Henry Clay Lewis
Henry Clay Lewis was
born in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 26, 1825, but moved
to Cincinnati at an early age. The death of his mother forced him
to drift from one brother's home to another, until he ended up in
Yazoo City, Mississippi (then called Manchester), working on a boat.
In Yazoo, he was taken in as a doctor's apprentice. He went to medical
school in Kentucky and returned to Yazoo City to open a practice,
which failed from lack of business. He then moved his practice to
a swampy, remote area of Louisiana, Madison Parish, where he was
inspired to start writing humorous sketches in the Southwestern
humorist style, which were published in William T. Porter's flourishing
sporting journal, The Spirit of the Times.
Lewis' sketches appeared as a collection
in book form in 1850, published under the pseudonym "Madison Tensas."
Lewis' sketches are a prime example of the Southern grotesque. The
main character, the "swamp doctor," is an old man, but the stories
are often assumed to be based on Lewis' own adventures as a young
swamp doctor. Lewis' depictions of African Americans are unique
for his time. He presents his black characters with as much pain
and grotesqueness as his white characters, steering away from the
time's usual stereotypes.
Lewis drowned August 5, 1850, while crossing
a swamp on a medical journey. The recent republication of Lewis'
book has brought him to the forefront of current studies of nineteenth
century Southwestern Humor.
Related Links & Info
republication of Lewis' book by the Louisiana
State University Press features a new introduction by Edwin T.
- (under the pseudonym "Madison Tensas") Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor. Philaelphia: A Hart, 1850. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.
- Anderson, John Q. "Folklore in the Writings of the Louisiana Swamp Doctor." Southern Folklore Quarterly 19 (December 1955): 243-51.
- Anderson, John Q. Louisiana Swamp Doctor: The Life and Writings of Henry Clay Lewis, Alias "Madison Tensas, M.D." Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press, 1962.
- Rose, Alan H. "The Image of the Negro in the Writings of Henry Clay Lewis." American Literature 41 (May 1969): 255-63.
- Israel, Charles. "Henry Clay Lewis' Odd Leaves: Studies in the Surreal and Grotesque." Mississippi Quarterly 28 (Winter 1974-5):61-69.
- Rickles, Milton. "The Grotesque Body of Southwestern Humor." Essays on American Humor. Eds. William Clark and W. Craig Turner. Boston: Hall, 1984. 155-66.
- Internet Resources
- Additional Information about Henry Clay Lewis:
- Louisiana Authors: L. Includes a brief biographical sketch and works by a number of Louisiana authors, including Henry Clay Lewis.
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