WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1806, and died in 1870. He adopted the profession of the law, but, like Irving and many other littérateurs, abandoned it for the more congenial pursuits of literature. He published his first volume, Lyrical and other Poems, in 1827, and during the next twenty-seven years produced no less than thirteen additional volumes of verse. He labored in almost every department of literature, writing plays, histories, biographies, criticisms, and novels of various kinds. It is as a novelist that he is best known, and as such he will be regarded in the future. His best work in this specialty may be found in some of his historical romances, such as The Yemassee, The Partisan, and Eutaw. What Cooper did for the pioneer life of the Middle States was done by Simms for that of the South, the characteristic features of whose colonial and revolutionary history he has preserved in a series of spirited and faithfully colored narratives. He is a picturesque and vigorous writer, evidently inspired by his subject (i. e. in his historical romances), cherishing a generous pride in the annals of his native section and the chivalrous character of her people. Although his books have, to a great extent, been superseded, as have Cooper's, by novels which deal with later times, they are still widely read and admired. Taking into account the variety and amount of Mr. Simms's literary work, its distinctively American character, and the positive merit possessed by much of it, his name deserves to be cherished among those of the most honored representatives of our literature.


How beautiful was the green and garniture of that little copse of wood! The leaves were thick, and the grass around lay folded over and over in bunches, with here and there a wild-flower gleaming from its green, and making of it a beautiful carpet of the richest and most beautiful texture. A small tree arose from the center of a clump around which a wild grape gadded luxuriantly; and with an incoherent sense of what she saw, the maiden lingered before the little cluster, seeming to survey that which, though it fixed her eye, failed to fill her thought. Her mind wandered, her soul was far away; and the objects in her vision were far other than those which occupied her imagination. Things grew indistinct beneath her eye. The eye rather slept than saw. The musing spirit had given holiday to the ordinary senses, and took no heed of the forms that rose, and floated or glided away before them.

In this way the leaf detached made no impression upon the sight that was yet bent upon it; she saw not the bird, though it whirled, untroubled by a fear, in wanton circles around her head; and the black snake, with the rapidity of the arrow, darted over her path without arousing a single terror in the form that otherwise would have

shivered at its mere appearance. And yet, though thus indistinct were all things around her to the musing eye of the maiden, her eye was singularly fixed, fastened, as it were, to a single spot, - gathered and controlled by a single object, and glazed apparently beneath a curious fascination.


Before the maiden rose a little clump of bushes, bright tangled leaves flaunting widely in glossiest green, with vines trailing over them, thickly decked with blue and crimson flowers. Her eye communed vacantly with these; fastened by a starlike shining glance, subtile ray that shot out from the circle of green leaves, - seeming to be their very eye, and sending out a lurid luster that seemed to stream across the space between, and find its way into her own eyes. Very piercing and beautiful was that subtile brightness, of the sweetest, strangest power.

And now the leaves quivered and seemed to float away, only to return, and the vines wavered and swung around in fantastic mazes, unfolding ever-changing varieties of form and color to her gaze; but the starlike eye was ever steadfast, bright, and gorgeous, gleaming in their midst, and still fastened in strange fondness upon her own. How beautiful, with wondrous intensity, did it gleam and dilate, growing larger and more lustrous with every ray which it sent forth. And her own glance became intense, fixed also; but with a dreaming sense, that conjured up the wildest fancies, terribly beautiful, that took her soul away from her, and wrapt it about as with a spell.

She would have fled; but she had not power to move. The will was wanting to her flight. She felt that she could have bent forward to pluck the gemlike thing from the bosom of the leaf in which it seemed to grow, and which it irradiated with its bright gleam; but even as she aimed to stretch forth her hand, and bend forward, she heard a rush of wings and a shrill scream from the tree above her, such a scream as the mocking-bird makes, when angrily it raises its dusky crest, and flaps its wings furiously against its slender sides. Such a scream seemed like a warning, and, though yet unawakened to full consciousness, it startled her and forbade her effort.

More than once in her survey of this strange object had she heard that shrill note, and still had it carried to her ear the same note of warning, and to her mind the same vague consciousness of an evil presence. But the starlike eye was yet upon her own, a small,

[ocr errors]

bright eye, quick like that of a bird, now steady in its place, and observant seemingly only of hers, now darting forward with all the clustering leaves about it, and shooting up toward her as if wooing her to seize. At another moment, riveted to the vine which lay around it, it would whirl round and round, dazzlingly bright and beautiful, even as a torch, waving hurriedly by night in the hands of some playful boy but in all this time the glance was never taken from her own; there it grew fixed, a very principle of light; and such a light! a subtile, burning, piercing, fascinating gleam, such as gathers in vapor above the old grave, and binds us as we look; shooting, darting directly into her eye, dazzling her gaze, defeating its sense of discrimination, and confusing strangely that of perception.


She felt dizzy; for, as she looked, a cloud of colors, bright, gay, various colors, floated and hung like so much drapery around the single object that had so secured her attention and spellbound her feet. Her limbs felt momently more and more insecure, her blood grew cold, and she seemed to feel the gradual freeze of vein by vein throughout her person. At that moment a rustling was heard in the branches of the tree beside her, and the bird which had repeatedly uttered a single cry above her, as it were of warning, flew away from his station with a scream more piercing than ever.

This movement had the effect, for which it really seemed intended, of bringing back to her a portion of the consciousness she seemed to have been so totally deprived of before. She strove to move from before the beautiful yet terrible presence, but for a while strove in vain. The rich starlike glance still riveted her own, and the subtile fascination kept her bound.

The mental energies, however, with the moment of their greatest trial, now gathered suddenly to her aid; and with a desperate effort, but with a feeling still of most annoying uncertainty and dread, she succeeded partially in the attempt, and threw her arms backward, her hands grasping the neighboring tree, feeble, tottering, and depending upon it for that support which her own limbs almost entirely denied her. With her movement, however, came the full development of the powerful spell and dreadful mystery before her. As her feet receded, though but a single pace, to the tree against which she now rested, the audibly articulate ring, like that of a watch when wound up with the verge broken, announced the nature of that splendid yet dangerous presence, in the form of the monstrous rattlesnake,

now but a few feet before her, lying coiled at the bottom of a beautiful shrub, with which, to her dreaming eye, many of its own glorious hues had become associated.


WHEN that my mood is sad, and in the noise
And bustle of the crowd I feel rebuke,

I turn my footsteps from its hollow joys

And sit me down beside this little brook;
The waters have a music to mine ear
It glads me much to hear.

It is a quiet glen, as you may see,

Shut in from all intrusion by the trees,

That spread their giant branches, broad and free,
The silent growth of many centuries;

And make a hallowed time for hapless moods,
A Sabbath of the woods.

[blocks in formation]

Do seek it out with such a fond desire,
Poring in idlesse mood on flower and tree,

And listening as the voiceless leaves respire,
When the far-traveling breeze, done wandering,
Rests here his weary wing.

And all the day, with fancies ever new,

And sweet companions from their boundless store,
Of merry elves bespangled all with dew,

Fantastic creatures of the old-time lore,
Watching their wild but unobtrusive play,
I fling the hours away.

A gracious couch - the root of an old oak
Whose branches yield it moss and canopy -
Is mine, and, so it be from woodman's stroke
Secure, shall never be resigned by me;
It hangs above the stream that idly flies,
Heedless of any eyes.

There, with eye sometimes shut, but upward bent,
Sweetly I muse through many a quiet hour,
While every sense on earnest mission sent,

Returns, thought-laden, back with bloom and flower; Pursuing, though rebuked by those who moil, A profitable toil.

And still the waters trickling at my feet

Wind on their way with gentlest melody, Yielding sweet music, which the leaves repeat,

Above them, to the gay breeze gliding by, Yet not so rudely as to send one sound Through the thick copse around.

Sometimes a brighter cloud than all the rest

Hangs o'er the archway opening through the trees, Breaking the spell that, like a slumber, pressed

On my worn spirit its sweet luxuries, And, with awakened vision upward bent, I watch the firmament.

How like its sure and undisturbed retreat,
Life's sanctuary at last, secure from storm-
To the pure waters trickling at my feet,

The bending trees that overshade my form!
So far as sweetest things of earth may seem
Like those of which we dream.

Such, to my mind, is the philosophy

The young bird teaches, who, with sudden flight,

Sails far into the blue that spreads on high,

Until I lose him from my straining sight,

With a most lofty discontent to fly,
Upward, from earth to sky.

« VorigeDoorgaan »