John C. Duval: First Texas Man of Letters. By J. Frank Dobie.
Illustrated by Tom Lea. (Dallas: The Southwest Review,
1940. Pp. 105. $1.50.)
Within the covers of this book Frank Dobie has brought together
three essays, biographical, critical, and bibliographical, and ten
hitherto unpublished works of Duval, five in prose and five in verse.
The honor of publishing the first biography of Duval goes to the
Quarterly of the then Texas State Historical Association (Vol. I,
No. 1, 1897). This sketch, written by an Englishman, William
Corner, has until now remained the fullest and most authentic ac-
count of Duval's life. Dobie has interviewed witnesses, examined
family papers and public documents; and, though he has found
nothing to alter the essential outlines of Corner's portrait, he has
added considerable detail to our knowledge of Duval. Best of all
are the accounts of Duval's relations with his family and with
Bigfoot Wallace, particularly in the later years of these men, "as
inseparable in memory as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza."
The critical essay establishes Duval's claim as Texas's first man
of letters. Here Dobie applies his oft-reiterated theory concern-
ing regional writing. It is not enough that a Texas man of letters
write about Texas: he must embody the culture of the region and
make it live. Duval's glory is that he captured "the flavor, the
aroma that the most robust outdoors life on the womanless
frontier, as well as the daintiest of indoor culture, emanates."
If the unpublished writings add little to the fame of Duval,
they do emphasize the folkishness of his style and substance and
exhibit his genial humor and wit.
"Old Prob's Visit to Texas" concerns the struggles of a U. S.
Weather Bureau forecaster with the vagaries and eccentricities of
the Texas climate. Old Prob reads his instruments and fills sev-
eral pages with figures, but each time he predicts warm weather,
a regular bull-headed norther butts him in the face; if he pre-
dicts a cold wave, the next day is as warm as July. After some
weeks' searching for the unknown "factor," Old Prob leaves in
the midst of a roaring blizzard. His instruments say that it will
be warm in the Gulf states, but he knows that, as for Texas, "it
will be hot as Hades, er cold as flugens, er wet as a drowned rat,
er dry as dried apple dam, just whichever it damn pleases."
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 43, July 1939 - April, 1940. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101111/. Accessed October 9, 2015.