Poets of the South
Part 1 out of 4
Tiffany Vergon, Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed
POETS OF THE SOUTH
A SERIES OF BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL STUDIES
WITH TYPICAL POEMS, ANNOTATED
F.V.N. PAINTER, A.M., D.D.
_Professor of Modern Languages in Roanoke College
Author of "A History of Education" "History of English Literature,"
"Introduction to American Literature" etc._
The poets of the South, who constitute a worthy galaxy of poetic talent
and achievement, are not sufficiently known. Even in the South, which
might naturally be expected to take pride in its gifted singers, most of
them, it is to be feared, are but little read.
This has been called an age of prose. Under the sway of what are regarded
as "practical interests," there is a drifting away from poetic sentiment
and poetic truth. This tendency is to be regretted, for material
prosperity is never at its best without the grace and refinements of true
culture. At the present time, as in former ages, the gifted poet is a
seer, who reveals to us what is highest and best in life.
There is at present a new interest in literature in the South. The people
read more; and in recent years an encouraging number of Southern writers
have achieved national distinction. With this literary renaissance, there
has been a turning back to older authors.
It is hoped that this little volume will supply a real need. It is
intended to call fresh attention to the poetic achievement of the South.
While minor poets are not forgotten, among whose writings is found many a
gem of poetry, it is the leaders of the chorus--Poe, Hayne, Timrod,
Lanier, and Ryan--who receive chief consideration. It may be doubted
whether several of them have been given the place in American letters to
which their gifts and achievements justly entitle them. It is hoped that
the following biographical and critical sketches of these men, each
highly gifted in his own way, will lead to a more careful reading of
their works, in which, be it said to their honor, there is no thought or
sentiment unworthy of a refined and chivalrous nature.
F. V. N. PAINTER.
I. MINOR POETS OF THE SOUTH
II. EDGAR ALLAN POE
III. PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE
IV. HENRY TIMROD
V. SIDNEY LANIER
VI. ABRAM J. RYAN
* * * * *
MINOR POETS OF THE SOUTH
The first poetic writer of this country had his home at Jamestown. He was
GEORGE SANDYS who came to Virginia in 1621, and succeeded his brother as
treasurer of the newly established colony. Amid the hardships of pioneer
colonial life, in which he proved himself a leading spirit, he had the
literary zeal to complete his translation of Ovid's _Metamorphoses_,
which he had begun in England. After the toilsome day, spent in
introducing iron works or in encouraging shipbuilding, he sat down at
night, within the shadow of surrounding forests, to construct his
careful, rhymed pentameters. The conditions under which he wrote were
very far removed from the Golden Age which he described,--
And without rule, in faith and truth, excelled."
The promise of this bright, heroic beginning in poetry was not realized;
and scarcely another voice was heard in verse in the South before the
Revolution. The type of civilization developed in the South prior to the
Civil War, admirable as it was in many other particulars, was hardly
favorable to literature. The energies of the most intelligent portion of
the population were directed to agriculture or to politics; and many of
the foremost statesmen of our country--men like Washington, Jefferson,
Marshall, Calhoun, Benton--were from the Southern states. The system of
slavery, while building up baronial homes of wealth, culture, and
boundless hospitality, checked manufacture, retarded the growth of
cities, and turned the tide of immigration westward. Without a vigorous
public school system, a considerable part of the non-slaveholding class
remained without literary taste or culture.
The South has been chiefly an agricultural region, and has adhered to
conservative habits of thought. While various movements in theology,
philosophy, and literature were stirring New England, the South pursued
the even tenor of its way. Of all parts of our country, it has been most
tenacious of old customs and beliefs. Before the Civil War the cultivated
classes of the Southern states found their intellectual nourishment in
the older English classics, and Pope, Addison, and Shakespeare formed a
part of every gentleman's library. There were no great publishing houses
to stimulate literary production; and to this day Southern writers are
dependent chiefly on Northern publishers to give their works to the
public. Literature was hardly taken seriously; it was rather regarded, to
use the words of Paul Hamilton Hayne, "as the choice recreation of
gentlemen, as something fair and good, to be courted in a dainty, amateur
fashion, and illustrated by _apropos_ quotations from Lucretius, Virgil,
or Horace." Thus it happened that before the Civil War literature
in the South, whether prose or poetry, had a less vigorous development
than in the Middle States and New England.
Yet it has been common to undervalue the literary work of the South.
While literature was not generally encouraged there before the Civil
War,--a fact lamented by gifted, representative writers,--there were at
least two literary centers that exerted a notable influence. The first
was Richmond, the home of Poe during his earlier years, and of the
_Southern Literary Messenger_, in its day the most influential magazine
south of the Potomac. It was founded, as set forth in its first issue,
in 1834, to encourage literature in Virginia and the other states
of the South; and during its career of twenty-eight years it stimulated
literary activity in a remarkable degree. Among its contributors we find
Poe, Simms, Hayne, Timrod, John Esten Cooke, John R. Thompson, and
others--a galaxy of the best-known names in Southern literature.
The other principal literary center of the South was Charleston.
"Legare's wit and scholarship," to adopt the words of Mrs. Margaret J.
Preston, "brightened its social circle; Calhoun's deep shadow loomed over
it from his plantation at Fort Hill; Gilmore Simms's genial culture
broadened its sympathies. The latter was the Maecenas to a band of
brilliant youths who used to meet for literary suppers at his beautiful
home." Among these brilliant youths were Paul Hamilton Hayne and Henry
Timrod, two of the best poets the South has produced. The _Southern
Literary Gazette_, founded by Simms, and _Russell's Magazine_, edited
by Hayne, were published at Charleston. Louisville and New Orleans
were likewise literary centers of more or less influence.
Yet it is a notable fact that none of these literary centers gave rise to
a distinctive group or school of writers. The influence of these centers
did not consist in one great dominating principle, but in a general
stimulus to literary effort. In this respect it may be fairly claimed
that the South was more cosmopolitan than the North. In New England,
theology and transcendentalism in turn dominated literature; and not a
few of the group of writers who contributed to the Atlantic Monthly were
profoundly influenced by the anti-slavery agitation. They struggled up
Parnassus, to use the words of Lowell,--
"With a whole bale of _isms_ tied together with rime."
But the leading writers of the South, as will be seen later, have been
exempt, in large measure, from the narrowing influence of one-sided
theological or philosophical tenets. They have not aspired to the role of
social reformers; and in their loyalty to art, they have abstained from
fanatical energy and extravagance.
The major poets of the South stand out in strong, isolated individuality.
They were not bound together by any sympathy other than that of a common
interest in art and in their Southern home. Their genius was nourished on
the choicest literary productions of England and of classic antiquity;
and looking, with this Old World culture, upon Southern landscape and
Southern character, they pictured or interpreted them in the language of
The three leading poets of the Civil War period--Hayne, Timrod, and Ryan
--keenly felt the issues involved in that great struggle. All three of
them were connected, for a time at least, with the Confederate army. In
the earlier stages of the conflict, the intensity of their Southern
feeling flamed out in thrilling lyrics. Timrod's martial songs throb with
the energy of deep emotion. But all three poets lived to accept the
results of the war, and to sing a new loyalty to our great Republic.
The South has not been as unfruitful in literature as is often supposed.
While there have been very few to make literature a vocation, a
surprisingly large number have made it an avocation. Law and literature,
as we shall have occasion to note, have frequently gone hand in hand. A
recent work on Southern literature [*] enumerates more than twelve
hundred writers, most of whom have published one or more volumes.
There are more than two hundred poets who have been thought worthy
of mention. More than fifty poets have been credited to Virginia alone;
and an examination of their works reveals, among a good deal that is
commonplace and imitative, many a little gem that ought to be preserved.
Apart from the five major poets of the South--Poe, Hayne, Timrod, Lanier,
and Ryan--who are reserved for special study, we shall now consider a few
of the minor poets who have produced verse of excellent quality.
[Footnote *: Manly's _Southern Literature._]
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY (1780-1843) is known throughout the land as the author
of _The Star-spangled Banner_, the noblest, perhaps, of our patriotic
hymns. He was born in Frederick County, Maryland, and was educated
at St. John's College, Annapolis. He studied law, and after practicing
with success in Frederick City, he removed to Washington, where he became
During the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, he was
detained on board a British vessel, whither he had gone to secure the
release of a friend. All night long he watched the bombardment with the
keenest anxiety. In the morning, when the dawn disclosed the star-
spangled banner still proudly waving over the fort, he conceived the
stirring song, which at once became popular and was sung all over the
country. Though a volume of his poems, with a sketch by Chief-Justice
Taney, was published in 1857, it is to _The Star-spangled Banner_ that
he owes his literary fame.
"O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Few poems written in the South have been more popular than _My Life is
like the Summer Rose_. It has the distinction of having been praised
by Byron. Its author, RICHARD HENRY WILDE (1789-1847), was born in
Dublin, Ireland, but brought up and educated in Augusta, Georgia. He
studied law, became attorney general of his adopted state, and later
entered Congress, where he served for several terms. He was a man of
scholarly tastes and poetic gifts. He spent five years abroad, chiefly in
Italy, where his studies in Italian literature afterwards led to a work
on Torquato Tasso. It was on the occasion of this trip abroad that he
wrote _A Farewell to America_, which breathes a noble spirit of
"Farewell, my more than fatherland!
Home of my heart and friends, adieu!
Lingering beside some foreign strand,
How oft shall I remember you!
How often, o'er the waters blue,
Send back a sigh to those I leave,
The loving and beloved few,
Who grieve for me,--for whom I grieve!"
On his return to America, he settled in New Orleans, where he became a
professor of law in the University of Louisiana. Though the author of a
volume of poems of more than usual excellence, it is the melancholy
lyric, _My Life is like the Summer Rose_, that, more than all the rest,
has given him a niche in the temple of literary fame. Is it necessary
to quote a stanza of a poem so well known?
"My life is like the summer rose,
That opens to the morning sky,
But, ere the shades of evening close,
Is scattered on the ground--to die!
Yet on the rose's humble bed
The sweetest dews of night are shed,
As if she wept the waste to see--
But none shall weep a tear for me!"
GEORGE D. PRENTICE (1802-1870) was a native of Connecticut. He was
educated at Brown University, and studied law; but he soon gave up his
profession for the more congenial pursuit of literature. In 1828 he
established at Hartford the _New England Weekly Review_, in which a
number of his poems, serious and sentimental, appeared. Two years later,
at the age of twenty-eight, he turned over his paper to Whittier and
removed to Louisville, where he became editor of the _Journal_.
He was a man of brilliant intellect, and soon made his paper a power in
education, society, and politics. Apart from his own vigorous
contributions, he made his paper useful to Southern letters by
encouraging literary activity in others. It was chiefly through his
influence that Louisville became one of the literary centers of the
South. He was a stout opponent of secession; and when the Civil War came
his paper, like his adopted state, suffered severely.
Among his writings is a _Life of Henry Clay_. A collection of his witty
and pungent paragraphs has also been published under the title of
_Prenticeana_. His poems, by which he will be longest remembered, were
collected after his death. His best-known poem is _The Closing Year_.
Though its vividness and eloquence are quite remarkable, its style
is, perhaps, too declamatory for the taste of the present generation.
The following lines, which express the poet's bright hopes for the
political future of the world, are taken from _The Flight of Years_:--
"Weep not, that Time
Is passing on--it will ere long reveal
A brighter era to the nations. Hark!
Along the vales and mountains of the earth
There is a deep, portentous murmuring
Like the swift rush of subterranean streams,
Or like the mingled sounds of earth and air,
When the fierce Tempest, with sonorous wing,
Heaves his deep folds upon the rushing winds,
And hurries onward with his night of clouds
Against the eternal mountains. 'Tis the voice
Of infant _Freedom_--and her stirring call
Is heard and answered in a thousand tones
From every hilltop of her western home----
And lo--it breaks across old Ocean's flood----
And _Freedom, Freedom!_ is the answering shout
Of nations starting from the spell of years.
The dayspring!--see--'tis brightening in the heavens!
The watchmen of the night have caught the sign----
From tower to tower the signal fires flash free----
And the deep watchword, like the rush of seas
That heralds the volcano's bursting flame,
Is sounding o'er the earth. Bright years of hope
And life are on the wing.--Yon glorious bow
Of Freedom, bended by the hand of God,
Is spanning Time's dark surges. Its high arch,
A type of love and mercy on the cloud,
Tells that the many storms of human life
Will pass in silence, and the sinking waves,
Gathering the forms of glory and of peace,
Reflect the undimmed brightness of the Heaven."
WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS (1806-1870), a native of Charleston, was a man of
remarkable versatility. He made up for his lack of collegiate training by
private study and wide experience. He early gave up law for literature,
and during his long and tireless literary career was editor, poet,
dramatist, historian, and novelist. He had something of the wideness of
range of Sir Walter Scott; and one can not but think that, had he lived
north of Mason and Dixon's line, he might occupy a more prominent place
in the literary annals of our country. He has been styled the "Cooper of
the South"; but it is hardly too much to say that in versatility,
culture, and literary productiveness he surpassed his great Northern
Simms was a poet before he became a novelist. The poetic impulse
manifested itself early; and before he was twenty-five he had published
three or more volumes of verse. In 1832 his imaginative poem,
_Atalantis, a Story of the Sea_, was brought out by the Harpers; and
it introduced him at once to the favorable notice of what Poe called the
"Literati" of New York. His subsequent volumes of poetry were devoted
chiefly to a description of Southern scenes and incidents.
As will be seen in our studies of Hayne and Timrod, Simms was an
important figure in the literary circles of Charleston. His large,
vigorous nature seemed incapable of jealousy, and he took delight in
lending encouragement to young men of literary taste and aspiration. He
was a laborious and prolific writer, the number of his various works--
poetry, drama, history, fiction--reaching nearly a hundred. Had he
written less rapidly, his work might have gained, perhaps, in artistic
Among the best of Simms's novels is a series devoted to the Revolution.
The characters and incidents of that conflict in South Carolina are
graphically portrayed. _The Partisan_, the first of this historic series,
was published in 1835. _The Yemassee_ is an Indian story, in which the
character of the red man is less idealized than in Cooper's _Leather-
stocking Tales_. In _The Damsel of Darien_, the hero is Balboa, the
discoverer of the Pacific.
The verse of Simms is characterized by facile vigor rather than by fine
poetic quality. The following lines, which represent his style at its
best, bear a lesson for the American people to-day:--
"This the true sign of ruin to a race--
It undertakes no march, and day by day
Drowses in camp, or, with the laggard's pace,
Walks sentry o'er possessions that decay;
Destined, with sensible waste, to fleet away;--
For the first secret of continued power
Is the continued conquest;--all our sway
Hath surety in the uses of the hour;
If that we waste, in vain walled town and lofty tower!"
EDWARD COATE PINKNEY (1802-1828) died before his poetic gifts had reached
their full maturity. He was the son of the eminent lawyer and
diplomatist, William Pinkney, and was born in London, while his father
was American minister at the court of St. James. At the age of nine he
was brought home to America, and educated at Baltimore. He spent eight
years in the United States navy, during which period he visited the
classic shores of the Mediterranean. He was impressed particularly with
the beauty of Italy, and in one of his poems he says:--
"It looks a dimple on the face of earth,
The seal of beauty, and the shrine of mirth;
Nature is delicate and graceful there,
The place's genius feminine and fair:
The winds are awed, nor dare to breathe aloud;
The air seems never to have borne a cloud,
Save where volcanoes send to heaven their curled
And solemn smokes, like altars of the world."
In 1824 he resigned his place in the navy to take up the practice of law
in Baltimore. His health was not good; and he seems to have occupied a
part of his abundant leisure (for he was not successful in his
profession) in writing poetry. A thin volume of poems was published in
1825, in which he displays, especially in his shorter pieces, an
excellent lyrical gift. The following stanzas are from _A Health_:--
"I fill this cup to one made up
Of loveliness alone,
A woman, of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon;
To whom the better elements
And kindly stars have given
A form so fair, that, like the air,
'Tis less of earth than heaven.
"Her every tone is music's own,
Like those of morning birds,
And something more than melody
Dwells ever in her words;
The coinage of her heart are they,
And from her lips each flows
As one may see the burdened bee
Forth issue from the rose."
PHILIP PENDLETON COOKE (1816-1850), like most Southern writers before the
Civil War, mingled literature with the practice of law. He was born at
Martinsburg, Virginia, and educated at Princeton. He early manifested a
literary bent, and wrote for the _Knickerbocker Magazine_, the oldest
of our literary monthlies, before he was out of his teens. He was
noted for his love of outdoor life, and became a thorough sportsman. In
1847 he published a volume entitled _Froissart Ballads and Other Poems_.
The origin of the ballad portion of the volume, as explained
in the preface, is found in the lines of an old Roman poet:--
"A certain freak has got into my head,
Which I can't conquer for the life of me,
Of taking up some history, little read,
Or known, and writing it in poetry."
The best known of his lyrics is _Florence Vane_ which has the
sincerity and pathos of a real experience:--
"I loved thee long and dearly,
My life's bright dream, and early,
Hath come again;
I renew, in my fond vision,
My heart's dear pain,
My hope, and thy derision,
"The ruin lone and hoary,
The ruin old,
Where thou didst hark my story,
At even told,--
That spot--the hues Elysian
Of sky and plain--
I treasure in my vision,
"Thou wast lovelier than the roses
In their prime;
Thy voice excelled the closes
Of sweetest rhyme;
Thy heart was as a river
Without a main.
Would I had loved thee never,
THEODORE O'HARA (1820-1867) is chiefly remembered for a single poem that
has touched the national heart. He was born in Danville, Kentucky. After
taking a course in law, he accepted a clerkship in the Treasury
Department at Washington. On the outbreak of the Mexican War he enlisted
as a private soldier, and by his gallant service rose to the rank of
captain and major. After the close of the war he returned to Washington
and engaged for a time in the practice of his profession. Later he became
editor of the _Mobile Register_, and _Frankfort Yeoman_ in Kentucky. In
the Civil War he served as colonel in the Confederate army.
The poem on which his fame largely rests is _The Bivouac of the
Dead_. It was written to commemorate the Kentuckians who fell in the
battle of Buena Vista. Its well-known lines have furnished an apt
inscription for several military cemeteries:--
"The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
"On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead."
O'Hara died in Alabama in 1867. The legislature of Kentucky paid him a
fitting tribute in having his body removed to Frankfort and placed by the
side of the heroes whom he so worthily commemorated in his famous poem.
FRANCIS ORRERY TICKNOR (1822-1874) was a physician living near Columbus,
Georgia. He led a busy, useful, humble life, and his merits as a poet
have not been fully recognized. In the opinion of Paul Hamilton Hayne,
who edited a volume of Ticknor's poems, he was "one of the truest and
sweetest lyric poets this country has yet produced." _The Virginians of
the Valley_ was written after the soldiers of the Old Dominion, many
of whom bore the names of the knights of the "Golden Horseshoe," had
obtained a temporary advantage over the invading forces of the North:--
"We thought they slept!--the sons who kept
The names of noble sires,
And slumbered while the darkness crept
Around their vigil fires;
But aye the 'Golden Horseshoe' knights
Their Old Dominion keep,
Whose foes have found enchanted ground,
But not a knight asleep."
But a martial lyric of greater force is _Little Giffen_, written in
honor of a blue-eyed lad of East Tennessee. He was terribly wounded in
some engagement, and after being taken to the hospital at Columbus,
Georgia, was finally nursed back to life in the home of Dr. Ticknor.
Beneath the thin, insignificant exterior of the lad, the poet discerned
the incarnate courage of the hero:--
"Out of the focal and foremost fire,
Out of the hospital walls as dire;
Smitten of grape-shot and gangrene,
(Eighteenth battle and _he_ sixteen!)
Specter! such as you seldom see,
Little Giffen of Tennessee!
* * * * *
"Word of gloom from the war, one day;
Johnson pressed at the front, they say.
Little Giffen was up and away;
A tear--his first--as he bade good-by,
Dimmed the glint of his steel-blue eye.
'I'll write, if spared!' There was news of the fight;
But none of Giffen.--He did not write."
But Ticknor did not confine himself to war themes. He was a lover of
Nature; and its forms, and colors, and sounds--as seen in _April
Morning_, _Twilight_, _The Hills_, _Among the Birds_--appealed
to his sensitive nature. Shut out from literary centers and
literary companionship, he sang, like Burns, from the strong impulse
awakened by the presence of the heroic and the beautiful.
JOHN R. THOMPSON (1823-1873) has deserved well of the South both as
editor and author. He was born in Richmond, and educated at the
University of Virginia, where he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts
in 1845. Two years later he became editor of the _Southern Literary
Messenger_; and during the twelve years of his editorial management,
he not only maintained a high degree of literary excellence, but took
pains to lend encouragement to Southern letters. It is a misfortune to
our literature that his writings, particularly his poetry, have never
The incidents of the Civil War called forth many a stirring lyric, the
best of which is his well-known _Music in Camp_:--
"Two armies covered hill and plain,
Where Rappahannock's waters
Ran deeply crimsoned with the stain
Of battle's recent slaughters."
The band had played "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle," which in turn had been
greeted with shouts by "Rebels" and "Yanks."
"And yet once more the bugles sang
Above the stormy riot;
No shout upon the evening rang--
There reigned a holy quiet.
"The sad, slow stream its noiseless flood
Poured o'er the glistening pebbles;
All silent now the Yankees stood,
And silent stood the Rebels.
"No unresponsive soul had heard
That plaintive note's appealing,
So deeply 'Home, Sweet Home' had stirred
The hidden founts of feeling.
"Or Blue or Gray, the soldier sees,
As by the wand of fairy,
The cottage 'neath the live-oak trees,
The cabin by the prairie."
On account of failing health, Thompson made a visit to Europe, where he
spent several years, contributing from time to time to _Blackwood's
Magazine_ and other English periodicals. On his return to America, he
was engaged on the editorial staff of the _New York Evening Post_,
with which he was connected till his death, in 1873. He is buried in
Hollywood cemetery at Richmond.
"The city's hum drifts o'er his grave,
And green above the hollies wave
Their jagged leaves, as when a boy,
On blissful summer afternoons,
He came to sing the birds his runes,
And tell the river of his joy."
The verse of Mrs. MARGARET J. PRESTON (1820-1897) rises above the
commonplace both in sentiment and craftsmanship. She belongs, as some
critic has said, to the school of Mrs. Browning; and in range of subject
and purity of sentiment she is scarcely inferior to her great English
contemporary. She was the daughter of the Rev. George Junkin, D.D., the
founder of Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, and for many years president
of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia. In 1857 she married Colonel
J. T. L. Preston of the Virginia Military Institute.
For many years she was a contributor to the _Southern Literary
Messenger_, in which her earlier poems first made their appearance.
Though a native of Philadelphia, she was loyal to the South during the
Civil War, and found inspiration in its deeds of heroism. _Beechenbrook_
is a rhyme of the war; and though well-nigh forgotten now, it
was read, on its publication in 1865, from the Potomac to the Gulf. Among
her other writings are _Old Songs and New_ and _Cartoons_. Her
poetry is pervaded by a deeply religious spirit, and she repeatedly urges
the lesson of supreme resignation and trust, as in the following lines:--
"What will it matter by-and-by
Whether my path below was bright,
Whether it wound through dark or light,
Under a gray or golden sky,
When I look back on it, by-and-by?
"What will it matter by-and-by
Whether, unhelped, I toiled alone,
Dashing my foot against a stone,
Missing the charge of the angel nigh,
Bidding me think of the by-and-by?
* * * * *
"What will it matter? Naught, if I
Only am sure the way I've trod,
Gloomy or gladdened, leads to God,
Questioning not of the how, the why,
If I but reach Him by-and-by.
"What will I care for the unshared sigh,
If in my fear of lapse or fall,
Close I have clung to Christ through all,
Mindless how rough the road might lie,
Sure He will smoothen it by-and-by.
"What will it matter by-and-by?
_Nothing but this_: that Joy or Pain
Lifted me skyward,--helped me to gain,
Whether through rack, or smile, or sigh,
Heaven, home, all in all, by-and-by."
In this rapid sketch of the minor singers of the South, it has been
necessary to omit many names worthy of mention. It is beyond our scope to
speak of the newer race of poets. Here and there delicate notes are
heard, but there is no evidence that a great singer is present among us.
Yet there is no ground for discouragement; the changed conditions and the
new spirit that has come upon our people may reasonably be expected to
lead to higher poetic achievement.
In some respects the South affords a more promising field for literature
than any other part of our country. There is evident decadence in New
England. But the climate and scenery, the history and traditions, and the
chivalrous spirit and unexhausted intellectual energies of the South
contain the promise of an Augustan age in literature. In no insignificant
degree its rich-ored veins have been worked in prose. JOEL CHANDLER
HARRIS has successfully wrought in the mine of negro folk-lore; GEORGE W.
CABLE has portrayed the Creole life of Louisiana; CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK
has pictured the types of character found among the Tennessee mountains;
THOMAS NELSON PAGE has shown us the trials and triumphs of Reconstruction
days; and Miss MARY JOHNSTON has revived the picturesque scenes of
colonial times. There has been an obvious literary awakening in the
South; and sooner or later it will find utterance, let us hope, in some
strong-voiced, great-souled singer.
It is true that there are obstacles to be overcome. There are no literary
magazines in the South to encourage and develop our native talent as in
the days of the _Southern Literary Messenger_. Southern writers are
still dependent upon Northern periodicals, in which they can hardly be
said to find a cordial welcome. It seems that the South in a measure
suffers the obloquy that rested of old upon Nazareth, from which the
Pharisees of the metropolis maintained that no good thing could come.
But the most serious drawback of all is the disfavor into which poetry
has fallen, or rather which it has brought upon itself. In the remoteness
of its themes and sentiments, in its over-anxiety for a faultless or
striking technique, it has erected a barrier between itself and the
sanity of a practical, truth-loving people. Let us hope that this
aberration is not permanent. When poetry returns to simplicity,
sincerity, and truth; when it shall voice, as in the great English
singers, Tennyson and Browning, the deepest thought and aspirations of
our race; when once more, as in the prophetic days of old, it shall
resume its lofty, seer-like office,--then will it be restored to its
place of honor by a delighted and grateful people.
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Poe occupies a peculiar place in American literature. He has been called
our most interesting literary man. He stands alone for his intellectual
brilliancy and his lamentable failure to use it wisely. No one can read
his works intelligently without being impressed with his extraordinary
ability. Whether poetry, criticism, or fiction, he shows extraordinary
power in them all. But the moral element in life is the most important,
and in this Poe was lacking. With him truth was not the first necessity.
He allowed his judgment to be warped by friendship, and apparently
sacrificed sincerity to the vulgar desire of gaining popular applause.
Through intemperate habits, he was unable for any considerable length of
time to maintain himself in a responsible or lucrative position. Fortune
repeatedly opened to him an inviting door; but he constantly and
ruthlessly abused her kindness.
Edgar Allan Poe descended from an honorable ancestry. His grandfather,
David Poe, was a Revolutionary hero, over whose grave, as he kissed the
sod, Lafayette pronounced the words, "_Ici repose un coeur noble_."
His father, an impulsive and wayward youth, fell in love with an English
actress, and forsook the bar for the stage. The couple were duly married,
and acted with moderate success in the principal towns and cities of the
country. It was during an engagement at Boston that the future poet was
born, January 19, 1809. Two years later the wandering pair were again in
Richmond, where within a few weeks of each other they died in poverty.
They left three children, the second of whom, Edgar, was kindly received
into the home of Mr. John Allan, a wealthy merchant of the city.
[Illustration: EDGAR ALLAN POE.]
The early training of Poe was misguided and unfortunate. The boy was
remarkably pretty and precocious, and his foster-parents allowed no
opportunity to pass without showing him off. After dinner in this elegant
and hospitable home, he was frequently placed upon the table to drink to
the health of the guests, and to deliver short declamations, for which he
had inherited a decided talent. He was flattered and fondled and indulged
in every way. Is it strange that under this training he acquired a taste
for strong drink, and became opinionated and perverse?
In 1815 Mr. Allan went to England with his family to spend several years,
and there placed the young Edgar at school in an ancient and historic
town, which has since been swallowed up in the overflow of the great
metropolis. The venerable appearance and associations of the town, as may
be learned from the autobiographic tale of _William Wilson_, made a
deep and lasting impression on the imaginative boy.
After five years spent in this English school, where he learned to read
Latin and to speak French, he was brought back to America, and placed in
a Richmond academy. Without much diligence in study, his brilliancy
enabled him to take high rank in his classes. His skill in verse-making
and in debate made him prominent in the school. He excelled in athletic
exercises, but was not generally popular among his fellow-students.
Conscious of his superior intellectual endowments, he was disposed to
live apart and indulge in moody reverie. According to the testimony of
one who knew him well at this time, he was "self-willed, capricious,
inclined to be imperious, and though of generous impulses, not steadily
kind, or even amiable."
In 1826, at the age of seventeen, Poe matriculated at the University of
Virginia, and entered the schools of ancient and modern languages. Though
he attended his classes with a fair degree of regularity, he was not slow
in joining the fast set. Gambling seems to have become a passion with
him, and he lost heavily. His reckless expenditures led Mr. Allan to
visit Charlottesville for the purpose of inquiring into his habits. The
result appears not to have been satisfactory; and though his adopted son
won high honors in Latin and French, Mr. Allan refused to allow him to
return to the university after the close of his first session, and placed
him in his own counting-room.
It is not difficult to foresee the next step in the drama before us. Many
a genius of far greater self-restraint and moral earnestness has found
the routine of business almost intolerably irksome. With high notions of
his own ability, and with a temper rebellious to all restraint, Poe soon
broke away from his new duties, and started out to seek his fortune. He
went to Boston; and, in eager search for fame and money, he resorted to
the rather unpromising expedient of publishing, in 1827, a small volume
of poems. Viewed in the light of his subsequent career, the volume gives
here and there an intimation of the author's genius; but, as was to be
expected, it attracted but little attention. He was soon reduced to
financial straits, and in his pressing need he enlisted, under an assumed
name, in the United States army. He served at Fort Moultrie, and
afterward at Fortress Monroe. He rose to the rank of sergeant major; and,
according to the testimony of his superiors, he was "exemplary in his
deportment, prompt and faithful in the discharge of his duties."
In 1829, when his heart was softened by the death of his wife, Mr. Allan
became reconciled to his adopted but wayward son. Through his influence,
young Poe secured a discharge from the army, and obtained an appointment
as cadet at West Point. He entered the military academy July 1, 1830,
and, as usual, established a reputation for brilliancy and folly. He was
reserved, exclusive, discontented, and censorious. As described by a
classmate, "He was an accomplished French scholar, and had a wonderful
aptitude for mathematics, so that he had no difficulty in preparing his
recitations in his class, and in obtaining the highest marks in these
departments. He was a devourer of books; but his great fault was his
neglect of and apparent contempt for military duties. His wayward and
capricious temper made him at times utterly oblivious or indifferent to
the ordinary routine of roll call, drills, and guard duties. These habits
subjected him often to arrest and punishment, and effectually prevented
his learning or discharging the duties of a soldier." The final result
may be easily anticipated: at the end of six months, he was summoned
before a court-martial, tried, and expelled.
Before leaving West Point, Poe arranged for the publication of a volume
of poetry, which appeared in New York in 1831. This volume, to which the
students of the academy subscribed liberally in advance, is noteworthy in
several particulars. In a prefatory letter Poe lays down the poetic
principle to which he endeavored to conform his productions. It throws
much light on his poetry by exhibiting the ideal at which he aimed. "A
poem, in my opinion," he says, "is opposed to a work of science by having
for its _immediate_ object pleasure, not truth; to romance, by
having for its object an _indefinite_ instead of a definite
pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance
presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with _in_
definite sensations, to which end music is an _essential_, since the
comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music,
when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea
is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very
definiteness." Music embodied in a golden mist of thought and sentiment--
this is Poe's poetic ideal.
As illustrative of his musical rhythm, the following lines from _Al
Aaraaf_ may be given:--
My beautiful one!
Whose harshest idea
Will to melody run,
O! is it thy will
On the breezes to toss?
Or, capriciously still,
Like the lone Albatross,
Incumbent on night
(As she on the air)
To keep watch with delight
On the harmony there?"
Or take the last stanza of _Israfel:_--
"If I could dwell
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky."
The two principal poems in the volume under consideration--_Al
Aaraaf_ and _Tamerlane_--are obvious imitations of Moore and
Byron. The beginning of _Al Aaraaf_, for example, might easily be
mistaken for an extract from _Lalla Rookh_, so similar are the
rhythm and rhyme:--
"O! nothing earthly save the ray
(Thrown back from flowers) of Beauty's eye,
As in those gardens where the day
Springs from the gems of Circassy--
O! nothing earthly save the thrill
Of melody in woodland rill--
Or (music of the passion-hearted)
Joy's voice so peacefully departed
That, like the murmur in the shell,
Its echo dwelleth and will dwell--
Oh, nothing of the dross of ours--
Yet all the beauty--all the flowers
That list our Love, and deck our bowers--
Adorn yon world afar, afar--
The wandering star."
After his expulsion from West Point, Poe appears to have gone to
Richmond; but the long-suffering of Mr. Allan, who had married again
after the death of his first wife, was at length exhausted. He refused to
extend any further recognition to one whom he had too much reason to
regard as unappreciative and undeserving. Accordingly Poe was thrown upon
his own resources for a livelihood. He settled in Baltimore, where he had
a few acquaintances and friends, and entered upon that literary career
which is without parallel in American literature for its achievements,
its vicissitudes, and its sorrows. With no qualification for the struggle
of life other than intellectual brilliancy, he bitterly atoned, through
disappointment and suffering, for his defects of temper, lack of
judgment, and habits of intemperance.
In 1833 the Baltimore _Saturday Visitor_ offered a prize of one
hundred dollars for the best prose story. This prize Poe won by his tale,
_A Ms. Found in a Bottle_. This success may be regarded as the first
step in his literary career. The ability displayed in this fantastic tale
brought him to the notice of John P. Kennedy, Esq., who at once
befriended him in his distress, and aided him in his literary projects.
He gave Poe, whom he found in extreme poverty, free access to his home
and, to use his own words, "brought him up from the very verge of
After a year or more of hack work in Baltimore, Poe, through the
influence of his kindly patron, obtained employment on the _Southern
Literary Messenger_, and removed to Richmond in 1835. Here he made a
brilliant start; life seemed to open before him full of promise. In a
short time he was promoted to the editorship of the _Messenger_, and
by his tales, poems, and especially his reviews, he made that periodical
very popular. In a twelve-month he increased its subscription list from
seven hundred to nearly five thousand, and made the magazine a rival of
the _Knickerbocker_ and the _New Englander_. He was loudly
praised by the Southern press, and was generally regarded as one of the
foremost writers of the day.
In the _Messenger_ Poe began his work as a critic. It is hardly
necessary to say that his criticism was of the slashing kind. He became
little short of a terror. With a great deal of critical acumen and a fine
artistic sense, he made relentless war on pretentious mediocrity, and
rendered good service to American letters by enforcing higher literary
standards. He was lavish in his charges of plagiarism; and he made use of
cheap, second-hand learning in order to ridicule the pretended
scholarship of others. He often affected an irritating and contemptuous
superiority. But with all his humbug and superciliousness, his critical
estimates, in the main, have been sustained.
The bright prospects before Poe were in a few months ruthlessly blighted.
Perhaps he relied too much on his genius and reputation. It is easy for
men of ability to overrate their importance. Regarding himself, perhaps,
as indispensable to the _Messenger_, he may have relaxed in vigilant
self-restraint. It has been claimed that he resigned the editorship in
order to accept a more lucrative offer in New York; but the sad truth
seems to be that he was dismissed on account of his irregular habits.
After eighteen months in Richmond, during which he had established a
brilliant literary reputation, Poe was again turned adrift. He went to
New York, where his story, _The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym_,
was published by the Harpers in 1838. It is a tale of the sea, written
with the simplicity of style and circumstantiality of detail that give
such charm to the works of Defoe. In spite of the fact that Cooper and
Marryat had created a taste for sea-tales, this story never became
popular. It is superabundant in horrors--a vein that had a fatal
fascination for the morbid genius of Poe.
The same year in which this story appeared, Poe removed to Philadelphia,
where he soon found work on the _Gentleman's Magazine_, recently
established by the comedian Burton. He soon rose to the position of
editor-in-chief, and his talents proved of great value to the magazine.
His tales and critiques rapidly increased its circulation. But the actor,
whose love of justice does him great credit, could not approve of his
editor's sensational criticism. In a letter written when their cordial
relations were interrupted for a time, Burton speaks very plainly and
positively: "I cannot permit the magazine to be made a vehicle for that
sort of severity which you think is so 'successful with the mob. I am
truly much less anxious about making a monthly 'sensation' than I am upon
the point of fairness.... You say the people love havoc. I think they
love justice." Poe did not profit by his experience at Richmond, and
after a few months he was dismissed for neglect of duty.
He was out of employment but a short time. In November, 1840, _Graham's
Magazine_ was established, and Poe appointed editor. At no other
period of his life did his genius appear to better advantage. Thrilling
stories and trenchant criticisms followed one another in rapid
succession. His articles on autography and cryptology attracted
widespread attention. In the former he attempted to illustrate character
by the handwriting; and in the latter he maintained that human ingenuity
cannot invent a cipher that human ingenuity cannot resolve. In the course
of a few months the circulation of the magazine (if its own statements
may be trusted) increased from eight thousand to forty thousand--a
remarkable circulation for that time.
His criticism was based on the rather violent assumption "that, as a
literary people, we are one vast perambulating humbug." In most cases, he
asserted, literary prominence was achieved "by the sole means of a
blustering arrogance, or of a busy wriggling conceit, or of the most
bare-faced plagiarism, or even through the simple immensity of its
assumptions." These fraudulent reputations he undertook, "with the help
of a hearty good will" (which no one will doubt) "to tumble down." He
admitted that there were a few who rose above absolute "idiocy." "Mr.
Bryant is not _all_ a fool. Mr. Willis is not _quite_ an ass.
Mr. Longfellow _will_ steal but, perhaps, he cannot help it (for we
have heard of such things), and then it must not be denied that _nil
tetigit quod non ornavit_." But, in spite of such reckless and
extravagant assertion, there was still too much acumen and force in his
reviews for them to be treated with indifference or contempt.
In about eighteen months Poe's connection with Graham was dissolved. The
reason has not been made perfectly clear; but from what we already know,
it is safe to charge it to Poe's infirmity of temper or of habit. His
protracted sojourn in Philadelphia was now drawing to a close. It had
been the most richly productive, as well as the happiest, period of his
life. For a time, sustained by appreciation and hope, he in a measure
overcame his intemperate habits. Griswold, his much-abused biographer,
has given us an interesting description of him and his home at this time:
"His manner, except during his fits of intoxication, was very quiet and
gentlemanly; he was usually dressed with simplicity and elegance; and
when once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused
by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was
impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement in his home.
It was in a small house, in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods
far from the center of the town; and, though slightly and cheaply
furnished, everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it
seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius."
It was during his residence in Philadelphia that Poe wrote his choicest
stories. Among the masterpieces of this period are to be mentioned _The
Fall of the House of Usher_, _Ligeia_, which he regarded as his
best tale _The Descent into the Maelstrom_, _The Murders in the
Rue Morgue_, and _The Mystery of Marie Roget_. The general
character of his tales may be inferred from their titles. Poe delighted
in the weird, fantastic, dismal, horrible. There is no warmth of human
sympathy, no moral consciousness, no lessons of practical wisdom. His
tales are the product of a morbid but powerful imagination. His style is
in perfect keeping with his peculiar gifts. He had a highly developed
artistic sense. By his air of perfect candor, his minuteness of detail,
and his power of graphic description, he gains complete mastery over the
soul, and leads us almost to believe the impossible. Within the limited
range of his imagination (for he was by no means the universal genius he
fancied himself to be) he is unsurpassed, perhaps, by any other American
Poe's career had now reached its climax, and after a time began its rapid
descent. In 1844 he moved to New York, where for a year or two his life
did not differ materially from what it had been in Philadelphia. He
continued to write his fantastic tales, for which he was poorly paid, and
to do editorial work, by which he eked out a scanty livelihood. He was
employed by N. P. Willis for a few months on the _Evening Mirror_ as
sub-editor and critic, and was regularly "at his desk from nine in the
morning till the paper went to press."
It was in this paper, January 29, 1845, that his greatest poem, _The
Raven_, was published with a flattering commendation by Willis. It
laid hold of the popular fancy; and, copied throughout the length and
breadth of the land, it met a reception never before accorded to an
American poem. Abroad its success was scarcely less remarkable and
decisive. "This vivid writing," wrote Mrs. Browning, "this power _which
is felt_, has produced a sensation here in England. Some of my friends
are taken by the fear of it, and some by the music. I hear of persons who
are haunted by the 'Nevermore'; and an acquaintance of mine, who has the
misfortune of possessing a bust of Pallas, cannot bear to look at it in
In 1845 Poe was associated with the management of the _Broadway
Journal_, which in a few months passed entirely into his hands. He had
long desired to control a periodical of his own, and in Philadelphia had
tried to establish a magazine. But, however brilliant as an editor, he
was not a man of administrative ability; and in three months he was
forced to suspend publication for want of means. Shortly afterward he
published in Godey's _Lady's Book_ a series of critical papers
entitled _Literati of New York_. The papers, usually brief, are
gossipy, interesting, sensational, with an occasional lapse into
contemptuous and exasperating severity.
In the same year he published a tolerably complete edition of his poems
in the revised form in which they now appear in his works. The volume
contained nearly all the poems upon which his poetic fame justly rests.
Among those that may be regarded as embodying his highest poetic
achievement are _The Raven_, _Lenore_, _Ulalume_, _The
Bells_, _Annabel Lee_, _The Haunted Palace_, _The
Conqueror Worm_, _The City in the Sea_, _Eulalie_, and
_Israfel_. Rarely has so large a fame rested on so small a number of
poems, and rested so securely. His range of themes, it will be noticed,
is very narrow. As in his tales, he dwells in a weird, fantastic, or
desolate region--usually under the shadow of death. He conjures up
unearthly landscapes as a setting for his gloomy and morbid fancies. In
_The City in the Sea_, for example:--
"There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie."
He conformed his poetic efforts to his theory that a poem should be
short. He maintained that the phrase "'a long poem' is simply a flat
contradiction in terms." His strong artistic sense gave him a firm
mastery over form. He constantly uses alliteration, assonance,
repetition, and refrain. These artifices form an essential part of _The
Raven_, _Lenore_, and _The Bells_. In his poems, as in his
tales, Poe was less anxious to set forth an experience or a truth than to
make an impression. His poetry aims at beauty in a purely artistic sense,
unassociated with truth or morals. It is, for the most part, singularly
vague, unsubstantial, and melodious. Some of his poems--and precisely
those in which his genius finds its highest expression--defy complete
analysis. _Ulalume_, for instance, remains obscure after the
twentieth perusal--its meaning lost in a haze of mist and music. Yet
these poems, when read in a sympathetic mood, never fail of their effect.
They are genuine creations; and, as a fitting expression of certain
mental states, they possess an indescribable charm, something like the
spell of the finest instrumental music. There is no mistaking Poe's
poetic genius. Though not the greatest, he is still the most original, of
our poets, and has fairly earned the high esteem in which his gifts are
held in America and Europe.
During his stay in New York, Poe was often present in the literary
gatherings of the metropolis. He was sometimes accompanied by his sweet,
affectionate, invalid wife, whom in her fourteenth year he had married in
Richmond. According to Griswold, "His conversation was at times almost
supramortal in its eloquence. His voice was modulated with astonishing
skill; and his large and variably expressive eyes looked repose or shot
fiery tumult into theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was
changeless in pallor, as his imagination quickened his blood or drew it
back frozen to his heart." His writings are unstained by a single immoral
Toward the latter part of his sojourn in New York, the hand of poverty
and want pressed upon him sorely. The failing health of his wife, to whom
his tender devotion is beyond all praise, was a source of deep and
constant anxiety. For a time he became an object of charity--a
humiliation that was exceedingly galling to his delicately sensitive
nature. To a sympathetic friend, who lent her kindly aid in this time of
need, we owe a graphic but pathetic picture of Poe's home shortly before
the death of his almost angelic wife: "There was no clothing on the bed,
which was only straw, but a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The
weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that
accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay on the straw bed,
wrapped in her husband's great-coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in
her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness.
The coat and the cat were the sufferer's only means of warmth, except as
her husband held her hands, and her mother her feet." She died January
After this event Poe was never entirely himself again. The immediate
effect of his bereavement was complete physical and mental prostration,
from which he recovered only with difficulty. His subsequent literary
work deserves scarcely more than mere mention. His _Eureka_, an
ambitious treatise, the immortality of which he confidently predicted,
was a disappointment and failure. He tried lecturing, but with only
moderate success. His correspondence at this time reveals a broken,
hysterical, hopeless man. In his weakness, loneliness, and sorrow, he
resorted to stimulants with increasing frequency. Their terrible work was
soon done. On his return from a visit to Richmond, he stopped in
Baltimore, where he died from the effects of drinking, October 7, 1849.
Thus ended the tragedy of his life. It is as depressing as one of his own
morbid, fantastic tales. His career leaves a painful sense of
incompleteness and loss. With greater self-discipline, how much more he
might have accomplished for himself and for others! Gifted, self-willed,
proud, passionate, with meager moral sense, he forfeited success by his
perversity and his vices. From his own character and experience he drew
the unhealthy and pessimistic views to which he has given expression in
the maddening poem, _The Conqueror Worm_. And if there were not
happier and nobler lives, we might well say with him, as we stand by his
"Out--out are the lights--out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy 'Man,'
And its hero the Conqueror Worm."
[Illustration: PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE.]
PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE
The poetry of Paul Hamilton Hayne is characterized by a singular delicacy
of sentiment and expression. There is an utter absence of what is gross
or commonplace. His poetry, as a whole, carries with it an atmosphere of
high-bred refinement. We recognize at once fineness of fiber and of
culture. It could not well be otherwise; for the poet traced the line of
his ancestors to the cultured nobility of England, and, surrounded by
wealth, was brought up in the home of Southern chivalry.
The aristocratic lineage of the Hayne family was not reflected in its
political feelings and affiliations in this country. They were not
Tories; on the contrary, from the colonial days down to the Civil War
they showed themselves stoutly democratic. The Haynes were, in a measure,
to South Carolina what the Adamses and Quincys were to Massachusetts. A
chivalrous uncle of the poet, Colonel Arthur P. Hayne, fought in three
wars, and afterwards entered the United States Senate. Another uncle,
Governor Robert Y. Hayne, was a distinguished statesman, who did not fear
to cross swords with Webster in the most famous debate, perhaps, of our
national history. The poet's father was a lieutenant in the United States
navy, and died at sea when his gifted son was still an infant. These
patriotic antecedents were not without influence on the life and writings
of the poet.
In the existing biographical sketches of Hayne we find little or no
mention of his mother. This neglect is undeserved. She was a cultured
woman of good English and Scotch ancestry. It was her hand that had the
chief fashioning of the young poet's mind and heart. She transmitted to
him his poetic temperament; and when his muse began its earliest flights,
she encouraged him with appreciative words and ambitious hopes. Hayne's
poems are full of autobiographic elements; and in one, entitled _To My
Mother_, he says:--
"To thee my earliest verse I brought,
All wreathed in loves and roses,
Some glowing boyish fancy, fraught
With tender May-wind closes;
_Thou_ didst not taunt my fledgling song,
Nor view its flight with scorning:
'The bird,' thou saidst, 'grown fleet and strong,
Might yet outsoar the morning!'"
Paul Hamilton Hayne was born in Charleston, South Carolina, January 1,
1830. At that time Charleston was the literary center of the South. Among
its wealthy and aristocratic circles there, was a literary group of
unusual gifts. Calhoun and Legare were there; and William Gilmore Simms,
a man of great versatility, gathered about him a congenial literary
circle, in which we find Hayne and his scarcely less distinguished
friend, Henry Timrod.
Hayne was graduated with distinction from Charleston College in 1850,
receiving a prize for superiority in English composition and elocution.
He then studied law; but, like many other authors both North and South,
the love of letters proved too strong for the practice of his profession.
His literary bent, as with most of our gifted authors, manifested itself
early, and even in his college days he became a devotee of the poetic
muse. The ardor of his devotion found expression in one of his early
poems, first called _Aspirations_, but in his later works appearing
under the title of _The Will and the Wing_:--
"Yet would I rather in the outward state
Of Song's immortal temple lay me down,
A beggar basking by that radiant gate,
Than bend beneath the haughtiest empire's crown.
"For sometimes, through the bars, my ravished eyes
Have caught brief glimpses of a life divine,
And seen a far, mysterious rapture rise
Beyond the veil that guards the inmost shrine."
Hayne served his literary apprenticeship in connection with several
periodicals. He was a favorite contributor to the _Southern Literary
Messenger_, for many years published in Richmond, Virginia, and
deservedly ranking as the best monthly issued in the South before the
Civil War. He was one of the editors of the _Southern Literary
Gazette_, a weekly published in his native city. Afterwards, as a
result of a plan devised at one of Simms's literary dinners, _Russell's
Magazine_, with Hayne as editor, was established, to use the language
of the first number, as "another depository for Southern genius, and a
new incentive, as we hope, for its active exercise." It was a monthly of
high excellence for the time; but for lack of adequate support it
suspended publication after an honorable career of two years.
An article in _Russell's Magazine_ for August, 1857, elaborately
discusses the ante-bellum discouragements to authorship in the South.
Indifference, ignorance, and prejudice, the article asserted, were
encountered on every hand. "It may happen to be only a volume of noble
poetry, full of those universal thoughts and feelings which speak, not to
a particular people, but to all mankind. It is censured, at the South, as
not sufficiently Southern in spirit, while at the North it is pronounced
a very fair specimen of Southern commonplace. Both North and South agree
with one mind to condemn the author and forget his book."
Hayne's critical work as editor of _Russell's Magazine_ is worthy of
note. In manly independence of judgment, though not in ferocity of style,
he resembled Poe. He prided himself on conscientious loyalty to literary
art. He disclaimed all sympathy with that sectional spirit which has
sometimes lauded a work merely for geographical reasons; and in the
critical reviews of his magazine he did not hesitate to point out and
censure crudeness in Southern writers. But, at the same time, it was a
more pleasing task to his generous nature to recognize and praise
artistic excellence wherever he found it.
As a critic Hayne was, perhaps, severest to himself. His poetic standards
were high. In his maturer years he blamed the precipitancy with which, as
a youth, he had rushed into print. There is an interesting marginal note,
as his son tells us, in a copy of his first volume of verse, in which
_The Cataract_ is pronounced "the poorest piece in the volume.
Boyish and bombastic! Should have been whipped for publishing it!" It is
needless to say that the piece does not appear in his _Complete
Poems_. This severity of self-criticism, which exacted sincerity of
utterance, has imparted a rare average excellence to his work.
In 1852 he married Miss Mary Middleton Michel, of Charleston, the
daughter of a distinguished French physician. Rarely has a union been
more happy. In the days of his prosperity she was an inspiration; and in
the long years of poverty and sickness that came later she was his
comfort and stay. In his poem, _The Bonny Brown Hand_, there is a
reflection of the love that glorified the toil and ills of this later
"Oh, drearily, how drearily, the sombre eve comes down!
And wearily, how wearily, the seaboard breezes blow!
But place your little hand in mine--so dainty, yet so brown!
For household toil hath worn away its rosy-tinted snow;
But I fold it, wife, the nearer,
And I feel, my love, 'tis dearer
Than all dear things of earth,
As I watch the pensive gloaming,
And my wild thoughts cease from roaming,
And birdlike furl their pinions close beside our peaceful hearth;
Then rest your little hand in mine, while twilight shimmers down,
That little hand, that fervent hand, that hand of bonny brown--
The hand that holds an honest heart, and rules a happy hearth."
Two small volumes of Hayne's poetry appeared before the Civil War from
the press of Ticknor & Co., Boston. They were made up chiefly of pieces
contributed to the _Southern Literary Messenger_, _Russsell's
Magazine_, and other periodicals in the South. The first volume
appeared in 1855, and the second in 1859. These volumes were well worthy
of the favorable reception they met with, and encouraged the poet to
dedicate himself more fully to his art. In the fullness of this
dedication, he reminds us of Longfellow, Tennyson, and Wordsworth, all of
whom he admired and loved.
Few first volumes of greater excellence have ever appeared in this
country. The judicious critic was at once able to recognize the presence
of a genuine singer. The poet rises above the obvious imitation that was
a common vice among Southern singers before the Civil War. We may indeed
perceive the influence of Tennyson in the delicacy of the craftsmanship,
and the influence of Wordsworth in the deep and sympathetic treatment of
Nature; but Hayne's study of these great bards had been transmuted into
poetic culture, and is reflected only in the superior quality of his
work. There is no case of conscious or obvious imitation.
The volume of 1859, which bears the title _Avolio and Other Poems_,
exhibits the poet's fondness for the sonnet and his admirable skill in
its use. Throughout his subsequent poetical career, he frequently chose
the sonnet as the medium for expressing his choicest thought. It is
hardly too much to claim that Hayne is the prince of American sonneteers.
The late Maurice Thompson said that he could pick out twenty of Hayne's
sonnets equal to almost any others in our language. In the following
sonnet, which is quoted by way of illustration, the poet gives us the key
to a large part of his work. He was a worshiper of beauty; and the
singleness of this devotion gives him his distinctive place in our poetic
"Pent in this common sphere of sensual shows,
I pine for beauty; beauty of fresh mien,
And gentle utterance, and the charm serene,
Wherewith the hue of mystic dreamland glows;
I pine for lulling music, the repose
Of low-voiced waters, in some realm between
The perfect Adenne, and this clouded scene
Of love's sad loss, and passion's mournful throes;
A pleasant country, girt with twilight calm,
In whose fair heaven a moon of shadowy round
Wades through a fading fall of sunset rain;
Where drooping lotos-flowers, distilling balm,
Gleam by the drowsy streamlets sleep hath crown'd,
While Care forgets to sigh, and Peace hath balsamed pain."
The great civil conflict of '61-'65 naturally stirred the poet's heart.
He was a patriotic son of the South. On the breaking out of hostilities,
he became a member of Governor Pickens's staff, and was stationed for a
time in Fort Sumter; but after a brief service he was forced to resign on
account of failing health. His principal service to the Southern cause
was rendered in his martial songs, which breathe a lofty, patriotic
spirit. They are remarkable at once for their dignity of manner and
refinement of utterance. There is an entire absence of the fierceness
that is to be found in some of Whittier's and Timrod's sectional lyrics.
Hayne lacked the fierce energy of a great reformer or partisan leader.
But nowhere else do we find a heart more sensitive to grandeur of
achievement or pathos of incident. He recognized the unsurpassed heroism
of sentiment and achievement displayed in the war; and in an admirable
sonnet, he exclaims:--
"Ah, foolish souls and false! who loudly cried
'True chivalry no longer breathes in time.'
Look round us now; how wondrous, how sublime
The heroic lives we witness; far and wide
Stern vows by sterner deeds are justified;
Self-abnegation, calmness, courage, power,
Sway, with a rule august, our stormy hour,
Wherein the loftiest hearts have wrought and died--
Wrought grandly, and died smiling. Thus, O God,
From tears, and blood, and anguish, thou hast brought
The ennobling act, the faith-sustaining thought--
Till, in the marvelous present, one may see
A mighty stage, by knights and patriots trod,
Who had not shunned earth's haughtiest chivalry."
The war brought the poet disaster. His beautiful home and the library he
has celebrated in a noble sonnet were destroyed in the bombardment of
Charleston. The family silver, which had been stored in Columbia for
safe-keeping, was lost in Sherman's famous "march to the sea." His native
state was in desolation; his friends, warm and true with the fidelity
which a common disaster brings, were generally as destitute and helpless
as himself. Under these disheartening circumstances, rendered still more
gloomy by the ruthless deeds of reconstruction, he withdrew to the pine
barrens of Georgia, where, eighteen miles from Augusta, he built a very
plain and humble cottage. He christened it Copse Hill; and it was here,
on a desk fashioned out of a workbench left by the carpenters, that many
of his choicest pieces, reflecting credit on American letters, and
earning for him a high place among American poets, were written.
This modest home, which from its steep hillside--
"Catches morn's earliest and eve's latest glow,"--
the poet has commemorated in a sonnet, which gives us a glimpse of the
quiet, rural scenes that were dear to his heart:--
"Here, far from worldly strife, and pompous show,
The peaceful seasons glide serenely by,
Fulfill their missions, and as calmly die,
As waves on quiet shores when winds are low.
Fields, lonely paths, the one small glimmering rill
That twinkles like a wood-fay's mirthful eye,
Under moist bay leaves, clouds fantastical
That float and change at the light breeze's will,--
To me, thus lapped in sylvan luxury,
Are more than death of kings, or empires' fall."
His son, Mr. W. H. Hayne, has thrown an interesting light upon the poet's
methods of composition. Physical movement seemed favorable to his poetic
faculty; and many of his pieces were composed as he paced to and fro in
his study, or walked with stooping shoulders beneath the trees
surrounding Copse Hill. He was not mechanical or systematic in his poetic
work, but followed the impulse of inspiration. "The poetic impulse," his
son tells us, "frequently came to him so spontaneously as to demand
immediate utterance, and he would turn to the fly leaf of the book in
hand or on a neighboring shelf, and his pencil would soon record the
lines, or fragments of lines, that claimed release from his brain. The
labor of revision usually followed,--sometimes promptly, but not
infrequently after the fervor of conception had passed away." The
painstaking care with which the revising was done is revealed in the
artistic finish of almost every poem.
Hayne's life at this time was truly heroic. With uncomplaining fortitude
he met the hardships of poverty and bore the increasing ills of failing
health. He never lost hope and courage. He lived the poetry that he
"Still smiles the brave soul, undivorced from hope;
And, with unwavering eye and warrior mien,
Walks in the shadow dauntless and serene,
To test, through hostile years, the utmost scope
Of man's endurance--constant, to essay
All heights of patience free to feet of clay."
And in the end he was not disappointed. Gradually his genius gained
general recognition. The leading magazines of the country were opened to
him; and, as Stedman remarks, "his people regarded him with a tenderness
which, if a commensurate largess had been added, would have made him feel
less solitary among his pines."
In 1872 a volume of _Legends and Lyrics_ was issued by Lippincott &
Co. It shows the poet's genius in the full power of maturity. His legends
are admirably told, and _Aethra_ is a gem of its kind. But the
richness of Hayne's imagination was better suited to lyric than to
narrative or dramatic poetry. The latter, indeed, abounds in rare beauty
of thought and expression; but somehow this luxuriance seems to retard or
obscure the movement. The lyric pieces of this volume are full of self-
revelation, autobiography, and Southern landscape. Hayne was not an
apostle of the strenuous life; he preferred to dream among the beauties
or sublimities of Nature. Thus, in _Dolce far Niente_, he says:--
"Let the world roll blindly on!
Give me shadow, give me sun,
And a perfumed eve as this is:
Let me lie
Where the last quick sunbeams shiver
Spears of light athwart the river,
And a breeze, which seems the sigh
Of a fairy floating by,
Tender leaf and feathered grasses;
Yet so soft its breathing passes,
These tall ferns, just glimmering o'er me,
Blending goldenly before me,
The well-known friendship existing between Hayne and his brother poet
Timrod was a beautiful one. As schoolboys they had encouraged each other
in poetic efforts. As editor of _Russell's Magazine_, Hayne had
welcomed and praised Timrod's contributions. For the edition of Timrod's
poems published in 1873, Hayne prepared a generous and beautiful memoir,
in which he quoted the opinion of some Northern writers who assigned the
highest place to his friend among the poets of the South. In the
_Legends and Lyrics_ there is a fine poem, _Under the Pine_,
commemorative of Timrod's visit to Copse Hill shortly before his death:--
"O Tree! against thy mighty trunk he laid
His weary head; thy shade
Stole o'er him like the first cool spell of sleep:
It brought a peace _so_ deep,
The unquiet passion died from out his eyes,
As lightnings from stilled skies.
"And in that calm he loved to rest, and hear
The soft wind-angels, clear
And sweet, among the uppermost branches sighing:
Voices he heard replying
(Or so he dreamed) far up the mystic height,
And pinions rustling light."
As illustrating his rich fancy and graphic power of diction, a few
stanzas are given from _Cloud Pictures_. They are not unworthy of
Tennyson in his happiest moments.
"At calm length I lie
Fronting the broad blue spaces of the sky,
Covered with cloud-groups, softly journeying by:
"An hundred shapes, fantastic, beauteous, strange,
Are theirs, as o'er yon airy waves they range
At the wind's will, from marvelous change to change:
"Castles, with guarded roof, and turret tall,
Great sloping archway, and majestic wall,
Sapped by the breezes to their noiseless fall!
"Pagodas vague! above whose towers outstream
Banners that wave with motions of a dream--
Rising or drooping in the noontide gleam;
"Gray lines of Orient pilgrims: a gaunt band
On famished camels, o'er the desert sand
Plodding towards their prophet's Holy Land;
"Mid-ocean,--and a shoal of whales at play,
Lifting their monstrous frontlets to the day,
Through rainbow arches of sun-smitten spray;
"Followed by splintered icebergs, vast and lone,
Set in swift currents of some arctic zone,
Like fragments of a Titan world o'erthrown."
In 1882 a complete edition of Hayne's poems was published by D. Lothrop &
Co. Except a few poems written after that date and still uncollected,
this edition contains his later productions, in which we discover an
increasing seriousness, richness, and depth. The general range of
subjects, as in his earlier volumes, is limited to his Southern
environment and individual experience. This limitation is the severest
charge that can be brought against his poetry, but, at the same time, it
is an evidence of his sincerity and truth. He did not aspire, as did some
of his great Northern contemporaries, to the office of moralist,
philosopher, or reformer. He was content to dwell in the quiet realm of
beauty as it appears, to use the words of Margaret J. Preston, in the
"aromatic freshness of the woods, the swaying incense of the cathedral-
like isles of pines, the sough of dying summer winds, the glint of lonely
pools, and the brooding notes of leaf-hidden mocking-birds." But the
beauty and pathos of human life were not forgotten; and now and then he
touched upon the great spiritual truths on which the splendid heroism of
his life was built. For delicacy of feeling and perfection of form, his
meditative and religious poems deserve to rank among the best in our
language. They contain what is so often lacking in poetry of this class,
genuine poetic feeling and artistic expression.
The steps of death approached gradually; for, like two other great poets
of the South, Timrod and Lanier, he was not physically strong. Though
sustained through his declining years by "the ultimate trust"--
"That love and mercy, Father, still are thine,"--
he felt a pathetic desire to linger awhile in the love of his tender,
patient, helpful wife:--
"A little while I fain would linger here;
Behold! who knows what soul-dividing bars
Earth's faithful loves may part in other stars?
Nor can love deem the face of death is fair:
A little while I still would linger here."
Paul Hamilton Hayne passed away July 6, 1886. As already brought out in
the course of this sketch, he was not only a gifted singer, but also a
noble man. His extraordinary poetic gifts have not yet been fully
recognized. Less gifted singers have been placed above him. No biography
has been written to record with fond minuteness the story of his
admirable life and achievement. His writings in prose, and a few of his
choicest lyrics, still remain unpublished. Let us hope that this reproach
to Southern letters may soon be removed, and that this laureate of the
South may yet come to the full inheritance of fame to which the children
of genius are inalienably entitled.
In some respects there is a striking similarity in the lives of the three
Southern poets, Hayne, Timrod, and Lanier. They were alike victims of
misfortune, and in their greatest tribulations they exhibited the same
heroic patience and fortitude.
"They knew alike what suffering starts
From fettering need and ceaseless pain;
But still with brave and cheerful hearts,
Whose message hope and joy imparts,
They sang their deathless strain."
The fate of Timrod was the saddest of them all. Gifted with uncommon
genius, he never saw its full fruitage; and over and over again, when
some precious hope seemed about to be realized, it was cruelly dashed to
the ground. There is, perhaps, no sadder story in the annals of
Henry Timrod was born in Charleston, South Carolina, December 28, 1829.
He was older than his friend Hayne by twenty-three days. The law of
heredity seems to find exemplification in his genius. The Timrods, a
family of German descent, were long identified with the history of South
Carolina. The poet's grandfather belonged to the German Fusiliers of
Charleston, a volunteer company organized in 1775, after the battle of
Lexington, for the defense of the American colonies. In the Seminole War,
the poet's father, Captain William Henry Timrod, commanded the German
Fusiliers in Florida. He was a gifted man, whose talents attracted an
admiring circle of friends. "By the simple mastery of genius," says
Hayne, "he gained no trifling influence among the highest intellectual
and social circles of a city noted at that period for aristocratic
[Illustration: HENRY TIMROD.]
Timrod's father was not only an eloquent talker, but also a poet. A
strong intellect was associated with delicate feelings. He had the gift
of musical utterance; and the following verses from his poem, _To Time
--the Old Traveler_, were pronounced by Washington Irving equal to any
lyric written by Tom Moore:--
"They slander thee, Old Traveler,
Who say that thy delight
Is to scatter ruin far and wide,
In thy wantonness of might:
For not a leaf that falleth
Before thy restless wings,
But in thy flight, thou changest it
To a thousand brighter things.
* * * * *
"'Tis true thy progress layeth
Full many a loved one low,
And for the brave and beautiful
Thou hast caused our tears to flow;
But always near the couch of death
Nor thou, nor we can stay;
And the breath of thy departing wings
Dries all our tears away!"
On his mother's side the poet was scarcely less fortunate in his
parentage. She was as beautiful in form and face as in character. From
her more than from his father the poet derived his love of Nature. She
delighted in flowers and trees and stars; she caught the glintings of the
sunshine through the leaves; she felt a thrill of joy at the music of
singing birds and of murmuring waters. With admirable maternal tenderness
she taught her children to discern and appreciate the lovely sights and
sounds of nature.
Timrod received his early education in a Charleston school, where he sat
next to Hayne. He was an ambitious boy, insatiable in his desire for
knowledge; at the same time, he was fond of outdoor sports, and enjoyed
the respect and confidence of his companions. His poetic activity dates
from this period. "I well remember," says Hayne, "the exultation with
which he showed me one morning his earliest consecutive attempt at verse-
making. Our down-East schoolmaster, however, could boast of no turn for
sentiment, and having remarked us hobnobbing, meanly assaulted us in the
rear, effectually quenching for the time all aesthetic enthusiasm."
When sixteen or seventeen years of age he entered the University of
Georgia. He was cramped for lack of means; sickness interfered with his
studies, and at length he was forced to leave the university without his
degree. But his interrupted course was not in vain. His fondness for
literature led him, not only to an intelligent study of Virgil, Horace,
and Catullus, but also to an unusual acquaintance with the leading poets
of England. His pen was not inactive, and some of his college verse,
published over a fictitious signature in a Charleston paper, attracted
After leaving college Timrod returned to Charleston, and entered upon the
study of law in the office of the Hon. J. L. Petigru. But the law was not
adapted to his tastes and talents, and, like Hayne, he early abandoned it
to devote himself to literature. He was timid and retiring in
disposition. "His walk was quick and nervous," says Dr. J. Dickson Bruns,
"with an energy in it that betokened decision of character, but ill
sustained by the stammering speech; for in society he was the shyest and
most undemonstrative of men. To a single friend whom he trusted, he would
pour out his inmost heart; but let two or three be gathered together,
above all, introduce a stranger, and he instantly became a quiet,
unobtrusive listener, though never a moody or uncongenial one."
He aspired to a college professorship, for which he made diligent
preparation in the classics; but in spite of his native abilities and
excellent attainments, he never secured this object of his ambition.
Leaving Charleston, he became a tutor in private families; but on holiday
occasions he was accustomed to return to the city, where he was cordially
welcomed by his friends. Among these was William Gilmore Simms, a sort of
Maecenas to aspiring genius, who gathered about him the younger literary
men of his acquaintance. At the little dinners he was accustomed to give,
no one manifested a keener enjoyment than Timrod, when, in the words of
"Around the social board
The impetuous flood tide poured
Of curbless mirth, and keen sparkling jest
Vanished like wine-foam on its golden crest."
During all these years of toil and waiting the poetic muse was not idle.
Under the pseudonym "Aglaus," the name of a minor pastoral poet of
Greece, he became a frequent and favorite contributor to the _Southern
Literary Messenger_ of Richmond, Virginia. Later he became one of the
principal contributors, both in prose and poetry, to _Russell's
Magazine_ in Charleston. It was in these periodicals that the
foundation of his fame was laid.
Timrod's first volume of poetry, made up of pieces taken chiefly from
these magazines, appeared in 1860, from the press of Ticknor & Fields,
Boston. It was Hayne's judgment that "a better first volume of the kind
has seldom appeared anywhere." It contains most of the pieces found in
subsequent editions of his works. Here and there, both North and South, a
discerning critic recognized in the poet "a lively, delicate fancy, and a
graceful beauty of expression." But, upon the whole, the book attracted
little attention--a fact that came to the poet as a deep disappointment.
In the words of Dr. Bruns, who was familiar with the circumstances of the
poet, "success was to him a bitter need, for not his _living_
merely, but his _life_ was staked upon it."
When this volume appeared, Timrod was more than a poetic tyro. Apart from
native inspiration, in which he was surpassed by few of his
contemporaries, he had reflected profoundly on his art, and nursed his
genius on the masterpieces of English song. In addition to Shakespeare he
had carefully pondered Milton, Wordsworth, and Tennyson. From Wordsworth
especially he learned to appreciate the poetry of common things, and to
discern the mystic presence of that spirit,--
"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man."
Timrod, like Poe, formulated a theory of poetry which it is interesting
to study, as it throws light on his own work. It reveals to us the ideal
at which he aimed. In a famous essay Poe made beauty the sole realm and
end of poetry. To Timrod belongs the credit of setting forth a larger and
juster conception of the poetic art. To beauty he adds _power_ and
_truth_ as legitimate sources of poetry. "I think," he says, "when
we recall the many and varied sources of poetry, we must, perforce,
confess that it is wholly impossible to reduce them all to the simple
element of beauty. Two other elements, at least, must be added, and these
are power, when it is developed in some noble shape, and truth, whether
abstract or not, when it affects the common heart of mankind."
Timrod regarded a poem as a work of art. He justly held that a poem
should have "one purpose, and that the materials of which it is composed
should be so selected and arranged as to help enforce it." He
distinguished between the moment of inspiration, "when the great thought
strikes for the first time along the brain and flushes the cheek with the
sudden revelation of beauty or grandeur, and the hour of patient,
elaborate execution." Accordingly he quoted with approval the lines of
"We cannot kindle when we will
The fire that in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still;
In mystery our soul abides;
But tasks in hours of insight willed,
May be through hours of gloom fulfilled."
Timrod's poetry is characterized by clearness, simplicity, and force. He
was not a mystic; his thoughts and emotions are not obscured in voluble
melody. To him poetry is more than rhythmic harmony. Beneath his delicate
imagery and rhythmical sweetness are poured treasures of thought and
truth. In diction he belongs to the school of Wordsworth; his language is
not strained or farfetched, but such as is natural to cultured men in a
state of emotion. "Poetry," he says in an early volume of _Russell's
Magazine_, "does not deal in abstractions. However abstract be his
thought, the poet is compelled, by his passion-fused imagination, to give
it life, form, or color. Hence the necessity of employing the _sensuous
or concrete_ words of the language, and hence the exclusion of long
words, which in English are nearly all purely and austerely
_abstract_, from the poetic vocabulary."
He defends the use of the sonnet, in which, like Hayne, he excelled. He
admits that the sonnet is artificial in structure; but, as already
pointed out, he distinguishes the moment of inspiration, from the
subsequent labor of composition. In the act of writing, the poet passes
into the artist. And "the very restriction so much complained of in the
sonnet," he says, "the artist knows to be an advantage. It forces him to
condensation." His sonnets are characterized by a rare lucidity of
thought and expression.
The principal piece in Timrod's first volume, to which we now return, and
the longest poem he ever wrote, is entitled _A Vision of Poesy_. In
the experience of the imaginative hero, who seems an idealized portrait
of the poet himself, we find an almost unequaled presentation of the
nature and uses of poetry. The spirit of Poesy, "the angel of the earth,"
thus explains her lofty mission:--
"And ever since that immemorial hour
When the glad morning stars together sung,
My task hath been, beneath a mightier Power,
To keep the world forever fresh and young;
I give it not its fruitage and its green,
But clothe it with a glory all unseen."
And what are the objects on which this angel of Poesy loves to dwell?
Truth, freedom, passion, she answers, and--
"All lovely things, and gentle--the sweet laugh
Of children, girlhood's kiss, and friendship's clasp,
The boy that sporteth with the old man's staff,
The baby, and the breast its fingers grasp--
All that exalts the grounds of happiness,
All griefs that hallow, and all joys that bless,
"To me are sacred; at my holy shrine
Love breathes its latest dreams, its earliest hints;
I turn life's tasteless waters into wine,
And flush them through and through with purple tints.
Wherever earth is fair, and heaven looks down,
I rear my altars, and I wear my crown."
Many of the poems in this first volume are worthy of note, as revealing
some phase of the poet's versatile gifts--delicate fancy, simplicity and
truth, lucid force, or finished art. _The Lily Confidante_, is a
light, lilting fancy, the moral of which is:--
"Love's the lover's only magic,
Truth the very subtlest art;
Love that feigns, and lips that flatter,
Win no modest heart."
_The Past_ was first published in the _Southern Literary
Messenger_, and afterwards went the rounds of the press. It teaches
the important truth that we are the sum of all we have lived through. The
past forms the atmosphere which we breathe today; it is--
"A shadowy land, where joy and sorrow kiss,
Each still to each corrective and relief,
Where dim delights are brightened into bliss,
And nothing wholly perishes but grief.
"Ah me!--not dies--no more than spirit dies;
But in a change like death is clothed with wings;
A serious angel, with entranced eyes,
Looking to far-off and celestial things."
Timrod possessed an ardent spirit that was stirred to its depths by the
Civil War. His martial songs, with their fierce intensity, better voiced
the feelings of the South at that time than those of Hayne or any other
Southern singer. In his _Ethnogenesis_--the birth of a nation--he
celebrates in a lofty strain the rise of the Confederacy, of which he
cherished large and generous hopes:--
Whereby we shall be known in every land
Is that vast gulf which lips our Southern strand,
And through the cold, untempered ocean pours
Its genial streams, that far off Arctic shores
May sometimes catch upon the softened breeze
Strange tropic warmth and hints of summer seas."
But his most stirring lyrics are _Carolina_ and _A Cry to
Arms_, which in the exciting days of '61 deeply moved the Southern
heart, but which today serve as melancholy mementos of a long-past
sectional bitterness. Of the vigorous lines of the former, Hayne says in
an interesting autobiographic touch, "I read them first, and was thrilled
by their power and pathos, upon a stormy March evening in Fort Sumter!
Walking along the battlements, under the red lights of a tempestuous
sunset, the wind steadily and loudly blowing from off the bar across the
tossing and moaning waste of waters, driven inland; with scores of gulls
and white sea-birds flying and shrieking round me,--those wild voices of
Nature mingled strangely with the rhythmic roll and beat of the poet's
impassioned music. The very spirit, or dark genius, of the troubled scene
appeared to take up, and to repeat such verses as:--
"'I hear a murmur as of waves
That grope their way through sunless caves,
Like bodies struggling in their graves,
"'And now it deepens; slow and grand
It swells, as rolling to the land,
An ocean broke upon the strand,
These impassioned war lyrics brought the poet speedy popularity. For a
time his hopes were lifted up to a roseate future. In 1862 some of his
influential friends formed the project of bringing out a handsome edition
of his poems in London. The war correspondent of the _London
Illustrated News_, himself an artist, volunteered to furnish original
illustrations. The scheme, at which the poet was elated, promised at once
bread and fame. But, as in so many other instances, he was doomed to
bitter disappointment. The increasing stress of the great conflict
absorbed the energies of the South; and the promising plan,
notwithstanding the poet's popularity, was buried beneath the noise and
tumult of battle.
Disqualified by feeble health from serving in the ranks, Timrod, shortly
after the battle of Shiloh, went to Tennessee as the war correspondent of
the _Charleston Mercury_. To his retiring and sympathetic nature the
scenes of war were painful. "One can scarcely conceive," says Dr. Bruns,
"of a situation more hopelessly wretched than that of a mere child in the
world's ways suddenly flung down into the heart of that strong retreat,
and tossed like a straw on the crest of those refluent waves, from which
he escaped as by a miracle."
In 1863 he went to Columbia as associate editor of the _South
Carolinian_. He was scarcely less happy and vigorous in prose than in
verse. A period of prosperity seemed at last to be dawning; and, in the
cheerful prospect, he ventured to marry Miss Kate Goodwin of Charleston,
"Katie, the fair Saxon," whom he had long loved and of whom he had sung
in one of his longest and sweetest poems. But his happiness was of brief
duration. In a twelvemonth the army of General Sherman entered Columbia,
demolished his office, and sent him adrift as a helpless fugitive.
The close of the war found him a ruined man; he was almost destitute of
property and broken in health. He was obliged to sell some of his
household furniture to keep his family in bread. "We have," he says, in a
sadly playful letter to Hayne at this period, "we have--let me see!--yes,
we have eaten two silver pitchers, one or two dozen silver forks, several
sofas, innumerable chairs, and a huge--bedstead!" He could find no paying
market for his poems in the impoverished South; and in the North
political feeling was still too strong to give him access to the
magazines there. The only employment he could find was some clerical work
for a season in the governor's office, where he sometimes toiled far
beyond his strength. In this time of discouragement and need, the gloom
of which was never lifted, he pathetically wrote to Hayne: "I would
consign every line of my verse to eternal oblivion for _one hundred
dollars in hand_."
In 1867 his physicians recommended a change of air; and accordingly he
spent a month with his lifelong friend Hayne at Copse Hill. It was the
one rift in the clouds before the fall of night. There is a pathetic
beauty in the fellowship of the two poets during these brief weeks, when,
with spirits often attuned to high thought and feeling, they roamed
together among the pines or sat beneath the stars. "We would rest on the
hillsides," says Hayne, "in the swaying golden shadows, watching together
the Titanic masses of snow-white clouds which floated slowly and vaguely
through the sky, suggesting by their form, whiteness, and serene motion,
despite the season, flotillas of icebergs upon Arctic seas. Like
lazzaroni we basked in the quiet noons, sunk in the depths of reverie, or
perhaps of yet more 'charmed sleep.' Or we smoked, conversing lazily
between the puffs,--
'Next to some pine whose antique roots just peeped
From out the crumbling bases of the sand.'"
Timrod survived but a few weeks after his return to Columbia. The
circumstances of his death were most pathetic. Though sustained by
Christian hopes, he still longed to live a season with the dear ones
about him. When, after a period of intense agony that preceded his
dissolution, his sister murmured to him, "You will soon be at rest
_now_," he replied, with touching pathos, "Yes, my sister, _but
love is sweeter than rest_." He died October 7, 1867, and was laid to
rest in Trinity churchyard, where his grave long remained unmarked.
Two principal editions of his works have been published: the first in
1873, with an admirable memoir by Hayne; the second in 1899, under the
auspices of the Timrod Memorial Association of South Carolina. A number
of his poems and his prose writings still remain uncollected; and there
is yet no biography that fully records the story of his life. This fact
is not a credit to Southern letters, for, as we have seen, Timrod was a
poet of more than commonplace ability and achievement.
For the most part, his themes were drawn from the ordinary scenes and
incidents of life. He was not ambitious of lofty subjects, remote from
the hearts and homes of men. He placed sincerity above grandeur; he
preferred love to admiration. He was always pure, brave, and true; and,
as he sang:--
"The brightest stars are nearest to the earth,
And we may track the mighty sun above,
Even by the shadow of a slender flower.
Always, O bard, humility is power!
And thou mayest draw from matters of the hearth
Truths wide as nations, and as deep as love."
Lanier's genius was predominantly musical. He descended from a musical
ancestry, which included in its line a "master of the king's music" at
the court of James I. His musical gifts manifested themselves in early
childhood. Without further instruction in music than a knowledge of the
notes, which he learned from his mother, he was able to play, almost by
intuition, the flute, guitar, violin, piano, and organ. He organized his
boyish playmates into an amateur minstrel band; and when in early manhood
he began to confide his most intimate thoughts to a notebook, he wrote,
"The prime inclination--that is, natural bent (which I have checked,
though)--of my nature is to music, and for that I have the greatest
talent; indeed, not boasting, for God gave it me, I have an extraordinary
musical talent, and feel it within me plainly that I could rise as high
as any composer."
This early bent and passion for music never left him. His thought
continually turned to the subject of music, and in the silences of his
soul he frequently heard wonderful melodies. In his novel, _Tiger
Lilies_, he lauds music in a rapturous strain: "Since in all holy
worship, in all conditions of life, in all domestic, social, religious,
political, and lonely individual doings; in all passions, in all
countries, earthly or heavenly; in all stages of civilization, of time,
or of eternity; since, I say, in all these, music is always present to
utter the shallowest or the deepest thoughts of man or spirit--let us
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