BY EDGAR A. POE.
Wiley & Putnam's Library of American Books. No. IV. THE WIGWAM AND THE CABIN. By William Gilmore Simms. First series.
MR. SIMMS, we believe, made his first, or nearly his first, appearance before an American audience with a small volume entitled "Martin Faber," an amplification of a much shorter fiction. He had some difficulty in getting it published, but the Harpers finally undertook it, and it did credit to their judgment. It was well received both by the public and the more discriminative few, although some of the critics objected that the story was an imitation of "Miserrimus," a very powerful fiction by the author of "Pickwick Abroad." The original tale, however — the germ of "Martin Faber" — was written long before the publication of "Miserrimus." But independently of this fact, there is not the slightest ground for the charge of imitation. The thesis and incidents of the two works are totally dissimilar; — the idea of resemblance arises only from the absolute identity of effect wrought by both.
"Martin Faber" was succeeded, at short intervals,
by a great number and variety of fictions, some brief, but many of the
ordinary novel size. Among these we may notice "Guy Rivers," "The Partisan,"
"The Yemassee," "Mellichampe," "Beauchampe," and "Richard Hurdis." The
last two were issued anonymously, the author wishing to ascertain whether
the success of his books (which was great) had anything to do with his
mere name as the writer of previous works. The result proved that popularity,
in Mr. Simms' case, arose solely from intrinsic merit, for "Beauchampe"
and "Richard Hurdis" were the most popular of his fictions, and excited
very general attention and curiosity. "Border Beagles" was another of his
anonymous novels, published
The "bad taste" of the "Border Beagles" was more
particularly apparent in "The Partisan," "The Yemassee," and one or two
other of the author's earlier works, and displayed itself most offensively
in a certain fondness for the purely disgusting or repulsive, where the
intention was or should have been merely the horrible. The writer evinced
a strange propensity for minute details of human and brute suffering, and
even indulged at times in more unequivocal obscenities. His English, too,
was, in his efforts, exceedingly objectionable — verbose, involute, and
not unfrequently ungrammatical. He was especially given to pet words, of
which we remember at present only "hug," "coil," and the compound "old-time,"
and introduced them upon all occasions. Neither was he at this period particularly
dexterous in the conduct of his stories. His improvement, however, was
rapid at all these points, although, on the two first counts of our indictment,
there is still abundant room for improvement. But whatever may have been
his early defects, or whatever are his present errors, there can be no
doubt that from the very beginning he gave evidence of genius, and that
of no common order. His "Martin Faber," in our opinion, is a more forcible
story than its supposed prototype "Miserrimus." The difference in the American
reception of the two is to be referred to the fact (we blush while recording
it), that "Miserrimus" was understood to be the work of an Englishman,
and "Martin Faber" was known to be the composition of an American as yet
unaccredited in our Republic of Letters. The fiction of Mr. Simms gave
indication, we repeat, of genius, and that of no
The volume now before us has a title which may mislead the reader. "The Wigwam and the Cabin" is merely a generic phrase, intended to designate the subject matter of a series of short tales, most of which have first seen the light in the Annuals. "The material employed," says the author, "will be found to illustrate in large degree, the border history of the south. I can speak with confidence of the general truthfulness of its treatment. The life of the planter, the squatter, the Indian, the negro, the bold and hardy pioneer, and the vigorous yeoman — these are the subjects. In their delineation I have mostly drawn from living portraits, and, in frequent instances, from actual scenes and circumstances within the memories of men."
All the tales in this collection have merit, and
the first has merit of a very peculiar kind. "Grayling, or Murder will
Out," is the title. The
Now had "Murder Will Out" been a much worse story than was ever written by Professor Ingraham, still, under the circumstances, we patriotic and independent Americans would have declared it inimitable; but, by some species of odd accident, it happened to deserve all that the British sub-sub had condescended to say of it, on the strength of a guess as to what it was all about. It is really an admirable tale, nobly conceived and skilfully carried into execution — the best ghost story ever written by an American — for we presume that this is the ultimate extent of commendation to which we, as an humble American, dare go.
The other stories of the volume do credit to the author's abilities, and display their peculiarities in a strong light, but there is no one of them so good as "Murder Will Out."
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