Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

John Neal



The following biographical account of John Neal, an early and prolific writer of novels, plays, poems and essays, appears on the Waterboro Public Library, Maine Writers Index and republished here with the gracious permission of the Waterboro Public Library:

John Neal (23 August 1793-20 June 1876). John Neal was an important voice in 19th-century literature as a writer and critic who wrote one of the earliest histories of American literature. Born in Portland, he moved to Baltimore when he was 21 to start a dry goods business. When the business failed, he became the editor of The Portico, a monthly literary magazine that also had a short life. Neal's first novel, Keep Cool, Written in Hot Weather, by Somebody M.D.C., &c., &c., &c. Author of Sundry Works of Great Merit, Never Published, or Read, From His Story. Reviewed by Himself —- "Esquire", was published in 1817. The next year he published two narrative poems, "Battle of the Niagara, a Poem, without Notes," and "Goldau, or, the Maniac Harper," for which he used the pen name Jehu O'Cataract.

Shortly after Neal traveled to England in 1823, he met Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher, who hired him as his secretary. While in England, Neal wrote a series of five articles on 135 American writers for Blackwood's Magazine. This is noteworthy, as the Blackwood editors had no use for American writers or writing. Although riddled with error, the series is considered the first effort to chronicle and explain American literature and was reprinted as American Writers in 1937.

When Neal returned to Portland in 1827, he opened the city's first gymnasium as he had become a strong proponent of physical well being as a means of advancing social and political well being. Neal, who was an early advocate for equal rights for minorities and women, severed his relationship with the gym when the majority of members would not support his nomination of African-Americans for membership. He established gymnasiums in other Maine cities and taught boxing and bowling at Bowdoin College.

In addition to his writing, Neal was also known as an editor, architect, lawyer, historian, and women's rights advocate. He wrote numerous magazine articles on American artists and is considered one of the United States' first major art critics. Although a strong opponent of dueling, he was not against using his fist or his physical strength to challenge an opponent. One of the more frequently cited Neal stories is one in which he, at 79 years old, is noted for throwing a defiant cigar-smoking passenger off a street car.

George Bancroft Griffith (ed.), The Poets of Maine 40(Portland, Maine, Elwell, Pickard & Co., 1888):

John Neal, Esq., also known in the literary world as "John O'Cataract," was born in Portland, Aug. 25th, 1793, and died there in 1876. He was not a college graduate, but a self-educated man, and through his perseverance and great industry, gained success i literary acquirements. In early manhood Mr. Neal was in co-partnership with John Pierpont, afterward known as Rev. John Pierpoint, the poet, in mercantile pursuits, but not meeting with success, they abandoned trade, and chose the more hazardous one of literature, in which, however, they were abundantly successful. Mr. Neal's first articles appeared in "The Portico," a southern monthly magazine. He was the author of Niagara and Other Poems," and editor of "The Yankee," a well-known literary sheet, and other publications.

John Neal
Perspectives in American Literature

John Neal

John Neal
Northern Illinois University Libraries

John Neal


The Soldier's Visit to His Family
William Cullen Bryant, Selections from the American Poets
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860) [William Cullen Bryant]

[Men of the North] [Music of the Night].


John Neal, Battle of Niagara, a Poem, Without Notes; and Goldau, or, The Maniac Harper (N.G. Maxwell, From the Portico Press, Geo. W. Grater, Printer, 1818)(pseud. Jehu O'Cataract) [online text]


John Neal, Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1869) [online text]

John Neal, Letters to Edgar A. Poe (Folcroft, Pennsylvania: Folcroft Library Editions, 1972)(Mayne Reid ed.)

John Neal, Correspondence, 1840-1843 (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1933)


John Neal, Keep Cool, a Novel (Baltimore: J. Cushing, 1817)(2 vols.)

________, Otho: A Tragedy in Five Acts (Boston: West, Richardson and Lord, 1819) [online text]

________, A History of the American Revolution: Comprehending all the Principal Events Both in the Field and in the Cabinet (1819)

________, Logan: A Family History (Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1822)(2 vols.) [vol. 1: online text]

________, Errata: or The Works of Will Adams (New York: Published for the Proprietors, 1823) [online text]

________, Seventy-Six (Baltimore: J. Robinson, 1823)(2 vols.)(J. Cunningham, 1840)(Bainbridge, New York: York Mail-Print, Facsimile reproduction, Robert A. Bain introd., 1971)(2 vols.)

________, Randolph, a Novel (Baltimore?: s.n., 1823)

________, Brother Jonathan, or The New Englander (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1825)(3 vols.) [vol. 2: online text] [vol. 3: online text]

________, Rachel Dye: A North American Story (Portland, Maine: Shirley and Hyde, 1828) [online text] (Gainesville, Florida: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1964)

________, Authorship, A Tale (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830)

________, The Down-Easters (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1833)(2 vols.)

________, John Beedle's Sleigh Ride, Courtship, and Marriage (1841)

________, One More Word: Intended for the Reasoning and Thoughtful Among Unbelievers (1854)

________, True Womanhood: A Tale (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1859)

________, The Moose-Hunter, or, Life in the Maine Woods (New York: Beadle, 1864)

________, Account of the Great Conflagration in Portland (1866)

________, Great Mysteries and Little Plagues (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870) [online text]

________, Portland Illustrated (Portland, Maine: W. S. Jones, 1874)

________, American Writers, a Series of Papers Contributed to Blackwood's Magazine (1824-1825), by John Neal (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1937)(Fred Lewis Pattee ed.)

________, Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal, 1793-1876 (State College, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State College, 1943)(Harold Edward Dickson ed.)

Benjamin Lease and Hans-Joachim Lang (eds.), The Genius of John Neal: Selections from His Writings (Las Vegas: Lang, 1978)


Fritz Fleischmann, A Right View of the Subject: Feminism in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown and John Neal (Erlangen: Palm & Enke, 1983)

Donald A. Sears, John Neal (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978)

Benjamin Lease and Hans-Joachim Lang (eds.), The Genius of John Neal: Selections From His Writings (Las Vegas: Lang, 1978)

Benjamin Lease, That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972)

Harold Edward Dickson (ed.), Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)(State College, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State College, 1943)

Irving T. Richards, The Life and Works of John Neal (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1932)

Irving Trefethen Richards, The Life of John Neal, 1793-1876 (1925)(Masters thesis, University of Maine, 1925)

Windsor Pratt Daggett, A Down-East Yankee from the District of Maine (Portland, Maine: A.J. Houston, 1920)

Bibliography: Encyclopedia

Fritz Fleischmann, "John Neal," in Eric L. Haralson (ed.), Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998)

Evert A. & George L. Duyckinck, The Cyclopedia of American Literature 874
(Philadelphia: William Rutter & Co., 1880)(Vol. 1)