Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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MEAL, John, author, born in Fahnouth, Massachusetts (now Portland, Maine), 25 August, 1793: died there, 21 June, 1876. He was of English descent, and for two generations of Quaker stock on both sides. He left school at twelve years of age, but educated himself by continuous reading, which he systematically pursued through life. Meal was variously employed as shop-boy, accountant, and salesman, and then taught penmanship, drawing, and painting, though he was without experience. Later he established himself in the dry-goods trade in Boston, and then he formed a partnership in Baltimore with John Pierpont, the poet. This firm failed in trade in 1816, and dissolved, taking out of the business only a warm and life-long friendship. Meal then studied law in Baltimore, was a member of the Delphian club of that city, famous for its wits, and supported himself by his pen, copying, indexing, and writing poems, novels, essays, and criticisms for the press. His first productions appeared in the " Portico" magazine. He was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1819, and practised his profession. In 1823 he sailed for England, as he said, "to answer on the spot the question "Who reads an American book? " As a pioneer in American literature his success at home and abroad was a surprise to all. Preceding James Fenimore Cooper by several years, while Nathaniel Hawthorne was yet a boy and his compatriot, Charles Brockden Brown, less widely known or less quickly accepted, Neal attracted and compelled attention to American topics and American writings at a time when English literature was regarded as a monopoly of Great Britain. He was the first American contributor to the English and Scotch quarterlies. His sketches of the five American presidents and the five candidates for the presidency in "Blackwood's," and a series of like articles on American polities and customs, won for the young author reputation and money. At this time, though in need of money and, as he said, "hopelessly in debt, but hopeful," he spent the whole of his first "Blackwood" check for two gold pencils that caught his eye in a shop-window, and sent one to his twin sister, Rachel, who was then teaching school in Portland. His writings attracted the notice of Jeremy Bentham, who invited and easily persuaded "Yankee Meal" to come and live with him as one of his students and secretaries, where various literary celebrities were to be met. In 1827 Meal returned to the United States, intending to resume the practice of law in Baltimore, but, in consequence of opposition and threatened persecution from his fellow-townsmen when he visited his sister, 'he characteristically sent for his law-library and opened his offices in his native place. On 1 January, 1828, he began his editorship 9f "The Yankee," and for half a century was a frequent but irregular contributor to most of the magazines and newspapers. He wrote much of what is known as Paul Alien's "History of the American Revolution " in a wonderfully short time, and his pen remained active through life He was an earnest opponent of capital punishment, more especially of public executions, and he was the first to advocate in 1838, in a Fourth-of-July oration, the right of woman suffrage. He was abstemiously temperate, yet he wrote in opposition to the Maine liquor law. He was a firm believer in physical training, and established the first gymnasium in this country, copied from the foreign models, and, being an expert gymnast, horseman, swordsman, and boxer, he established and taught classes of young men, and even in his last years kept up his own physical exercise as his only medicine. Phrenology, mesmerism, and spiritualism, one after another, attracted his attention and examination, and counted him as among their fairest and least prejudiced investigators. With a quick eye and ready sympathy he sought out, welcomed, and encouraged young men, or gently and successfully discouraged those that afterward were grateful for his advice. Edgar A. Poe received his first encouragement from Mr. Meal. With the instincts of a born journalist, he dashed off novels with great rapidity, while, in the stern spirit of a reformer, he edited forgotten newspapers. He fulminated against fleeting and frivolous opinions, and whipped into a light and airy froth some of the graver issues of life. He was read out of the Society of Friends in his youth, as he says, "for knocking a man head over heels, for writing a tragedy, for paying a militia fine, and for desiring to be turned out whether or no," but he became late in life an earnest Christian, uniting with the church in 1850. His works in-elude "Keep Cool" (2 vols., Baltimore, 1817); "Niagara" (1819) ; "Goldan " (1819) ; "Errata " (2 vols., New York, 1823) : "Randolph" (1823); "Seventy-Six" (2 vols., Baltimore, 1823) ; "Logan" (4 vols., London, 1823); "Brother Jonathan" (3 vols., 1825); "'Rachel Dyer" (Portland, 1828); "Principles of Legislation," translated from the manuscript of Jeremy Bentham, with biographies of Bentham and Pierre Dumont (Boston, 1830); "The Down Easters" (2 vols., New York, 1833) ; "One Word More " (Portland, 1854); " True Womanhood" (Boston, 1859); " Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life" (1869); and "Great Mysteries and Little Plagues" (1870).
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