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THE LATE J. WOOD DAVIDSON.
A Tribute to This Scholar and His
torian From the Pen of Col.
Thomas, Written in 1897.
The late James Wood Davidson.
who recently died in Florida, was a
South Carolinian whose ability and
scholarly achievements entitle him to
the gratitude of the people of the
south and of South Carolina, whose
records in history and literature he
did so much to preserve. In 1897
Col. John P. Thomas contributed to
the State an appreciation of the work
of Mr. Davidson which is as applicable
now as it was then. Col. Thomas'
tribute was as follows:
To the Editor of the State:
The class roll of graduates of tvhc
South Carolina college for the year
1852 contains 47 names, many of
whom, such as the Rev. Nicholas W.
Edmunds. Dr. Peter E. Griffin. Harry
Hammond, Esq.. ex-Judge Joshua
Hezekiah Hudson, Ellison S. Keitt,
Esq., ex-Judge Samuel Warren Mel
ton, ex-Judge William H. Thomas,
Joseph Newton Whitner, Esq., LeRoy
F. Youmans, Esq., have been promi
nent in South Carolina. But there is
one name on this class roll as deserv
ing as any other, one who has illustra
ted his native state in letters and has
served her faithfully in war as well as
in peace-one whose fidelity to South
Carolina and whose life and services
and character make him at once as
guard and an ornament of the com
monwealth. I refer to James Wood
Davidson, A. M., now residing at
Washington. Miss Louise Manly, in
her fair yet incomplete work on
"Southern Literature, from 1578-1895,"
thus speaks of the writer:
"James Wood Davidson was born in
Newberry county, South Carolina, and
educated at the South Carolina col
lege, Columbia. He taught at Winns
boro and at Columbia until the open
ing of the war, when he enlisted as a
volunteer in the Army of Nort+hern
Virginia, and served throughout the
great struggle. After the war he
taught again in Columbia till 1871.
Then he removed to Washington and
in 1873 to New York, where he en
gaged in literary and journalistic
work. He has also lived in Florida
and represented Dade county in the
legislature. He is now living in
She adds: Works-"Living Writers
of the South." "The Correspondent,"
"Poetry of the Future," "School His
tory of South Carolina," "Florida of
Today," "Bell of Doom" (a poem),
"Helen of Troy," a romance of an
cient Greece (unfinished).
Miss Manly concludes that Mr.
Davidson's "labors in behalf of south
ern letters entitle him to high regard."
The object of this article is to sihow
that this and much more of praise
may be accorded with truth to Mr.
Davidson, the peer of any other son of
the south in literature.
The list of books with which t'his
writer is credited gives but an inade
quate idea of the pen work that he
has done and the literary service in
general rendered by him in the field
Much of this service, however pa
triotic and honorable and self-sacri
ficing, finds no record in tihe printed
volume and little appreciation in his
native state. But the writer of this
paper is one of the few who know
how bravely and ardently and ably
Davidson fought with his Junian pen
the organized robbers and the banded
-thieves who dominated a "prostrate
state" in the dismal days of Recon
struction, and how loyally he has since
maintained the nan'e and the fame of
his state and of the south since he left
his home to seek his fortunes in the
north and at the country's capital,
meanwhile making a name for him
self in the department of general let
Devoted to South Carolina, nis
great heart has yearned to bring its
owner back to the state and its educa
tional service. Nor have efforts, from
time to time, been wanting to induce
the authorities of his alma mater to
take him into her service. But there
has been no appreciation of David
son's worth and rare attainments, and
so, smaller men have filled the places
that the gifted graduate and the in
tense Carolinian would have adorned
to the great advantage of the youth
of South Carolina.
Thus it has conme to pass that the
exlec imm the soil he loves is laboring
elsewhere to make his bread, while en
gaged, as he is now, on his magnum
opus-"Dictionary of Southern Au
thors"-after the manner of Allibone's
-with which he prays that he may be
able to close hi- :fe work.
It appears that as far back as 1868,
when writing the book so well and so
favorably known as "The Living
Writers of the South," that Davidson
discovered and actually realized the
fact that the south had done about Io
times as much in the field of litera
ture as the northern compilers had
given her credit for. He saw further
that her own scholars really knew
little about it. As a consequence,
there came to his mind the absolute
need, by the south and north, of a
dictionary of southern authors. With
a resolve, born of southern pride and
abounding southern loyalty, he pro
posed to his patriotic and public-spir
ited ego to try and supply that need.
There came to him a great labor of
love to ennoble his career in letters
with a crowning grace. So he prompt
ly set about gathering materials for
the dictionary-a work in which, with
limited resources of money, he was to
play the part of laborer and builder as
well as architect and financier, too.
And this the brave worker has for 29
years been doing, with unabated zeal
and unflagging energies, working
meanwhile, now in Washington, now
in New York, now in Florida and
back again in 'Washington, and
neglecting in those years not a few
profitable pursuits in order to keep up
his work so important as he deemed
it for the vindication of his section of
our great country.
Though far from completion this
work, as I learn, is well under way
with an increasing index of over 4,000
aut'hor-names. The author, while
holding a modest government office
in Washington, is now still pursuing
his life-hope-trusting that God in his
providence may give him the time
and the means to close and crown his
tribute to the lettered glory of the
south. This under favoring circum
stances the devoted author hopes to
effect in about two years. Davidson
is noble and brave and proud-the
soul of honor and of knightly thought.
This is well. "Thy spirit,Indepen
dence, let me share," is a high senti
ment. Yet having. this and feeling
thus, what a generous man, with a
heart attuned to southern letters and
to southern melodies, will not hope
that some Maecinas, of Horation
type, may hold up a hand like David-'
son's to make it strong for those vic
tories of tihe pen which are nobler
than those of the sword?
May we ere long see Davidson's
"Dictionary of Southern Authors"
take its honored place among the
printed volumes of the south, to re
flect its light upon all the republic of
The author-our "friend and the
south's" as he is wont to call him
self-has done his duty, come what
may of his rich volume proposed
whether it carry or miscarry. His phi
losophy he finds in one line of Words
"Do your duty, and leave the rest to
The laurel is Davidson's now. Let
it not be deferred to the day when it
shall be entwined with cypress leaves.
Honest praise strengthens the liv
ing and sweetens the human existence.
Let it not be withheld when the op,
p6rtunity comes, and truth approves
and friendship finds the time for its
How grateful it would be to a
South Carolinian of the James Wood
Davidson type to spend the evening
of his busy days in the state he loves
so well. Some there are, self-exiled
sons of a needy, impoverished mother,
who know what it is to long for a
return to this South Carolina.
But they know also what it is to be
disinherited and virtually disowned.
If the state would emulate the ideals
even of pagan Rome, there would be
a sentiment to call to her service her
best in statesmanship and in scholar
ship and in tone. Is it so now? Let
the public conscienc~e answer. Surely
it is not always so.
If ripe scholarship, and high char
acter, and deepest loyalty to the best
sentiment of -:he south and the union;
if rare attainments in the higher
reaches of literature. are wanted in
educational es:ablishments in South
Carolina. these compose the dowry of
Davidson. the architect of his own
ionunes; and the state would be wvise
Ito cail him back to get at his hands
tVhe benefit of his knowledge and hij
But will she do it? "We shall see
what we shall see." But whatever the
future shall bring forth or hold in re
serve for any faithful soul, we know
that the poet of Rydal Mount is right,
when he suggests, in 'his kingly way,
that the divine philosophy is: to do
one's duty and leave the rest to
This Davidson does-I verily be
But this, above all, may his friends
hope of this struggling man of letters
pursuing the rugged path, trod by so
many of tihe choice and master spirits
of every age whom fortune dowers
not with the merchandise of gold and
silver: That he complete his "Dic
tionary of Southern Authors" to add
renown to th' south in the field of
literature and to augment her pres
tige in the eyes of the world.
I know of no one else in the south
better equipped for this enterprise in
the domain of letters. There is on
Davidson the unbroken seal of one
With gifts and graces eminently
To some great work."
J. P. T.
July 25, 1897.
A man is more modest than t!he av
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