Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Simms On Washington Allston's Monaldi >> Page 14

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription Simms
On Washington Allston's Monaldi
John L. Idol Jr.
To William Gilmore Simms, Washington Allston's Monaldi was "a work
of art." The tale, however, lies forgotten in most collections of American fiction;
and few literary historians or critics of the nineteenth-century American novel
bother even to list it. As a writer, Allston has practically disappeared, though he
continues to hold a place among art historians as one of the leading painters of the
first half of the nineteenth century. What slight literary fame he now enjoys rests
almost wholly on his letters, a new edition of which appeared three years ago under
the capable hand of Nathalia Wright.
Perhaps a few words on Allston's life and interests will help us understand
why Simms did two critical pieces on him. One fact to appreciate at the outset is
that Allston was, like Simms, a native of the Carolina Low Country, born at Brook
Green Domain in Georgetown District on 5 November 1779. His father died in
1781, and his mother remarried in 1784, becoming the wife of Henry Flagg.
Perhaps as early as 1784, young Washington was sent to Charleston, SC, to attend
Mrs. Melescent Calcott's school. Fearing that he might fall victim to yellow fever,
as so many Low Country folk did, his mother and stepfather decided that he should
pursue his studies in a colder climate and accordingly enrolled him in Robert
Rogers's school in Newport, Rhode Island. He eventually concluded his formal
education at Harvard, where he began to develop more fully his gift for writing and
where he became increasingly interested in painting.
On his return to Charleston in 1800, he resumed his association with
Edward Malbone, an expert, celebrated--and busy--painter of miniatures. Allston
knew that his talents did not lie in such work and sought further training in art by
going abroad, first to England, where he studied under Benjamin West, then to
France, and finally to Italy. He immersed himself in Italian art, attracted especially
by Titian and Raphael, but he also learned much from a contemporary Danish artist,
Thorvaldsen, under whom he studied sculpture. He became particularly adept at