Paul Hamilton Hayne Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Paul Hamilton Hayne 1830‐-1886

American poet, journalist, critic, and editor.

Often compared to such authors as Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms because of his involvement with serial publication, Paul Hamilton Hayne spent the majority of his professional career writing and editing for various literary magazines and journals. His contributions included numerous poems, essays, critical treatises, and stories, and were the main source of his livelihood. Widely regarded as an influential and representative critic and poet of his era by his contemporaries, Hayne's work was included in notable Northern and Southern journals, such as the Southern Literary Gazette, Scribner's Monthly, Harper's, and the Atlantic. For students of Southern Literature, Hayne remains an important link between the literary traditions of the Old South and the New South.

Biographical Information

Hayne was born in Charleston, South Carolina to Paul Hamilton Hayne, a naval officer, and Emily McElhenny Hayne. His father died when Hayne was only a year old, leaving Emily and an uncle, Robert Y. Hayne, to bring up the young author. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 1850, Hayne studied law and was admitted to the bar. However, he was more interested in pursuing a literary career, and instead of practicing law he joined the Southern Literary Gazette as an assistant editor. The same year, Hayne married Mary Middleton Michel. They had one son who himself became a minor poet of the New South. Hayne continued working for the Gazette and eventually became its owner. Wanting, however, to establish a Southern literary magazine of the caliber of England's Blackwood's Magazine, he and several contemporaries founded Russell's Magazine. While Russell's was a short‐lived venture, and the Civil War severely limited Southern writers' ability to publish, Hayne continued to contribute his work (often unsuccessfully) to Northern magazines. Despite the popular disfavor of Southern writers, Hayne had established himself as the premier literary spokesperson of the South. He died in 1886, feeling he had never in his lifetime attained the literary status he deserved.

Major Works

During his years with the Southern Literary Gazette, Hayne solicited contributions from established and new writers alike, from both the South and the North. The magazine also published several editorials by Hayne himself. He eventually became chief editor of the magazine and in 1852 he took full control as owner, renaming the publication the Weekly News and Southern Literary Gazette. He resigned his position with the paper a few years later, however, because the journal had become increasingly political. Instead, Hayne, with other South Carolina writers, established a monthly publication titled Russell's Magazine. During these years, Hayne issued two collections of poetry, Poems (1854) and Sonnets, and Other Poems (1857). Neither sold very well and received little attention from critics of the time. In the meantime, he continued his work as editor of Russell's. Although a devout Southerner, Hayne welcomed contributions from Northern writers and worked to maintain a literature‐based identity for the journal. This was difficult, however, and the impending Civil War made it almost impossible to separate literature and politics during this time. Hayne's personal interests lay in the study of Romantic poetry and Elizabethan drama, and he continued to publish essays and reviews of both contemporary and historical works, as well as poetry, including the publication of another collection in 1859, titled Avolio. This last collection was favorably received by critics, and when Russell's closed in 1860 due to financial failure, Hayne continued to submit contributions, both poems and prose, to other journals. He did not return to editing until after the end of the Civil War, preferring the intellectual freedom life as a self‐sustained poet afforded him.

Following the end of the war, most of Hayne's major work was submitted to Northern journals since most Southern journals either dissolved due to social disapproval or were unable to pay their contributors. His poems were now included in such journals as the Round Table, Old Guard, Atlantic Monthly, and Scribner's Monthly. By the 1870s Hayne had established himself as the leading voice of the Southern literati and he was often called upon to celebrate important occasions with a poem. For example, Hayne penned a poem to celebrate the Charleston centennial in 1883. Because most of these poems were too long for magazine publication, they were published separately in pamphlet form. In 1871, Hayne had also issued another volume of verse, titled Legends and Lyrics. This collection was received well by critics in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. In the 1880s Hayne became chief contributor to Home and Farm and the Southern Bivouac, producing some of his most noted rural and natural poems, including The Wheat Field and The Last Patch.

Critical Reception

Despite being largely ignored by modern and late twentieth‐century scholars, Hayne remains significant for the connection he established between writers of the Old South and the New South. In addition to his patronage of many contemporary writers via the magazines and journals he edited, Hayne is also remembered for his voluminous correspondence with contemporary literary figures during the years following the American Civil War. One of these was Maurice Thompson, a poet, author, and critic who has called Hayne “the king poet of the Old South.” According to Thompson, Hayne “embodied the best of the Southern literary tradition.” This opinion is shared by most who have reviewed Hayne's writing, including F. V. N. Painter, who notes that Hayne's poetry is characterized by an atmosphere of cultured refinement and high literary standards. In addition to being a prolific writer, critics have noted Hayne's willingness to mentor young writers. In an essay reviewing Hayne's work, critic Jay B. Hubbell notes that Hayne wrote letters of encouragement and criticism to most Southern writers of his own time. Hayne is also credited with playing an important role in the process of reconciliation between Northern and Southern writers following the Civil War. Through his correspondence he endeavored to dispel the popular disfavor of Southern writing. His own work in such poems as The Exposition Ode, notes critic Claude Flory, are representative of Hayne's efforts to celebrate the New South. In addition to the political concerns expressed in his poems, Hayne was also lauded as a writer of authentic detail and observation, using authors such as Chaucer, Spenser, Keats, and Wordsworth as his models. Writing in the pre‐ and post‐Civil War South, Hayne recognized the limits within which he and other writers of his time had to write, and his life's work helped the literary traditions of his time continue to flourish.