The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 16. His Tragic Later Career
His life was singularly noble and singularly tragic. Married a second time, in 1836, to Miss Chevillette Roach, and thus master of Woodlands, a respectable plantation in his own state, he led a pleasantly feudal existence, hospitable to many guests, and helpful, as the most prosperous Southern man of letters, to nearly all the authors and journals of the South. He spent the summers in Charleston where he came to preside over a coterie of younger writers; he made not infrequent visits to New York, and was well received. Besides concerning himself unofficially with all public affairs, he served in the state legislature for the session of 1844–46. As the agitation which led to civil war grew more heated, Simms plunged into stormy apologetics for the grounds and virtues of slavery. Just on the eve of the struggle he repeated the success of The Yemassee with a romance of seventeenth-century Carolina, The Cassique of Kiawah (1859), a stirring, varied story which must be ranked with his better books. Then upon him came the disasters of war. At first he was as sure that the South would win as that the South was just. His gradual realization that it was a losing contest would have shattered him had he been of any but the strongest stuff. His house, on the line of Sherman’s march, was burned in February, 1865; he witnessed the wicked burning of Columbia. When the war ended he had lost his wife, nine of his fourteen children, (two of them since 1861), many of his best friends, and the whole of his fortune, yet he managed, in a more horrid overthrow than Scott’s, to drive himself to work again with courage and energy, and kept up his efforts till his death, undoubtedly hastened by his labour, on II June, 1870. Despite his friends and admirers, the eclipse of those last years has never been quite lifted, and the somewhat fitful republication of his romances has left him much less read than he deserves, though few competent judges will put him far below Cooper, at least as regards strength and vigour, in the type of romance in which no third American name can be associated with theirs.