Virginia is producing at last a literature both indigenous to its soil and imbuied with a realism that may be said to capture the major portion of the truth about its people and its civilization. This contemporary flowering has saved the State from cults of extremists that had their day before the clatter of Virginia typewriters was heard throughout theland.
Late in the nineteenth century Virginians seriously took up writing as a profession. In the early Colonial period the struggle for existence precluded authorship as a conscious art and brought forth a pragmatic literature that described the new country for a curious English people, chronicled the daily life of the colonists, catalogued laws, and finally evolved into formal history. In the late Colonial days emphasis was placed on statesmanship and forensics to the exclusion of imaginative writing. Following the establishment of the republic, to which the Virginia intelligentsia. gave its best thought, the sectional strife of the Fiery Epoch produced statesmen and orators rather than creative writers. When slavery flourished, wealth was confined to a few large planters, on the whole uninterested in professions; and the masses of tenants and small landowners were too busy digging a living out of the soil to cultivate the arts.
The War between the States left Virginians in dire poverty. 'Literature on a large scale,' says Dr.Alphonso Smith, 'implies authorship as a profession, and authorship as a profession has never flowered among a poor people . . . Literary productiveness, in other words, is vitally related to industrial productiveness, both being correlative manifestations of the creative spirit.'
The birth year of the new industrialism in the South, 1875, was also the birth year of a new Southern literature. It was then that Lanier attained National fame. Immediately thereafter other writers (Virginians among them) loomed upon the horizon, where before only the lonely figures of Poe, Timrod, Hayne, Simms, and Father Ryan had been silhouetted. The Reconstruction literature of Virginia, however, which endured well into the twentieth century, was characterized by a nostalgia for the past and a romantic idealism that evaded facts. However, many voices are at last being lifted against those artificial traditions that were memorialized by Virginians who wrote during the four decades after the War between the States.
The chroniclers of pioneer experiences wrote with spicy frankness. George Percy, who was governor of Virginia from 1609 to 1610, and Ralph Hamor, secretary of the colony, who arrived in 1609, took chronological lead with their 'true discourses,' 'true relations,' and 'observations' concerning Virginia and Virginians. Captain John Smith spun yarns that are still merry reading whether they deal with New England, the Summer Isles, or the story of Virginia. Two writers of this early period wandered along the pleasant bypaths of poetry and metrical translation. Richard Rich invites passing notice as the first of Virginia's versifiers. In 1610 he wrote A Ballad of Virginia, describing his voyage from England and his experiences in the new colony. A much more notable poet was the Oxford-bred George Sandys, who was treasurer of the colony for seven years and completed at Jamestown his metrical translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1626).
Then for 50 years there were neither chroniclers nor romancers. The drama of Bacon's Rebellion, however, inspired the anonymous Burwell Papers, which recounted the abortive effort of the people to overthrow entrenched autocracy, and eulogized the young rebel leaders. The chronicles of William Byrd II, appearing after 1741, when Virginia was about to settle down to an era of tobacco prosperity, are written in amusing and expansive vein. 'A journey to the Land of Eden' (in Westover Manuscripts), which describes the pilgrimage of commissioners sent to fix the State's southern boundary, not only makes the early eighteenth century live again but still causes Virginians to chuckle over the strange ways of North Carolinians. Byrd's account of the Dismal Swamp area, of the beginnings of the iron industry, and of manners and morals in general has become increasingly valuable with the passing years. Hugh Jones, a clergyman and lawyer, rounded out the social and economic picture with the publication in 1724 of The Present State of Virginia, though his book is rather more for study than for entertainment. But perhaps the most delightful bits of writing that have emerged from the Colonial period are the diaries of Philip Vickers Fithian, tutor at Nomini Hall, who dealt with the goings on of belles and beaux, family dinners and neighborhood parties, work and games, foods and clothes, flirtations and stolen kisses.
The writing of formal history was initiated by Robert Beverley, whose History of the Present State of Virginia was published in London in 1705 and subsequently translated into French. Soon thereafter William Stith, using the notes he inherited from Sir John Randolph, compiled The History of Virginia from the First Settlement to the Dissolution of the London Company, which was published in 1747. As authoritative source for students of the early Colonial era, Stith's history is second only to the far different and more comprehensive work of W.W.Hening, which accurately records the statutes of Virginia from 1619 to 1792.
The era preceding and immediately following the Revolution is marked by a literature forceful, lucid, and as definitely creative as fiction, drama, or poetry. The Virginia prose of that period not only brought forth a Nation but stands today among the permanent models of expository writing. In a Letter to the Clergy on the Two-Penny Act (1760), Richard Bland enunciated the principles actuating those colonists who had wearied of supporting the privileged few; and his pamphlet entitled An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies (1766), declaring Virginia no part of the Kingdom of England and united with the Mother Country only by the Crown, was amazingly prophetic of a philosophy much later to be translated into statute. The Leedstown Resolutions, which were written by Richard Henry Lee and adopted by 115 patriots in 1766 and which set forth the doctrine later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence; the speeches of Patrick Henry and of George Washington; James Madison's notes and contributions to the Federalist Papers; many speeches and pamphlets by other authors; and everything penned by Thomas Jefferson rank in clarity, force, and purity of English among the literary monuments of America.
In Revolutionary Virginia the leading contributors to belles lettres as distinct from political treatises were lawyers, physicians, and clergymen. The same breadth of culture that had emanated from the pulpit oratory of Samuel Davies characterized the preaching of the blind James Waddell. The political satires of St.George Tucker are less noteworthy than two of his lyrical compositions, 'Resignation' and 'Days of My Youth,' which, despite defects of style, have found places in most American anthologies. Dr.James McClurg, the delegate from Virginia to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787, who outHamiltoned Hamilton in his advocacy of monarchical forms for America, found escape from medicine and forensics in a pleasing bit of society verse, 'The Belles of Williamsburg,' a tribute to the pretty girls of the Colonial capital; and much fugitive verse, some of no mean quality, appeared in issues of the Virginia Gazette. Literature sustained a loss in 18o8 when John Daly Burk, a gallant young Irishman, was killed in a duel ten years after his coming to Virginia. His tragedies, Bunker Hill (1797) and Bethlem Gabor (1807), contain interesting local allusions, and his History of Virginia (1804) is of lasting value.
Deliberate biography of National heroes as an art unknown in England until Izaak Walton published his Life of Donne in 1640, and practiced little for many years there after it was introduced into American letters by a Virginian who chose a Virginian as his subject. Mason Locke Weems, better known as 'Parson' Weems, published in 18oo his highly imaginative Life of Washington, which put the cherry tree and dollarthrowing myths into permanent circulation and a set fashion in anecdotal writing that has endured even to this day. The quixotic parson followed his first success with biographies of Francis Marion, Benjamin Franklin, and William Penn, all so entertaining as to make their historical inaccuracies somewhat pardonable. The five volume study of Washington published between 1804 and 1807 by John Marshall, Chief justice of the United States Supreme Court and author of epoch-making decisions, is a scholarly work vastly different from Weems's fairy tale. But William Wirt, highly successful in his Letters of a British Spy (1803) and in a series of essays published as The Old Bachelor (1810-13) made a dismal contribution to biography in his Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817).
Though other Virginians wrote during the first half of the nineteenth century, only one deserves more than passing comment. Anne Royall, who spent 15 years of her childhood as a captive of the Indians, first recounted her experiences among the red men and then wrote readable travel books. Letters to a Young Relative by John Randolph, the poems of William Munford, Swallow Barn (1832), a novel of the Tidewater, and Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt (1849) by John Pendleton Kennedy of Maryland are not altogether forgotten. Yet no writer foreshadowed Virginia's greatest literary genius, Edgar Allan Poe.
'I am a Virginian,' Poe declared on one occasion to a friend. 'At least I call myself one.'Born in Boston, he was adopted less than three years later by the Allans of Richmond and educated in Richmond, in England, at the University of Virginia, and briefly at West Point. Though his earliest poems were published in the North and though he set out upon his career as man of letters in Baltimore, Poe achieved recognition through the Southern Literary Messenger, which published his first short stories and of which he became editor in 1835.
As poet, essayist, and creator of the modern short story, Poe holds in American literature a preeminence accentuated by the passing years. Discerning a new esthetic, he was among the first to catch in both prose and poetry the dark spirit of individuality that fascinated Baudelaire, through whose translations Poe became one of the chief progenitors of the Symbolist Movement and took his place as a real force in the development of Western literature. There is a close relationship between Poe's genius and the atmosphere of Virginia, with its 'mists and mellow fruitfulness,' its classical background, and its drowsing mansions.
One of Poe's contemporaries who escaped oblivion through a recent reprinting of his remarkably prophetic book, The Partisan Leader, secretly published in Washington in 1836 and subsequently suppressed, was judge N.Beverley Tucker, author also of a novel, George Balcombe (1836). Philip Pendleton Cooke, a contributor to the Southern Literary Messenger from Martinsburg (now in West Virginia), wrote at 17 'The Song of the Sioux Lover,' but his best known poem is the memorial lyric, 'Florence Vane,' which has been translated into several languages. John Reuben Thompson, who succeeded Poe as editor of the Messenger, later composed stirring war lyrics that have found places in anthologies. George Bagby, whose editorship of the Messenger assumed in 1860 was interrupted by his service in the Confederate army and ended by the death of the magazine in 1864, was a popular essayist and humorist.
From the death of Poe to the War between the States, though Virginia produced no other genius of the first rank, the years were not barren of all literary production. Into this period falls the work of Bishop William Meade, whose Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, published in 1857, is the authoritative source of early parish history in Virginia. General Winfield Scott wrote clearly of infantry tactics and army regulations; and Sarah Barclay Johnson illustrated The City of the Great King by her father, James Turner Barclay published in 1857 and the next year brought out her own book, The Hadji of Syria. Disguised as a Mohammedan woman, she entered the tomb of David and sketched the first picture of it ever made published.
The spirit that characterized Virginia at the close of the war is revealed in such books as Women: or Chronicles of the Late War (1871) by Mary Tucker Magill; The End of an Era (1902) and The Lion's Skin (1905) by John Sergeant Wise; The Birth of the Nation (1907) by Sarah Agnes Pryor; the excellent dialect stories of La Salle Corbell Pickett, whose husband
General George Edward Pickett was made famous by his gallant charge at Gettysburg; Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War (1867) by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire; and A Girl of Virginia (1902) by Lucy Meecham. Thruston. Mrs.S.A.Weiss, however, who began writing prose as a war prisoner at Fort McHenry, sought escape through such books as The Crime of Abigail Tempest and The Last Days of Poe, and through the writing of poetry. Her books had a wide circulation in England and were translated into both French and German.
In the poetry of the immediate postwar period, John Reuben Thompson was perhaps the most studied artist; but Father Abram Joseph Ryan, laureate of the South, was the most beloved poet. Under the pen name Moina, he wrote ringing war lyrics that were recited by all literate Southerners. The moods induced by the war are vividly expressed also in the devotional verse of Margaret junkin Preston, the clarion battle songs of James Barron Hope, and the sharply pointed lines of Father John Banister Tabb. A place among the poets should be given also to Christopher P. Cranch, who published in 1875 what is probably the best American translation of Virgil's A eneid.
But the war's aftermath distorted the creative spirit in curious ways. Writers, glorifying the days that were no more, sought to crystallize in memory a past that had never existed as they portrayed it. Possessing no iconoclasm and much conservatism, Southern literature was for 30 years an inaccurate picture of the times it professed to reproduce, but it was pleasingly written and provided a narcotic that the South welcomed. The singing optimism of Thomas Nelson Page offered an escape from depressing realities. Page's first published work appeared in Scribner's Monthly in 1877, but his recognition as a writer dates from the publication of Marse Chan ten years later. His novels, following in quick succession, are still among the sentimental classics of the South. In another kind of reaction Thomas Dixon of North Carolina, who lived for a time in Virginia, wrote novels of Southern life, The Leopard's Spots (1902) and The Clansman (1905), as special pleas for hatred. Later The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908) and other fiction of John Fox, Jr., beatified the mountain whites with unlikely virtues and started the spurious lore of the 'hill billy,' which is now being amplified by radio.
Neither Virginia nor the South can be held wholly accountable for this trend. When Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), inspired, it is said, by the little son of a friend with whom she was staying in Norfolk, the book was devoured by sentimental readers throughout the Englishspeaking world. Two continents shed tears during this era over 'Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt, 'which Thomas Dunn English wrote while visiting a friend in Tazewell County, Virginia. The immense success in Victorian England of Du Maurier's Trilby (1894) absolves Virginia from full responsibility for the sentimentalism of an era that cherished Thomas Nelson Page's Two Little Confederates (1888) and the self-effacing Southern mammy of fiction.
Marion Harland responded to the same influence. Born Virginia Hawes, in Amelia County, she married Edward Payson Terhune, a Presbyterian minister, and is the mother of Albert Payson Terhune and Virginia Terhune Van de Water. Her novels were immensely successful, though she won wider renown as the author of a cookbook and as a writer on domestic economy.
The twentieth century was well on its way when the new Southern literature came into being. In the forefront of the novelists it has produced stand three Virginians: Mary Johnston, Ellen Glasgow, and James Branch Cabell; and Virginia may claim also Willa Cather, who was born in Winchester.
Mary Johnston wrote through one era and into another. Beginning as a romanticist, she evolved into realism and finally into mysticism. Even in her earliest historical novels, however, where she was at her romantic best, Miss Johnston's genius for truthful detail is apparent. From the landing of the women in 16 20 through the stirring I 86o's, her story of Virginia is written with keen feeling for dramatic values and historic verity. Though she made no effort to debunk, she has not surrounded her heroes with traditional glamour. Her Stonewall Jackson in The Long Roll (1911), the mad general threatened with the mutiny of his soldiers, was disturbing to the hero-worshipers who demanded that greatness and perfection be considered synonymous. Yet students have been unable to prove that the portrayal was not in accord with the records. In Hagar (1913) Miss Johnston brought her chronicle up to the present day and then set out with the mystics to discover the fourth dimension, writing such books as Michael Forth and The Exile. Sympathetically and yet unsparingly, she treated of a way of life that had to give place to modernity. While arguing in behalf of social reform, she gave with remarkable fairness the case of both plaintiff and defendant, and truthfully presented Virginia caught in transition.
The novelist who presents the most nearly complete picture of the South is undoubtedly Ellen Glasgow. In order that her literary achievement may be correctly evaluated, Miss Glasgow's work must be viewed in its entirety. Among the 20 books she has written in 41 years, there are no failures. At the beginning of her career, the local color novel had not yet run its course in America. It had, according to Carl Van Doren, invented few memorable plots, devised no new styles, added few notable characters to fiction, but had contented itself with the creation of types and puppets. Sentimentality was its dominant characteristic. Therefore, when she began writing of the Virginia she knew so well, Miss Glasgow must have consciously resisted the sentimentalism of her contemporaries. Her strongly ironical vein probably saved her. Sometimes laughing at Virginia, loving it but knowing it, she has given to the world a realism touched with whatever there is of romance that rings true. With the pen of a realist, this novelist of changing manners has dared to fight sentimentality and has defied a public she knew to be demanding what she has called 'an evasive idealism, a sham optimism, and a sugary philosophy.'
Miss Glasgow is the most significant novelist writing of the South today, because her canvas is the broadest. In depicting the reconstructed South, she deals not only with the aristocracy that gave her birth, but with the common people whom she has learned to understand so well. The best known of her books are perhaps Barren Ground (1925), The Romantic Comedians (1926), and They Stooped to Folly (1929).
James Branch Cabell belongs also to the literature of protest against Philistia. Having fled to Poictesme, Cabell sends his iconoclastic shafts against spiritual conservatism and by means of a new romance pierces the old with the cool steel of his inimitable irony. The South furnished the background for his emergence into a realm of his own making. Lichfield or Richmond offers too narrow an horizon for the sort of genius that is Cabell's. In Poictesme there is freedom for the mind that would wander unfettered by the limitations actuality imposes. Here Cabell, the imaginative genius, is able to reveal truth higher than that to be found in realism. Here it is that Manuel, the Redeemer, can study 'the secret of preserving that dissatisfaction which is divine where all else falls away with age into the acquiescence of beasts'; and here Jurgen, the pawnbroker, can wage his halfhearted, though ineffectual, fight to escape the rule of Koschei, the deathless.
With the perspective Poictesme provides, Cabell ridicules the sentimentality, the orthodoxy, and the unreality of the Philistia in which his predecessorsand, alas, many of his contemporaries dwell in inane but scarcely blissful ignorance. Since his mixture of symbolism and factual writing sometimes baffles the constituency rightfully his, it is no wonder that the literal-minded ones are left either perplexed or aghast. Yet in the literature of disillusionment James Branch Cabell holds high rank. In 1929 at the age Of 50 he completed the 20 books he chose to call his 'biography,' dropped James from his name, and as Branch Cabell started upon a new literary career.
Among Virginia-born novelists, however, Willa Cather is perhaps best assured of lasting favor. Though she does not use Virginia scenes, her matured and careful art reflects the State in its sense of background and its leisured grace of style. Something similar may be said of the Far-Eastern novels of Pearl Buck, who is a Virginian by descent and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For many years the stories, essays, and novels of Margaret Prescott Montague, who spends her winters in Richmond, have delighted literary esthetes. Closed Doors; Studies of Deaf and Blind Children, published in 1915; and the articles that were appearing at that time in the Atlantic Monthly assured Miss Montague of an important place in literature. Henry Sydnor Harrison presented in Queed (1911), V.V.'s Eyes (1913), and Angela's Business (1915) a truthful picture of life in the South, though his method was somewhat reminiscent of the Victorians. His Angela, seated behind the steering wheel of her little Fordette, constantly about her business of pursuing men, was drawn with a scathing irony of which Southern men had formerly not been guilty. Am6lie Rives, in private life the Princess Troubetzkoy, published her first book in 1888 and has subsequently written drama, fiction, and poetry of high literary quality.
Other Virginia novelists of the twentieth century whose work has brought farflung recognition are Kate Langley Bosher, author of Mary Cary and other best sellers; Sally Nelson Robins, whose books were founded upon experiences shared by many of her neighbors in Virginia; Helena Lefroy Caperton, whose versatile pen has recreated the Richmond of other days and sketched humorously the present-day Richmond she knows so well; Emma Speed Sampson, whose 'Miss Minerva' books are quoted by old and young; Roy Flannagan, whose realistic typewriter is hammering out tales of a South that romanticists have striven to hide; and Clifford Dowdy, whose war story Bugles Blow No More achieved immediate popularity.
Blair Niles, author of Black Haiti (1926) and Condemned to Devil's Island (1928), is a Virginian. Sherwood Anderson bought two newspapers in Marion, Virginia, lived there awhile, and still gives Marion as his permanent address. Frances Parkinson Keyes, novelist and associate editor of Good Housekeeping, was born in Charlottesville. Agnes Rothery (Mrs. Harry Rogers Pratt) has achieved recognition in America and abroad as the author of travel books. Her New Roads in Old Virginia appeared in 1929 and has been followed by authoritative books on foreign countries. Virginius Dabney, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has written with detached eloquence of Liberalism in the South (1932).
In biography and history Virginians have done the scholarly work that was to be expected from their tradition. Especially distinguished are the names of Alexander Brown, author of The Genesis of the United States (18go) and The First Republic in America (1898); Philip A. Bruce, author of Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (1895), Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (1907), and Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (1890); Lyon Gardiner Tyler, former president of the College of William and Mary, who wrote The Cradle of the Republic (1900) and many other historical books, and founded the William and Mary Quarterly; William G. Stanard, editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, and Mary Newton Stanard, who wrote The Story of Virginia's First Century (1928) and furnished the first accurate account of Bacon's Rebellion and its real significance; E.G.Swem, editor of the William and Mary Quarterly and compiler of Swem's Index; William Henry Squires, author of many historical works dealing with Virginia; Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, who stands at the forefront of contemporary American historians; William E. Dodd, former ambassador to Germany, historian, and author of biographies of Jefferson Davis, Woodrow Wilson, and Nathaniel Macon; James Southall Wilson, editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review (1925) and of several authoritative works on Edgar Allan Poe; Carter G. Woodson and Luther P. Jackson, Negro historians and scholars; Eudora Ramsay Richardson, author of Little A leck; A Life of Alexander H. Stephens (1932), The Influence of MenIncurable (1936), The Woman Speaker (1936), and short stories and essays; Hamilton James Eckenrode, author of biographies of Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Longstreet, and of a novel, Bottom Rail on Top (1935), conceived in the modern vein of candor; and William Cabell Bruce, whose biography of Benjamin Franklin won the Pulitzer award in 1918.
Foremost among Virginia biographers is Douglas Southall Freeman, whose monumental R.E.Lee won the Pulitzer award in 1935. Dr.Freeman's great book is more than a biography; it is a military history of the War between the States.
The turn of the century brought popular recognition to the Virginia poets James Lindsay Gordon, W.Gordon McCabe, Charles W. Coleman, B.B.Valentine, and Henry Aylett Sampson. In modern verse Edwin Quarles, Carlton Drewry, Virginia Moore, Aline Kilmer, Virginia McCormick, Josephine Johnson, Emma Gray Trigg, Francis Mason, Anne Spencer, Nancy Byrd Turner, Leigh Hanes, John Richard Moreland, Julia Johnson Davis, Marion Sartorious Ott, Marjory Howell, Mary Willis Shelburne, Virginia Stait, Elkanah East Taylor, and Florence Dickinson Stearnes have done interesting work. Lawrence Lee, Virginia Tunstall, Caroline Giltinan, and Henry E. Baker are adopted Virginians. George Dillon, winner in 193 2 of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, claims Richmond as his home, though he is now editor of Poetry, published in Chicago. Some of the best current verse in Virginia appears in The Lyric, Lyric Virginia Today, an anthology edited by the gifted lyricist, Mary Sinton Leitch, and in the Virginia Quarterly Review. The Lyric was founded in 1920 by the distinguished poet, John Richard Moreland. During his editorship and that of his successor, Virginia McCormick, the magazine was published in Norfolk. Now, however, it emanates from Roanoke, the home of Leigh Hanes, the present editor. John Moreland is the author of many books of verse and appears in many important anthologies. Leigh Hanes, whose collected work is published in two volumes, is best known for his 'Song of the New Hercules.'
The Reviewer, a little monthly magazine, appeared in Richmond in 1921 and during the four years of its existence promised to rival the prestige of the Southern Literary Messenger. Its founder and editor, Emily Clark, has written in Innocence Abroad (1931) a vivid account of the writers connected with the publication. The Reviewer published the first work of Julia Peterkin, Frances Newman, and Gerald Johnson; the first prose of DuBose Heyward; and some of Paul Green's earliest writings. James Branch Cabell edited the monthly for three issues, and its brief but brilliant course was an eloquent reply to H.L.Mencken's designation of the South as the 'Sahara of the Bozart.' The Southern Literary Messenger was reborn in 1939 under the editorship of F. Meredith Dietz.
In time not too far distant Virginia may unite the channels that have hitherto separated the literary trends of North and South. The birthplace of the Nation is as probable a place of origin as any other for a National literature that will combine romance, the social graces, and a coherent culture with dramatic vitality and spiritual vision.