For Friday’s Forgottern Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.
“Senator Langdon is picked out by dishonest men in
to be used as their tool in the
Senate. But the ‘tool’ proves to be sharp at both ends and cuts the men who
mean to cheat the people.” Washington
A Gentleman from Mississippi, a post-Civil War novel by writer-actor Thomas A. Wise, is based on a successful play of the same title produced by Joseph Rhode Grismer and William A. Brady in 1908-09. Grismer and Brady were stage actors and were closely associated with theatre. The play was acted out 407 times at the Bijou Theatre in
There is, however, some confusion over the authorship of the book which, aside
from Wise, is credited to two other gentlemen named Frederick R. Toombs and
Harrison Garfield Rhodes. My edition of the ebook had only Wise’s name. Tennessee
Colonel William H. Langdon, a wealthy plantation owner from Mississippi, is elected to the United States Senate through the influence of James Stevens, his close friend and senior Senator from the state, Martin Sanders, head of the seven counties, Senator Peabody of Pennsylvania, and Charles Norton, a junior Congressman from Mississippi. They have conspired to send ‘Big Bill’ Langdon to the Upper House of the Congress because of a misplaced conviction that he will serve their vested interests.
While Langdon is ecstatic on his election to the Senate and dreams of serving his countrymen with honesty and sincerity, he is no puppet. He refuses to fall prey to the political intrigues and machinations in
spearheaded by corrupt and unscrupulous politicians and lobbyists like Peabody,
the powerful Boss of the Senate. Washington
The story revolves around the siting of a new hundred-million dollar naval base in the South. Peabody and his cronies nominate Langdon on the powerful Committee on Naval Affairs in the hope that he will vote as they dictate, in favour of Altacoola instead of
They have bought acres of land in Altacoola and stand to make a killing on
their investment. But Langdon is no pushover. The proud and feisty Southern
planter takes the ‘crooks’ head-on with help from an unlikely quarter, Bud
Haines, an intrepid New York journalist whose cynicism of Washington politics and
its politicians is overturned by this simple and sincere man from Mississippi.
Together, Langdon and his faithful ally turn the tables on Peabody and company. Gulf City
There are some interesting elements in this story. For instance, Langdon is crestfallen when he finds out that his son, Randolph, and daughter, Carolina, have conspired against him by investing his money in Altacoola. His daughter is engaged to the scheming Charles Norton who has convinced the two impressionable youngsters to cast their lot with him and work towards getting the Colonel and Haines separated. Another daughter, Hope Georgia, realises Haines is a good man and falls in love with him. Langdon is distraught over his children’s behaviour and shows them the error of their ways with an impassioned talk on the importance of righteousness above all things.
A Gentleman from Mississippi is the delightful story of a kind and genial old man who puts his moral principles—right against wrong, honesty against corruption—above power and pelf and any gains through ill-gotten means. Colonel William H. Langdon is a proud and an honourable man who still believes that politics is a career for gentlemen, a necessity for the service of his state or his country, in spite of his initial brush with unprincipled men like
In some ways Thomas A. Wise has painted the planter as a naïve and an innocent
man but by no means foolish. As Langdon says, “No doubt, it won't be all plain sailing in Washington for an old-fashioned
man like me, but I believe in the American people and the men they send to
Congress.” He aims to be one of those men. Peabody
Colonel Langdon is an excellent byproduct of the South, honest, hardworking, and conscientious, an aspect that the author repeatedly weaves into his narrative. Langdon, the current patriarch of a long line of wealthy Langdons, is proud of being a Southerner and now that the war is over, he wants to enter public life for the benefit of the South, his own state of
and the country as a whole. Mississippi
Thomas A. Wise has written a powerful character-driven novel that is as relevant to politicians and the people who elect them into office today as it was over a hundred years ago.
Interestingly, Thomas A. Wise was an English-born American stage actor who starred in some half-a-dozen films including A Gentleman from Mississippi, 1914, in which he played the role of William H. Langdon. He had a successful stage career, including on Broadway, spanning over forty years.