ADVENTURES IN BELLES LETTRESI
But underneath this gay life was a more serious Charleston, which in certain of its aspects was not unlike Boston. From both the Huguenot and Scotch-Irish strains came a sobering Puritanism that gave a serious cast to thoughtful natures and disciplined them in a strict morality. Calhoun was far more Puritan than Fisher Ames, and Hugh Legare than Edward Everett. Life was likely to be a serious business to these southern Puritans, filled with weighty responsibilities, to be lived, like Milton's, as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye. Aristocrat though he was, young Hugh Legare was no gay cavalier treading the primrose path, but as serious-minded as any Roundhead. Victorian in manners, he would have found the bluff speech of the old revolutionary, General Charles Cotesworth Piney - "more pregnant with meaning than prudish in dress" - somewhat too "salt" for refined ears. It was this note of Puritanism that marked the finest characters in Charleston and gave its tone to society; but it was a Puritanism of conduct rather than dogma. Charleston gentle men were of the English church, and their Puritan unmarred by Calvinism, assumed a moral rather than a theological cast.
The lawyer came to assume the position of intellectual leadership taken by the minister in New England. A profound respect for law dominated the Charleston mind. Blackstone was the Charleston Bible, and the lawyer who was master of dignified oratory was looked upon with high regard. The aristocracy opened its doors to young James Louis Petigru, an Irish-Huguenot lawyer with his own way to make, but it closed them tightly against young Gilmore Simms, apprentice to an apothecary and unread in the classics. Ambitious youths therefore turned to the law as a congenial career, for there reputations lay, and political influence. A pronounced cult of the law, and regard for orderly procedure, went hand in hand with the old English respect for individual rights. Charleston gentlemen could not be coerced, even by their own politicians, and Legare was bitter against the Nullifiers because the spirit of dictation was "alien to our old habitudes, to the gentle courage, the courteous hostility, the mild and merciful justice, the proud submission to law and respect for right, which once distinguished our low country society from and above all other American society" (Writings, Vol. I, p. 211).
Politically Charleston was of the old Federalist tradition, as that Federalism was embodied in the picturesque figure of General Pinckney. Outside the narrow circle of the aristocracy, Federalism had long since given way to a democratic faith with its background of states-rights Jeffersonianism; but it lingered amongst the gentry and provided the nucleus of the later Union party. Grayson tells a story of Petigru that suggests the bitterness of the back-country democracy towards the old Federalism. The latter one day was being abused by a swamp-sucker "who lavished on him all the foul epithets and appellations he could remember or invent, of which rogue and scoundrel were among the most moderate." At last he hit upon a term of reproach "which at that day comprised everything hateful-he called him a `damned Federal,'" and was promptly knocked down for the insult (William J. Grayson, James Louis Petigru, pp. 83-84.). But the Charleston vintage of Federalism was little more than a stout conservatism that idealized the Union and preached the sufficiency and sacredness of the law. It was social rather than political or economic-the assertion of the prescriptive right of gentlemen to govern the state. Jeffersonianism never took possession of the first circles of Charleston as it did in Virginia, and French revolutionary philosophy found there an uncongenial soil. The profound conservatism of the aristocracy is sufficiently expressed in a comment of Hugh Legaré - "The politics of the immortal Jefferson! Pish!" (Writings, Vol. I, p. 207.) Physiocratic agrarianism found few advocates amongst Carolina gentlemen. The Charleston mind was political and legal rather than economic in its interests, and as a commercial port Charleston was more sympathetic with capitalism than with agrarianism. Its politics, in which it found much diversion, it preferred highly seasoned, and when Nullification divided the state into hostile camps, the Nullifiers and Unionists brought Charleston to the verge of civil war. Respect for law and the amenities vanished before the hot demands of partisanship.
The culture of Charleston was as conservatively old-fashioned as its politics. Such a renaissance as it enjoyed before the Civil War wrought its destruction was delayed by its rejection of French romantic thought until the beginning of the thirties, and synchronized with the renaissance of New England. When the romantic spirit appeared about 1825, it was primarily English, of the school of Tom Moore. There had never been any literature in Charleston worthy of the name, except such as had come from London, bound in calfskin and tooled morocco. Those who affected a love of letters were still enamored of the heroic couplet and the Addisonian essay. Not until he went to Brussels in 1832 did Legaré, the most brilliant southern linguist, take up the study of German. The classics still dominated education, and literary taste inclined to a mingling of wit and sentiment. Young and Ossian and Mrs. Radcliffe held honored places on Charleston bookshelves. The young poets were deep in Byron, and Sir Walter was in high repute. But Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats were scarcely mentioned, and Carlyle could not hope to gain a hearing. Nevertheless by the year 1828 the example of the North American Review proved so stimulating an incentive that the scholarship of Charleston collaborated to establish the Southern Review, which ran a sober course for four years, providing a medium for learned articles on law, letters and politics. It was a serious venture that concerned itself little with belles lettres, but the intellectual resources were inadequate, and on Legaré's departure for Europe The Review came to an end. Later, Gilmore Simms labored to the same purpose, but even his enormous energy was insufficient to sustain a magazine esteemed worthy of southern genius, and the work languished. Facile writers were fewer in Charleston than in Boston.
But despite any shortcomings in the way of letters, to members of its polite circles Charleston was the most delightful of American cities, and its society the most distinguished. "I have never, since I could form an opinion on such matters," wrote Legaré from Brussels, where he mingled with the most cultivated society, "doubted of the immense superiority of Carolina society over all others on that continent, and now feel it more than ever" (Writings, Vol. I, p. 218). It was a common opinion of southern gentlemen, who, with their English notions of a landed aristocracy, believed that "fixed landed property is of the essence of civil society, properly so called." It embodied the planter ideal of a social capital, uncorrupted by a vulgar plutocracy. Its highways ran out to the plantations; the free citizen of the Greek democracy drew his wealth from the soil; the slave labored while the master rode to and fro from the city. Law and politics were regarded as respectable vocations for sons of gentlemen, but the ideal life was acknowledged to be that of the planter, with his three thousand acres, his three hundred negroes, his ricks of rice and bales of tobacco and cotton. The profits that came from the law were certain to be invested in land, and the young attorney dreamed of retiring in middle life to a well-stocked plantation. To become a member of the ruling squirarchy was an ambition that filled and satisfied the Charleston imagination.
The slightness of literary achievement in the Charleston of 1825 is sufficiently attested by the considerable local fame that rewarded the efforts of the volatile William Crafts. Born in Charleston in 1789, the son of a well-to-do Yankee father and a southern mother, he was sent to Harvard to complete his education, distinguished himself in the classics and in declamation, achieved a gownsman's fame for the brisk informality of a Latin oration, and carried back to Charleston a great reputation as a wit and scholar. He went into the law but burnt too few candles at the shrine of Blackstone; was seized with political ambition and proposed to make a great name for himself as a statesman, but his politics were not agree able to his constituents and his career failed to arrive. He was a graceful orator in the florid southern style, an agreeable fellow with a pleasant wit, who loved society, dabbled in prose and verse, but proved to be unstable. He spread too much canvas to the uncertain winds and his unballasted bark came to grief. He died at the age of thirty-seven, leaving his writings to be gathered up and published by his family - a miscellany that brought down upon it the severe judgment of Hugh Legaré.
William Crafts was a transplanted Bostonian who essayed to domesticate Harvard culture among the polite circles of Charleston. As an undergraduate he admired the graceful preaching of Buckminster and the acrid eloquence of Fisher Ames. The latter he seems to have adopted as his political godfather, and from him he accepted a decadent Federalism that got him into trouble when later he entered politics. But the chief model on whom he shaped his life seems to have been Robert Treat Paine, in the declining sun of whose fame the young Harvard undergraduate warmed himself. With a less pregnant wit, a less trenchant prose style, a less masculine oratory, he succeeded in becoming a smaller edition of a petty master. The parallelism in the lives of the two apostles of wit is striking. They were both dabblers, but Crafts possessed less skill and dabbled less felicitously. They both broke with the rigid decorum of their circles, but Paine achieved a more tragic shipwreck. They both marked the last ebbing of the eighteenth century before the wit ideal was submerged by the incoming tide of romanticism, and the reputations of both have been forgotten.
In Crafts' case, certainly, no injustice has been done. Such literary wealth as he displayed would seem notable only in an indigent society. His prose is vapid and feeble in the essay, and stilted and artificial in the oration. His verse is insignificant in quantity - two formal poems and a handful of occasional pieces - and waning in distinction of phrase or imagery. It is the work of a graceful imitator of doubtful models. He wrote at the moment when the long supremacy of Pope was yielding to the popularity of Moore, and his verse wavered between the old loyalty and the new love. Sullivan's Island, a carefully elaborated descriptive poem, applies the structure and method of Windsor Forest to a local theme, following the original so closely as to imitate the detail. His skill in the grand manner may be judged by a single passage that phrases feebly what Pope had done vigorously:
When cooler gales foretell departing day, The plaintive curlew homeward wings his way Now stoops, then soars, and fearing danger nigh, To guardian heaven pours forth its piteous cry. Alas! in vain. The fowler's fond reply, Still deemed its own, but tells it where to die.The Raciad is less crudely imitative. It is a brisk and rather amusing account of the outpouring of Charleston society to the races, the great event of the year in the gay southern capital. It is done with some sprightliness, it is an amiable historical document, but it is not important. When Crafts died in 1826 Charleston had done little in the way of creative literature, but the stirring of the waters was beginning. The following year a young apothecary just admitted to the bar published a volume entitled Lyrical and Other Poems, first fruits of the colossal labors of Gilmore Simms. In 1828 Hugh Legaré got The Southern Review on its feet, a substantial magazine that aspired to be the mouthpiece of southern culture. With the beginning of the thirties the Charleston renaissance was under way.
HUGH SWINTON LEGARÉ
A far solider nature than the ebullient Crafts was Hugh Swinton Legaré. Of distinguished social position, the most cultivated mind in the South before the Civil War, and one of the most cultivated in America, he was an embodiment of the serious Charleston that served as counterweight to the gayer. In Legaré the moral earnestness of the South came to its most attractive expression. The repository of two streams of ethical idealism, he was as Puritan as Calhoun. Natively aristocratic, with a high sense of personal integrity and civic responsibility, a profound student of law and letters, with the Charleston parochialism brushed away by wide travel and intimate acquaintance with old-world civilizations and classical cultures, he represented the excellent seriousness that came to flower on the Carolina plantation as well as in the New England meetinghouse. Southern Puritanism might be less ungainly than that of Massachusetts, but it was equally introspective, given to melancholy; and Hugh Legaré found his life as serious an affair, and as laborious, as any New England Calvinist discovered his to be. It is no holiday business to serve righteousness; wisdom does not flower in the primrose path of dalliance; and this Charleston gentleman emerged from a prolonged and arduous self-discipline as complete a Puritan as Theodore Parker.
Descended in the fifth generation from a Huguenot ancestor who settled in Charleston about 1695, he was French in name and by cherished family tradition, but in little else. Through successive intermarriages, the original French strain was pretty much diluted by the Scotch and English, and few Gallic traits came down to him. In temperament and sympathies he was the child of his mother, Mary Swinton, of Scotch Covenanter blood. The native seriousness that came to him by right of inheritance was intensified by fate. Inoculated for the smallpox in his fourth year, the poison lingered in his system, keeping him sickly for years and permanently stunting the lower half of his body. Thus set apart from active life, he turned to books and entered upon the career of a scholar. At the time of his death in 1842, at the age of forty-five, he was perhaps the best linguist and the most widely read man in America. A mature student of the classics, he was intimately acquainted with French, Spanish, Italian and German, and had added Romaic as a help to his Greek. This may seem a meager list in comparison with Theodore Parker's nineteen languages, but the substantial acquisitions he gathered from the several bodies of literature were far from meager.
Yet immense as were those acquisitions they were only supplementary to his professional studies. The Charleston Puritan gave to the study of law the same intensity that the Boston Puritan gave to theology. Not content with a three years' reading course in a law office, he went to Europe to pursue his studies more comprehensively. At the University of Edinburgh he plunged into an investigation of the Roman and Civil Law, which henceforth was to be his major intellectual interest. He found in the continental systems, he believed, a body of legal principles more comprehensive and philosophical than the English Common Law, and the ambition grew upon him to ingraft certain features of the Civil Law upon American practice. After two years' intense study he came home, engaged in active practice of his profession, and ten years later, at the age of thirty-five, was appointed charge d'affaires at Brussels, where he spent four rich years. His diplomatic and social life was subordinated to his studies, into which he threw himself with the keenest zest, enlarging his knowledge of modern letters and adding to his encyclopedic knowledge of legal systems. In 1841 he was appointed Attorney-General of the United States in the cabinet of President Tyler, and upon Webster's retirement was given the additional portfolio of Secretary of State ad interim. While on a visit to Boston with President Tyler to assist in the Bunker Hill Monument celebration, he was taken suddenly ill and died at the home of his friend Professor Ticknor.
The man thus prematurely cut down was a nature of vast solidity. Profoundly serious, inclined to the blackest melancholy, as pessimistic as Fisher Ames, with no leaven of humor, no romance, no careless idling, he was a hard taskmaster to his days. He toiled prodigiously at his self-appointed tasks. His standards were severe, whether in letters or law or politics or morals. As a critic he dealt with substantial subjects: The Constitutional History of Greece; The Origin, History and Influence of Roman Legislation; Early Spanish Ballads; Jeremy Bentham and me Utilitarians; Lord Byron's Character and Writings - solid dissertations done with German thoroughness - reviews of huge compass that provided opportunity for independent treatises. As a lawyer he was rather a philosophical historian than a special pleader. He was far more given to exploring the labyrinths of ancient codes than to arguing cases. His legal erudition appalls the layman. He had sat at the feet of black-letter philosophers; he had been instructed by sages long since forgotten. His mind was an ample storehouse of archaic legal maxims. He delighted in the crabbed law Latin-its sententious phrases worn to the quick, the residuum and repository of the wisdom bequeathed by past generations. Richer in poetry than any verses of Byron were the Latin words habeas corpus to one who, like this scholar, understood how packed they were with English history, how rich in suggestion to all who love English freedom. From this immense erudition came his love for old books and venerable authorities. Blackstone he looked upon as a modern - "a gentleman's law book, clear, but not deep"; and the wisdom of my Lord Coke seemed to him not so mellow as that drawn from the more capacious vats of earlier days. He quoted Grotius and Vattel and Pufendorf and Bourlamaqui more readily than the South Carolina Digest, and the names of Papinian and Ulpian and Modestinus and Voet and Cujacius, of the Corpus Alaricianum, of the Justinian, Gregorian, Hermogenian, and Theodosian codes, slipped familiarly from his pen. How many outlandish authorities were contained in the huge inkwell on his desk it is idle to conjecture. Probably not three men in America comprehended the significance of half the references that he offered for the consideration of his fellow lawyers, or were competent to question his deductions. Even the learned judge Story and Chancellor Kent seem mere dabblers in comparison with this philosophical historian.
Such learning must inevitably mold one's thinking in kindred fields, and he came naturally to espouse what for want of an exacter term may be called the Common Law theory of politics. It is a conception of law as an organic growth, the result of man's laborious search for a rational freedom in the social body, the single and avowed end of which is justice. It has taken form not by the decrees of legislatures, but by decisions of the judiciary, tested and reexamined and reargued generation after generation; built up code by code through slow evolution, the wisdom of the past serving as counselor to the present; continuously expanding its jurisdiction from the community to the nation, and from the nation to a world society; the one guarantee of a sober and rational progress. Theorists and philosophers come and go; revolutions succeed and fail; foolish statutes and temporary constitutions have their day; but the organic body of the law survives all surface change, building into the fabric of society what experience proves to be good, sloughing off what experience has outgrown-the tempered rule of social justice; the exact measure of every civilization compared with which the majority will is a crude and inadequate makeshift.
From such a conception it follows that government is little more than ancillary to the law, and political principles are sound in the measure that they are founded on legal principles. Thus by following the musty path of jurisprudence Legaré arrived at the same goal that John Cotton had reached two hundred years before - the apotheosis of magistracy. With the older Puritan he could assert, Scripturae plenitudinem adoro. The sufficiency of the law to social justice was axiomatic in his thinking. But the scriptures hick he adored were the words of the judges, whose decisions ere above the authority of legislator or governor and little concerned with a transient majority will. The old theocrat had set up his theocracy; the modem lexolater would set up his lexocracy; but the end was pretty much the same. Very likely Legaré, like the present-day lexolater, would deny the conclusion, yet it was implicit in his premises, and his scorn of political theory was sufficient proof. Practical politics he regarded as rather a trumpery business that achieves no solid results. 1 The political philosopher he was profoundly suspicious of. The flood of speculation let loose upon the world by the revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries seemed to him to have invited disaster, and the political classics of those revolutions he cared little for. He distrusted the "era of illumination" that sacrificed use and wont to abstract theory. "We have not too much faith in the `march of intellect,"' he remarked dryly, "and would not . . . pitch our anticipations in too high a key" (ibid., Vol. II, p. 264). But his greatest contempt he reserved for the intellectual revolutionaries - "hair-brained metaphysicians and empirical demagogues" (ibid., Vol. I, p. 216), who would upset the nice balance of the law. To this matter he returned again and again, with the scorn of the legal mind for ambitious political systems. "Innovators or Revolutionists, who go only for an imaginary abstract rectitude and symmetry of government," he said, "are always dangerous, and sometimes the greatest curse with which heaven in its wrath can visit an offending people" (ibid., Vol. II, p. 286).
I have no faith at all in speculative politics. A theorist in government is as dangerous as a theorist in medicine, or in agriculture, and for precisely the same reasons - the subjects are too complicated and too obscure for simple and decisive experiments. I go for undisputed results in the long run. (Ibid., Vol. I, p. 303.)
Man begins a revolution, but its issues are with God alone. The voluntary revolutions of man have always been abrupt, violent and for the worse: so that the wisdom of antiquity laid it down, as a maxim, that every fundamental change in the State must needs be bloody and deadly. (Ibid., Vol. II, p. 297.)
This inherent conservatism of the legal mind explains Legaré's intellectual sympathy with Federalism and his contempt for Jefferson. The latter to him was the prince of demagogues, and his ink was vitriol when he wrote of him, as thus in one of his letters: "The immortal sayings and doings of the holy father in democracy - the servant of the servants of Demos (whose nose of wax he knew better than anybody how to shape to his own convenience,) - the infallible, though ever-changing, St. Thomas of Canting-bury. And here, you may be sure, I cross myself devoutly and cry out, with an all-fervent benediction to that canonized worthy, pax tecum (pronounced, you know, Scottice, pox tacum)" (Writings, Vol. I, p. 208). Modern political theories seemed to him mere upstart doctrines compared with the venerable principles of the law, and he came to look with suspicion on all political liberalism not sponsored by lawyers and supported by briefs. A passionate lover of liberty, he was as distrustful of democracy as John Adams, and his condemnation was as frank "that scene of wild impulse, and tyrannical misrule-a pure democracy" (ibid., Vol. II, p. 271). No state, Beverley Tucker pointed out, was so little democratic as South Carolina, and Legaré shared the common Charleston distrust of it. As he watched England and France during the tumultuous thirties, and saw the struggle over Nullification at home, his concern for the future became acute and his pessimism as black as Fisher Ames'. In a letter from Brussels, in the year 1833, shortly after the passage of the English Reform Bill, he wrote:
Mankind have too little sense to maintain, for any length of time, a well-tempered democracy, and a great deal too much to bear an unlimited one the most dreadful form of "State sovereignty," beyond all doubt, in which the descendants of the father of the first murderer have ever given loose to their ruffian instinct of violence and oppression. If they have a moderate policy of the kind, which happens (as all complicated machines will) to be occasionally a little out of order, their only idea of a remedy is to pull it down, and along with it every thing that makes a civil society worthy of its name. Who could ever have dreamed that the law of brute force which now crushes Europe . . . should be deliberately adopted in America, instead of the really sublime institutions of a federal jurisdiction, (fallible, of course, but generally right) and that this relapse into downright barbarism should be vaunted, by the most enlightened men in the Southern States, as a grand improvement and the only thing wanting to make our government as perfect as we have been swearing it was all along. (Ibid., Vol. I, p. 210.)
Back of this ingrained conservatism was a tender Puritan conscience that must twist his legal studies to ideal ends. After all it was no other than a juridical romanticism that Hugh Legaré discovered in the bottom of his scholar's cup. As medieval as Sir Walter, he sought his romance in old law-courts rather than in feudal castles, in black-robed advocates rather than in knights and ladies; and he persuaded himself that those old litigations, preserved in scraps of Latin and law French, were dramatic episodes in the ceaseless battle for human rights, whereof the single objective was justice. Slowly, stone upon stone, the lawyers were erecting an impregnable citadel, within which justice kept her inviolable court. It is a pleasant fiction still believed in by lawyers of the old school, and to Legaré in his study it bore the very semblance of truth. He had read too many law books; he had speculated too little on politics; immersed in his codes, he had forgotten to inquire into the hidden springs of sovereignty. In his contempt for practical politics he had neglected to study even the primer of economic determinism. To the economic historian, Legaré's boundless faith in the sufficiency of legal processes is incomprehensible. A few lessons from the wiser Jefferson would have taught him much that he needed to know concerning the economic sources of power. In his attitude towards the law Jefferson was a suspicious realist. He had no faith in legal codes that had grown up under monarchical and aristocratic systems, and he put no trust in government by lawyers. He could not understand how the Common Law, interpreted by the Tory Blackstone, and applied by Federalist lawyers, should serve the needs of a democracy. Democratic America, he was convinced, must create a new democratic law, and hold its judiciary in strict subjection to its will; to surrender sovereignty to an aristocracy of the bench would mean the abdication of democracy. But Legaré refused to go to school to Jefferson. He clung to his romantic conception of the law with the same passionate conviction that Calhoun clung to his romantic dream of a Greek democracy; and with the ebbing of the romantic tide they were both left stranded.
But if Legaré was unsympathetic towards the new political theory that came from the French intellectuals, and frankly hostile to the new political practice that came in with the Jacksonians, he warmly approved the new economics that came with the Industrial Revolution. In his whole-hearted acceptance of Adam Smith he seems not a Carolinian at all, but an English liberal of the Cobden-Bright school. He adopted the principle of laissez faire, the gospel of progress, the attitude of optimism. He accepted the theory of the beneficence of commerce as a universal civilizing agency, and he looked forward confidently to an eventual parliament of man, a future federation of the world. Commerce in the end must outlaw war, and peace with freedom would spread the blessings of civilization to the ends of the earth .2
A convincing object-lesson in the sufficiency of the principle of laissez faire, he discovered in the amazing progress of America. The mainspring of that progress he found in economic freedom - freedom "from those undue restraints and that impertinent interference of government in the interests properly belonging to individuals." "I know," he said, "that the cardinal spring and source of our success is freedom-freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom of commerce" (Writings, Vol. I, p. 306). The greatest of these was free trade between the states. His travels in England and the contrast between English progress and continental backwardness confirmed him in this belief. "The doctrine of Free Trade," he asserted, "is a great fundamental doctrine of civilization. The world must come to it at last, if the visions of improvement in which we love to indulge are ever to be realized" (ibid., Vol. I, p. 272). He went further and accepted the Industrial Revolution with its division of labor as a necessary agency of social amelioration. "It is evidently in the order of nature, and we must take it with all its good and all its evils together." In forecasting the effect of that revolution he was troubled by no fears. Sir, it is a favorite phrase of those who boast of what is called "the march of intellect," that things are thus changed because the "schoolmaster is abroad." But I tell you that something far more effective than the schoolmaster, a mightier than Solomon, is abroad. It is the STEAM-ENGINE - In its twofold capacity of a means of production and a means of transport - the most powerful instrument by far of pacification and commerce, and therefore of improvement and happiness that the world has ever seen; which, while it increases capital, and multiplies beyond all imagination the products of industry, brings the most distant people into contact with one another . . . effaces all peculiarities of national character, and promises, at no distant period, to make the whole Christian world, at least, one great family. . . . A people well clad and well housed will be sure to provide themselves with all the other comforts of life; and it is the diffusion of these comforts, and the growing taste for them, among all classes of society in Europe - it is the desire of riches as it is commonly called, that is gradually putting an end to the destructive and bloody game of war, and reserving all the resources hitherto wasted by it, for enterprises of industry and commerce, prosecuted with the fiery spirit which once vented itself in scenes of peril and carnage. (Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 285-286.)
Remembering how dependent were southern cotton interests on English industrialism and commerce, one can understand Legaré's acceptance of laissez faire economics. His idealism, his local pride, his romanticism, were all enlisted in its behalf, and he painted in glowing colors. But his frank advocacy of capitalism is harder to understand, except perhaps on the ground that Charleston was a considerable shipping port and his clients were engaged in commerce. In the bitter dispute with Jackson over the Bank, Legaré adopted northern views on national finance. Although nominally a Democrat, he had never been an agrarian, and he went with Webster and Clay against the subtreasury scheme and a metallic currency. His thoughtful speech on The Spirit of the Sub-Treasury, delivered in 1837, was thoroughgoing Whig doctrine, asserting the excellence of the modern banking system and extolling the economic fruitfulness of credit. He repudiated every principle of John Taylor; denied every dogma of agrarian economics; and eulogized the English financial system as the germinal source of English greatness. Applying the principle of credit to American conditions, he discovered the secret of American expansion in the principle of speculative borrowing, and expanded his doctrine of economic freedom by asserting that freedom to borrow was a necessary preliminary to freedom to work. "A people have been enriched by debt," he argued, overlooking the possible fallacy of a post hoc ergo propter hoc, "and `by owing, owe not.' " As he contemplated the amazing progress of the nation, his lyric enthusiasm becomes prologue to a somewhat lame conclusion that enthrones the banker as the fairy godmother of the hardy pioneer.
There is a grandeur and a majesty in this irresistible onward march of a race, created, as I believe, and elected to possess and people a continent. . . . We may become so much accustomed to such things that they shall make as little impression upon our minds as the glories of the Heavens above us; but, looking on them, lately, as with the eyes of the stranger, I felt, what a recent English traveller is said to have remarked, that far from being without poetry, as some have vainly alleged, our whole country is one great poem. Sir, it is so; and if there be a man that can think of what is doing, in all parts of this most blessed of all lands, to embellish and advance it, who can contemplate that living mass of intelligence, activity and improvement as it rolls on, in its sure and steady progress, to the uttermost extremities of the west; who can see scenes of savage desolation transformed, almost with the suddenness of enchantment, into those of fruitfulness and beauty; crowned with flourishing cities, filled with the noblest of all populations; if there be a man, I say, that can witness all this passing under his very eyes, without feeling his heart beat high, and his imagination warmed and transported by it, be sure, sir, that the raptures of song exist not for him. . . .
But of this rational, diffusive liberty, among a people so intelligent as ours, the credit system is the natural fruit, the inseparable companion, the necessary means and instrument. It is part and parcel of our existence. Who ever heard of CREDIT in a despotism, or an anarchy? It implies confidence - confidence in yourself, confidence in your neighbor, confidence in your government, confidence in the administration of the laws, confidence, in a word, in your destiny, and your fortune, in the destinies and the fortunes of the country to which you belong; as, for instance, in the case of a great national debt. It is the fruit, I say, of all that is most precious in civilized life, and to quarrel with it is to be ungrateful to God for some of the greatest blessings he has vouchsafed to man. (Writings, Vol. I, pp. 306-307.)
Such ebullient rhetoric fits the mouth of the politician rather than the scholar, and such careless logic comes oddly from a southern intellectual. In his ignorance of the economics of John Taylor, Legaré was unprovided with principles to reply to his own arguments, and unaware of the lameness of his confident conclusions. But though he might glow with optimism as he contemplated the westward expansion, for the future of the South and of his own beloved state he was deep in pessimism. From the first he had dissented vigorously from the program of Nullification. An ardent Union man, he believed with his friend James Petigru that secession meant ruin for South Carolina. Calhoun seemed to him a monomaniac, consumed by a single idea. He feared the hot passion of the states-rights party and he was troubled over slavery. His travels abroad had acquainted him with European views on the subject; he watched the spread of English humanitarianism and he had come to recognize the institution as an anachronism. It seemed to him impossible for the South to withstand much longer the augmenting pressure of civilized opinion. He could justify slavery in his own eyes both by ancient law - servitus est constitutio juris gentium - and by comparison of the condition of the negro with that of the English wage worker. The ideal of a Greek democracy was vastly congenial to his aristocratic temperament, but he knew that it was a romantic dream, and he was oppressed by the shadow of impending ruin. Writing from Brussels on April 8, 1833, he concluded an anxious letter thus: It ends in my not knowing what to think, except that dangers are around and above and below and within our poor little State, - which may God preserve us from! I ask of heaven only that the little circle I am intimate with in Charleston should be kept together while I live, - in health, harmony and competence; and that, on my return, I may myself be enabled to enjoy the same happiness, in my intercourse with it, with which I have been hitherto blessed. We are (I am quite sure) the last of the race of South-Carolina; I see nothing before us but decay and downfall, - but on that very account, I cherish its precious relics the more. . . . Yet my heart sinks within me often when I think of what may too soon be, and I say, in those touching words, "Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and her gates are burnt with fire." (Writings, Vol. I, p. 215.)
Thus like old John Winthrop two hundred years before, this descendant of southern Pilgrims, this Charleston lawyer and intellectual, found the words of the Hebrew Scriptures rising to his lips in moments of deep emotion. In spite of travel and many books and ripe culture and catholic sympathies, Hugh Legaré remained Puritan at heart, sorely puzzled with life, the burden of his days heavy upon him, walking soberly in the way of duty. North or south, the Puritan was still Puritan, whether he were Theodore Parker, the Boston radical, or Hugh Swinton Legaré, the Charleston conservative.
IVFrom the background of old Charleston emerged, about the year 1825, the figure of Gilmore Simms, lately a drug clerk but now come to the dignity of admission to the bar; a tall, vigorous young fellow, with little formal schooling, no Latin or Greek, without land or slaves, but heavily involved in Byronic odes and like unprofitable investments; a social nobody soon to be married at the age of twenty to a girl of no better station than his own, who offered himself as candidate for the poet laureateship of the South. A somewhat presumptuous proceeding on the part of a plebeian quite outside the cultivated circle of the Petigrus and Grimkes and Hugers and Legarés, who were the accepted custodians of Charleston culture and who did not take kindly to ambitious newcomers. They regarded literature as a polite art that could flourish only in polite circles, and they turned a cold shoulder upon a young man whose ways suggested the Carolina buckra.
WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS
After all these years one may well cherish a grudge against the amiable little city for its shabby treatment of Gilmore Simms. The most richly endowed of any son she ever gave birth to, he was snubbed for years by the social oligarchy and suffered keenly from the ostracism. His extreme parochialism made him the more sensitive to the slight. An ardent Southerner, loyal to all the Carolinian totems and taboos, he accepted the Charleston judgment in literature and politics as the very law and the prophets. He loved the soil of South Carolina, he loved the people and the way of life, and he was steeped as no other Carolinian in local history and tradition. He could perceive no shortcomings in a society he warmly admired, and he accepted the Charleston provincialisms as the lover accepts the mole on his mistress' cheek. The more Charleston snubbed him, the more admirable he professed to believe was an aristocracy that so jealously guarded its fine exclusiveness. His lifelong ambition was to receive recognition from his native city, and when after the death of his first wife and his marriage to the daughter of a prosperous planter, he gained admission into the ranks of the lesser gentry, he eagerly made common cause with them. He accepted the Carolinian standards and conventions; he advocated social caste: he honored the southern gentleman as God's best handiwork; he unconsciously effected an aristocratic arrogance towards all social inferiors. He abandoned the Jeffersonian philosophy of his youth and adopted he revised gospel of Calhoun. He became, in short, a Carolina Fire Eater. He set up as a militant defender of slavery and collaborated with other eminent Carolinians to develop the pro slavery argument. 3 He could have escaped the subtle compulsions of the southern system only by emptying his mind of his dearest prejudices, and this he had neither the will nor the wish to do. And so in spite of the fact that his every instinct was democratic, and every natural impulse generous and manly, he fought the battles of the peculiar institution as stoutly as if he had been born to his three hundred slaves; and he suffered in consequence the loss of pretty nearly everything, including his art. After his death, his friend Paul Hayne wrote of him: "Simms's genius never had fair play! Circumstances hampered him!" The judgment is just. Parochial Charleston brought about his literary undoing.
In taste and temperament Simms was a pronounced realist, but his career took shape from a generation given to every romantic excess. His genius, in consequence, was always at cross purposes with the popular taste. His realism turned naturally to low-life adventure; his upper-class romance became stilted and posturing, and his love of action degenerated into swashbuckling. That he survived such mishaps at all, suggests the enormous vitality of the man. If there had only been a little more of the intellectual in him, if he could have detached himself as an artist from the immediate and present, he might have risen superior to his unfortunate environment. But he was constitutionally incapable of aloofness, and hence incapable of criticism. To analyze, compare and judge was impossible to so ardent a nature. He must be partisan to a people and a cause, rather than to his art. The South that he loved was romantic, and he would appeal to the world as a Southerner. He wore his sectional prejudices as the southern politician wears his rumpled Prince Albert coat, broad-brimmed hat and black string tie. He never realized what a clutter of useless luggage he carried into his study. It is a pity that he constricted himself to the shell of an outworn order, instead of realizing that social orders and institutions are significant to the novelist only as he stands a art from them observing their ways and considering their interplay in the lives of men and women. It was a major loss to American letters that he should not have striven to be an artist first, and a southern romantic only at a later and more convenient season. If he had served his art more jealously, if he had learned from Poe to refuse the demands of inconsequential things, he would have viewed his beloved Charleston with keener eyes and portrayed it more adequately.
But he would not serve his art alone. Unhappily he conceived that he owed an imperative duty to his native commonwealth, and in fulfillment of that duty he frittered away his enormous vitality in delivering patriotic orations and occasional addresses, serving in the Legislature, pottering over politics, lecturing upon literature, founding and editing magazines and essaying to bring culture to Charleston by fiery impetuosity of appeal. He struggled as few other Americans have done to further the cause of letters in a desperate environment; but creative literature could neither be cajoled nor coerced to take up an abode in the indolent little city, and Simms wore himself out in a fruitless undertaking. Our literature has suffered few greater losses than this wasting of the genius of Gilmore Simms in trumpery fields that belong to the literary dray horse. It was the inevitable outcome of the conflict between the creative artist and the citizen of South Carolina.
Little as he is known to later readers Simms is by far the most virile and interesting figure of the Old South. He was built on a generous plan. He was endowed with a rich and prodigal nature, vigorous, spontaneous, creative. There was in him much of Whitman's largeness and coarseness, much of his delight in the good things of earth. He wrote with extraordinary gusto, and his fine strong face suggests that he lived with equal gusto. As a professional man of letters he turned out an incredible amount of work, by ordinary two tales a year - solid works of five hundred pages each - together with poems and plays and pot-boiling stuff to tax the capacity of two or three hack writers. He poured out his material copiously, lavishly, with overrunning measure. His stories flow as generously as his Jamaica rum. He is a veritable geyser of invention, an abundant sea of salty speech. He has no sense of restraint; he does not stop to prune the tangle of his imagination; he refuses to strip the plot of extraneous incident to hasten its action. He is as episodic as Dickens at his worst, piling up action and multiplying threads till the story bogs down. The major plot is always struggling from hummock to hummock in the endless swamp where his characters slip in and out, rarely getting to firm ground, yet never quite submerged. Prodigal of adventure and loving action, clumsy as the natural man when confronted with sentiment, he is an American Fielding with a dash of Smollett. He is at ease only out of doors, in the fields and swamps and highways; there his speech becomes racy, and there the rich poetry of his nature, which somehow rarely got into his verse, comes to abundant and spontaneous expression. When he enters the drawing-room his stilted language betrays his lack of ease. He writes with his pen and not with his heart. The plantation tradition has him in its grip and his fine ladies and gentlemen are done up with much literary starch. But let him come upon a happy-go-lucky blackguard and he loves him as Fielding would have loved him. The amusing scene in which Lieutenant Porgy heaves a pot of hot hominy in the face of a Scotch dragoon is quite evidently reminiscent of Parson Adams' recourse to a dish of hog's blood in a certain tavern brawl. 4 Like Fielding also is his criterion of morality. A frank and generous nature is his infallible test of worth, and if his patriotism led him to bestow a large share of generosity on the patriots, and a correspondingly meager share on the Loyalists and British, he was but exercising an ancient prerogative of the romancer.
Contemporary romanticism engrafted on a nature fundamentally realistic developed a pronounced strain in his work which, for lack of an exacter word, we may call picaresque. This comes out at its worst in the crude border tales of Richard Hurdis and Border Beagles, stories marked by the coarseness of the eighteenth century, backwoods versions of Jonathan Wild. At its best it created a goodly company of blackguards that are an asset to American literature. Simms dearly loved a rogue, and the more picturesque the latter's knavery the more he loved him. A gentleman villain turns to a thing of wood in his hands, but a low-born rascal he creates out of living flesh and blood. A surprising number of low figures, both rogues and honest men, enliven his cluttered pages, individual, racy, often poetic. Realistic in speech and action, they are men of special gifts, nimble of wit and rich in imagination, sometimes fallen to base uses and sometimes ennobled by affection for their superiors. Thumbscrew, Supple Jack Bannister, and Joe Ballou, the partisan scouts; Isaac Muggs, mine host of the Black Riders; Goggle the half-breed; Hell Fire Dick of Tophet, the blackguard converted by Pilgrim's Progress; Sam Bostwick the Squatter - these are admirable figures, done with inimitable spirit, the choicest collection of homespun in American literature. They impart life and drama to Simms's tales. Remove them, and his romances are only a welter of stilted language and starchy situations. The scene, for example, between Jack Bannister and Isaac Muggs, in which the latter is converted to true republican principles by appeal to a backwoods ordeal by battle, is magnificent in its broad humor, and it is a pity that Simms did not give freer rein to his genius for such work. It is incomprehensible that a man who could put into the mouth of Thumbscrew such language as the following could have stooped to scribble the love scenes between Ernest Mellichampe and Janet Berkeley:
When it so happens that the things a man's got to love gits fewer and smaller, they gits more valuable, Airnest, in his sight; for he knows mighty well, if he loses them, that he's jist like an old bird that comes back to the tree when the blossoms and the flowers have all dropped off, and are rotting under it. It's mighty nigh to winter in his heart then, Airnest - mighty nigh - and the sooner he begins to look out a place to sleep in, the wiser man you may take him to be. (Mellichampe, Chapter IX.)But Simms was too inveterately episodical to construct a pretty plot, and too careless in his generous southern hospitality to discriminate between guests at his board. He throws a huge miscellany on the table from which each may choose what pleases his taste.
Here again romanticism did him an evil turn. Southern taste was too aristocratic to like coarse fare. Gentlemen must dine like gentlemen even though black rascals served as waiters. Common fellows were well enough in the background, but they must not presume to crowd their betters from the table. In such matters Simms was constrained to follow the orthodox literary tradition. From Shakespeare to Scott the notion prevailed that legitimate romance must be conceived of as a flitch of bacon, the lean of vulgarity alternating with the fat of gentility. Hence Simms was forced to keep a weather eye on the popular taste lest it be offended by too free an offering of the low. His negroes, such as Scipio and Brain and Benny Bowlegs, are more worth while than their masters, and his swamp-suckers are done with more gusto than the officers; but when the plot demands the appearance of the gentry he sends his black-bottle rapscallions about their business. Except in occasional instances, as in the case of old Colonel Sinclair, the Carolinian baron - a testy old gentleman done in the best gouty manner - Simms does the "quality" badly and the canny reader soon learns to skip the genteel passages in order to visit with Lieutenant Porgy or follow the adventures of Hell Fire Dick or Supple Jack Bannister. There is ample fare at his generous board, but one must pick and choose.
The critics have made quite too much of the Gothic extravagancies that mar so many of his pages. It is true that Simms was a generous purveyor of "blood-pudding" romance with its gory exploitation of crime and mystery. Nothing can excuse or extenuate such folly in the abstract; but it is easily comprehensible. It was a part of the price which the professional man of letters had to pay as caterer to a provincial reading public. After the surprising success of Guy Rivers, Simms deliberately tested the taste of his readers by sending forth Richard Hurdis under a pen name; and the equal success of the latter convinced him that American readers liked such fare. He had a living to make; the market was limited, and he resolved to give the public what it wanted. This accounts for his major sins. An enormous number of chapters, together with whole volumes such as Charlemont and Beauchampe - preposterous accounts of a notorious murder case in Kentucky - deserve no better fate than the rubbish heap. They are in no sense literature; yet unfortunately the very great powers of Simms are too commonly measured by such trash, instead of by his Revolutionary tales.
Simms was a loving student of older English literature and drew much of his water from excellent wells. A happy instinct led him back to the robust time of Elizabeth and those masculine playwrights whose ample natures were so like his own. Shakespeare may be reckoned his particular master-especially the prose of Shakespeare with its Cheapside colloquialisms and racy idiomatic rhythms. No better training school could be desired, and his loving apprenticeship to the older vernacular serves to explain the source of Simms's greatest literary virtue. From long familiarity with the Elizabethans he derived his mastery of English idiom that sets him widely apart from most other contemporary Americans. In easy outpouring of picturesque speech, of the lithe and muscular idiom of the older literature, he was without a rival in his generation. Many an old Elizabethan phrase lingered in the southern backwoods, and many an indigenous turn of speech had sprung from homely new-world experience. All such Simms seized upon with the relish of a gourmand, stirring them into the great pot from which he ladled such generous spoonfuls. Later critics have been singularly obtuse in their failure to do justice to his rich linguistic equipment. Quite too much comment has been devoted to his careless slips in rhetorical construction, and quite too little to his command of masculine English prose. It is absurd to couple him with Cooper in sinning against good writing. They are as unlike as two men could well be. Simms is incomparably the greater master of racy prose, as he is much the richer nature. The only contemporary indeed who approaches him is Melville in Moby Dick. He is careless and slovenly enough in all conscience; when he goes on a rampage he mouths his lines like any town crier. But though he keeps a sharp eye on the groundlings, though he is often preposterous, he is rarely wooden, never feeble.
The Elizabethan influence comes out strikingly in the char aster of Lieutenant Porgy, the spoilt child of his imagination, who runs through the Revolutionary romances as a sort of comic chorus. Despite Professor Trent's opinion to the contrary, Porgy is a South Carolinian Falstaff, quite evidently done with a close eye to the original. He is a very mountain of a fellow, with huge paunch and spindling shanks from too much sitting at the table and in the saddle - the most amusing and substantial comic character in our early fiction. As a South Carolina gentleman, Porgy of course was no liar or coward or woman cheater. In battle he is an avalanche of patriotic valor, and in his deference to the weak and dependent, in his free-handed generosity that encumbers him with penniless hangers-on, he is model of southern chivalry. But in the far greater matters of the belly, he is strikingly Falstaffian. He is not so much a valiant trencherman, as an artist in food and drink. He lived to eat and he ate to speculate on the virtues of a good dinner. "He took philosophy with him to the table, and grew wise over his wine" (Woodcraft, Chapter XVIII). He is an epicure in words, a gourmand of wit. The copious stream of his speech runs on in an endless flow, sometimes roily but never stagnant. A pat aphorism or a picturesque phrase is as succulent to him as Carolina terrapin. When philosophy fails he stoops to horseplay, but his practical jokes are carried off with theatrical splendor, with colossal assurance. Like Falstaff he is fond of practicing his wit on his followers. His Bardolph is a certain Geordie Dennison, the swamp poet of the troop; and Porgy honors him as one artist honors the craft of another.
But the most satisfying comradeship lies between Porgy and Black Tom, fellow practitioners of the gentle art of cookery, sworn liegemen to roasts and soups and stews. Together they make the swamp commissariat bloom like a Covent Garden market. They are master foragers untroubled by an overnice conscience. "Do as much stealing in an honest way as you can," the lieutenant remarks to Tom. "D-n the patriotism that can't eat stolen fruit!" At a pinch the native resources of the swamp are boldly commandeered The creative masterpiece of the valiant Porgy was a notable banquet which he proffered General Greene and his staff in their swamp quarters. His infinite resourcefulness in this great affair, his huge inventiveness, elevate the dinner to the rank of a culinary epic. The swamp frogs that he speared by moonlight, and the young alligators that he took by subtle stratagem, were transmogrified into delectable dishes served to his guests under the alluring names of alerta and lagarta.5 The scene is done with a gusto that only the worshiper of fleshpots could achieve. Simms delighted in Porgy because he was himself something of a Porgy. There is good fare for those who sit at table with the fat humorist of The Forayers; the ready talk does not lack the salt of wit. The later Porgy of Woodcraft scarcely comes up to the earlier. His debts weigh too heavily on his spirits for the easy play of his fancy; he is less redoubtable as a wooer than as a warrior; nevertheless there is excellent humor to be enjoyed at Glen Eberle, and some extraordinary pranks. The two major themes with which his romances deal, as has been often pointed out, are the frontier and the Revolution; but the intimate connection between them has not been so commonly remarked. In much of his better work the two themes blend into one. The conditions of civil war in the South thrust into sharp relief the cultural and psychological frontier that clung to the outskirts of the plantations - the ragged edges of a society that kept the poor whites submerged and bred a numerous progeny of coarse and primitive creatures, little better than social outcasts. Not the least of the curses of slavery - as Helper pointed out - was its blighting effect on the less prosperous whites who environed every plantation with its special frontier. With his strong bias towards realism Simms refused to romanticize what was inherently unlovely. Like Baldwin in his Flush Times of Mississippi and Alabama, he discovered an ample supply of blackguards and sharpers in the no man's land beyond the settlements. The log cabins of the swamp country harbored their motley crew in no wise different from their fellows of the farther frontier along the Mississippi; and these precious rascals he drags from their lurking-places to exhibit in the light of day. The frontier in consequence is rarely absent from his stories, and it is this picaresque interpretation that sets him so sharply off from Cooper. A recent student, in commenting on the contrast between the frontier of Cooper and Simms, suggests that "perhaps the earlier frontier had been intrinsically more dignified than that which Simms had observed; perhaps the difference is that Cooper's had lain deeper under the softening shadow of the past" (Van Doren, The American Novel, p. 65). But this is quite to miss the point, both of Cooper and Simms. The real explanation is to be sought in the different interpretations of the romantic and the realist. Cooper's frontier existed only in his imagination. When he came face to face with the reality, as in the case of old Aaron Thousandacres and his lawless brood, he hated it too frankly to portray it justly. The stern Purity squatter and his fiercer wife are magnificent caricatures, drawn to serve a partisan purpose. They provide a romantic contrast to the honest Chainbearer, spokesman of thepsychologyy of the settlements; but set beside Simon Suggs, master of the frontier technic of easy money, as depicted by Joseph Baldwin, they are as romantic as Cooper's Indians.
The picaresque note is frankly emphasized in Simms' Revolutionary tales. All the swamp-suckers and rapscallions found their heaven-sent opportunity in the disorders of civil war. No realist could write about the Revolution in South Carolina without noting the flocks of buzzards gathering to fall upon the carrion. War is not a heroic thing in these stirring pages. It invites debauchery and encourages brutality. Blackguards put a black stain on military glory. In the preface to The Scout, Simms remarks:
To burn and slay were not the simple performances of this reckless period and ravaged country. To burn in wantonness and to murder in cold blood, and by thecruelestt tortures, were the familiar achievements of the time: . . . The face of the country was overrun by outlaws. Detached bands of ruffians, formed upon the frontiers of Georgia, and in the wilds of Florida - refugees from all the colonies - availed themselves of the absence of civil authority to effect a lodgment in the swamps, the forests, and the mountains. These, mounted on swift horses, traversed the state with the wind; now here, now there; one moment operating on the Savannah, the next on the Peedee; sometimes descending within sight of the smokes of the metropolis; and anon, building their own fires on the lofty summits of the Appalachian ridge. Now and then in his pages war flashes out in romantic or heroic episodes, but for the most part it is mean and degrading, a thing to be hated. Simms loved action too keenly not to make the most of the countless onsets and forays, the ambushing of Hessians and the cutting off of wagon trains; he found in them material for many a brisk page and stirring adventure; but in the end it is the brutality of it all, the unhappy loosing of evil passions, that gives him most concern. It was a hard world, and the soft-hearted Jack Bannister, speaking with the tongue of Simms, could find comfort only in stoicism. "A man ought not to be too soft about the heart, in a world like this, so full of rascals that need the knockings of a hard and heavy hand."
It is this strong seasoning of the picaresque, perhaps, that accounts for the neglect that has befallen the work of Simms. Many blackguards and generous potations of Jamaica rum consorted ill with the genteel tradition in letters that grew up in the days following the Civil War; and romantic memories of a lost cause threw an idyllic haze over earlier times. The Revolutionary War lay too far in the past for a generation suffering from a great tragedy to concern itself with, and the vivid and vital work of Simms scarcely outlived its creator. The Revolutionary tales have been largely forgotten, and from his abundant work only The Yemassee has survived in popular affection, and this partly from the vogue of Cooper. The winnowing has been severe and scarcely just. The best of Simms is not in The Yemassee, but in hose stirring tales of Marion's men who carried on a bushwhacking campaign under the hot sun of the dog days. The Partisan and The Forayers and Woodcraft deserve a better fate than has befallen them. The ghost of Cooper does not haunt their pages to challenge comparison, as it does The Yemassee, and bring into question their relative merits. There Simms is at home, in the swamps and fields and villages, with men whose ways he knew and loved, and his generous nature followed its own impulses.
But in dealing with the Indians he entered a domain preempted by the romantic, and his picaresque realism suffered a disastrous rivalry. Like Robert Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods, The Yemassee is heavily marked by the frontier psychology. It was unfortunate, perhaps, that Simms did not follow Cooper's example and plunge into the wilderness, leaving behind him the squatter and settler with their sordid prose. Instead, his Indians are encompassed by a dark background of civilization, and their tragic destiny is poignantly dramatized in the fate of young Occonestoga, besotted with the white man's rum, and doomed to a destruction far less poetic than befalls Uncas fighting his hereditary foes. Nevertheless a wealth of romantic material is crowded into the volume, enough to serve Cooper for half a dozen tales. In simplifying his plots to the uncomplicated problem of flight and pursuit, the latter gains in dramatic swiftness of movement, but he loses in abundance of accompanying action-the sense of cross purposes and many-sided activities, which The Yemassee so richly suggests. The latter is an elaborately carved and heavily freighted Spanish bark that is left far astern by the trim Yankee clipper ship; yet its cargo of the gold of the Indies is far richer. It is the familiar story of southern prodigality and wastefulness - an exuberant nature pouring out its wealth in spendthrift fashion, and failing to achieve the greater results attained by a simpler nature held in closer restraint. After all it is idle to compare Cooper and Simms, and even more futile to catalogue the latter as a disciple of the Cooper school. Simms was far too rich in his own right to live as a dependent on anyone, and certainly far too original to be an imitator. Nature was lavish in her gifts to him, and as if his fame as a story-teller is less than Cooper's, the debit must be charged against his unfortunate environment.
The later years of Simms were utterly devastated by the unhappy war, in which, as was to be expected, he was a stalwart and uncompromising partisan. His native commonwealth that had long treated him shabbily, sacrificed him in the end to her folly. It was his own fault of course, but how could one warped by the pervasive southern provincialism hope to escape? Scratch a Carolinian of the Calhoun school and you find a Fire Eater. In this respect Simms was not different from the McDuffies and Hamiltons from whom he took his cue - gentlemen whom, because they were politically prominent, he regarded as socially intelligent. That a man of such native powers as Simms should have taken seriously the Charleston politicians - blown up like a pig's bladder after butchering; that he should himself have aspired to become another such bladder - these are sobering facts to remind us that the man of letters is very likely to be a child outside his study walls. What was wrong with Simms that he read the signs of the times so badly? This, that he lived in a world of unreality, of social and economic romanticism, that was forever benumbing his strong instinct for reality. His father-in-law owned seventy slaves; his neighbors and acquaintances owned slaves; all South Carolina gentlemen owned slaves; and in judging this matter of slavery Gilmore Simms went unquestioningly with his little world. He who had drunk of the rich wine of Elizabethan culture came at last to drink himself under the table with his drafts of Charleston Jamaica. The dream of a Greek civilization based on black slavery was discovered in the bottom of the cup of southern romanticism. And Simms emptied his bottle with the rest. Charleston, no doubt, has paid a sufficiently heavy price for her too copious potations, but she can never atone for the undoing of her greatest son-for the foolish intoxication that befuddled the generous mind of Gilmore Simms. The loss is not Charleston's alone; it is a loss to our common American literature. There is food for thought in the words of the epitaph which he composed for himself: "Here lies one who, after a reasonably long life, distinguished chiefly by unceasing labors, has left all his better works undone." Juster words could not have been written, nor more tragic.