Pennsylvania Authors Flourished a Century Ago

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many poets and essayists wrote in Pennsylvania German.


Believe it or not, Pennsylvanian poets, essayists and fiction writers flourished in the late 19th century and early 20th. For example, Harvey Miller, born in 1871 in Elizabethville, Dauphin County, became sought after for his prose and poetry in Pennsylvania German newspapers and magazines.

His father's ancestry was centered in Wurtemberg, Germany, while his mother was descended from English and German stock. A direct line was traced to Mary Ball, wife of Augustine Washington and mother of George Washington. When Miller entered school at age 10, he was fluent in Pennsylvania German only. His Friday recitations prompted high school German teachers to invite him to their classes.

On the other hand, his first publications were in English, entitled "Harmonies of the Heart." Both his wife and he enjoyed writing about local history, some for their home newspaper, "The Elizabethville Echo." Miller became a businessman and secretary of the local Board of Trade. He wrote for the "Pennsylvania German Magazine," whose editor was happy that Miller refused to use the term "Pennsylvania Dutch," as a purist.

On June 27, 1908, the "Center Democrat" of Bellefonte requested more of his poetry and prose. Miller's witticisms and satire by 1907 had become popular in all Pennsylvania counties. He became editor of the "Bucks County Democrat" and "Der Boyertown Bauer" editor, Charles Spatz, wrote to him the following: "I have been a great admirer of your work and have used selections frequently in our columns. We are more than anxious to read all you write."

Miller's favorite fictional character commented on the failings of humanity and as one sample, mocked "the man who is always ailing during the busy season of the year, but always recovers by the time the picnic season comes around."

Miller also enjoyed writing about the beauties of nature, such as flowers, golden grain, birds singing and children's "prattle of voices and patter of footsteps." His prose selections included politics, flying machines, women's suffrage, the comet, pride, and church-going, always commenting upon what he considered the truth in observing human foibles.

A closing thought came straight from the horse's mouth, that of Harvey Miller. "My purpose in writing has been chiefly to meet a local demand for such literature, which demand seems to have been created after it became known that new matter of the kind could be manufactured at home. The first selections were written out of a spirit of humour, impulsively, and when the editor asked for more, the mill kept running."

This comment many writers can relate to, and I hope that my mill keeps running for awhile. A spirit of humor can be kept by attending borough council meetings while taking accurate notes or simply by gazing into one's own mirror and reflecting upon it.


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