CHAPTER V. SOUTHERN LITERATURE
PLANTATION LIFE AND ITS EFFECT UPON LITERATURE.—Before the war the South was agricultural. The wealth was in the hands of scattered plantation owners, and less centered in cities than at the North. The result was a rural aristocracy of rich planters, many of them of the highest breeding and culture. A retinue of slaves attended to their work and relieved them from all manual labor. The masters took an active part in public life, traveled and entertained on a lavish scale. Their guests were usually wealthy men of the same rank, who had similar ideals and ambitions. Gracious and attractive as this life made the people, it did not bring in new thought, outside influences, or variety. Men continued to think like their fathers. The transcendental movement which aroused New England was scarcely felt as far south as Virginia. The tide of commercial activity which swept over the East and sent men to explore the West did not affect the character of life at the South. It was separated from every other section of the country by a conservative spirit, an objection to change, and a tendency toward aristocracy.
Such conditions retarded the growth of literature. There were no novel ideas that men felt compelled to utter, as in New England. There was little town life to bring together all classes of men. Such life has always been found essential to literary production. Finally, there was inevitably connected with plantation life a serious question, which occupied men's thoughts.
SLAVERY.—The question that absorbed the attention of the best southern intellect was slavery. In order to maintain the vast estates of the South, it was necessary to continue the institution of slavery. Many southern men had been anxious to abolish it, but, as time proceeded, they were less able to see how the step could be taken. As a Virginian statesman expressed it, they were holding a wolf by the ears, and it was as dangerous to let him go as to hold on. At the North, slavery was an abstract question of moral right or wrong, which inspired poets and novelists; at the South, slavery was a matter of expediency, even of livelihood. Instead of serving as an incentive to literary activity, the discussion of slavery led men farther away from the channels of literature into the stream of practical politics.
POLITICAL VERSUS LITERARY AMBITIONS.—The natural ambition of the southern gentleman was political. The South was proud of its famous orators and generals in Revolutionary times and of its long line of statesmen and Presidents, who took such a prominent part in establishing and maintaining the republic. We have seen (p. 68) that Thomas Jefferson of Virginia wrote one of the most memorable political documents in the world, that James Madison, a Virginian President of the United States, aided in producing the Federalist papers (p. 71), that George Washington's Farewell Address (p. 100) deals with such vital matters as morality almost entirely from a political point of view. Although the South produced before the Civil War a world-famous author in Edgar Allan Poe, her glorious achievements were nevertheless mainly political, and she especially desired to maintain her former reputation in the political world. The law and not literature was therefore the avenue to the southerner's ambition.
Long before the Civil War, slavery became an unusually live subject. There was always some political move to discuss in connection with slavery; such, for instance, as the constitutional interpretation of the whole question, the necessity of balancing the admission of free and slave states to the Union, the war with Mexico, the division of the new territory secured in that conflict, the right of a state to secede from the Union. Consequently, in ante bellum days, the brilliant young men of the South had, like their famous ancestors of Revolutionary times, abundance of material for political and legal exposition, and continued to devote their attention to public questions, to law, and to oratory, instead of to pure literature. They talked while the North wrote.
In the days before the war, literature suffered also because the wealthy classes at the South did not regard it as a dignified profession. Those who could write often published their work anonymously. Richard Henry Wilde (1789-1847), a young lawyer, wrote verses that won Byron's praise, and yet did not acknowledge them until some twenty years later. Sometimes authors tried to suppress the very work by which their names are to-day perpetuated. When a Virginian found that the writer of
“Thou wast lovelier than the roses
In their prime;
Thy voice excelled the closes
Of sweetest rhyme;”
was his neighbor, Philip Pendleton Cooke (1816-1850), he said to the young poet, “I wouldn't waste time on a thing like poetry; you might make yourself, with all your sense and judgment, a useful man in settling neighborhood disputes.” A newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, kept a standing offer to publish poetry for one dollar a line.
EDUCATIONAL HANDICAPS.—Before the war there was no universal free common school system, as at present, to prepare for higher institutions. The children of rich families had private tutors, but the poor frequently went without any schooling. William Gilmore Simms (p. 306) says that he “learned little or nothing” at a public school, and that not one of his instructors could teach him arithmetic. Lack of common educational facilities decreased readers as well as writers.
Until after the war, whatever literature was read by the cultured classes was usually English. The classical school of Dryden and Pope and the eighteenth century English essayists were especially popular. American literature was generally considered trashy or unimportant. So conservative was the South in its opinions, that individuality in literature was often considered an offense against good taste. This was precisely the attitude of the classical school in England during a large part of the eighteenth century. Until after the Civil War, therefore, the South offered few inducements to follow literature as a profession.
THE NEW SOUTH.—After the South had passed through the terrible struggle of the Civil War, in which much of her best blood perished, there followed the tragic days of the reconstruction. These were times of readjustment, when a wholly new method of life had to be undertaken by a conservative people; when the uncertain position of the negro led to frequent trouble; when the unscrupulous politician, guided only by desire for personal gain, played on the ignorance of the poor whites and the enfranchised negroes, and almost wrecked the commonwealth. Had Lincoln lived to direct affairs after the war, much suffering might have been avoided, and the wounds of the South might have been more speedily healed.
These days, however, finally passed, and the South began to adapt herself to the changed conditions of modern life. In these years of transition since the Civil War, a new South has been evolved. Cities are growing rapidly. Some parts of the South are developing even faster than any other sections of the country. Men are running mills as well as driving the plow. Small farms have often taken the place of the large plantation. A system of free public schools has been developed, and compulsory education for all has been demanded. Excellent higher institutions of learning have multiplied. Writers and a reading public, both with progressive ideals, have rapidly increased. In short, the South, like the East and the West, has become more democratic and industrial, less completely agricultural, and has paid more attention to the education of the masses.
It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that the southern conservatism, which had been fostered for generations, could at once be effaced. The South still retains much of her innate love of aristocracy, loyalty to tradition, disinclination to be guided by merely practical aims, and aversion to rapid change. This condition is due partly to the fact that the original conservative English stock, which is still dominant, has been more persistent there and less modified by foreign immigration.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SOUTHERN LITERATURE.—The one who studies the greatest authors of the South soon finds them worthy of note for certain qualities. Poe was cosmopolitan enough to appeal to foreign lands even more forcibly than to America, and yet we shall find that he has won the admiration of a great part of the world for characteristics, many of which are too essentially southern to be possessed in the same degree by authors in other sections of the country. The poets of the South have placed special emphasis on (1) melody, (2) beauty, (3) artistic workmanship. In creations embodying a combination of such qualities, Poe shows wonderful mastery. More than any other American poet, he has cast on the reader
”... the spell which no slumber
Of witchery may test,
The rhythmical number
Which lull'd him to rest.”
After reading Poe and Lanier, we feel that we can say to the South what Poe whispered to the fair Ligeia:—
“No magic shall sever
Thy music from thee.”
The wealth of sunshine flooding the southern plains, the luxuriance of the foliage and the flowers, and the strong contrasts of light and shade and color are often reflected in the work of southern writers. Such verse as this is characteristic:—
“Beyond the light that would not die
Out of the scarlet-haunted sky,
Beyond the evening star's white eye
Of glittering chalcedony,
Drained out of dusk the plaintive cry
Of 'whippoorwill!' of 'whippoorwill!'“
[Footnote: Cawein, Red Leaves and Roses.]
In the work of her later writers of fiction, the South has presented, often in a realistic setting of natural scenes, a romantic picture of the life distinctive of the various sections,—of the Creoles of Louisiana, of the mountaineers of Tennessee, of the blue grass region of Kentucky, of Virginia in the golden days, and of the Georgia negro, whose folk lore and philosophy are voiced by Uncle Remus.
EDGAR ALLAN POE, 1809-1849
EARLY LIFE.—The most famous of all southern writers and one of the world's greatest literary artists happened to be born in Boston because his parents, who were strolling actors, had come there to fill an engagement. His grandfather, Daniel Poe, a citizen of Baltimore, was a general in the Revolution. His service to his country was sufficiently noteworthy to cause Lafayette to kneel at the old general's grave and say, “Here reposes a noble heart.”
An orphan before he was three years old, Poe was reared by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan of Richmond, Virginia. In 1815, at the close of the War of 1812, his foster parents went to England and took him with them. He was given a school reader and two spelling books with which to amuse himself during the long sailing voyage across the ocean. He was placed for five years in the Manor School House, a boarding school, at Stoke Newington, a suburb of London. Here, he could walk by the very house in which Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. But nothing could make up to Poe the loss of a mother and home training during those five critical years. The head master said that Poe was clever, but spoiled by “an extravagant amount of pocket money.” The contrast between his school days and adult life should be noted. We shall never hear of his having too much money after he became an author.
In 1820 the boy returned with the Allans to Richmond, where he prepared for college, and at the age of seventeen entered the University of Virginia. “Here,” his biographer says, “he divided his time, after the custom of undergraduates, between the recitation room, the punch bowl, the card-table, athletic sports, and pedestrianism.” Although Poe does not seem to have been censured by the faculty, Mr. Allan was displeased with his record, removed him from college, and placed him in his counting house. This act and other causes, which have never been fully ascertained, led Poe to leave Mr. Allan's home.
Poe then went to Boston, where, at the age of eighteen, he published a thin volume entitled Tamerlane and Other Poems. Disappointed at not being able to live by his pen, he served two years in the army as a common soldier, giving both an assumed name and age. He finally secured an appointment to West Point after he was slightly beyond the legal age of entrance. The cadets said in a joking way that Poe had secured the appointment for his son, but that the father substituted himself after the boy died. Feeling an insatiable ambition to become an author, Poe neglected his duties at West Point, and he was, fortunately for literature, discharged at the age of twenty-two.
HIS GREAT STRUGGLE.—Soon after leaving West Point, Poe went to his kindred in Baltimore. In a garret in that southern city, he first discovered his power in writing prose tales. In 1833 his story, MS. Found in a Bottle, won a prize of one hundred dollars offered by a Baltimore paper. In 1834 Mr. Allan died without mentioning Poe in his will; and in spite of his utmost literary efforts, Poe had to borrow money to keep from starving.
After struggling for four years in Baltimore, he went to Richmond and became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. He worked very hard in this position, sometimes contributing to a single number as much as forty pages of matter, mostly editorials and criticisms of books. In Baltimore he had tested his power of writing short stories, but in Richmond his work laid the foundation of his reputation as a literary critic. While here, he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm. Perhaps it was irregular habits that caused him to lose the profitable editorship of the Messenger soon after he married. Let us remember, however, that his mother-in-law was charitable enough not to unveil his weakness. “At home,” she said, “he was as simple and affectionate as a child.”
The principal part of the rest of his life was passed in Philadelphia and New York, where he served as editor of various periodicals and wrote stories and poems. In the former city, he wrote most of the tales for which he is to-day famous. With the publication of his poem, The Raven, in New York in 1845, he reached the summit of his fame. In that year he wrote to a friend, “The Raven has had a great 'run'—but I wrote it for the express purpose of running—just as I did The Gold Bug, you know. The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow.” And yet, in spite of his fame, he said in the same year, “I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life.”
The truth was that it would then have been difficult for the most successful author to live even in the North without a salaried position, and conditions were worse in the South. Like Hawthorne, Poe tried to get a position in a customhouse, but failed.
He moved to an inexpensive cottage in Fordham, a short distance from New York City, where he, his wife, and mother-in-law found themselves in 1846 in absolute want of food and warmth. The saddest scene in which any great American author figured was witnessed in that cottage in “the bleak December,” when his wife, Virginia, lay dying in the bitter cold. Because there was insufficient bed clothing to keep her warm, Poe gave her his coat and placed the family cat upon her to add its warmth.
Her death made him almost completely irresponsible. The stunning effect of the blow may be seen in the wandering lines of Ulalume (1847). The end came to him in Baltimore in 1849, the same year in which he wrote the beautiful dirge of Annabel Lee for his dead wife. He was only forty when he died. This greatest literary genius of the South was buried in Baltimore in a grave that remained unmarked for twenty-six years.
In anticipation of his end, he had written the lines:—
“And oh! of all tortures,—
That torture the worst
Has abated—the terrible
Torture of thirst
For the napthaline river
Of Passion accurst:—
I have drank of a water
That quenches all thirst.”
HIS TALES.—He wrote more than sixty tales, some of which rank among the world's greatest short stories. The most important of these productions may be classified as tales (1) of the supernatural, like The Fall of the House of Usher and Ligeia, (2) of conscience, like William Wilson, that remarkable forerunner of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, (3) of pseudo-science, like A Descent into the Maelstrom, (4) of analysis or ratiocination, like The Gold Bug and that wonderful analytical detective story, the first of its kind, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the predecessor of later detective stories, like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and (5) of natural beauty, like The Domain of Arnheim.
This classification does not include all of his types, for his powerful story, The Pit and the Pendulum, does not belong to any of these classes. He shows remarkable versatility in passing from one type of story to another. He could turn from a tale of the supernatural to write a model for future authors of realistic detective stories. He could solve difficult riddles with masterly analysis, and in his next story place a conscience-stricken wretch on the rack and then turn away calmly to write a tale of natural beauty. He specially liked to invest an impossible story with scientific reality, and he employed Defoe's specific concrete method of mingling fact with fiction. With all the seriousness of a teacher of physics, Poe describes the lunar trip of one Hans Pfaall with his balloon, air-condenser, and cat. He tells how the old cat had difficulty in breathing at a vast altitude, while the kittens, born on the upward journey, and never used to a dense atmosphere, suffered little inconvenience from the rarefaction. He relates in detail the accident which led to the detachment from the balloon of the basket containing the cat and kittens, and we find it impossible not to be interested in their fate. He had the skill of a wizard in presenting in remarkably brief compass suggestion after suggestion to invest his tales with the proper atmosphere and to hypnotize the reader into an unresisting acceptance of the march of events. Even a hostile critic calls him “a conjuror who does not need to have the lights turned down.”
In one respect his tales are alike, for they are all romantic (p. 88) and deal with the unusual, the terrible, or the supernatural. Some of these materials suggest Charles Brockden Brown (p. 89), but Poe, working with the genius of a master artist, easily surpassed him.
HIS DEVELOPMENT OF THE MODERN SHORT STORY.—Poe has an almost world-wide reputation for the part which he played in developing the modern short story. The ancient Greeks had short stories, and Irving had written delightful ones while Poe was still a child; but Poe gave this type of literature its modern form. He banished the little essays, the moralizing, and the philosophizing, which his predecessors, and even his great contemporary, Hawthorne, had scattered through their short stories. Poe's aim in writing a short story was to secure by the shortest air-line passage the precise effect which he desired. He was a great literary critic, and his essays, The Philosophy of Composition and The Poetic Principle, with all their aberrations, have become classic; but his most famous piece of criticism—almost epoch-making, so far as the short story is concerned—is the following:—
“A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not
fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having
conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to
be wrought out, he then invents such incidents,—he then combines such
events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If
his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect,
then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there
should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is
not to the one pre-established design.”
Poe's greatest supernatural tale, The Fall of the House of Usher , should be read in connection with this criticism. His initial sentence thus indicates the atmosphere of the story:—
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the
year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been
passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of
country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew
on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
Each following stroke of the master's brush adds to the desired effect. The black and lurid tarn, Roderick Usher with his mental disorder, his sister Madeline, subject to trances, buried prematurely in a vault directly underneath the guest's room, the midnight winds blowing from every direction toward the House of Usher, the chance reading of a sentence from an old and musty volume, telling of a mysterious noise, the hearing of a muffled sound and the terrible suggestion of its cause,—all tend to indicate and heighten the gloom of the final catastrophe.
In one of his great stories, which is not supernatural, The Pit and the Pendulum, he desires to impress the reader with the horrors of medieval punishment. We may wonder why the underground dungeon is so large, why the ceiling is thirty feet high, why a pendulum appears from an opening in that ceiling. But we know when the dim light, purposely admitted from above, discloses the prisoner strapped immovably on his back, and reveals the giant pendulum, edged with the sharpest steel, slowly descending, its arc of vibration increasing as the terrible edge almost imperceptibly approaches the prisoner. We find ourselves bound with him, suffering from the slow torture. We would escape into the upper air if we could, but Poe's hypnotic power holds us as helpless as a child while that terrible edge descends.
A comparison of these stories and the most successful ones published since Poe's time, on the one hand, with those written by Irving or Hawthorne, on the other, will show the influence of Poe's technique in making almost a new creation of the modern short story.
POETRY.—Poe wrote a comparatively small amount of verse. Of the forty-eight poems which he is known to have written, not more than nine are masterpieces, and all of these are short. It was a favorite article of his poetic creed that there could be no such creation as a long poem, that such a poem would in reality be a series of poems. He thought that each poem should cause only one definite emotional impression, and that a long poem would lack the necessary unity. He says that he determined in advance that The Raven should contain about one hundred lines.
His poetic aim was solely “the creation of beauty.” He says:—
“Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the
tone of its highest manifestation; and all experience has shown that
this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme
development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy
is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.”
[Footnote: The Philosophy of Composition.]
He then concludes that death is the most melancholy subject available for a poet, and that the death of a beautiful woman “is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” From the popularity of The Raven at home and abroad, in comparison with other American poems, it would seem as if the many agreed with Poe and felt the fascination of the burden of his song:—
“Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
His most beautiful poem, Annabel Lee, is the dirge written for his wife, and it is the one great poem in which he sounds this note of lasting triumph:—
“And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE.”
A few of his great poems, like Israfel and The Bells, do not sing of death, but most of them make us feel the presence of the great Shadow. The following lines show that it would be wrong to say, as some do, that his thoughts never pass beyond it:—
“And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.”
[Footnote: To One in Paradise.]
It would be difficult to name a poet of any race or age who has surpassed Poe in exquisite melody. His liquid notes soften the harshness of death. No matter what his theme, his verse has something of the quality which he ascribes to the fair Ligeia:—
My beautiful one!
Whose harshest idea
Will to melody run.”
The fascination of his verse is not due to the depth of thought, to the spiritual penetration of his imagination, or to the poetic setting of noble ideals, for he lacked these qualities; but he was a master in securing emotional effects with his sad music. He wedded his songs of the death of beautiful women to the most wonderful melodies, which at times almost transcend the limits of language and pass into the realm of pure music. His verses are not all-sufficient for the hunger of the soul; but they supply an element in which Puritan literature was too often lacking, and they justify the transcendental doctrine that beauty is its own excuse for being.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Poe was a great literary artist, who thought that the creation of beauty was the object of every form of the highest art. His aim in both prose and poetry was to produce a pronounced effect by artistic means. His continued wide circulation shows that he was successful in his aim. An English publisher recently said that he sold in one year 29,000 of Poe's tales, or about three times as many of them as of any other American's work.
The success with which Poe met in producing an effect upon the minds of his readers makes him worthy of careful study by all writers and speakers, who desire to make a vivid impression. Poe selected with great care the point which he wished to emphasize. He then discarded everything which did not serve to draw attention to that point. On his stage the colored lights may come from many different directions, but they all focus on one object.
Hawthorne and Poe, two of the world's great short-story writers, were remarkably unlike in their aims. Hawthorne saw everything in the light of moral consequences. Poe cared nothing for moral issues, except in so far as the immoral was ugly. Hawthorne appreciated beauty only as a true revelation of the inner life. Poe loved beauty and the melody of sound for their own attractiveness. His effects, unlike Hawthorne's, were more physical than moral. Poe exalted the merely technical and formal side of literary excellence more than Hawthorne.
Poe's prose style is direct, energetic, clear, and adequate to the occasion. His mind was too analytic to overload his sentences with ornament, and too definite to be obscure. He had the same aim in his style as in his subject matter,—to secure an effect with the least obstruction.
His poetry is of narrower range than his prose, but his greatest poems hold a unique position for an unusual combination of beauty, melody, and sadness. He retouched and polished them from year to year, until they stand unsurpassed in their restricted field. He received only ten dollars for The Raven while he was alive, but the appreciation of his verse has increased to such an extent that the sum of two thousand dollars was recently paid for a copy of the thin little 1827 edition of his poems.
It has been humorously said that the French pray to Poe as a literary saint. They have never ceased to wonder at the unusual combination of his analytic reasoning power with his genius for imaginative presentation of romantic materials,—at the realism of his touch and the romanticism of his thought. It is true that many foreign critics consider Poe America's greatest author. An eminent English critic says that Poe has surpassed all the rest of our writers in playing the part of the Pied Piper of Hamelin to other authors. At home, however, there have been repeated attempts to disbar Poe from the court of great writers. Not until 1910 did the board of electors vote him a tablet in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
It may be admitted that Poe was a technical artist, that his main object was effectiveness of impression and beauty of form, that he was not overanxious about the worth of his subject matter to an aspiring soul, and that he would have been vastly greater if he had joined high moral aim to his quest of beauty. He overemphasized the romantic elements of strangeness, sadness, and horror. He was deficient in humor and sentiment, and his guiding standards of criticism often seem too coldly intellectual. Those critics who test him exclusively by the old Puritan standards invariably find him wanting, for the Puritans had no room in their world for the merely beautiful.
Poe's genius, however, was sufficiently remarkable to triumph over these defects, which would have consigned to oblivion other writers of less power. In spite of the most determined hostile criticism that an American author has ever known, the editions of Poe's works continue to increase. The circle of those who fall under his hypnotic charm, in which there is nothing base or unclean, is enlarged with the passing of the years. As a great literary craftsman, he continues to teach others. He is now not likely to be dislodged from that peculiar, narrow field where he holds a unique and original position among the great writers of the world.
WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, 1806-1870
William Gilmore Simms, often styled the “Cooper of the South,” was born of poor parents in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1806. His mother died when he was very young, and his father moved west into the wilds of Mississippi. The boy was left behind to be reared by his grandmother, a poor but clever woman, who related to him tales of the Revolutionary War, through which she had lived. During a visit to his father, these tales were supplemented by stories of contemporary life on the borders of civilization. In this way Simms acquired a large part of the material for his romances.
He prospered financially, married well, became the owner of a fine estate, and bent every effort to further southern literature and assist southern writers. He became the center of a group of literary men in Charleston, of whom Hayne and Timrod were the most famous. The war, however, ruined Simms. His property and library were destroyed, and, though he continued to write, he never found his place in the new order of life. He failed to catch the public ear of a people satiated with fighting and hair-raising adventures. He survived but six years, and died in Charleston in 1870.
Being of humble birth, Simms lacked the advantage of proper schooling. Although he was surrounded by aristocratic and exclusive society, he did not have the association of a literary center, such as the Concord and Cambridge writers enjoyed. He found no publishers nearer than New York, to which city he personally had to carry his manuscripts for publication. Yet with all these handicaps, he achieved fame for himself and his loved Southland. This victory over adverse conditions was won by sheer force of indomitable will, by tremendous activity, and by a great, honest, generous nature.
His writings show an abounding energy and versatility. He wrote poetry, prose fiction, historical essays, and political pamphlets, and amazed his publishers by his speed in composition. His best work is The Yemassee (1835), a story of the uprising of the Indians in Carolina. The midnight massacre, the fight at the blockhouse, and the blood-curdling description of the dishonoring of the Indian chief's son are told with infectious vigor and rapidity. The Partisan (1835), Katherine Walton (1851), and The Sword and Distaff (1852), afterwards called Woodcraft, also show his ability to tell exciting tales, to understand Indian character, and to commemorate historical events in thrilling narratives.
Simms wrote rapidly and carelessly. He makes mistakes in grammar and construction, and is often stilted and grandiloquent. All of his romances are stories of adventure which are enjoyed by boys, but not much read by others. Nevertheless, his best works fill a large place in southern literature and history. They tell in an interesting way the life of the border states, of southern crossroads towns, of colonial wars, and of Indian customs. What Cooper did for the North, Simms accomplished for the South. He lacked Cooper's skill and variety of invention, and he created no character to compare with Cooper's Leatherstocking; but he excelled Cooper in the more realistic portrayal of Indian character.
HENRY TIMROD, 1829-1867
Henry Timrod was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1829. He attended the University of Georgia; but was prevented by delicate health and poverty from taking his degree. He was early thrown upon his own resources to earn a livelihood, and having tried law and found it distasteful, he depended upon teaching and writing. His verses were well received, but the times preceding the Civil War were not propitious for a poor poet. As he was not strong enough to bear arms at the outbreak of hostilities, he went to the field as a war correspondent for a newspaper in Charleston and he became later an associate editor in Columbia. His printing office was demolished in Sherman's march to the sea, and at the close of the war Timrod was left in a desperate condition. He was hopelessly ill from consumption; he was in the direst poverty; and he was saddened by the death of his son. There was no relief for Timrod until death released him from his misery in 1867. Yet in spite of all his trials, he desired earnestly to live, and when his sister told him that death would, at least, bring him rest, he replied, “Yes, my sister, but love is sweeter than rest.”
Timrod's one small volume of poetry contains some of the most spontaneous nature and love lyrics in the South. In this stanza to Spring, the directness and simplicity of his manner may be seen:—
“In the deep heart of every forest tree
The blood is all aglee,
And there's a look about the leafless bowers
As if they dreamed of flowers.”
He says in A Vision of Poesy that the poet's mission is to
”... turn life's tasteless waters into wine,
And flush them through and through with purple tints.”
His best known and most original poem is The Cotton Boll. This description of the wide stretches of a white cotton field is one of the best in the poem. He shows the field
”... lost afar
Behind the crimson hills and purple lawns
Of sunset, among plains which roll their streams
Against the Evening Star!
To the remotest point of sight,
Although I gaze upon no waste of snow,
The endless field is white;
And the whole landscape glows,
For many a shining league away,
With such accumulated light
As Polar lands would flash beneath a tropic day!”
Simplicity and sincerity in language, theme, and feeling are special characteristics of Timrod's verse. His lyrics are short and their volume slight, but a few of them, like Spring and The Lily Confidante, seem almost to have sung themselves. So vivid is his reproduction of the spirit of the awakening year in his poem Spring , that, to quote his own lines:—
”... you scarce would start,
If from a beech's heart,
A blue-eyed Dryad, stepping forth, should say,
'Behold me! I am May.'“
Timrod shows the same qualities of simplicity, directness, and genuine feeling in his war poetry. No more ringing lines were written for the southern cause during the Civil War than are to be found in his poems,Carolina and Ethnogenesis.
PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE, 1830-1886
Paul Hamilton Hayne was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1830. His family was rich and influential, and he inherited a fortune in his own right. After graduating at Charleston College, he studied law, but devoted his independent leisure entirely to literature. He became associated with The Southern Literary Gazette, and was the first editor of Russell's Magazine, an ambitious venture launched by the literary circle at the house of Simms. Hayne married happily, and had every prospect of a prosperous and brilliant career when the war broke out. He enlisted, but his health soon failed, and at the close of the war he found himself an invalid with his fortune destroyed. He went to the Pine Barrens of Georgia, where he built, on land which he named Copse Hill, a hut nearly as rude as Thoreau's at Walden. Handicapped by poverty and disease, Hayne lived here during the remainder of his life, writing his best poems on a desk fashioned out of a workbench. He died in 1886.
Hayne wrote a large amount of poetry, and tried many forms of verse, in almost all of which he maintained a smoothness of meter, a correctness of rhyme, and, in general, a high level of artistic finish. He is a skilled craftsman, his ear is finely attuned to harmonious arrangements of sounds, and he shows an acquaintance with the best melodists in English poetry. The limpid ease and grace in his lines may be judged by this dainty poem:—
“A tiny rift within the lute
May sometimes make the music mute!
By slow degrees, the rift grows wide,
By slow degrees, the tender tide—
Harmonious once—of loving thought
Becomes with harsher measures fraught,
Until the heart's Arcadian breath
Lapses thro' discord into death!”
His best poems are nature lyrics. In The Woodland Phases, one of the finest of these, he tells how nature is to him a revelation of the divine:—
“And midway, betwixt heaven and us,
Stands Nature in her fadeless grace,
Still pointing to our Father's house,
His glory on her mystic face.”
Hayne found the inspiration for his verse in the scenes about his forest home: in the “fairy South Wind” that “floateth on the subtle wings of balm,” in
”... the one small glimmering rill
That twinkles like a wood-fay's mirthful eye,”
in the solitary lake
“Shrined in the woodland's secret heart,”
“His blasted pines, smit by the fiery West,
Uptowering rank on rank, like Titan spears,”
in the storm among the Georgian hills, in the twilight, that
”... on her virginal throat
Wears for a gem the tremulous vesper star,”
and in the mocking-birds, whose
”... love notes fill the enchanted land;
Through leaf-wrought bars they storm the stars,
These love songs of the mocking-birds!”
The chief characteristics of his finest poetry are a tender love of nature, a profusion of figurative language, and a gentle air of meditation.
SIDNEY LANIER, 1842-1881
LIFE.—Sidney Lanier was the product of a long line of cultured ancestors, among whom appeared, both in England and America, men of striking musical and artistic ability. He was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1842. He served in the Confederate army during the four years of the war, and was taken prisoner and exposed to the hardest conditions, both during his confinement and after his release. The remainder of his life was a losing fight against the ravages of consumption.
He was fairly successful for a short time in his father's law office; but if ever a man believed that it was his duty to devote his every breath to the gift of music and poetry bestowed upon him, that man was Lanier. His wife agreed with him in his ideals and faith, so in 1873 he left his family in Georgia and went to Baltimore, the land of libraries and orchestras. He secured the position of first flute in the Peabody orchestra, and, by sheer force of genius, took up the most difficult scores and faultlessly led all the flutes. He read and studied, wrote and lectured like one who had suffered from mental starvation. In 1879 he received the appointment of lecturer on English literature at the Johns Hopkins University, a position which his friends had long wished to see him fill. He held it only two years, however, before his death. His health had fast been failing. He wrote part of the time while lying on his back, and, because of physical weakness, he delivered some of his lectures in whispers. In search of relief, he was taken to Florida, Texas, and North Carolina, but no permanent benefit came, and he died in his temporary quarters in North Carolina in 1881.
Works.—Lanier wrote both prose and poetry. His prose comprises books for children and critical studies. The Science of English Verse (1880) and The English Novel (1883) are of interest because of their clear setting forth of his theory of versification and art. In his poetry he strives to embody the ideals proclaimed in his prose work, which are, first, to write nothing that is not moral and elevating in tone, and, second, to express himself in versification which is obedient to the laws of regular musical composition, in rhyme, rhythm, vowel assonance, alliteration, and phrasings.
Lanier's creed, that the poet should be an inspiration for good to his readers, is found in his lines:—
“The artist's market is the heart of man,
The artist's price some little good of man.”
The great inspiration of his life was love, and he has some fine love poems, such as My Springs, In Absence, Evening Song, and Laus Mariae. In The Symphony, which voices the social sorrow for the overworked and downtrodden, he says the problem is not one for the head but the heart:—
“Vainly might Plato's brain revolve it,
Plainly the heart of a child could solve it.”
In ending the poem, he says that even
“Music is Love in search of a word.”
Strong personal love, tender pitying love for humanity, impassioned love of nature, and a reverent love of God are found in Lanier.
The striking musical quality of Lanier's best verse is seen in these stanzas from Tampa Robins:—
“The robin laughed in the orange-tree:
'Ho, windy North, a fig for thee:
While breasts are red and wings are bold
And green trees wave us globes of gold,
Time's scythe shall reap but bliss for me
—Sunlight, song, and the orange-tree.
* * * * *
“'I'll south with the sun and keep my clime;
My wing is king of the summer-time;
My breast to the sun his torch shall hold;
And I'll call down through the green and gold,
Time, take thy scythe, reap bliss for me,
Bestir thee under the orange-tree.'“
The music of the bird, the sparkle of the sunlight, and the pure joy of living are in this poem, which is one of Lanier's finest lyrical outbursts. The Song of the Chattahoochee is another of his great successes in pure melody. The rhymes, the rhythm, the alliteration beautifully express the flowing of the river.
His noblest and most characteristic poem, however, is The Marshes of Glynn. It seems to breathe the very spirit of the broad open marshes and to interpret their meaning to the heart of man, while the long, sweeping, melodious lines of the verse convey a rich volume of music, of which he was at times a wonderful master.
“Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea?
Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin,
By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.”
This poem, original and beautiful, both in subject and form, expresses Lanier's strong faith in God. He says:—
“As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold, I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold of the greatness of God.”
No Puritan could show a truer faith than Lanier's, nor a faith more poetically and devoutly expressed. In his Sunrise he attains at times the beauty of The Marshes of Glynn, and voices in some of the lines a veritable rhapsody of faith. Yet for sustained elevation of feeling and for unbroken musical harmonies, Sunrise cannot equal The Marshes of Glynn, which alone would suffice to keep Lanier's name on the scroll of the greater American poets.
General Characteristics.—Lanier is an ambitious poet. He attempts to voice the unutterable, to feel the intangible, to describe the indescribable, and to clothe this ecstasy in language that will be a harmonious accompaniment to the thought. This striving after practically impossible effects sometimes gives the feeling of artificiality and strain to his verse. It is not always simple, and sometimes one overcharged stanza will mar an otherwise exquisite poem.
On the other hand, Lanier never gives voice to anything that is merely trivial or pretty. He is always in earnest, and the feeling most often aroused by him is a passionate exaltation. He is a nature poet. The color, the sunshine, the cornfields, the hills, and the marshes of the South are found in his work. But more than their outer aspect, he likes to interpret their spirit,—the peace of the marsh, the joy of the bird, the mystery of the forest, and the evidences of love everywhere.
The music of his lines varies with his subjects. It is light and delicate in Tampa Robins, rippling and gurgling in The Song of the Chattahoochee, and deeply sonorous in The Marshes of Glynn. Few surpass him in the long, swinging, grave harmonies of his most highly inspired verse. In individual lines, in selected stanzas, Lanier has few rivals in America. His poetical endowment was rich, his passion for music was a rare gift, his love of beauty was intense, and his soul was on fire with ideals.
FATHER RYAN, 1839-1886
Another poet who will long be remembered for at least one poem is Abram Joseph Ryan (1839-1886), better known as “Father Ryan.” He was a Roman Catholic priest who served as chaplain in the Confederate army, and though longing and waiting only for death in order to go to the land that held joy for him, he wrote and worked for his fellow-man with a gentleness and sympathy that left regret in many hearts when he died in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1886.
He loved the South and pitied her plight, and in his pathetic poem, The Conquered Banner, voiced the woe of a heart-broken people:—
“Furl that Banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently—it is holy—
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not—unfold it never—
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead.”
JOHN BANNISTER TABB, 1845-1909
John Bannister Tabb was born in 1845 on the family estate in Amelia County, Virginia. He was a strong adherent of the southern cause, and during the war he served as clerk on one of the boats carrying military stores. He was taken prisoner, and placed in Point Lookout Prison, where Lanier also was confined. After the war, Tabb devoted some time to music and taught school. His studies led him toward the church, and at the age of thirty-nine he received the priest's orders in the Roman Catholic church. When he died in 1909, he was a teacher in St. Charles College, Ellicott City, Maryland. He had been blind for two years.
Tabb's poems are preeminently “short swallow-flights of song,” for most of them are only from four to eight lines long. Some of these verses are comic, while others are grave and full of religious ardor. The most beautiful of all his poems are those of nature. The one called The Brook is among the brightest and most fanciful:—
“It is the mountain to the sea
That makes a messenger of me:
And, lest I loiter on the way
And lose what I am sent to say,
He sets his reverie to song
And bids me sing it all day long.
Farewell! for here the stream is slow,
And I have many a mile to go.”
[Footnote: Poems, 1894.]
The Water Lily is another dainty product, full of poetic feeling for nature:—
“Whence, O fragrant form of light,
Hast thou drifted through the night,
Swanlike, to a leafy nest,
On the restless waves, at rest?
“Art thou from the snowy zone
Of a mountain-summit blown,
Or the blossom of a dream,
Fashioned in the foamy stream?”
[Footnote: The Water Lily, from Poems, 1894.]
In Quips and Quiddits he loves to show that type of humor dependent on unexpected changes in the meaning of words. The following lines illustrate this characteristic:—
“To jewels her taste did incline;
But she had not a trinket to wear
Till she slept after taking quinine,
And awoke with a ring in each ear.”
Tabb's power lay in condensing into a small compass a single thought or feeling and giving it complete artistic expression. The more serious poems, especially the sacred ones, sometimes seem to have too slight a body to carry their full weight of thought, but the idea is always fully expressed, no matter how narrow the compass of the verse. His poetry usually has the qualities of lightness, airiness, and fancifulness.
JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS, 1848-1908
Joel Chandler Harris was born at Eatonton, in the center of Georgia in 1848. He alludes to himself laughingly as “an uncultured Georgia cracker.” At the age of twelve, he was setting type for a country newspaper and living upon the plantation of the wealthy owner of this paper, enjoying the freedom of his well-selected library, hunting coons, possums, and rabbits with his dogs, and listening to the stories told by his slaves. The boy thus became well acquainted with many of the animal fables known to the negroes of Georgia. Later in life, he heard a great many more of these tales, while traveling through the cotton states, swapping yarns with the negroes after he had gained their confidence. His knowledge of their hesitancy about telling a story and his sympathy with them made it possible for him to hear rare tales when another would probably have found only silence. Sometimes, while waiting for a train, he would saunter up to a group of negroes and start to tell a story himself and soon have them on tiptoe to tell him one that he did not already know. In many ways he became the possessor of a large part of the negro folklore. He loved a story and he early commenced to write down these fables, making of them such delightful works of art that all America is his debtor, not only for thus preserving the folklore of a primitive people in their American environment, but also for the genuine pleasure derived from the stories themselves. They are related with such humor, skill, and poetic spirit that they almost challenge comparison with Kipling's tales of the jungle. The hero is the poor, meek, timid rabbit, but in the tales he becomes the witty, sly, resourceful, bold adventurer, who acts “sassy" and talks big. Harris says that “it needs no scientific investigation to show why he [the negro] selects as his hero the weakest and most harmless of all animals, and brings him out victorious in contests with the bear, the wolf, and the fox. It is not virtue that triumphs, but helplessness; it is not malice, but mischievousness.” Sometimes, as is shown in The Wonderful Tar Baby Story, a trick of the fox causes serious trouble to the rabbit; but the rabbit usually invents most of the pranks himself. The absurdly incongruous attitude of the rabbit toward the other animals is shown in the following conversation, which occurs in the story of Brother Rabbit and Brother Tiger, published in Uncle Remus and His Friends:—
“Brer Tiger 'low, 'How come you ain't skeer'd er me, Brer Rabbit? All de
yuther creeturs run when dey hear me comin'.'
“Brer Rabbit say, 'How come de fleas on you ain't skeer'd un you? Dey er
lots littler dan what I is.'
“Brer Tiger 'low, 'Hit's mighty good fer you dat I done had my dinner,
kaze ef I'd a-been hongry I'd a-snapped you up back dar at de creek.'
“Brer Rabbit say, 'Ef you'd done dat, you'd er had mo' sense in yo' hide
dan what you got now.'
“Brer Tiger 'low, 'I gwine ter let you off dis time, but nex' time I see
you, watch out!'
“Brer Rabbit say, 'Bein's you so monst'us perlite, I'll let you off too,
but keep yo' eye open nex' time you see me, kaze I'll git you sho.'“
The glee of the negro in the rabbit's nonchalant bearing is humorously given in this paragraph:—
“Well, I wish ter goodness you could er seed 'im 'bout dat time. He went
'long thoo de woods ez gay ez a colt in a barley-patch. He wunk at de
trees, he shuck his fisties at de stumps, he make like he wuz quoilin'
wid 'is shadder kaze it foller 'long atter 'im so close; en he went on
The three books that contain the most remarkable of these tales are: Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings (1880), Nights with Uncle Remus (1881), Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892). In the volume, Told by Uncle Remus (1905), the same negro relates more stories to the son of the “little boy,” who had many years before listened to the earlier tales. The one thing in these books that is absolutely the creation of Harris is the character of Uncle Remus. He is a patriarchal ex-slave, who seems to be a storehouse of knowledge concerning Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer B'ar, and indeed all the animals of those bygone days when animals talked and lived in houses. He understands child nature as well as he knows the animals, and from the corner of his eye he keeps a sharp watch upon his tiny auditor to see how the story affects him. No figure more living, original, and lovable than Uncle Remus appears in southern fiction. In him Harris has created, not a burlesque or a sentimental impossibility, but an imperishable type, the type of the true plantation negro.
Harris also writes entertainingly of the slaves and their masters on the plantation and of the poor free negroes, in such stories as Mingo and Other Sketches (1884) and Free Joe (1887). He further presents a vivid picture of the Georgia “crackers” and “moonshiners”; but his inimitable animal stories, and Uncle Remus who tells them, have overshadowed all his other work, and remain his most distinctive and original contribution to American literature. These tales bid fair to have something of the immortality of those myths which succeeding generations have for thousands of years enjoyed.
THOMAS NELSON PAGE, 1853-
Thomas Nelson Page was born on Oakland Plantation in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1853. He graduated at Washington and Lee University in 1872, and took a degree in law at the University of Virginia in 1874. He practiced law in Richmond, wrote stories and essays upon the old South, and later moved to Washington to live.
His best stories are the short ones, like Marse Chan and Meh Lady, in which life on the Virginia plantations during the war is presented. Page is a natural story-teller. He wastes no time in analyzing, describing, and explaining, but sets his simple plots into immediate motion and makes us acquainted with his characters through their actions and speech. The regal mistresses of the plantations, the lordly but kind-hearted masters, the loving, simple-minded slaves, and handsome young men and maidens are far from complex personalities. They have a primitive simplicity and ingenuousness which belong to a bygone civilization. The strongest appeal in the stories is made by the negroes, whose faith in their masters is unquestioning, and sometimes pathetic.
Some old negro who had been a former slave usually tells the story, and paints his “marster,” his “missus,” and his “white folks,” as the finest in the region. He looks back upon the bygone days as a time when “nuthin' warn too good for niggers,” and is sure that if his young “marster” did not get the brush “twuz cause twuz a bob-tailed fox.” In Meh Lady the negro relating the tale is the true but unconscious hero. This kindly presentation of the finest traits of slave days, the idealizing of the characters, and the sympathetic portrayal of the warm affection existing between master and slave give to Page's books a strong note of romanticism. The humor is mild, quaint, and subtle, and it often lies next to tears. Page is preeminently a short-story writer. He possesses the restraint, the compression, the art, the unity of idea necessary to the production of a good short story.
GEORGE W. CABLE, 1844-
George Washington Cable is of Virginia and New England stock, but he was born in New Orleans in 1844, and called this beautiful city his home until 1884, when he moved to Connecticut. The following year he selected Northampton, Massachusetts, as a permanent residence. He was but fourteen when his father died, leaving the family in straitened circumstances. The boy thereupon left school and went to work. Four years later he entered the Confederate army. So youthful was his appearance, that a planter, catching sight of him, exclaimed, “Great heavens! Abe Lincoln told the truth. We are robbing the cradle and the grave!” He served two years in the southern army, and after the war returned penniless to his native city. His efforts to find employment are described in his most realistic novel, Dr. Sevier . He was a surveyor, a clerk to cotton merchants, and a reporter on the New Orleans Picayune; but his tastes were literary, and after the publication in 1879 of a volume of short stories, Old Creole Days, his attention was turned wholly to literature.
Cable's Old Creole Days is a collection of picturesque short stories of the romantic Creoles of New Orleans. Jean-ah-Poquelin , the story of an old recluse, is most artistically told. There are few incidents; Cable merely describes the former roving life of Jean, tells how suddenly it stopped, how he never again left the old home where he and an African mute lived, and how Jean's younger brother mysteriously disappeared, and the suspicion of his murder rested upon Jean's shoulders. The explanation of these points is unfolded by hints, conjectures, and rare glimpses into the Poquelin grounds at night, and finally by an impressive but simple description of Jean's funeral, at which the terrible secret is completely revealed. The deftest and finest touch of an artist is seen in the working out of this pathetic story.
Madame Delphine, now included in the volume Old Creole Days, is equally the product of a refined art. Here is shown the anguish of a quadroon mother who turns frantically from one to another for help to save her beautiful child, the ivory-tinted daughter of the South. When every one fails, the mother heart makes one grand sacrifice by which the end is gained, and she dies at the foot of the altar in an agony of remorse and love. The beautiful land of flowers, the jasmine-scented night of the South, the poetic chivalry of a proud, high-souled race are painted vividly in this idyllic story. Its people are not mortals, its beauty is not of earth, but, like the carved characters on Keats's Grecian urn, they have immortal youth and cannot change. Keats could have said to the lovers in Madame Delphine, as to his own upon the vase:—
“Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”
Cable's best long works are The Grandissimes (1880), Dr. Sevier (1884), and Bonaventure, a Prose Pastoral of Arcadian Louisiana (1888). Of these three, The Grandissimes is easily first in merit. It is a highly romantic work, full of dramatic episodes, and replete with humor. The abundance and variety of interesting characters in this romance evidence the great fertility and power of invention possessed by Cable. First of all, there is the splendid Creole, Honore' Grandissime, the head of the family,—a man who sees far into the future, and places his trust in the young American republic. Combating the narrow prejudices of his family, he leads them in spite of themselves to riches and honor. Opposing him in family counsels is his uncle, Agricola Fusilier, the brave, blustering, fire-eating reactionary. There is also the beautiful quadroon, Palmyre Philosophe. The “united grace and pride of her movement was inspiring, but—what shall we say?—feline? It was a femininity without humanity,—something that made her, with all her superbness, a creature that one would want to find chained.” Beside her are the dwarf Congo woman and Clemence, the sharp-tongued negress, who sells her wares in the streets and sends her bright retorts back to the young bloods who taunt her. There is Bras Coupe', the savage slave, who had once been a chief in Africa and who fights like a fiend against enslavement, blights the broad acres with his curse, lives an exile in snake-infested swamps, and finally meets a most tragic fate. These unusual and somewhat sensational characters give high color, warmth, and variety to the romance. The two exquisite Creole women, Aurora and her daughter, Clotilde, are a triumph of delicate characterization, being at one and the same time winning, lovable, illogical, innocent, capable, and noble. The love scene in which Aurora says “no,” while she means “yes,” and is not taken at her word, is as delicious a bit of humor and sentiment as there is in modern fiction. In neither Dr. Sevier nor Bonaventure are there the buoyancy, vital interest, and unity of impression of The Grandissimes, which is one of the artistic products of American novelists. Cable may not have rendered the Creole character exactly true to life; but he has in a measure done for these high-spirited, emotional, brave people what Irving did for the Knickerbockers of New York and what Hawthorne did for the Puritan.
Cable has also given graphic pictures of New Orleans. His poetic powers of description enabled him to make the picturesque streets, the quaint interiors, the swamps, bayous, forests, and streams very vivid realities to his readers. He has warmth of feeling and a most refined and subtle humor. His scenes are sometimes blood-curdling, his characters unusual, and the deeds described sensational; but in his best work, his manner is so quiet, his English so elegant, and his treatment so poetic, that the effect is never crude or harsh, but always mild and harmonious.
JAMES LANE ALLEN, 1849-
James Lane Allen was born in 1849 near Lexington, in the rich blue-grass section of Kentucky. He did not leave the state until he was twenty-two, so that his education both at school and college was received in Kentucky, and all his early and most impressionable years were passed amid Kentucky scenes. Many of these years were spent on a farm, where his faculty for observing was used to good advantage. As he grew older, he took his share in the farm work and labored in the fields of hemp, corn, and wheat, which he describes in his works. He graduated from Transylvania College, Lexington, and taught for several years, but after 1884 devoted himself to writing.
In 1891, Allen published Flute and Violin and Other Kentucky Tales and Romances. For artistic completeness, Allen wrote nothing superior to the story in this collection, entitled, King Solomon of Kentucky, a tale of an idle vagabond who proved capable of a heroism from which many heroes might have flinched. All of the stories are romantic and pathetic. The Kentucky Cardinal (1894) andAftermath (1895) are poetic idyls, whose scenes are practically confined within one small Kentucky garden, where the strawberries grow, the cardinal sings, and the maiden watches across the fence her lover at his weeding. The compass of the garden is not too small to embody the very spirit of out-of-doors, which is continuously present in these two delightful stories.
From the human point of view, The Choir Invisible (1897) is Allen's strongest book. John Gray, Mrs. Falconer, and Amy are convincingly alive. No better proof of the vital interest they arouse is needed than the impatience felt by the reader at John's mistaken act of chivalry, which causes the bitterest sorrow to him and Mrs. Falconer. Allen's later works, The Reign of Law (1900), The Mettle of the Pasture(1903), The Bride of the Mistletoe (1909), lose in charm and grace what they gain as studies of moral problems. The hardness and incompleteness of outline of the character portrayals and the grimness of spirit in the telling of the tales make these novels uninviting after the luxuriance of the earlier books.
The setting is an important part of Allen's stories. He describes with the graphic touch of a true nature lover the witchery of Kentucky's fallow meadows, the beauty of her hempfields, the joys of a June day. A noisy conflict could not occur in the restful garden of The Kentucky Cardinal, while in the frontier garden of Mrs. Falconer, in The Choir Invisible, the ambitious, fiery John Gray seems not out of harmony because the presence of the adjacent wild forest affects the entire scene. In one way or another, the landscapes, by preparing the reader for the moods of the characters, play a part in all of Allen's novels. He is a master of the art that holds together scenes and actions. His descriptive powers are unusual, and his style is highly wrought. It is more that of the literary essayist than of the simple narrator, and it is full of poetic touches, delicate suggestions, and refined art.
MARY N. MURFREE (CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK), 1850-
Miss Mary Noailles Murfree, better known as Charles Egbert Craddock, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1850. For fifteen years she spent her summers in the Tennessee mountains among the people of whom she writes. Her pen name of Charles Egbert Craddock deceived her publishers into the belief that she was a man. Both Howells and Thomas Bailey Aldrich accepted her stories for theAtlantic Monthly without suspecting her sex, and Aldrich was a surprised man the day she entered his office and introduced herself as Charles Egbert Craddock.
The stories that suggested to her editors a masculine hand are lively recitals of family feuds, moonshiners' raids, circuit court sessions, fights over land grants, discoveries of oil, and many similar incidents, which make up the life of a people separated from the modern world by almost inaccessible mountains. The rifle is used freely by this people, and murder is frequent, but honor and bravery, daring and sacrifice, are not absent, and Craddock finds among the women, as well as the men, examples of magnanimity and heroism that thrill the reader.
The presence of the mountains is always imminent, and seems to impress the lives of the people in some direct way. To Cynthia Ware, for instance, in the story, Drifting Down Lost Creek, Pine Mountain seems to stand as a bar to all her ambitions and dreams:—
“Whether the skies are blue or gray, the dark, austere line of its summit
limits the horizon. It stands against the west like a barrier. It seems
to Cynthia Ware that nothing which went beyond this barrier ever came
back again. One by one the days passed over it, and in splendid
apotheosis, in purple and crimson and gold, they were received into the
heavens and returned no more. She beheld love go hence, and many a hope.
Even Lost Creek itself, meandering for miles between the ranges, suddenly
sinks into the earth, tunnels an unknown channel beneath the mountain,
and is never seen again.”
And, finally, after a tremendous self-sacrifice, when all appears lost and her future looks colorless and hopeless, she fears that the years of her life are “like the floating leaves drifting down Lost Creek, valueless, purposeless, and vaguely vanishing in the mountains.” All of the stories are by no means so tragically sad as this one, but all are overshadowed by the mountains. Among the best of the novels, Down the Ravine and The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountain may be mentioned. Craddock shows marked ability in delineating this primitive type of level-headed, independent people, and she tells their story with ease and vigor. The individual characters are not strongly differentiated in her many books, and the heroines bear considerable resemblance to each other, but the entire community of mountain folk, their ideals, hopes, and circumscribed lives are clearly and vividly shown.
MADISON J. CAWEIN, 1865-1914
Cawein spent the greater part of his life in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was born in 1865 and died in 1914. He wrote more than twenty volumes of verse, the best of which he collected in five volumes (1907) and later in one volume (1911). The appreciative English critic, Edmund Gosse, in his Introduction to the 1907 collection, calls Cawein “the only hermit thrush” singing “through an interval comparatively tuneless.” W. D. Howells's (p. 373) Foreword in the 1911 volume emphasizes Cawein's unusual power of making common things 'live and glow thereafter with inextinguishable beauty.'
Cawein actually writes much of his poetry out of doors in the presence of the nature which he is describing. His lyrics of nature are his best verse. He can even diminish the horror of a Kentucky feud by placing it among:—
“Frail ferns and dewy mosses and dark brush,—
Impenetrable briers, deep and dense,
And wiry bushes,—brush, that seemed to crush
The struggling saplings with its tangle, whence
Sprawled out the ramble of an old rail-fence.”
In his verses the catbird nests in the trumpet vine, the pewee pours forth a woodland welcome, the redbird sings a vesper song, the lilacs are musky of the May, the bluebells and the wind flowers bloom. We hear
”... tinkling in the clover dells,
The twilight sound of cattle bells.”
His verse often shows exactness of observation, characteristic of modern students of nature, as well as a romantic love of the outdoor world. Note the specific references to the shape and color of individual natural objects in these lines from Cawein:—
“May-apples, ripening yellow, lean
With oblong fruit, a lemon-green,
Near Indian-turnips, long of stem,
That bear an acorn-oval gem.”
He loves the nymphs of mythology, the dryads, naiads, and the fairies. One of his poems is called There Are Fairies:—
“There are fairies, I could swear
I have seen them busy where
Rose-leaves loose their scented hair,
* * * * *
Leaning from the window sill
Of a rose or daffodil,
Listening to their serenade,
All of cricket music made.”
In luxuriance of imagery and profuse appeal to the senses, he is the Keats of the South. Lines like these remind us of the greater poet's The Eve of St. Agnes:—
“Into the sunset's turquoise marge
The moon dips, like a pearly barge
Enchantment sails through magic seas
To fairyland Hesperides.”
“O for a beaker full of the warm South.”
Cawein proceeds to fill the beaker from the summer of a southern land, where
“The west was hot geranium-red,”
“The dawn is a warp of fever,
The eve is a woof of fire,”
“The heliotropes breathe drowsy musk
Into the jasmine-dreamy air.”
Cawein sometimes suffers from profuseness and lack of pruning, but the music, sentiment, imaginative warmth, and profusion of nature's charms in his best lyrics rouse keen delight in any lover of poetry. While he revels in the color, warmth, and joys of nature, it should also be observed that he can occasionally strike that deeper note which characterizes the great nature poets of the English race. In A Prayer for Old Age, he asks:—
“Never to lose my faith in Nature, God:
But still to find
Worship in trees; religion in each sod;
And in the wind
that breathe the universal God.”
The lack of towns, the widely separated population, the aristocratic nature of the civilization depending on slave labor, the absorption of the people in political questions, especially the question of slavery, the attitude toward literature as a profession, the poverty of public education, the extreme conservatism and isolation of the South, and, finally, the Civil War, and the period of reconstruction after it,—were all influences that served to retard the development of literature in the South.
The greatest name in southern literature is that of Edgar Allan Poe, the literary artist, the critic, the developer of the modern short story, the writer of superlatively melodious verse. He was followed by Simms, who was among the first in the South to live by his pen. His tales of adventure are still interesting and important for the history that they embody. Timrod's spontaneity and strength appear in lyrics of war, nature, and love. Hayne, a skilled poetic artist, is at his best in lyrics of nature. Lanier's poems of nature embody high ideals in verse of unusual melody, and voice a faith in “the greatness of God,” as intense as that of any Puritan poet. Lanier shared with Simms, Hayne, and Timrod the bitter misfortunes of the war. Father Ryan is affectionately remembered for his stirring war lyrics and Father Tabb for his nature poems, sacred verse, and entertaining humor. The nature poetry of Cawein abounds in the color and warmth of the South.
In modern southern fiction there is to be found some of the most imaginative, artistic, and romantic work of the entire country in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. Rich local color renders much of this fiction attractive. Harris fascinates the ear of the young world with the Georgia negro's tales of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. The Virginia negroes live in the stories of Page. Craddock introduces the Tennessee mountaineer, and Allen, the Kentucky farmer, scholar, and gentleman, while Cable paints the refined Creole in the fascinating city of New Orleans.
Notwithstanding the use of dialect and other realistic touches of local color, the fiction is largely romantic. The careful analysis of motives and detailed accounts of the commonplace, such as the eastern realists developed in the last part of the nineteenth century, are for the most part absent from this southern fiction.
A strong distinguishing feature of this body of fiction is the large part played by natural scenes. Allen shows unusual skill in employing nature to heighten his effects. If the poetic and vivid scenes were removed from Cable's stories, they would lose a large part of their charm. When Miss Murfree chooses eastern Tennessee for the scene of her novels, she never permits the mountains to be forgotten. These writers are lovers of nature as well as of human beings. The romantic prose fiction as well as the poetry is invested with color and beauty.
Page's The Old South.
Page's Social Life in Old Virginia before the War.
Hart's Slavery and Abolition.
Baskerville's Southern Writers, 2 vols.
Link's Pioneers of Southern Literature, 2 vols.
Moses's The Literature of the South.
Holliday's A History of Southern Literature.
Manly's Southern Literature.
Painter's Poets of the South.
Woodberry's The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, Personal and Literary, with his chief Correspondence with Men of Letters, 2 vols., 1909. (The best life.)
Woodberry and Stedman's The Works of Edgar Allan Poe with a Memoir, Critical Introductions, and Notes, 10 vols.
Harrison's The Virginia Edition of the Works of Edgar Allan Poe , 17 vols. (Contains excellent critical essays.)
Harrison's Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols.
Stedman's Poets of America. (Poe.)
Fruit's The Mind and Art of Poe's Poetry.
Canby's The Short Story in English, Chap. XI. (Poe.)
Baldwin's American Short Stories. (Poe.)
Payne's American Literary Criticism. (Poe.)
Prescott's Selections from the Critical Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, edited with an Introduction and Notes.
Gates's Studies and Appreciations. (Poe.)
Trent's William Gilmore Simms.
Erskine's Leading American Novelists. (Simms.)
Ward's Memorial of Sidney Lanier, in Poems of Sidney Lanier, edited by his Wife.
Burt's The Lanier Book.
Burt and Cable's The Cable Story Book.
Page's The Page Story Book.
Selections (not always the ones indicated below) from all the authors mentioned in this chapter may be found in Trent's Southern Writers, 524 pages, and Mims and Payne's Southern Prose and Poetry for Schools, 440 pages. Selections from the majority of the poets are given in Painter's Poets of the South, 237 pages, and Weber's Selections from the Southern Poets, 221 pages. The best poems of Poe and Lanier may be found in Page's The Chief American Poets.
POE.—His best poems are short, and may soon be read. They are Annabel Lee, To One in Paradise, The Raven, The Haunted Palace, The Conqueror Worm, Ulalume, Israfel, Lenore, and The Bells.
HAYNE.—A Dream of the South Winds, Aspects of the Pines , The Woodland Phases, and A Storm in the Distance.
TIMROD.—Spring, The Lily Confidante, An Exotic , The Cotton Boll, and Carolina.
LANIER.—The Marshes of Glynn, Sunrise, The Song of the Chattahoochee, Tampa Robins, Love and Song, The Stirrup Cup, and The Symphony.
RYAN.—The Conquered Banner, and The Sword of Robert Lee .
TABB.—Fourteen of his complete poems may be found on two pages (489 and 490) of Stedman's An American Anthology. Much of Tabb's best work is contained in his little volume entitled Poems(1894).
CAWEIN.—The Whippoorwill, There are Fairies, The Shadow Garden, One Day and Another, In Solitary Places , A Twilight Moth, To a Wind Flower, Beauty and Art , A Prayer for Old Age.
The best two volumes of general selections from Cawein's verse have been published in England and given the titles, Kentucky Poems (1902), 264 pages, edited with an excellent Introduction by Edmund Gosse, and New Poems (1909), 248 pages. His best nature poetry will be found in his single American volume of selections, entitled Poems, Selected by the Author (1911).
POE.—Poe's best short story is The Fall of the House of Usher , but it is better to begin with such favorites as either The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Gold-Bug, or A Descent into the Maelstrom. There are many poor editions of Poe's Tales. Cody's The Best Tales of Edgar Allan Poe and Macmillan's Pocket Classics edition may be recommended. The best part of his critical remarks on short-story writing is quoted in this text, p. 299. A part of his essay, The Poetic Principle, is given in Trent.
SIMMS.—Mims and Payne give (pp. 50-69) a good selection from The Yemassee, describing an Indian episode in the war of 1715, between the Spaniards and the Indians on the one hand, and the English on the other. Trent gives (pp. 186-189) from The Partisan, a scene laid at the time of the Revolutionary War.
HARRIS.—Read anywhere from Uncle Remus, his Songs, and his Sayings (1880), Nights with Uncle Remus (1881), Uncle Remus and his Friends (1892). An excellent selection, Brother Billy Goat eats his Dinner, is given in Trent.
CABLE.—Madame Delphine and Jean-ah-Poquelin, two of Cable's best short stories, are published under the title, Old Creole Days.
PAGE, ALLEN, AND CRADDOCK.—From Page, read either Marse Chan or Meh Lady; from Allen, King Solomon of Kentucky, and Two Gentlemen of Kentucky, from Flute and Violin, or The Kentucky Cardinal, or The Choir Invisible; from Craddock, selections from Down the Ravine, In the Tennessee Mountains, or The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountain.
QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
Poetry.—Which of Poe's nine poems indicated for reading pleases you most and which least? What is the chief source of your pleasure in reading him? Do you feel like reading any of his poems a second time or repeating parts of them? Account for the extraordinary vitality of Poe's verse. What is the subject matter of most of his poems?
What is the subject of Lanier's best verse? Compare his melody and ideals with Poe's. Is Lanier's Song of the Chattahoochee as melodious as Tennyson's The Brook? Which is the most beautiful stanza inMy Springs? What are the strongest and most distinguishing qualities of Lanier's verse? Which of these are especially prominent in The Marshes of Glynn and Sunrise, and which in Tampa Robins?
Compare Hayne and Timrod for artistic finish, definiteness, and spontaneity. Does Hayne or Timrod love nature more for herself alone? Select the best stanza from Timrod's The Lily Confidante and compare it with your favorite stanza from Lanier's My Springs. From each of the poems of Hayne suggested for reading, select some of the most artistic creations of his fancy.
Indicate the patriotism and the pathos in Father Ryan's verse.
Point out some unique qualities in Tabb's poetry. Is the length of his poems in accordance with Poe's dictum? Select some passage showing special delicacy or originality in describing nature.
What in Cawein's verse would indicate that he wrote his poems out of doors? Compare the definiteness of his references to nature with Hayne's. What specific references in Cawein's nature poems please you most? Compare Keats's poems On the Grasshopper and Cricket, Fancy, and stanzas here and there from The Eve of St. Agnes with Cawein's imagery and method of appealing to the senses.
Prose.—Take one of Poe's tales, and point out how it illustrates his theory of the short story given on p. 299. In order to hold the attention of an average audience, should you select for reading one of Irving's, Hawthorne's, or Poe's short stories? Should you use the same principle in selecting one of these stories for a friend to read quietly by himself?
Is Simms dramatic? In what particulars does he remind you of Cooper? In the selection from The Yemassee (Mims and Payne) are there any qualities which Poe indicates for a short story?
What is the secret of the attractiveness of the stories of Joel Chandler Harris? Point out some valuable philosophy of human nature which frequently crops out. What special characteristics of Uncle Remus are revealed in these tales? What are the most prominent qualities of Brer Rabbit? Why does the negro select him for his hero? What is the final result of Brer Fox's trick in The Wonderful Tar Baby Story ? What resemblances and differences can you find between the animal stories of Harris and Kipling?
Why are Cable's stories called romantic? What remarkable feature do you notice about their local color? Give instances of his poetic touch and of his power to draw character. Does he reveal his characters in a plain, matter-of-fact manner, or by means of subtle touches and unexpected revelations?
Compare Page's negroes with Uncle Remus. What characteristics of Virginia life do the stories of Page reveal? What do you find most attractive in him as a story-teller?
What impression does Allen's King Solomon of Kentucky make on you? What are some of the strong situations in The Choir Invisible ? What effect does the natural setting have on his scenes?
In the presentation of what scenes does Craddock excel? What are some of the characteristics of her mountain people? Is the individuality of the characters strongly marked or are they more frequently general types? In what parts of the South are the scenes of the stories of Cable, Page, Allen, and Craddock chiefly laid? How should you define “local color” in terms of the work of each of these writers?