|Strangers to Us All||Lawyers and Poetry|
Peter J. Malone
It has been with me a cherished desire that these relics of my father's poetic genius should one day be given to the world. Their publication (unavoidably delayed) has seemed a duty not from any mere filial feeling, for that I might distrust; but because others most competent to judge of literary matters have also found in them the final outcome and flower of a genial and beautiful soul, and have pronounced them genuine poetry. To cull two instances from many, Dr. G. H. Sass, able critic, and author of the charming poems entitled "The Heart's Quest," in a letter to me not long before his death says, "I have always believed that your father's poetic gift was of the highest and purest quality." And from the popular poet, Mr. Frank L. Stanton, comes this word of welcome, "I haste to tell you how pleased I am that you are to edit your father's poems for publication. He was a true poet, whose work will live if the world can find it."
That these poems may be placed within the ken of the literary public, and win for themselves, according to their own raison d'etre, an abiding place in its appreciation, is my hope in issuing this volume. A brief sketch of the author's life may, within its compass, throw some light upon his work.
Peter Jehu Malone, youngest child of Levi Stokes Malone and Mary Ray, was born in Charleston County, South Carolina, March 16, 1844. He early gave evidence of intellectual gifts, and was from the first a lover of books, and in youth and manhood a diligent and enthusiastic student. He began to write verses before his sixteenth year.
At the breaking out of the civil war my father was only seventeen years old; but although so young, his ardent and chivalrous spirit longed to bear a part in the contest. He finally volunteered for service in the spring of 1862, entering the First South Carolina Regiment of Cavalry. This was at first stationed in a camp of defence, guarding the coast of Carolina, a situation almost destitute of military activity. Here he remained for about a year, devoting his leisure to the reading and study so congenial to his eager and assimilative mind, while his poetic gift began to evince itself more unmistakably in verses showing a progressive growth, and improvement in expression.
In 1863 his regiment was ordered to join General Lee, and took part in the famous Maryland and Pennsylvania campaign. For our poet it was a fateful experience, for he was severely wounded in the desperate charge on the last afternoon of the battle of Gettysburg; and being in no condition for removal, was among those left by the retreating army on the field. He was captured and taken to David's Island, near New York, where he received kind treatment, and upon his partial recovery was exchanged. He again joined the army, but soon finding himself unable to endure active service, he applied for dismissal. The ball with which he had been wounded had never been removed, and was not only the source of imperfect health thenceforward, but the real cause of his death ten years later.
He now spent about two years in Savannah, where he first taught in one of the public schools, and then became local editor of The Republican, meantime studying law. He wrote much, and several of his poems were published in the city papers.
In the early part of 1867, he became an inmate of the home of his friend, Colonel Benjamin Stokes, near Walterboro, S.C., at which place he desired to begin the practice of law; and while preparing for admission to the bar in South Carolina, became tutor to the eldest son of Colonel Stokes, in whom he found a pupil of most congenial mould. The latter has often referred to the young teacher's superior endowment—his enthusiastic, genial, winning personality and his highly cultured mind. "It was an inspiration," he says, "to be in familiar fellowship with him." And again, "The old classic spirit seemed his native air. He loved books with a supreme devotion, and sat at the feet of the masters of song with open heart and single eye. This was true of him, indeed, only increasingly so, whatever his post or occupation."
My father began his professional career with every prospect of success. On June 3, 1868, he married Olivia Ann, second daughter of Colonel Benjamin and Mrs. Harriet K. Stokes. He had now attained considerable development as a poet, and from this time forward the best of his poetry was produced. This appeared from time to time in The Southern Magazine, The Rural Carolinian, and The XIX Century, and brought him to the notice of William Hand Browne, William Gilmore Simms, W. Watkins Hicks, and other litterati, from whom he received generous recognition and encouragement, and whose friendship he enjoyed.
On March 22, 1870, a literary correspondence of great interest was begun between himself and Mr. G. H. Sass, a gifted young poet. Their lines in poetry were widely different, but they thoroughly sympathized with each other's work, and possessed that mental "diversity in likeness" which gives peculiar piquancy and charm to a literary intercourse. The correspondence, which was highly valued by both, lasted for three years, and was closed only by death.
In the spring of 1870 my father abandoned the practice of law as being opposed to his literary tastes and pursuits, and accepted the associate editorship of the Charleston Courier (now the News and Courier). He had decided aptitude for journalism, and undertook his new duties with enthusiasm; but the work proved arduous, and about midsummer a breakdown of health forced him to leave the city. Sometime after this he opened a select private school in Walterboro, whose duties permitted the leisure for literary culture that he craved. And now for a short while he lived more completely than ever the life of a man of letters. He read widely, and much of his poetry belongs to this time.
But this "quiet, beautiful growth of mind" was not to continue uninterrupted. Ere long the depressed state of affairs which so peculiarly afflicted South Carolina after the war, affecting, as it did, every business enterprise, made him desire to try his fortune elsewhere. He had glowing accounts of prospects in the West from the letters of a friend, and on February 28, 1872, set out for Texas. There during the few remaining months of his life he devoted himself mainly to teaching and journalism, and entered fully into the various interests of the new and more active sphere.
And now when the end is at hand, all at once the future seems to hold a brighter promise than ever before. Dr. F. Asbury Mood, founder of Southwestern University, had known my father in former days. He offered him the chair of English language and literature in the young institution, and it was gladly accepted. To our poet and his friends it seemed that this position would be one ideally suited to his peculiar tastes and talents; but on the very threshold he was stayed. On his way to Georgetown, the seat of the University, he was stricken with his last illness, and after ten days of suffering died in Austin, on the 18th day of September, 1878.
Thus this rich young life was cut off in the midst of its days. He was only twenty-nine years old. From a tribute to his memory by Rev. Dr. J. Lemacks Stokes, I quote the following extract:
"Mr. Malone had all the grace and courtliness of speech and manner characteristic of the gentleman of the old school.' He was a brilliant talker on almost any theme. Into life's stern activities he threw himself with all the dash and chivalry of the crusader. He was a trenchant editorial writer, an inspiring teacher, and an eloquent advocate at the bar. He entered upon all these paths of endeavor with zeal and success, but his heart was ever in his beloved poesy and the literature that surrounded it, and it seemed that, comparatively speaking, he but played at other things."
Of my father's poetry it does not belong to me to speak critically. I may call attention to its traits of kinship to other true poetry—its notable responsiveness to the influences of nature and the finer feelings of the heart, its reflection of personality, and that evident necessity of utterance which is born of inspiration.
Of two poems of this collection submitted to Dr. William Hand Browne for criticism in 1871, he writes thus: "I like your two poems much. No one can dispute your possession of the divine gift of song. I have written pieces musical, I know, in good taste, I think, and with some thought in them, I believe, but I see the difference between such studies and the spontaneous effusions of a real poet."
Mr. Sass, a critic by no means easy to satisfy, expresses this opinion of "Aspasia Percy": "I have nothing but praise for your charming poem, some of the lines of which strike me as nothing short of exquisite. The two beginning And sure he had been back,' etc., are specially fine, and so are half a dozen couplets which I could quote. The whole of the first soliloquy is admirable, and the word-painting throughout nearly perfect." And again, "One of the chief points in which it impresses me is its indicationso rare anywhereof far greater strength behind."
And in a late critical appreciation of my father's work, Dr. Henry N. Snyder, of Wofford College, says of him, "He has the true lyric note—lightness, grace, ease, and melody of versification. A reading of 'The West Wind,' 'Goethe and Frederica,' and 'First Love,' will be enough to bring one to agree to the justness of this statement, and a quotation from the last named will give emphasis to it. . . . A poet who could write such verse as this deserves to be placed among those Southern poets who have contributed to the lyric poetry of the nation."
Space forbids to add more. It is sufficient to repeat that from many different sources we have received encouragement to believe this collection charged with a message of its own to the literary world.