Joaquin Miller

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Joaquin Miller

American writer Joaquin Miller (1837-1913), a self-styledbuilt a temporary reputation on literary opportunism and a fortuitous London reception.

Joaquin Miller was born Cincinnatus Hiner Miller on a farm near Liberty, Ind., on Sept. 8, 1837. His parents set out for the West in 1852 and settled in the Willamette Valley, Ore. Within 2 years their restless son left for the California gold mines. For a time Miller lived with northern California Indians near Mt. Shasta. He was implicated in the massacre of the Pit River Indians, attended college briefly, and operated a pony-express service between the Idaho mines and the West Coast.

In 1862 Miller became editor of the Democratic Register in Eugene, Ore. Before the year was over he had married and had founded a new paper, the Eugene City Review. Later Miller settled in a mining camp in Canyon City, Ore. He practiced law, worked a claim of his own, fought Indian harassment, and was elected judge of Grant County in 1866 for a 4-year term. In 1869 the Millers were divorced.

For the next 10 years Miller pursued a literary career. His first book of verse was Specimens (1868). It was followed by Joaquin et al (1869), a collection of 11 poems signed Cincinnatus Hiner, mostly sentimental doggerel and bad imitations of Edgar Allan Poe. His work had little success in America, so he sailed for London, a "passionate pilgrim" determined to sell his verses of life in the Far West. He printed Pacific Poems (1871) privately. An English publisher brought out Songs of the Sierras (1871), which launched Miller socially and commercially as the Kit Carson of poetry. His fame, however, was short-lived and his talent essentially thin. Songs of the Sun-lands followed (1873), along with the partially autobiographic Life among the Modocs. A tour of Italy produced a curious novel, The One Fair Woman (1876), and Songs of Italy (1878).

By 1879 Miller was back in New York, married to Abigail Leland, a hotel heiress, and seeking a new career in the theater. Of the four plays he preserved, The Danites of the Sierras (1881), an obvious melodramatic story of the Mormons, was the most popular and made him a small fortune. In 1887, without his wife, he settled on 75 acres of barren hillside in Oakland, Calif., to write more poetry and finish his utoplan romance, The Building of the City Beautiful (1893). He died at his beloved "Hights" in February 1913.

Further Reading

The best collection of Miller's work is The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller (1923), edited and with an informative introduction by Stuart P. Sherman. Two polar estimates of Miller's work are Martin Severin Peterson, Joaquin Miller: Literary Frontiersman (1937), a flattering analysis, and M. Marion Marberry, Splendid Poseur: Joaquin Miller, American Poet (1953), a devastating interpretation. O. W. Frost, Joaquin Miller (1967), seeks an objective view.

Additional Sources

Lawson, Benjamin S., Joaquin Miller, Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1980. □

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Joaquin Miller

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