Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 2) >> Simms and Melville in 1865: A Note on Garner's Melville >> Page 7

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Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription Simms and Melville in 1865:
A Note on Garner's Melville

Clyde N. Wilson

Stanton Gamer'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-Piece
(1866). Garner's book is literary, social, and intellectual history of hig
order. Most discussions of Simms's relation to the North have assumed a
fairly simplistic scheme of North-South dichotomy. Gamer 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 Gamer's book, but he attributes
to Simms a major influence in the late revision of Melville's Battle-Piece
before its publication in 1866. The case is somewhat speculative in the
absence of definitive documentation, but is plausible, piecing together a
story from the Simms Letters and the Reminiscences of Richard Lathers
(1907). Lathers was a South Carolinian who long resided in New York City
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. Garner 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.