One of the last pieces of the puzzle that I'm working on for University, Court, and Slave -- I hope, actually, the very last piece -- is adding something on the literary magazines published by students at southern universities, largely in the 1850s. Just as I think we can -- and should -- use student literary debates as a gauge of attitudes, we can use the literary magazines to gauge students' ideas. We hear a lot about individualism, about economic progress, and about the lessons of history. And of course there's a lot about Union, slavery, and southern nationalism. There are a surprising number of articles about the problems with the legal profession -- and I want to talk about that sometime soon. These are in some ways the intellectual ancestors of the scam bloggers. I'll put that together in a post soon, along with a reference or two to the problems with making a living as a lawyer from University of Virginia professor George Tucker's novel, The Valley of the Shenandoah. (I had earlier identified Tucker as a law professor at UVA -- and Kent Olson of UVA Law School kindly pointed out that while Tucker was a lawyer and a professor at UVa, he taught moral philosophy rather than law.)
There is also some original work of fiction -- some of it is poetry; some are short stories. And even in that fiction I think we see some insight into the students' ideas of morality and sometimes law. Let me turn now to a completely obscure little gothic story about a native American, a Cherokee chief, whose family was wiped out by European settlers. He then lived on the margins of European settlement -- near a swamp -- and killed local settlers whenever he had the chance. Some years later, hunters found the chief's skeleton. Nearby were scalps hanging from a tree. Yet, though the chief was long dead the place maintained some mystic power and even generations later people passing by the scalp tree found it a disturbing and scary place. The story, which appeared in the Virginia University Magazine in 1857 is called "The Scalp Tree."
So far as I can tell, no one has ever written about "The Scalp Tree." Maybe that tells us something about its quality as literature -- or more likely how obscure student literary magazines were. But I think there's something significant about the author's acknowledgement of the injustice of how natives were treated and maybe also how that continued to haunt -- quite literally -- the descendants of those who perpetrated that injustice for generations afterwards. The unjust treatment of natives, even if not the inter-generational haunting, appears periodically in legal literature, from Chief Justice Marshall's opinion in Johnson v. McIntosh to the obscure novel by Nat Turner's lawyer James French, Elkswatawa.
The illustration is the prospectus for Hampden-Sydney's magazine (spelled somewhat differently back then).