While Uncle Remus is a controversial character in American literature today, at the time Teddy Roosevelt wrote this letter to his creator, he was highly popular. What springs out at me is Teddy’s belief about the role stories can play in our society:
“The Art of Uncle Remus
To Joel Chandler Harris
White House, October 12, 1901
It is worth being resident when one’s small daughter receives that kind of autograph gift. When I was younger than she is, my Aunt Annie Bulloch, of Georgia, used to tell me some of the brer rabbit stories… But fond as though I am of the brer rabbit stories I think I am even fonder of your other writings. I doubt there is a more genuinely pathetic tale in all our literature than ‘Free Joe.’ Moreover I have felt that all you write serves to bring our people closer together. I know, of course, the ordinary talk is that an artist should be judged purely by his art; but I am rather a Philistine and like to feel that the art serves a good purpose. Your art is not only an art addition to our sum or national achievement, but also has always been an addition to the forces that tell for decency, and above all, the blotting out of sectional antagonism.”
Though we may now reject the world or the character that Harris created, to me, Teddy’s words are thought provoking:
Should art serve a “good purpose” beyond its simply being art?
Should one of our artistic impulses be to “bring people together” through our work?
Should we view our writing as a source of harmony?
All questions worth pondering, I think, as we all write on!