Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stoop, angels, hither from the skies! It's blood book time.

Today your loyal blogger realized (with some help from the handy search field in the top left of the blog) that he has never never shared the Henry Timrod Death Manuscript story on the pages of Shh!.  And since today marks the Henry Timrod Death Manuscript's first day on display this season... here goes.  [Fair warning: it's the long version, so stick with me.]

William Ashmead Courtenay would be on anyone's shortlist of Great Charleston Mayors, should anyone be so inclined to write such a list.  [I think Johann A. Wagner is my vote for the Worst Charleston Mayor, which would would probably be more interesting list, but I digress.]  Courtenay came to power in a city hemorrhaging money and overly focused on its antebellum glory.  He fixed one of those problems.  [Then he paved the major streets, and developed Colonial Lake and Marion Square, and saw the city through a major hurricane and the Earthquake of 1886 and their recovery efforts... heck of a guy.]

Though a modernizer and an ardent proponent of the idea of the "New South", Courtenay was nevertheless a great fan of pre-war Southern arts and letters.  As a result, he purchased every book of poems, every scribbled couplet, every jot and tittle of work produced by 19th century Southern writers that he could get his hands on.  And when those hands were stilled by death in 1908... he left his library of Southern letters to the Charleston Library Society.

So some original stuff by Simms, and P.H. Hayne and James Ryder Randall, amongst others, are all in our collection thanks to dear Mayor Courtenay.  But perhaps the crown jewel of his collection is the Henry Timrod Death Manuscript.

Henry Timrod, the walrus-mustache wearin', Bob Dylan inspirin', Poet Laureate of the Confederacy was a very, very sickly man throughout his stay upon this mortal coil.  So sickly the Confederacy sent him home.  The same Confederacy that was desperately conscripting old men and young boys basically said "Henry, we'd rather lose the war than carry you around while you cough on everybody.  Go home and write!"

And write Henry did, penning "Ode to the Confederate Dead", "Ethnogenesis", and our state song, "Carolina".  But Henry continued to cough.  Big, bloody, tuberculosis-filled expectorations.  Then, late one night in 1867, with one final sanguinary convulsion, he hacked up his last.

And, according to the story, that's it.  Right there on the page.  Hank T.'s last sputtering of life.  Tasteful chaps that we are, it traditionally goes on display here at the Library Society every October.

(And don't forget, if you want to see something equally historical, but a little less morbid, the Mouzon Map Unveiling is this Saturday at 7:30.  $15 conservation contribution, please.  Hors d'oeuvres by Rue de Jean.  843.723.9912 for more info)

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