- Sherwood Anderson, circa 1930.
On November 14, 1930—seventy-five years after the Battle of Appomattox and one full year into the Great Depression—Sherwood Anderson stood in front of a crowd 3,500 hundred people in the ex-Confederacy’s capitol to introduce a public debate over the economic future of the South. The Richmond Times-Dispatch was sponsoring the event—a debate, “Agrarianism versus Industrialism,” between VQR editor Stringfellow Barr and poet and critic John Crowe Ransom. Even before Anderson assumed the lectern, the evening had become an intellectual moment that had, in the words of Times-Dispatch editors, “assumed the proportions of national importance.”
At 8:30 P.M., the walls of the City Auditorium lined with latecomers and a “squad of Boy Scouts” who served as ushers, Anderson read a speech he had prepared for the event. Far from a simple introduction, Anderson’s address framed the debate, highlighted the speakers’ main points, and then offered the audience his take on the South’s “new industrial experiment.”
The Times-Dispatch, reporting on the debate the following day, focused mainly on Anderson’s critique of Sinclair Lewis, the recent winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, but the rest of Anderson’s introductory essay tackling the question of Industrialism vs. Agrarianism went largely uncovered. This speech is the work of a literary giant from the industrial North, living in the agrarian South, and introducing the “Agrarian” John Crowe Ransom who “isn’t a farmer” and the “Industrialist” Stringfellow Barr who “doesn’t manufacture anything.” Anderson presented the audience with a middle position. He was both fascinated and terrified by machines.
His words won thunderous approval from the audience, but they have never been published in full—until now.