Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 2) >> Simms and Melville in 1865: A Note on Garner's Melville >> Page 41

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Secondary Scholarship | 1993
Transcription 41
Simms and Melville in 1865:
A Note on Garner's Melville

Clyde N. Wilson


Stanton Garner's The Civil War World of Herman Melville (Lawrence:
University Press of Kansas, 1993) is of interest to Simms scholars because it
discusses Simms's influence on Melville's Battle-Pieces (1866). Garner's book
is literary, social, and intellectual history of a high order. Most discussions of
Simms's relation to the North have assumed a fairly simplisitic scheme of North-
South dichotomy. Garner reveals a much more complex Northern situation-- the
millions of Northerners who blamed abolitionists for the War, who preferred
McClellan to Lincoln and Sherman, and who favored a generous Reconstruction
policy. Understanding this Northern milieu enhances the understanding of
Simms's world. Melville wrote in "The Swamp Angel," concerning the
bombardment of Charleston civilians;

Who weeps for the woeful City
Let him weep for our guilty kind
Who joys at her wild despairing
Christ, the Forgiver, convert his mind.

Simms does not play a large role in Garner's book, but he attributes to
Simms a major influence in the late revision of Melville's Battle-Pieces before it
publication in 1866. The case is somewhat speculative in the absence of definitive
documentation, but is plausible, piecing together a story from the Simms's Letters
and the Reminiscences of Richard Lathers (1907). Lathers was a South Carolinian
who long resided in New York and was related by marriage to Melville.
In October-November 1865, when Simms came North, Lathers gave him
a dinner at which Melville was likely present. Gamer writes:

The meeting did not revolutionize Herman's attitude toward the
South, but it did alert him to the acuteness of Southern sufferings
and of their undoubted Americanness, if he needed such a
reminder, and it did tell him once more that Anarch war had
shattered Southern families as much as it had families of the
North, though with a difference. Bereavement in victory was
soul-wrenching; bereavement in defeat and humiliation was soul-
destroying.

What is certain is that Melville was alarmed and repulsed by Radical
Reconstruction. He added to the book at a late date a long poem, "Lee in the
Capitol," and a prose "Supplement," both of which were appeals for magnanimity
toward the defeated South. The tone of other pieces was revised to lessen