January 14, 2011

Simms: a fight against bitter prejudice

In a letter dated January 14, 1859, Paul Hamilton Hayne wrote to his unofficial mentor William Gilmore Simms that the older writer's career had become "a fight against bitter prejudice... [and] mean jealousies." Though this was true of "every true literary athlete," Hayne suggested, this was especially the case for Southerners, even when criticism came from fellow "provincial, narrow-minded" Southerners. He went on:

God help all such combatants. 'Tis almost enough to make one forswear his country. I cannot refrain from picturing to myself your fate, had you removed at any early age to Massachusetts or Europe. Prosperity, praise, 'troops of friends,' and admirers, but not what you now possess, and which must be a proud consolation... under disadvantages which would have sunk a weaker mind and corrupted a less manly and heroic heart.

Many Southerners felt under-appreciated in the world of literary arts throughout much of the 19th century. The Richmond-raised (but New England-born) Edgar Allan Poe, for example, conjectured: "Had [Simms] been even a Yankee, this genius would have been rendered immediately manifest to his countrymen, but unhappily (perhaps) he was a southerner." Poe elsewhere claimed that New England "lyricists" were a "magnanimous cabal which has so long controlled the destinies of American letters." When the first important anthology of American poetry was published in 1842, Poe was one of several who criticized editor Rufus Griswold for under-representing the South.

After the Civil War, Simms edited his own anthology, War Poetry of the South (1867). When New England poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow edited his own collection of American poetry, Poems of Places (1874) he specifically noted to Hayne that "as few as possible" of the poems in Simms collection would be represented, "and not of the fiercest."

The same year as Hayne's letter, Simms published the last novel he would ever write in book form, The Cassique of Kiawah — it was published in the North, in New York.

1 comment:

  1. That is some awesome facial hair.

    I didn't realize that non-New-England authors other than Poe felt a "prejudice" against their writings.

    Have a great time tonight! The event sounds awesome; I wish I could go.

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