Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), Literary, Broadway Journal (New York), October 4, 1845, vol. 2, no. 13, p. ???, col. ?


[page 190, column 2:]

Critical Notices.

Wiley & Putnam’s Library of American Books. No IV. The Wigwam and the Cabin. By William Gilmore Simms.

This is one of the most interesting numbers of the Library yet published — and decidedly the most American of the American books. “The Wigwam and the Cabin” is merely a general or generic title; — the volume is a collection of tales most of which were written for the Annuals, and thus have failed in circulating among the masses of the people. We are truly glad to see them in a compact form.

In a recent number of our Journal we spoke of Mr. Simms as “the best novelist which this country has, upon the whole, produced;” and this is our deliberate opinion. We take into consideration, of course, as well the amount of what he has written, as the talent he has displayed; — he is the Lopez de Vega of American writers of fiction. His merits lie among the major and his defects among the minor morals of literature. His earlier works of length, such as “The Partisan,” were disfigured by many inaccuracies of style, and especially by the prevalence of the merely repulsive, where the horrible was the object — but in invention, in vigor, in movement, in the power of exciting interest, and in the artistical management of his themes, he has surpassed, we think, any of his countrymen: — that is to say, he has surpassed any of them in the aggregate of these high qualities. His best fictions, in our opinion, are “Martin Faber” (one of his first tales, if not his very first published one); “Beauchampe”;”Richard Hurdis”;”Castle Dismal”;”Helen Halsey”; and “Murder will Out.” “Martin Faber” has been said to resemble “Miserrimus” — and in fact we perceive that the individual minds which originated the two stories have much in them of similarity — but as regards the narratives themselves, or even their tone, there is no resemblance whatever. “Martin Faber” is the better work of the two. “Beauchampe” is intensely interesting; but the historical truth has somewhat hampered and repressed the natural strength of the artist. “Richard Hurdis” is the perfection of rough vigor in conception and conduct — a very powerful book. “Castle Dismal” is one of the most original fictions ever penned and deserves all that order of commendation which the critics lavished upon Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. No man of imagination can read this story without admitting instantly the genius of its author;-still the narrative has important defects. “Helen Halsey” is more “correct” (in the French sense of the word) but less meritorious upon the whole. We believe it is a favorite with its author; and the public have received it with marked approbation. “Murder Will Out” is the first and the most meritorious of the series now lying before us. We have no hesitation in calling it the best ghost-story we ever read. It is full of the richest and most vigorous imagination — is forcibly conceived — and detailed throughout with a degree of artistic skill which has had no parallel among American story-tellers since the epoch of Brockden Brown.

The other tales of the volume are all excellent in their various ways. Their titles are “The Two Camps, a Legend of the Old North State”; “The Last Wager, or the Gamester of the Mississippi”;”The Arm-Chair of Tustenugge, a Tradition of the Catawba”;”The Snake of the Cabin”;”Oakatibbe, or the Choctaw Sampson”; [page 191:] and “Jocassee, a Cherokee Legend.” The author says of them, in an advertisement — “The material employed 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 and the negro — the bold and hardy pioneer and the vigorous yeomen — 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.”

Mr. Simms has exercised a very remarkable influence upon the literature of his country — more especially upon that of its Southern regions — nor do we regard this influence as in any degree the less important because a Mr. William A. Jones “regards slightingly the mass of his romantic and poetical efforts.” We shall speak again of “The Cabin and The Wigwam,” and in the meantime we quote a passage from “Murder Will Out.” Our readers must bear in mind, however, the absolute impossibility of conveying, by extract, any just conception of a story whose main element is its skilful adaptation of parts:

“It’s very strange!” soliloquized the youth, as he wandered along the edges of the dense bay or swamp-bottom, which we have passingly referred to, — “it’s very strange what troubles me so! I feel almost frightened, and yet I know I’m not to be frightened easily, and I don’t see anything in the woods to frighten me. It’s strange the major didn’t come along this road! Maybe he took another higher up that leads by a different settlement. I wish I had asked the man at the house if there’s such another road. I reckon there must be, however, for where could the major have gone?”

The unphilosophical mind of James Grayling did not, in his farther meditations, carry him much beyond this starting point; and with its continual recurrence in soliloquy, he proceeded to traverse the margin of the bay, until he came to its junction with, and termination at, the high-road. The youth turned into this, and, involuntarily departing from it a moment after, soon found himself on the opposite side of the bay thicket. He wandered on and on, as he himself described it, without any power to restrain himself. He knew not how far he went; but instead of maintaining his watch for two hours only, he was gone more than four; and, at length, a sense of weariness which overpowered him all of a sudden, caused him to seat himself at the loot of a tree, and snatch a few moments of rest. He denied that he slept in this time. He insisted to the last moment of his life that sleep never visited his eyelids that night, — that he was conscious of fatigue and exhaustion, but not drowsiness — and that this fatigue was so numbing as to be painful, and effectually kept him from any sleep. While he sat thus beneath the tree, with a body weak and nerveless, but a mind excited, he knew not how or why, to the most acute degree of expectation and attention, he heard his name called by the well-known voice of his friend, Major Spencer. The voice called him three times, — “James Grayling! — James! — James Grayling!” before he could muster strength enough to answer. It was not courage he wanted, — of that he was positive, for he felt sure, as he said, that something had gone wrong, and he was never more ready to fight in his life than at that moment could he have commanded the physical capacity; but his throat seemed dry to suffocation, — his lips effectually sealed up as if with wax, and when he did answer, the sounds seemed as fine and soft as whisper of some child just born.

“Oh! major, is it you?”

Such he thinks, were the very words he made use of in reply; and the answer that be received was instantaneous, though the voice came from some little distance in the bay, and his own voice did not hear. He only knows what he meant to say. The answer was to this effect.

It is, James! — It is your own friend, Lionel Spencer, that [column 2:] speaks to you; do not be alarmed when you see me! I have been shockingly murdered!”

James asserts that he tried to tell him that he would not be frightened, but his own voice was still a whisper, which he himself could scarcely hear. A moment after he had spoken, he heard something like a sudden breeze that rustled through the bay bushes at his feet, and his eyes were closed without his effort, and indeed in spite of himself. When he opened them, he saw Major Spencer standing at the edge of the bay, about twenty steps from him. Though he stood in the shade of a thicket, and there was no light in the heavens save that of the stars, he was yet enabled to distinguish perfectly, and with great ease, every lineament of his friend’s face.

He looked very pale, and his garments were covered with blood; and James said that he strove very much to rise from the place were he sat and approach him; — “for in truth,” said the lad, “so far from feeling any fear, I felt nothing but fury in my heart; but I could not move a limb. My feet were fastened to the ground; my hands to my sides; and I could only bend forward and gasp. I felt as if I should have died with vexation that I could not rise; but a power which I could not resist, made me motionless and almost speechless. I could only say, ‘Murdered!’ — and that one word I believe I must have repeated a dozen times.”

“Yes, murdered! — murdered by the Scotchman who slept with us at your fire the night before last. James, I look to you to have the murderer brought to justice! James! — do you hear me, James?”

“These,” said James, “I think were the very words, or near about the very words, that I heard; and I tried to ask the major to tell me how it was, and how I could do what he required; but I didn’t hear myself speak, though it would appear that he did, for almost immediately after I had tried to speak what I wished to say, he answered me just as if I had said it. He told me that the Scotchman had waylaid, killed, and hidden him in that very bay; that his murderer had gone to Charleston; and that if I made haste to town, I would find him in the Falmouth packet, which was then lying in the harbour and ready to sail for England. He farther said that everything depended upon my making haste, — that I mast reach town by to-morrow night if I wanted to be in season, and go right on board the vessel and charge the criminal with the deed. ‘Do not be afraid,’ said he, when he had finished; ‘be afraid of nothing, James, for God will help and strengthen you to the end.’ When I heard all I burst into a flood of tears, and then I fell strong. I felt that I could talk, or fight, or do almost anything; and I jumped up to my feet, and was just about to run down to where the major stood, but with the first step which I made forward, he was gone. I stopped and looked all around me, but I could see nothing; and the bay was just as black as midnight. But I went down to it and tried to press in where I thought the major had been standing; but I couldn’t get far, the brush and bay bushes were so close and thick. I was now bold and strong enough, and I called out, loud enough to be heard half a mile. I didn’t exactly know what I called for, or what I wanted to learn, or I have forgotten. But I heard nothing more.



This review was attributed as being by Poe by W. D. Hull.


[S:0 - BJ, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Literary (Poe?, 1845)