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.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 29. The Poets after the War

The question inevitably arises as to how these poets developed after the Civil War. One would naturally suppose that many of the younger ones especially would grow in power and influence. But all the causes generally assigned for the lack of poetry in the ante-bellum South prevailed in the new era; and thereto were added poverty, widespread disaster, and an overwhelming confusion in the public mind. Lanier tersely expressed the chief limitation under which the writer laboured when he wrote to Bayard Taylor: “Perhaps you know that with us of the younger generation of the South since the war, pretty much the whole of life has been merely not dying.” Simms wrote to Hayne just before his death in 1870: “I am rapidly passing from a stage where you young men are to succeed me,” and inscribed for his tombstone the poignant words: “Here lies one who, after a reasonably long life, distinguished chiefly by unceasing labours, has left all his better works undone.” Meek, O’Hara, John R. Thompson, and Henry Timrod were all dead by 1875. Randall spent many years in the drudgery of a newspaper office, never recapturing the first fine careless rapture of his great song. Ticknor and Bruns followed with devotion the life of a doctor, while McCabe became one of the best-known schoolmasters of Virginia—a position which seemed to deaden his poetic inspiration, though he remained an inimitable raconteur, and the friend of some of the most gifted poets of England and America. Mrs. Preston continued to write as late as 1887, when she published Colonial Ballads, but she added nothing to her fame. Flash became a merchant and lived for many years in the Far West.

Paul Hamilton Hayne alone made progress after the war. With magnificent courage and faith, after the destruction of his city and his home, he moved to a small cabin of his own building in the pine barrens near Augusta, Georgia. Here on a writing desk made out of a carpenter’s work-bench he wrote poems for the remainder of his life. To Mrs. Preston he wrote: “No, no! By my brain—my literary craft—I will win my bread and water; by my poems I will live or I will starve.” In 1872 he brought out a volume of Legends and Lyrics; in 1875 The Mountain of the Lovers and Other Poems; and in 1882, a complete edition of his poems. Two or three of his best poems were written in his last years, notably A Little While I Fain Would Linger Yet, and In Harbour. While Hayne did not strike a deeply original note, he cultivated faithfully the talents with which he was endowed. His best poems are characterized by delicacy of feeling, conscientious workmanship, and a certain assimilation of the best qualities of other poets. His magnanimous spirit after the war, as revealed in his tributes to Whittier and Longfellow, his revelation of the picturesqueness of the Southern landscapes and especially of the pine forests of Georgia, are the substantial features of his poetry. As a connecting link between Simms and Lanier he has a permanent place in the literary history of the South.