the inaugurator of the American tradition of commenting on current events with great shrewdness cloaked under a guise of simplicity, and gave to the country a line of homespun political philosophers that has included Hosea Biglow, Mr. Dooley, and Will Rogers. In his own day, Smith found so many imitators, some of whom used Downing's own name, that Downing said he knew himself only by a scar on his left arm. His most important work is The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing of Downingville (1833).

Subjects: Literature.

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