The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Mary Elizabeth Moragne

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Mary Elizabeth Moragne was born in the year 1815, at Oakwood, in Abbeville District, South Carolina. At this retired spot she spent the earlier years of a quiet and uniform life, the deep seclusion of which served to foster and increase a naturally contemplative and romantic turn of mind.

Her childhood and youth were characterized by an ardent devotion to books; and, though she received the benefit of some competent instruction, she may be said in this way to have become self-educated—having acquired a knowledge of some of the sciences and of the French language mainly by her own efforts. Had her reading been less varied, or had she come more in contact with the world, perhaps very different would have been her future career; but the balance of her mind was preserved by an inquisitive search after truth, and her habits and modes of thinking were kept free from the conventional rules of the so-called fashionable life.

In 1839, soon after the publication of her first effort in novel-writing, she attached herself to the Presbyterian church at Willington, in which she had been brought up, under the care of the Rev. Dr. Waddel. She experienced at the same time a change of views in regard to the propriety of that branch of literature which she had adopted; and finally, after a few more efforts, some of which were never suffered to come before the world, she yielded to her particular scruples of conscience, and has ever since resolutely denied herself this favourite pursuit.

In 1842, Dr. Waddel having been removed by infirmity, she was married to his successor, the Rev. W. H. Davis, and removed with him the following year to Mount Carmel, a situation in the vicinity of the same church, where she has since resided.

Miss Moragne is descended, on the paternal side, from the French Huguenots who sought religious freedom in this country in 1764. That portion of the colony which did not remain in Charleston found refuge on the banks of Little River, in that district, where they formed a township after the manner of the country which they had left. Her connexion with, and proximity to this settlement, gave much colouring to the feelings and pursuits of Miss Moragne, and in the introduction to an unfinished tale once contemplated on this subject, she gives a brief but beautiful history of this settlement, from the unpublished manuscript of which an extract is made, at the end of the present notice.

Among these settlers was Pierre Moragne, the grandfather of the subject of the present notice, who, having lost his wife on the passage round by Plymouth, returned to Charleston from New Bordeaux, and married Cecille Bayle, a beautiful “compagnon-du-voyage.” As his letters and journals testify, he was from his youth addicted to literary pursuits, and though the wants of a primitive settlement could not have been very favourable to such inclinations, he is remembered and spoken of as a character of great eccentricity, on account of having devoted the latter years of his life to the entire companionship of his pen. His writings were not appreciated by his immediate descendants; and of the many manuscripts which he left, prepared for publication, only a few remain. These evince considerable elegance of diction, great orthodoxy of sentiment, and much fervent piety. The youngest of his four sons, who inherited much of his philosophic and eccentric temperament, was the father of Miss Moragne. On the other side, the parentage is respectable, her maternal grandmother claiming descent from the Randolphs of Roanoke.

“The British Partisan,” her first publication, appeared, as a prize tale, in the “Augusta Mirror,” in 1838. It was well received, adding greatly to the extension of the periodical, besides being reprinted in book form.

In 1841, appeared the “Rencontre,” a short tale, embracing revolutionary incidents. Of this story, Mr. Thompson, the editor of the “Augusta Mirror,” remarked as follows:—“The ‘Rencontre’ is of that class of literary productions which we prize above all other orders of fiction. Illustrative as it is of our own history, descriptive of our own peculiar scenery, and abounding in sound reflections and truly elevated sentiment, we hold it worth volumes of the mawkish romance and sickly sentimentality which has of late become a merchantable commodity with a great portion of the literary world.”

About this time appeared also some smaller pieces, both in prose and verse. One of the latter was called “Joseph, a Scripture sketch, in three parts,” comprising more than a thousand lines of blank verse.

Near the close of the year 1841, the editor of the “Augusta Mirror” says:—“We have received the first part of a tale, entitled “The Walsingham Family, or, A Mother’s Ambition,” by a favourite lady correspondent. We are much pleased with it, and judging from past efforts of the same pen, do not hesitate to promise our readers a rich treat.”

This was a domestic tale of some length, apparently designed to illustrate the folly and vanity of a worldly and ambitious mother; but although the first six chapters were in the hands of the publisher, and the remainder nearly ready for publication, it was, for the reasons before-mentioned, entirely withdrawn, notwithstanding the earnest solicitation of the editors into whose hands it had passed.