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Edwin Markham Portrait

Charles Edward Anson Markham was born in Oregon City, in the Oregon Territory, but his mother took him to a farm at Suisun, California, in 1856. The farm was halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco; Markham lived in California, where he became a schoolteacher, until moving to New York's Staten Island at the turn of the century and publishing a number of volumes of poetry thereafter. "The Man With a Hoe" (1899) was reprinted repeatedly across the country; it galvanized farmers' awareness of the economic grievances they had against banking and industry and became one of the signature poems of the labor movement. It would eventually appear in ten thousand newspapers in more than forty languages. His poem "Lincoln, the Man of the People" was published in almost every American newspaper in 1900. This late Victorian illustrated version of "The Man With a Hoe" was published as a special supplement to the San Francisco Examiner, the place the poem first appeared, after it became famous. The original is in the editor's collection.

Prior to issuing "The Man With the Hoe," Markham had published "Song of the Workers" in William Morris's (1834-1896) London journal, Commonweal, and had written a number of conventionally romantic poems. But he was also reading Karl Marx (1818-1883) and other socialist writers and becoming radicalized. "The Man With the Hoe" is an explicit response to an oil painting by the French artist Jean Francois Millet (1814-1875), one of several paintings on contemporary agricultural working class subjects Millet produced at the middle of the nineteenth century. It depicts a rough-shod farmer or agricultural worker, probably exhausted and certainly leaning forward on his hoe in a flat scrub landscape as yet untamed and unplowed. Markham's poetic response is effective in marshaling moral outrage and linking it to literariness on workers' behalf. Its indictment of the ravages wrought by those in power was decisive for its time, in part because Markham treated exploitation as a violation of God's will. The poem is equally effective in issuing a broad revolutionary warning to capitalists and politicians.