Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Letters of William Gilmore Simms. Vol. 6, Supplement >> 1253a John Esten Cooke >> Page 252

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Page 252

Correspondence | U of South Carolina P | 2012
Transcription 252 THE SIMMS LETTERS
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by any particular invention; and this, perhaps, was the result of one of Mr. COOKE'S defects, or, we should say, faults. His narrative, which is wonderfully full, free and flowing, runs away with him, and makes him too little heedful of his characterization. He does not individualize his persons of the drama, with sufficient sharpness of outline; does not choose them with sufficient care and consideration, and too many of them arc, accordingly, of a single and uniform type in society. From the uniform, or ordinary types of society, however respectable they may be in the social world, you can rarely hope for any very distinctive or heroic traits; and it is a contradiction in the art-moral, to conceive of a large and beautiful invention, implying novelty, where the characterization itself does not imply the necessity for its development. When you select your dramatis persona, you do so with regard to the development of individuality in character; since this individuality must imply such situations as will force the several parties into action, each according to his own nature and the peculiar _!itrs with which you endow him. These parties, among the great masters in the drama and in fiction, are types of humanity, rather than society; and, accordingly, their passions are employed, along with their morals and intellect, and made earnestly alive and active, by being brought under the operation of coercive and external influences. All these types, even when they represent the mere humors of men, must he drawn with an earnest brush; which must dip for its coloring into the very heart's blood of the subject; and these are the only paintings that ever exist enduringly under the corroding operations of time. The dashing cavalier, in the impetuous charge, makes an impressive picture for the moment. We hear him shout, we see his gallant onset, and he goes from sight, and we forget him. The hot blood of youth—the Hotspur—must not be suffered to be seen only when his heroism is on horseback; for, in such a situation, we lose sight of the man, in the contemplation of the centaur. In this sort of sketching Mr. COOKE excels. He has done some admirable battle pieces—the word-painting being singularly felicitous. But he suffers these scenes to take undue proportion of space upon his canvas, and so will, in time, incur the imputation of monotony. . . . We have hinted that the free flow, the eager impulse of Mr. COOKE'S composition, his ready command of language, the ardency of his fancy, and the quickness with which his enthusiasm rises—however admirable and beautiful at times—however spirited and forcible—are vet among his greatest dangers; leading to amplification, which, already, is one of his chief defects, and to diffusion; and so to the enfeebling of his style, and the danger of a confirmed mannerism. He must guard against these, as among the influences which may tend, hut too rapidly, not only to lessen that popularity which he possesses as an author, hut to limit, in still greater degree, the claims which he should establish upon the future."
Simms was probably also the author of a review of a book that has established its claims "upon the future," John William De Forest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1867), published in the Courier of June 4. Here his southern bias kept him from recognizing the very considerable merits of the novel: "It is the embodiment of all the brutal malignity Northern writers have ever conceived, or reported, to the slander and misrepresentation of the South. With none of the art-faculty of Mrs. BEECHER STOWE, the writer endeavors to outbeecher her in his gross and infamous disparagement of the characterisitics and the people of the South. His book is remarkable for nothing