The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864/First Volume
The Southern Literary
The First Volume
Early one morning in August, 1834, a citizen of Richmond, Va., might be seen on its main street walking actively, but without hurry or bustle, down toward Shockoe Creek. He was of medium stature, but rather portly for his height, and was neatly attired in material of no mean quality, with a long black frock-coat and a beaver hat. He saluted pleasantly such acquaintances as he met, who cordially reciprocated, for though there was nothing striking or commanding about him, he was well known and highly respected. He walked on until he came to the corner of Fifteenth street, immediately opposite the old Bell Tavern (since the St. Charles Hotel). There he ascended some outside steps on Fifteenth street to the second floor, over Anchor's shoe store, and seated himself in the back room. For he was in his own job-printing office. In a short time, his foreman, Wm. Macfarlane, and one of his boys, Jno. W. Fergusson, came in and handed him the first number of The Southern Literary Messenger, which the stitcher and binder had brought in late the evening before; and Thos. W. White examined, with pride and hope, the work which his enterprise and perseverance had inaugurated.
Of it he announced himself only as printer and proprietor, but spoke of engaging an editor. It was to be published twice a month at $5.00 a year, but its continuance was to depend upon its success. Each number was to contain 32 royal octavo pages, which were divided by a black line into two equal columns. On the first page, a brief "publisher's notice" introduces letters of commendation and encouragement from Washington Irving, J. K. Paulding, J. Fenimore Cooper, J. P. Kennedy, John Quincy Adams and Peter A. Browne, of whom Mr. Paulding and Mr. Browne were contributors to the first volume. Then comes an appparent contribution, entitled "Southern Literature," and signed H. This is really the initiatory editorial and was written by Mr. James E. Heath, who faithfully and disinterestedly performed the part of editor for nine numbers of the first volume and continued to be Mr. White's friend and adviser.
Mr. James E. Heath was a native of Virginia,
a gentleman of literary culture and a pleasing and graceful writer. He once published a novel entitled "Edge Hill," descriptive of Virginia scenes and manners, and aided everything that was calculated to promote the interests and honor of his native State. He was, for many years, her efficient First Auditor and was thus enabled to give so much assistance to Mr. White; who, however, never interrupted him during business hours. Young Fergusson was often his messenger to Mr. Heath's residence. One stormy night, to enable this messsenger to make his trip, he presented him a pair of overshoes. But they turned out to be the wrong sort of snow shoes; for Fergusson lost one in the snow and was not much, if any, better off than if he had had none. But Mr. White used to go frequently to Mr. Heath's, with letters and contributions, over which they spent nearly the whole night. One stormy evening, Mr. Heath admitted him all buttoned up and muffled, and when he loosened his overcoat he placed upon a table a large bottle of champagne, which by no means checked their ardor in that night's work.
In this first number are poems by Mrs. Sigourney and Hon. R. H. Wilde, who afterwards avouched that he was the author of "My Life is Like the Summer Rose." There are also notices of Mr. Kennedy's eulogy of Wirt and of Rev. Stephen Olin's inaugural as President of Randolph-Macon College. Its other contents are varied and interesting. So that the second number was prepared and issued, but not until October 15, 1834.
It opens with a short address "To the public and especially to the people of the Southern States," thanking them for the patronage it had received and appealing for an increase. It also says: "The publisher makes his grateful acknowledgments for the friendly and liberal support received from various gentlemen residing in the States north of the Potomac. Many in that quarter, of literary and professional distinction, have kindly extended their patronage." This number, also of 32 pages, contains a letter, with some prefatory comments, to a Law Student, from the celebrated Wm. Wirt, and a short story, founded on fact, "Misfortune and Genius," signed H., which may have been from the facile pen of Mr. Heath: also an essay disputing the old adage that "Example is better than precept," which is signed M. and was written by Mr. Lucian Minor, always a true and trusted friend of Mr. White and his beloved Messenger. Among the known contributors were Edgar Snowden, Nugator (Landon Carter), Mrs. Sigourney, Peter A. Browne and Dr. Powell, the geologist. There are also some discriminating book notices, including Bulwer's "Pilgrims of the Rhine," and the poetical remains of Lucretia Maria Davidson. At the close, we have the "Editorial Remarks" to and about contributors and contributions. The editor kept up the plan of these remarks until about the end of the first volume. He makes an unjust attack upon Fairy Tales, but some were afterwards admitted.
Thus it has been shown how The Southern Literary Messenger was started upon its comparatively long life of 30 years.
The third number was issued in November, after some delay on account of the important change from a bi-monthly publication to a monthly. Consequently Volume I. contains 13 numbers. The proprietor announces that he has made arrangements for the management of the editorial department and has it in contemplation, when his subscription list should enable him, "not only to secure regular able contributions, but also to embellish some of his monthly numbers with handsome lithographic drawings and engravings," and this promise he repeated, with the same proviso. No attempt, however, was made to introduce illustrations into the Messenger until after Mr. Thompson's long editorship, and that was a ridiculous failure.
Mr. Robert Greenhow opens this number with the first of his long series of "Sketches of Tripoli and the other Barbary States." Mr. Greenhow was of Richmond, but wrote from Washington, where he was connected with the State Department, as translator of foreign dispatches. Mr. Lucian Minor commences his discriminating and conservative Letters from New England, revised and greatly improved for the Messenger. Like Bayard Taylor in Europe, he made many of his explorations afoot. These letters have, in recent years, been collected and published in book form under the auspices of J. Russell Lowell. They were borrowed by the Messenger from the Fredericksburg Arena, to which they were sent, because that newspaper was edited by Wm. M. Blackford, a literary gentleman, and a friend and connection of Mr. Minor. Mr. Blackford was afterwards a contributor. P. A. Browne and Mrs. Sigourney continue their contributions. There is copied from The Norfolk Beacon a warm defence of N. P. Willis, by Hugh Blair Grigsby, the editor of that paper and a friend and fellow-student of Mr. Willis. Poems are contributed by R, H. Wilde, of Georgia, by Judge A. B. Meek and D. Martin, of Alabama. The Messenger takes from The Western Monthly Magazine, of Cincinnati, its notice of the first volume of the "Collections of The Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society," of which Rev. Jonathan P. Gushing, a Northern man, and its founder, was president and Mr. Heath also an officer. Shortly afterwards, Mr. White offered to make the Messenger the organ of that Society and that offer was accepted, with thanks. Judge Marshall became its president. It expired, however, in 1837; but was revived in 1847, mainly through the instrumentality of Mr. B. B. [Benjamin Blake] Minor and Col. Thomas H. Ellis, of Richmond, in co-operation with Wm. Maxwell, ex-president of Hampden-Sidney, and that distinguished and liberal-minded jurist, Con. Robinson.
This number also contains a friendly review of "Poems, by a Collegian," Charlottesville, 1833. This collegian was Mr. Thomas Semmes, a lawyer of Alexandria, Va., whose promise was nipped by an early death. There is a notice also of another volume of poems, by another Virginian, Mr. Frederick Speece; also a greeting to Mr. M. M. Robinson, editor of the Compiler, who had had the boldness to issue a specimen number of his new weekly Literary Journal. Of course, there must be a good deal of other matter, in prose and verse, to fill 64 such pages. The number closes with quite a long editorial on the objects of the Messenger, the character of its contributions and what it had already accomplished, with extracts from numerous letters of congratulation, praise and caution.
The fourth number was issued, after a little delay, in December, and its pages were filled with the usual variety of prose and poetry, original and selected. Several of those writers already named continue to appear; but there is something new in "A Lecture on the Study of Law, by Beverly Tucker, Professor of Law in the college of William and Mary," and published by request of the students. Judge Nathaniel Beverly Tucker became one of the ablest and most abundant contributors to the Messenger. He not only wrote for it, but produced works which were reviewed in it. He was a half-brother of the celebrated John Randolph, of Roanoke, and was once a circuit judge in the State of Missouri. But he returned to his native State and was placed in the college chair which his father had filled and adorned and which he occupied the rest of his life. His full brother, Judge Henry St. Geo. Tucker, was professor of Law in the University of Virginia a part of the same time; and these two were succeeded by the brothers, John B. Minor, at the University, and Lucian, at William and Mary.
The editorial department is quite prominent in this number. Mr. Heath was genial and kind-hearted and he admits that he may have erred on the side of leniency in publishing some of the contents of the Messenger. But he maintains that its purpose was not only to furnish a vehicle for approved and practiced writers, but also to incite and call forth the slumbering and undeveloped talents of the Southern people. At the same time, Mr. Heath was a man of taste, judgment and pure ethical principles. Despite some flattering notices, to which he refers, he pounces upon "Vathek, an Oriental Tale," by Mr. Beckford, and pronounces it to be "the production of a sensualist and an infidel—one who could riot in the most abhorred and depraved conceptions and whose prolific fancy preferred as its repast all that was diabolical and monstrous, rather than what was beautiful and good." Some of his correspondents did not concur in this severe condemnation, but he adhered to it and adduced some high authorities to sustain him.
The publisher offers to patrons and the public the compliments of the season.
With its fifth number, the Messenger glides into the year 1835. Greenhow and Minor continue. Wilde contributes and claims the authorship of his disputed poem. There is again a variety of prose and poetry, original and selected. One article, interesting from its history, is "The Manuscript Poems of Mrs. Jean Wood," then deceased. She was the wife of Gen. James Wood, a distinguished officer of the Revolution, who became Governor of Virginia. "She wrote neither for fame, nor the public eye, and this circumstance alone will impart an additional interest to the natural and unstudied effusions of her muse." Several of those effusions are presented, some of which were composed as far back as 1808.
Judge N. B. Tucker furnishes a note on Blackstone, Volume I, page 523, on Slavery, and thus opens the discussion of a subject in which the Messenger was bound to take a leading part for several years. The Judge was replied to in the next number; but in the present one the editor says: "Whilst we entirely concur with him that slavery as a political, or social, institution is a matter exclusively of our own concern, as much so as the laws which govern the distribution of property, we must be permitted to dissent from the opinion that it is either a moral or political benefit. We regard it, on the contrary, as a great evil, which society sooner or later will find it not only to its interest to remove or mitigate, but will seek its gradual abolition, or amelioration, under the influence of those high obligations imposed by an enlightened Christian morality." The aggressions of abolition and fanaticism caused the Messenger to reverse its position.
There is quite a difference of opinion in regard to Bulwer. In a notice of his "Last Days of Pompeii," ostensibly editorial, it is said: "We are free to confess that it has raised Mr. Bulwer 50 per cent, at least in our estimation." But this notice, with a long extract from the work, is followed by a review, borrowed from The North American Magazine, in which "The Last Night of Pompeii;" a poem, and "Lays and Legends," by Sumner Lincoln Fairfield, are taken up, along with Bulwer: the author of Pelham, etc., etc., is severely excoriated, "as a sophist in ethics, a libertine in love, a smuggler and plagiarist."
There is a ludicrous incident in connexion with a poem, by Zarry Zyle, "A Song of the Seasons." The editor comments on this "quaint cognomen." A correspondent from Shepherdstown, Va., near which Zarry lived, pitched into his poem for its obscurity and other faults. The poet, in his true name Larry Lyle, replied sharply and spiritedly. Anyhow, the editor and his printers had mistaken two L's for two Izzards. The editor gives his contributors a deserved lecture on their MSS.
In regard to the tale "The Doom," the editor raises the question whether he ought to have admitted it and from his own statement he should not. Among other things, he says he had to expurgate it "of certain profane and unchaste allusions."
The discussion of Governor Tazewell's Report to the Legislature, on the subject of a Deaf and Dumb Asylum, is continued. The editor plaintively says: "From our Northern and Eastern friends we have received more complimentary notices than from any of our Southern brethren without the limits of our own State. We say this not in a reproachful spirit to our kindred, but in a somewhat sad conviction of mind, that we who live on the sunny side of Mason and Dixon's line are not yet sufficiently inspired with a sense of the importance of maintaining our just rights, or rather our proper representation in the Republic of Letters."
As a part of this number was not printed until February, it contains, as also does No. 6, a notice of the anniversary meetings of "The Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society;" at which Prof. George Tucker, of the University of Virginia, delivered a "learned, elaborate and elegant address," and Wm. Maxwell, Esq., of Norfolk, played off upon them the unintentional joke of presenting to them "the identical pistol with which Capt. John Smith killed the Turk Grualgo, at the siege of Regal; and, in his peculiarly happy manner, dilated upon the singular good fortune and heroic qualities of that extraordinary man." The evidence of the pistol's identity was afterwards given. It is highly probable that Prof. Chas. Deane and Dr. Alex. H. Brown were not present on that veritable occasion. The Messenger now became the organ of that Society, of which Chief Justice Marshall was then president and James E. Heath corresponding secretary.
No. 6, February, 1835, moves on with gratifying success. Its three series are continued: the third of which is "Letters from a Sister, on Foreign Travel," by Leontine; who she was is not known. Peter A. Browne gives more "Hints to Students of Geology." The venerable and experienced teacher Jas. M. Garnett's Address before the Institute of Education of Hampden-Sidney College is presented. Jos. Martin's Virginia Gazetteer is noticed and used. Lafayette had died in 1834 and great honors were paid to his memory, as had been to him, in person, in 1824, and John Quincy Adams and Edward Everett send their grand orations on the distinguished Marquis. They are confided to Judge Tucker, who gives them a critical review, partly favorable and partly trenchant. He also reviews in fine style Mrs. Jameson's "Beauties of the Court of Charles II." A Virginian replies to the Judge's note on Blackstone and notice is taken of that great jurist as a poet, with "The Lawyer's Farewell to his Muse." All intermediate spaces are well filled. The editor had given warning that he intended to be more strict in regard to poetic contributions and a reasonable improvement might be expected among the votaries of the Nine. The editor touches up quite racily his correspondent from Shepherdstown, who did not confine his remarks to the effusion of Zarry Zyle, and also one Fra Diavolo. He publishes letters of commendation and encouragement from Pennsylvania (Judge Hopkinson), North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Tennessee, western Virginia and District of Columbia.
The launching of the Messenger has of necessity been somewhat dwelt upon. A friendly correspondent wished that it had been christened "The Launch." Our gallant craft has been successfully cruising for over six anxious months and now she receives a very distinguished recruit. On page 333 of the seventh number, for March, appears Mr. E. A. Poe with his "Berenice a Tale," of which the editor said: "It will be read with interest, especially by the patrons of the Messenger in this city, of which Mr. P. is a native and where he resided until he reached manhood. Whilst we confess that we think there is too much German horror in his subject, there can be but one opinion as to the force and elegance of his style. He discovers a superior capacity and a highly cultivated taste in composition." The author says: "I have a tale to tell in its own essence rife with horror." Mr. Poe was not a native of Richmond.
Among the other known writers for this number were Greenhow, Larry Lyle, M. M. Noah, N. P. Willis, L. H. Sigourney, Alex. Lacy Beard, and a strong wish is felt that others were also known. There is a sharp review of a passable novel, "The Cavaliers of Virginia, or the Recluse of Jamestown: An Historical Romance of the old Dominion. By the author of 'A Kentuckian in New York.'" Also a friendly notice, with an extract, of "Scraps. By Jno. Collins McCabe." This author was self-educated and became a faithful and useful minister of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia, He was the father of the distinguished teacher and speaker, W. Gordon McCabe, of Virginia, The "Scraps" consist of both poems and tales. The editor has some further sparring with correspondents, and Larry Lyle replies to his Shepherdstown censor. McCabe became a contributor.
In April, the Messenger makes its eighth excursion. Mr. Poe appears again with "Morella," another of his horror-tales, and the editor gives him this send-off: "Morella will unquestionably prove that Mr. Poe has great powers of imagination and a command of language seldom surpassed. Yet we can not but lament that he has drunk so deep at some enchanted fountain, which seems to blend in his fancy the shadows of the tomb with the clouds and sunshine of life. We doubt, however, if anything in the name of style can be cited which contains more terrific beauty than his tale."
This number contains the promised address of Prof. Geo. Tucker, before the Historical and Philosophical Society, as the alternate of the Hon. James McDowell; "Indian Lover," by D. D. Mitchell, U. S. A.; "The Last Indian," a poem by Larry Lyle; another of Minor's Letters from New England, and a number of essays, sketches, tales and poems. There is an answer and counterpart, by Mrs. Dr. Buckley, of Baltimore, to Mr. Wilde's "My Life is Like the Summer Rose." The critical notices have some internal evidence that Mr. Poe may have had a hand in them.
No. 9, for May, begins with an important notice by the publisher, who states that he has made an arrangement with a gentleman of approved literary taste and attainments, to whose special management the editorial department has been confided;" and who would devote his exclusive attention to the work. He pays a high tribute to Mr. Heath (but without naming him), and thanks him most gratefully for the able and disinterested assistance which he had so long rendered. Then he and his new editor fill up his pages with the usual variety. Prof. Thomas R. Dew, president of renowned William and Mary, from whose pen a contribution has been solicited, commences his "Dissertation on the characteristic differences between the sexes and on the position and influence of Woman in Society." He was a bachelor then; but became a fortunate benedict. This learned dissertation should be republished in handsome form, in memoriam of its author and for the benefit of the living.
There is a description of the House Mountain, of which there was another, in 1837, in the Collegian of the University of Virginia, by James H. Rawlings, a student of William and Mary, a great admirer of President Dew and the roommate of B.[Benjamin] B.[Blake] Minor.
Mr. Poe gives us his very short tale, "Lionizing," on which the editor remarks: "It is an inimitable piece of wit and satire and the man must be far gone in a melancholic humor whose risibility is not moved by this tale. Although the scene of the story is laid in the foreign city of Fum Fudge, the disposition which it satirizes is often displayed in the cities of this country—even in our own community, and will probably still continue to exist, unless Mrs. Butler's Journal should have disgusted the fashionable world with Lions." Lionizing is really fun on nosology. Noses occupied a prominent place in literature, before that of Cyrano de Bergerac in recent times, and by a singular coincidence even the Messenger had prepared the way for Mr. Poe by what Pertinax Placid and Democritus, Jr., had written about noses, on pages 445 and 468. The literary notices embrace Featherstonhaugh's translation of Manzoni's "I Promessi Sposi;" Kennedy's "Horse-shoe Robinson" and Fanny Kemble Butler's famous Journal.
The general remarks which the editor deems due to the Messenger and to those who write for it are so fair and judicious that there is a strong temptation to quote them.
No. 10, June, 1835, reverses the order heretofore adopted and opens with an "Editorial Introduction," which heralds and comments on the coming contents. Thus it is learned that "Mr. Poe's story of 'Hans Phaal' will add much to his reputation as an imaginative writer. * * * The story is a long one, but it will appear short to the reader, whom it bears along with irresistible interest, through a region of which, of all others, we know the least, but which his fancy has invested with peculiar charms," etc. It is also hinted that "a voyage to the moon may not be considered a mere matter of moonshine," and it is trusted "that a future missive from the lunar voyager will give us a narrative of his adventures in the orb that he has been the first to explore." The editor could not then have been acquainted with the celebrated hoax in regard to our satellite which was so successfully perpetrated by Richard Adams Locke, in the New York Sun, only a few weeks later. A great deal was said and written about both of them. Mr. Poe's was a mere jeu d' esprit; Mr. Locke's a veritable sell, based upon alleged discoveries made with Lord Rosse's mammoth reflecting telescope. In 1848, there was a French work of a somewhat similar purport, which claimed to have been translated from the English of one Mr. D'Avisson.
Mr. D. D. Mitchell appears again. There was another Mitchell (Ik Marvel) whom the Messenger helped to develop, at a subsequent date, under Mr. John K. Thompson. Mrs. Willard, the famous educator of Troy, N. Y., contributes to the tide that had been running in honor of Lafayette; Leontine's Letters and Lionel Granby keep on. There are more visits to the Virginia Springs and more of English Poetry, and full and numerous Literary Notices; among which Judge Tucker reviews pointedly Mr. Geo. Bancroft's History, and beautifully, Sparks's Writings of George Washington. Whilst the editor could not approve "Vathek," it can Henry Vethake, for his fine address delivered at his inauguration as President of Washington College, Lexington, Va. Longfellow; Miss Leslie; Thos. Moore, as Historian; De Tocqueville; Mrs. Sigourney and others receive fair cognizance. Judge Tucker leads No. 11, July, with the Valedictory to his Law Class, published at their request; and is followed by a number of others, in prose and verse, the greatest of whom is his own associate, President Thos. R. Dew, with Part II. of his "Dissertation on the Characteristic Differences between the Sexes." At length a poem "To Mary." E. A. P. and "The Visionary—a Tale," by Edgar A. Poe, arrest the eye. There is no comment upon them. Mrs. Sigourney has a pathetic poem "On the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Girl." But what the editor has to say of the effusions in verse that get into his basket is quite amusing: "The quantity of rhyme poured in upon us is a matter of admiration. The effusions which we consign to outer darkness monthly are past enumeration. Such, for instance, as contain the following lines"—which are then given. The literary notices show that the new editor has been at his post, with industry and independence.
Allusion has already been made to the change to which the Messenger was forced in its position on slavery. There are some pregnant remarks on this question, at page 650-1.
In No. 12, August, we meet again several of our old friends, especially President Dew; and Mr. Poe favors us with "a Tale, Bon-Bon;" and "The Coliseum—a Prize Poem." If the editor took no note of him last month he amply makes up for it this time, with what follows: "As one or two of the criticisms in relation to the tales of our contributor, Mr. Poe, have been directly at variance with those generally expressed, we take the liberty of inserting here an extract from a letter, which we find in the Baltimore Visitor. That paper having offered a premium for the best prose tale and also one for the best poem, both these premiums were awarded to Mr. Poe, by the Committee." They were John P. Kennedy, J. H. B. Latrobe and James H. Miller, who gave the prize to "A MS. Found in a Bottle," one of the sixteen tales of the Folio Club. The editor continues: "We presume this letter must set the question at rest. 'Lionizing' is one of the tales here spoken of. 'The Visionary' is another. * * * When such men as Miller Latrobe, Kennedy, Tucker and Paulding speak unanimously in terms of exalted commendation of any literary production, it is nearly unnecessary to say that we are willing to abide by their decision."
The literary notices are numerous, but condensed. In future the comments upon articles published are to be discontinued.
With the thirteenth number, September, 1835, the first volume comes to its close and the publisher, in ushering it, "is gratified that his past endeavors to please have been crowned with success, anticipates with confidence that with the continued patronage of the public, the forthcoming volume shall in no respect be behind, if it does not outstrip its predecessor."
The contents of this number are from several who have been already named and from a number of anonymous writers. Along with Mrs. Sigourney, we hear again from Eliza, of Saco, Maine, who has been a frequent contributor to this volume. There is another Tale, by Edgar A. Poe—"Loss of Breath; à la Blackwood," and a poem of two stanzas—"Lines written in an Album," by E. A. P.
The critical notices are again well attended to and one of them on Harper's Classical Library and touching upon Euripides, Sophocles and Æschylus smacks of Greek Literature appreciatively. There is an extract from Munford's Homer.
Thus ends the first and crucial year of the most esteemed and longest lived Southern Literary Magazine that ever was attempted. This Volume, with the Index, contains 788 large pages.