The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier

§ 14. Carlyle McKinley

The first voices were proud and defiant. They echoed in more poignant phrases the Berserker rage of the Southern editorial columns. Most notable of these myriad voices of the press was Carlyle McKinley (1847–1904), of the Charleston News and Courier. At fifteen he forsook the quiet campus of the University of Georgia and distinguished himself by bravery in the trenches before Sherman at Atlanta. Like most Southern youths after the war, he drifted about for a time between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. In 1875 he joined the staff of the News and Courier, and after a brief excursion into commercial life in New York he returned in 1881 as associate editor, where in failing health he remained the rest of his days.

His prose was greatly admired, especially his An Appeal to Pharaoh (1889), an argument for deportation, a solution of the negro problem to which thousands of Southerners in the early despair of Reconstruction turned with hope, until the enthusiasm of Grady and the doctrine of Booker T. Washington brought to light a more adequate economic and sociological basis.

Nevertheless, it is in poetry that the man and the period are revealed. Not only did McKinley love the South with his whole heart, but the Lost Cause was dear to him in a passionate degree. Early in Reconstruction his At Timrod’s Grave voiced the complaint of Southern poets:

  • For singing, Fate hath given sighs,
  • For music, we make moan.
  • His undaunted demeanour under the manifold injustices of Reconstruction speaks for his state and his section. Typical is his South Carolina, 1876:
  • They’ve wasted all her royal dower;
  • They’ve wrought her wrong with evil power;
  • And is she faint, or doth she cower?
  • —She scorns them in her weakest hour!
  • She bides her time—a patient Fate!
  • Her sons are gathering in the gate!
  • She knows to counsel and to wait,
  • And vengeance knoweth no “too late.”
  • In later years he came to take refuge in poetry from the distresses of life, to find in it an anodyne. Probably the best example of this mood, Sapelo, illustrates not only the finish of his verse, which lifts him above the rhymesters of his section, but at the same time the lack of that inspiration or individual power which would give him a secure place in the poetical annals of our country.