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LOUISA S. MCCORD
CLELIA P. MCGOWAN
S. McCORD was born in 1810 in Charleston, South
Carolina. Her father, the Honorable Langdon Cheves, was one of the most highly gifted of the many remarkable men claimed by the county of Abbeville, South Carolina, and his daughter inherited much of his force and vigor of intellect. Many articles from her pen in DeBow's Review and the Southern Quarterly show her literary ability and her entire familiarity with the burning political and economic questions of that day and generation.
Langdon Cheves, Member of Congress in 1810, Judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, 1816, was in 1819 elected president of the United States Bank. This position, and a subsequent office as Chief Commissioner of Claims under the Treaty of Ghent, necessitated his residence in Philadelphia for a number of years. There Louisa attended the school of an accomplished Irishman, Mr. Grimshaw, and later, studying with Mr. and Mrs. Picot, French emigrés, became a proficient French scholar, to the end of her life speaking French as easily as English.
As young girls, she and her sister saw something of life in Washington, where, as well as at the residence her father owned in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the home also of President Buchanan, Louisa Cheves had the opportunity of associating with and observing distinguished men from other sections of the country. All of these circumstances went to develop and mould the remarkable mind and character which were later to expend themselves so nobly.
Early in life she inherited the large plantation known as "Lang Syne," near Fort Motte, South Carolina, mention of which to-day among her descendants seems to bring up an overwhelming rush of memories and personal experiences, or those so often heard as to seem personal. Well organized, with many arrangements for the health and comfort of the "people," as the negroes were called, this plantation, making constant demand on all the faculties, developed the practical side of her nature, and gave her training for the larger work awaiting her. Here she had for her negroes a hospital and a day nursery, both under her personal supervision. She was a fearless rider, making her daily rounds of inspection of the plantation
work on horseback. Her home was most hospitable, but there was no display. She used to say that "women with three hundred children could not afford diamonds."
In 1840 she married David J. McCord of Columbia, and for thirteen years she knew that happiness which wedded life, where minds as well as hearts are congenial, alone can give. Their interests were the same in public questions and private studies. Their writing tables stood on either side of the big open fireplace in the library at Lang Syne, and there was constant interchange of sympathy and criticism. Her literary work was limited to those years. After her husband's death and a succession of family bereavements her health and eyesight failed. Two years were spent in Europe, where she received kindness and attention from literary people and others to whom she carried letters.
As her son grew older, more time was spent in Columbia for the necessary educational facilities, and the life there was largely in the circle of college professors and other friends of "old Columbia" society. In the war between the States this only son lost his life at the age of twenty-one, January 23, 1863. During the remaining years of the war, Mrs. McCord devoted her utmost strength and means to alleviating the sufferings of the Southern soldiers, and in otherwise aiding the Cause. She was first president of the Soldiers' Relief Association, and chief worker in the Government hospital established in the South Carolina College. She conducted a soupkitchen in her own home, where from fifty to a hundred men were fed day after day for many months; and on the plantation she set up work-shops of all kinds. Cloth was woven, shoes were made, the hair of rabbits, spun with old silk ravelings, was knitted into gloves, lead from an elaborate system of water-works was sent to make bullets; and, in the midst of all this, she accomplished her task of knitting three socks every day, including Sunday. Under such pressure of grief, anxiety, and exhausting physical exertion, the mind. still struggled for expression as of old, in scattered lines written on bits of newspaper and old envelopes.
After the war Mrs. McCord spent the remaining years of her life with her daughters, and died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1879.
In making any estimate of Mrs. McCord's literary work it is necessary to take into consideration the extraordinary epoch during which she lived, the circumstances of her life and the atmosphere which surrounded her, all of which have been indicated in this personal sketch.
That she should have found time to write at all is remarkable; that she should have written trenchant and able articles on political
and economic questions is more so. She made an admirable translation of Bastiat's 'Principles of Political Economy,' which might well be adapted for use in the public schools of this free country.
A little volume entitled 'My Dreams' contains the fugitive verse accredited to Mrs. McCord's pen. Here and there is seen the "gleam of true poetic fervor" of which she speaks in the dedication of this little volume to her father, but in no one instance is there any theme, or handling of theme, suggestive of the force and fire which make her poetic tragedy, "Caius Gracchus" a thing of life. It is deeply touching and significant in reading this "Tragedy in Five Acts" to see that Mrs. McCord all unwittingly foreshadows her own tragic future. She was indeed a Mother of Gracchi, after the death of her only boy, seeing in every Southern soldier another son for sacrifice.
Honorable W. P. Miles, Member of Confederate Congress and president of South Carolina College in 1880, says of the "Caius Gracchus": "It abounds in striking passages full of high and noble thoughts, clothed in language well fitted to give them just expression. The characters of Gracchus and Cornelia are given in accordance with their traditional reputations; and the former, with due poetic license as the hero of the play, is portrayed in fairest hues as the ideal patriot and citizen. Some of his speeches are very fine and effective. 'Caius Gracchus,' like many plays written by some of the first English authors, is a 'closet drama' not intended for the stage. But that it shows strong dramatic power, and a high poetic faculty and sentiment, even the casual reader must admit.”
Going further than this, the "Caius Gracchus" is a well considered and well sustained drama, on classic lines which can never be out of date. It compares most favorably with the work of Stephen Phillips and M. Rostand, who hold the highest place among the few modern dramatists. Studying "Caius Gracchus," it is easy to believe that had the hard and iron hand of war and much adversity not been laid so heavily on this mind, almost virile in its forces, Southern literature would have been made richer by her works.
Clelia P. McGowan
Do you note that?
Senators, Citizens, Tribune, Child, etc.
THE CLAMOR FOR GRACCHUS
Thus they out-talk us. We had best away,
(Exeunt Citizens with Pomponius.)
Ay, damn him! Note it well!
He'll be the incubus will ride us yet;
And faith, he'll spare no spurring when he mounts.
A daring spirit, near which, did he live,
His voice has tones which strike into the heart.
I late was in Sardinia, and I heard
When he addressed the troops. There was a thrill
When he upbraided them their want of duty,
What wonder if the people hail him home,
Not with applause, but wild and frantic transport!
He must not come; for the ripe city waits,
He must not come,
That he had nursed to cheat our foresight off,
Forth to the tranced people, who screamed out,
I hate the villain, from my heart's deep core,