Author Edward Payson Roe

One of E.P. Roe’s most popular novels is Barriers Burned Away. In my last post I shared my thoughts on the novel, and how a visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871 inspired him to write it.

This fascinating book was actually his first attempt at writing a novel!

Colbert (1871) p287 Chicago in Ruins, source British Library, public domain

Any history buffs out there?

If you want more information about the Chicago Fire of 1871 (which actually burned for three days, incredible!), I have two recommendations. This excellent multimedia WTTW PBS website, and this website which also includes literature, art and cycloramas, eyewitness accounts, the O’Leary Legend, souvenirs, media coverage and commemorations.

Barriers Burned Away (1872)

Like several novels I have read from this period of time, Barriers Burned Away showcases the talent and the standard of excellence of one of the many great authors in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

And, surprisingly, Barriers Burned Away is relatively well-known today among vintage novel readers, and in my opinion, based on the excellence of his writing, it is a classic.

WorldCat publication graph for E.P. Roe provides publication graphs for many authors, including E.P. Roe, as shown below. Interesting to see how publication of his works is high in the 2020’s. In fact, it’s almost as high as in the 1880’s!

At the time of his death in 1888, his publishers estimated that over 1,400,000 copies of his novels had been sold in the United States and abroad.

1878 Reviews of Barriers Burned Away

Diorama of 1871 Chicago Fire – Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

Imagining, and writing, for a purpose

Public domain, Wikidata

Here are portions of a speech given by Dr. Lyman Abbot, an assistant to E.P. Roe, at his memorial. This was recorded in E. P. Roe: Reminiscences of His Life, a book written by his daughter, Mary.

“It is of the latter aspect of his life I wish to speak for a few moments only, in an endeavor to interpret his service to the great American people by his pen through literature.

The chief function of the imagination is to enable us to realize actual scenes with which we are not familiar. This is an important service.

It is well that you who live in these quiet and peaceful scenes should know what is the wretchedness of some of your fellow beings in the slums of New York. It is well that your sympathies should be broadened and deepened, and that you should know the sorrow, the struggle that goes on in those less favored homes.

God has given us imagination in order that we may have noble ideals set before us, and yet ideals so linked to actual life that they shall become inseparable.

That fiction is the highest which by the imagination makes real to our thought the common affairs of life, and yet so blends them with noble ideals that we are able to go back into life with a larger, a nobler, and a more perfect faith.

Dr. Lyman Abbot, quoted by Mary Abigail Roe (1899), in E. P. Roe: Reminiscences of His Life. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 232–233.

You can read another excellent biography here.

More than an author, “Near to Nature’s Heart”

The more I learned about him, the more I admired E.P. Roe (March 7, 1838 – July 19, 1888). He wasn’t just a respected clergyman, author, and historian, he was also admired for his accomplishments in the field of horticulture.

There is a plaque in Edward Payson Roe Memorial Park in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, commemorating his work. The park is part of the property he owned, where he came for a quiet place.

Atlas Obscura offers more photos and some biographical information, with the amusing sub-heading, “A plaque on a rock dedicated to a famous, forgotten author, and put in an impossible place.”

One fan of E.P. Roe made a YouTube video with some biographical commentary here. (A note about the video: it starts out blurry but that only lasts for the first 20 seconds or so, the rest is great.) Included in the video is the claim that at one time E.P. Roe’s books outsold those of his contemporary, Mark Twain!

Here is a great post at The Deliberate Agrarian regarding Roe’s interests in horticulture. I found that he had written several books from 1873 to 1888 on the subject: Play and Profit in my Garden, Success with Small Fruits, The Home Acre, Found Yet Lost. Some of these are available to buy or to read for free.

Here’s hoping you are inspired to “meet” this extraordinary man in some of these ways!

Book Review of A Year with G.K. Chesterton

At present, he is one of the few interesting writers in contemporary literature, with something to say…and the power of compelling a jaded and tired age to listen to his voice.
From The Bookman (1903)

A Year with G.K. Chesterton , edited by Kevin Belmonte, is a daily dose of writings by an author who has been called “a cheerleader of truth, goodness and the humorous ways of God.” Each page contains a short passage of scripture, followed by one of Chesterton’s poems, a piece from one of his articles or books, or another’s words about him, adding up to “365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder”.

The “On This Day” sections offer tidbits of his personal and literary history, giving readers a glimpse into special moments in his life, his correspondence, his personality and activities, and the far reach his publications.  Some daily readings are less than half a page, others more than a page; some are light and amusing, others heavy and didactic.  After the daily entries are supplemental readings for the main festival days of the church.

I assumed that the elements for each day would be overtly related, as in most other daily readings.  On many days it seemed the passages had nothing to do with the scripture verse.  But during the second (or third) read, when greater meaning lifted up from the page, connections usually appeared which helped to stretch my faith and my understanding of the world.

I love how Chesterton takes us out of our little corners, our little homes and communities and concerns, up to a grand view of life from the universe’s point of view.  “About the whole cosmos there is a tense and secret festivity…Eternity is the eve of something.  I never look up at the stars without feeling that they are the fires of a schoolboy’s rockets, fixed in their everlasting fall.”

Aside from the short daily scriptures, A Year with G.K. Chesterton has fewer overt Biblical or Christian references than I expected, but I am not complaining because it is big on Biblical truth. The pondering of life and literature by a philosopher with a Christian faith that saturates his mind and soul is a powerful way to one’s heart.

Kevin Belmonte’s book gives Chesterton in small doses which allows us time to absorb and contemplate deep truths. Readers will find humor, verse, history, paradox and intellectual challenge as they make their way through the pages, and like me, they may not be satisfied with just one “day” at a time. I recommend G.K. Chesterton especially to those who want to see a “transformed mind” in action, those who want an inspired, less conventional presentation of faith and a Christian world view.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]