August 15, 2010

Hayne and Simms: whom I love & respect

Few writers define the American South as well as William Gilmore Simms (primarily remembered as a novelist) and Paul Hamilton Hayne (called "The Poet Laureate of the South"). Both were born in Charleston, South Carolina, though 24 years apart.

Hayne, the younger of the two, considered Simms an unofficial mentor in his early career, before they had even met. In the 1860s, they became acquainted and soon were friends. Simms was a booster for Russell Magazine, which Haynes edited. But, Simms was also a literary critic, one who often was a bit acidic in his reviews. In 1859, he reviewed Haynes's collection Avolio: A Legend of the Island of Cos and, though he liked the book, noted the poet's shortcomings, a "lack of care and finish." He identified his "defects" as focusing too much on the overuse of "superlatives and compound epithets" and for writing far too many sonnets.

Even as the two writers became friends, Hayne occasionally thought Simms was too harsh. In his journal on August 15, 1864, he noted that this "venerable critic (whom I love & respect)" is crotchety:

If his criticisms are now & then profound & suggestive, they are more frequently distinguished by principles partial & one-sided; nay! sometimes absolutely puerile!

Elsewhere, Hayne noted that Simms was an "old fellow on his high horse!" — though he also admitted: "I don't mind him in the least; he means well." Simms, in turn, referred to Hayne as "my dear Paul" and "the younger brother of my guild."

Below is an untitled sonnet collected in Hayne's Avolio:

Here, friend! upon this lofty ledge sit down!
And view the beauteous prospect spread below,
Around, above us; in the noon-day glow
How calm the landscape rests! — 'yon distant town,
Enwreathed with clouds of foliage like a crown
Of rustic honor; the soft, silvery flow
Of the clear stream beyond it, and the show
Of endless wooded heights, circling the brown
Autumnal fields, alive with billowy grain;
Say! hast thou ever gazed on aught more fair
In Europe, or the Orient? — what domain
(From India to the sunny slopes of Spain)
Hath beauty, wed to grandeur in the air,
Blessed with an ampler charm, a more benignant reign?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you again for highlighting Southern writers.