The Later Historians
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William Gilmore Simms
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
But the principal literary figure of the Old South was William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), who was barn in Charleston, South Carolina, where his father had come from the North of Ireland, shortly after the Revolution. Left a motherless boy, he was apprenticed to a druggist, studied law under difficulties, but early showed devotion to the Muse. His father had gone to settle in the Terri-tory of Mississippi and fought in the Florida campaign under Andrew Jackson. The son joined the father, and with him made long journeys through the backwoods, visiting the Creek and Cherokee nations. This experience laid the foundation for Simms's later work. He was admitted to the bar in 1827 and became editor of a Charles-ton paper which opposed nullification, and was thus reduced to poverty. He had already written fair verses in Byronic style, and "The Lost Pleiad" showed Words-worth's influence. His eccentric drama, "Atalantis," describes a sea-fairy who is persecuted by a demon, but rescues herself and marries a mortal lover. The scenes take place at the bottom of the sea, on an enchanted island, and on the deck of a Spanish bark. Simms went North and lived for a time in Massachusetts. His first novel was written under the influence of Godwin, but his second, "Guy Rivers" (1834) introduced his readers to new personages of romance, the Southern backwoodsmen, the squatters and Indians, the North Carolina mountaineers, and the Yankee peddler. This was the beginning of a long series which showed not only the heroism of the settlers of Carolina and the Southwest, but the bravery and virtues of their Indian foes. Simms did not make his redskins as noble as those of Cooper, nor as devilish as did Dr. Robert M. Bird in "Nick of the Woods." In the tragical story of "The Yemassee" (1835), the chief Sanutee, the soul of the uprising of the Indians against the whites, his wife Mattawan, a lovely character, and their unfortunate son, Oconestoga, perish in their defeat. "The Parti-san" (1835) was a story of Marion's men, and may be ranked with Cooper's "The Spy." Its Lieutenant Porgy is one of Simms's best characters. His "Wigwam and Cabin Tales" contain thirteen short stories of pioneer and Indian life. "Grayling" has been praised as one of the best. Simms wrote historical, geographical and didactic or reflective works, but he lives only in his novels. Even these are full of faults, but the rapidity of action and the vigor of the narrative gave them popularity. They are in the style of Scott and Cooper, but never reach the enduring qualities of those masters. In the latter part of his life Simms lived on a plantation at Midway, South Carolina.
Augustus Baldwin Long-street (1790-1870), born at Augusta, Georgia, became a judge and president of the University of Mississippi. His chief literary work was the humorous "Georgia Scenes" (1840) and "Master William Mitten" (1858).
Albert Pike (1809-1891) , born in Boston, and educated at Harvard, went to St. Louis in 1831. Thence he set out on an expedition to Santa Fé, and finally settled in Arkansas, becoming editor and proprietor of a newspaper, and afterward a lawyer. During the Mexican War he served as a volunteer. In the Civil War he organized a force of Cherokee Indians on the Confederate side, and with them fought at the battle of Pea Ridge, in March, 1862. In 1867 he became editor of the "Memphis Appeal." Later he resided in Washington, practising law. His "Hymns to the Gods" (1831) were for their force and beauty republished in "Blackwood's Magazine." "Buena Vista" is a war ballad; other poems showed high lyric power. Collections of his poems were made in 1873 and 1882.
John Esten Cooke (183o-1886) undertook to do for Virginia what Simms had done for South Carolina. After some stories and sketches he published the novel "Leather Stocking and Silk" (1854), which was soon followed and surpassed by "The Virginia Comedians" (1854), probably the best Southern novel written before the war. Others of his early stories were "The Last of the Foresters" and "Henry St. John, Gentleman." During the Civil War Cooke served on the staff of various Confederate Generals. Afterward he retired to his farm near Winchester, and wrote biographies of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and several novels relating to the great conflict. Among those were "Mohun, or the Last Days of Lee and His Paladins" (1868), "Hilt to Hilt, or Days and Nights in the Shenandoah" (1869).
Paul Hamilton Hayne (1831-1886), bearing a name famous in the annals of South Carolina, was the finest poet of the South. He was a native of Charleston, and edited literary periodicals there until the war, when he served on the staff of General Pickens. His house and property were destroyed in the bombardment of Charleston, and after the war he settled at Copse Hill, Georgia, where he pursued literary work till his death. Among his best poems are "The Pine's Mystery," the ballad "The Battle of King's Mountain," "The Lyric of Action." His war lyrics are thrilling and his descriptive and meditative verses are exquisite in music and thought.
Henry Timrod (1829-1867), also born in Charleston, suffered from ill-health and poverty, yet wrote poems full of ardent devotion to the South and its lost cause. His war lyrics, grand and impetuous, won for him the title of "the Tyrtaeus of the South." His poems were edited by P. H. Hayne.
Abram Joseph Ryan (184o-1886), born of Irish parents at Norfolk, Virginia, was equally devoted to the Southern cause. He was a Catholic priest, and served as chaplain in the Confederate army. After the war he edited religious and literary papers in New Orleans and Knoxville, and had charge of a church at Mobile. In 188o he published his "Poems, Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous." He died at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1886. He is best known by his lament over the defeat of the Confederacy, "The Conquered Banner," and the spirited tribute to the Southern leader, "The Sword of Robert Lee." Other fine poems are "Erin's Flag," "Sursum Corda."
Charles Etienne Gayarré (1805-1892) was born in New Orleans of Creole stock, and became a lawyer and judge. His chief work was a "History of Louisiana" (3 vols. 1854-57), but he wrote also a history of "Philip II of Spain" and two historical novels, "Fernando de Lemas" (1872) and "Aubert Dubayet" (1882).