Ruffner’s thoughts on writing for recreation

Posted on October 31, 2014 by


In an article in the July, 1856 edition of the Southern Literary Messenger, Dr. Henry Ruffner wrote:

A few months before Alderson’s death, my father and uncle had purchased the land on which he lived near the old salt lick above Charleston, with the view of experimenting for salt water upon it. A few months after his death, the surviving family left the dwelling house vacant, and so it continued to be for several months, because the owners had no immediate use for it. Now, as ghosts, like rats and owls, are apt to haunt a deserted house; so this poor ghost took possession of his old residence, and began frightening passers-by. He was seen gliding through the dusky yard in the evening shadows, and was heard at late hours of the night making a pother in the empty rooms. These signs of his presence were the more frequently observed, because the house stood by the road side near the river bank. He had the boldness, one Sunday morning, when a fog obscured the atmosphere, to look out of an upper window at a couple of young people passing along the road, and to frighten them with an indistinct view of his physiognomy.

Considering what he had said some sixteen years prior, had Henry Ruffner changed his mind about superstitions and ghosts?

Perhaps not,for, in this same article, Ruffner noted:

My memory was full of ghost stories which I had read or heard; but I was a firm disbeliever in apparitions of the dead.

Still, Ruffner… the college president and minister of the Presbytery… wove an interesting story, even if he did make clear, within the same story, his personal disbelief in ghosts.

It was, after all, his “recreation” from his normal, daily routine. If we go back, again, to the introduction to his piece in the 1840 edition, we understand more clearly…

The pieces which are to follow under this general title were written for the author’s recreation when he was fatigued with professional labors, and mostly when bad weather did not permit him to seek refreshment in the open air. Since they have served to ‘smooth his wrinkled brow of care’ during their composition, they are now presented to the reader that they may do the same kind office for him. Every man needs recreation of some sort; for ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ Light literature, especially amusing stories, have an appropriate place in the economy of human life; and are used with profit, when judiciously selected and not suffered to interfere with one’s regular employments, or with the acquisition of sound knowledge. Too many give their leisure hours wholly to this sort of reading. But the abuse of a thing is no sound argument against its use.

Through his “recreation” pieces, Ruffner allows us to see another part of the man who he was, and not steroetypically defined as some rigid educator and member of the clergy. Yet, even the disciplined side of the man sought lessons in his works of recreation, taking care not to “interlard” the pages…

The writer felt bound to guard his pen against every thing of immoral tendency, and to make his lighter compositions, either directly or indirectly, conducive to the purification of human life; but he has not interlarded the pages, designed for recreation, with dry prosings on abstract morals and religion. He trusts rather to the general tenor of his pieces, than to particular passages, for whatever good impression they may make. Such as they are he gives them freely to the public, little caring whether or not they shall rank highly as compositions, provided only that the reader shall not regret the time occupied in the reading of them.

Ah, for those who write for the love of writing and self-expression… and not necessarily seeking applause.

I just couldn’t help but spend a little time considering the mechanics behind the man’s “off-duty” works.

Ruffner’s personal ghost story to follow a little later today.