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Addition, 1911-1965, to the James Henry Rice, Jr., Papers   
    A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2007

| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Front Page 2007 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |

One hundred forty-seven manuscripts augment the South Caroliniana Library’s collection of the personal papers of conservationist, historian, and newspaper columnist James Henry Rice, Jr. (1868-1935), who from his home at Brick House plantation, near Wiggins, South Carolina, maintained a lively and far-reaching correspondence that earned him an enduring reputation as one of South Carolina’s preeminent letter writers of the twentieth century.

The core of this unit of papers is a provocative set of letters back and forth between Rice and newspaperman Ambrose Elliott Gonzales commencing in 1913 and continuing until Gonzales’ death in 1926. In one of their early letters, 20 September 1914, Gonzales counsels his friend against selling off his private library, noting that, while “It would be a great pity to be forced to sell your Library at any time,…just now you could not realize half the amount it would bring under normal financial conditions.”

Both men owned plantation lands in Colleton County, and Gonzales called upon Rice frequently for assistance in the absentee management of his timber lands in particular. His letter of 1 August 1917 speaks of his Cheehaw River plantation holdings, which included Social Hall, The Bluff, and Middle Place, aggregating 3,300 to 3,500 acres, and indicates his desire to sell both pine and hardwood timber from the tracts: “I have always understood that there were some magnificent white oak and poplar trees…in what is called White Oak Swamp, part of the Social Hall tract.” “The stand where my grand father killed two bears at one shot is on the Social Hall tract, near what is called Wright’s Bay,” he wrote on 22 August 1917. “This is near the White Oak Swamp of which I wrote you the other day.”

Several letters dating from July and August 1920 touch on the trip made by Ambrose Gonzales’ younger brother, William Elliott Gonzales, to Cuzco in southeastern Peru to represent President Woodrow Wilson, on whom an honorary degree was being conferred. Others are indicative of the friendly relations that Rice and Gonzales apparently enjoyed with Kermit Roosevelt, son of Theodore Roosevelt. Writing on 28 September 1920, Gonzales commended to him Kermit’s “very sweet tribute to his father” published in the October issue of Metropolitan magazine and went on to say of Kermit’s late father: “Bitterly as we fought him and his party politically, it was hard to fall out with him for long at a time. For his high courage, his impulsive frankness and heartiness, and the wholesome simplicity of his beautiful family life always held the heart, even though the mind often leaned the other way….Born a gentleman, no public man was ever more democratic; wealthy, few public men in their personal lives have held money so lightly or have been less influenced by it’s power.”

Among the letters to and from Kermit Roosevelt is that of 1 October 1923 declining an offer to write an article for Nature magazine - “I have got so much on my hands now that I really haven’t the time to do any writing” - and another, 22 October 1923, from Rice recommending that he read Talleyrand’s memoirs. “No intellectual man can afford to miss their perusal, no matter what he had read of Talleyrand or what his opinion of him is,” Rice wrote. “He is the concentrated essence of the intellectuality of two millenniums and dwarfs even Napoleon, except in the one thing of military prowess….Lack of time is no excuse. Any man would be warranted in throwing up a business that interfered with reading Talleyrand!”

Far ranging as the correspondence between Gonzales and Rice was - and their letters discuss everything from ornithology, alligator garfish, varieties of corn, tomatoes, oaks, and acorns, and the William Peterfield Trent biography of William Gilmore Simms to sexual constancy for wolves, Grand Strand development, variations in the shape of elm trees growing along railway lines between South Carolina and Boston, and the real or perceived distinction between shrimp and prawns - their camaraderie left ample room for jocular, self-deprecating humor. “Reach into the files of your encyclopedic brain and tell me,” Gonzales quipped on 6 September 1920 as he struggled to delineate the difference between crows, fish crows, and jackdaws. And again, on 21 March 1921, when seeking clarification about the indigenous aquatic plant known locally as “Wampee,” “Dog-tongue Wampee,” or “Swamp Weed,” he needled his friend: “after having ragged you as a Nature faker for twenty-five years, I turn again to Brick House for information.”

The writings of both men figure prominently in their letters. Gonzales told on 29 June 1921 of his efforts to have “the Dialect stories in book form by Autumn.” “If it were not pathetic, it would be amusing to consider the difficulties under which the brief Gullah sketches have struggled to get to the surface during the last thirty years,” he reported. “Written first casually and hurriedly twenty-nine years ago, I had to put them by, and not until three years ago was I able to add to them. Writing these things was a delight to me, and I knew that they gave pleasure, or at least amusement, to others, but the insistent pressure of work that could not have been done by anyone else, forced me to forego the recreation and pleasure that would have come to me through the continued writing of these stories.” Publication of Gonzales’ “book of dialect stories” was further delayed by “the crazy conduct of striking printers,” he revealed on 25 January 1922, noting that the situation had since been resolved: “We have at last organized a fine force of independent men…and our printing department is forever free from Union domination.”

The resulting book, The Black Border: Gullah Stories of the Carolina Coast, found immediate favor with Rice who wrote on 11 September 1922 to compliment Gonzales for a “recollection of things in the long ago and of people that gave life and interest to the things” that was both “vivid and accurate to a hair.” But, he added, “I can not read The Black Border…, as I do most books of the class. This is always true in my case when interest strikes deep. The stories and descriptions call up so much, such a world of fancy and charm….Hence I am reading with painful slowness, but with relish….I am quite sure, and am willing to be dogmatic about it, that, in describing scenery, day and night, along our coastal streams, nobody has ever approached you. Such mastery does not come from experience alone, nor from your varied and graceful gift of language. They help and help mightily; but the power comes from a source farther back, from your heart. Out of your love the Low-Country might arises. This I knew of course, and knew years ago. The wonderland of your boyhood, wherein you were ‘nourishing a youth sublime’, has received back the talent lent you, with compounded interest. These tales delighted me when I read them first; but, until I saw them together, I was not so much impressed with the main thing in them, their apotheosis of the Low-Country.”

The Black Border was received with overwhelming enthusiasm by the public too, and the resulting sales promptly demanded a second printing. Charleston writer John Bennett, Gonzales reported on 12 December 1922, had given it “a fine review…which we shall probably reproduce in The State.” Yet, he noted, “Bennett says someone in Charleston has called the book vulgar!” Rice’s response, penned two days later, quickly dismissed whatever “anybody in Charleston” might say: “There are queer cases of what we call in biology ‘arrested mental development’ among the Intelligentsia of Charleston.”

1922 saw also the publication by Ambrose of elder brother Narciso Gener Gonzales’ letters from Cuba, brought together in a book titled In Darkest Cuba; Two Months’ Service Under Gomez Along the Trocha From the Caribbean to the Bahama Channel. He wrote to Rice on 27 November of the sense of fulfillment this brought. “I have long wished to preserve in permanent form N.G.’s letters from Cuba and his editorial observations two years later on the political and economic future of the Island. This book completes the cycle and, with Robert’s Poems & Paragraphs and the reprint of Carolina Sports, I’ve saved something, at least, of the work of three generations of my people, and for this I am grateful.”

Rice’s “Glories of the Carolina Coast” and “Paladins of South Carolina” articles Gonzales thought first-class, even suggesting in a letter of 23 August 1923 that the former might be reprinted in pamphlet form and, “if intelligently distributed by those financially interested in the Low-Country, would be very helpful in attracting attention to the material resources of the Coast as well as to the opulence of its wild life.” The same letter tells of Gonzales’ efforts in “trying to help the Illiteracy Commission in its work for the Adult Schools.” In addition to convincing “the Bankers…to give as many as 10,000 to 12,000, one dollar prizes to all who should learn to write their names during a campaign to be put on in October” he was printing “as The State’s contribution to the work, 50,000 of ‘The Lay-By School Messenger’” to be distributed between the summer rural schools and night schools. “The teachers write me that these little papers are very helpful in their work, and say the delight of these grown, - some of them aged, - men and women are pathetic.” This, in turn, had led Gonzales to another project: putting the wisdom of Aesop’s best known fables into simpler English and furnishing 20,000 copies as a further contribution to the work of the Illiteracy Commission. As he was “re-writing these little things,” he confessed, he had come to think “they’d be funny in Gullah” and hoped to “pinch out the time” to “have ’em every Sunday through the fall, and put ’em in a little book at Christmas.”

“As you, Henry, are one of the few who understand something of what my life has been,” he confided in that 23 August letter, “I want you to know that I never rest; that under heavy responsibilities that none have ever shared, that few know anything about; in constant pain, and utter spiritual loneliness, I drive my broken body to ceaseless work, such work as I can do, for my voice is muted now and my fingers once so facile, are now slow and feeble.”

Yet, while Gonzales lamented that he was constantly working, with no help from anyone who understood the mental and physical strain he bore, his output remained nothing short of prodigious. A letter of 26 January 1925 speaks of the determination that drove him in 1924 alone to publish three books: With Aesop Along the Black Border, The Captain; Stories of the Black Border, and Laguerre: A Gascon of the Black Border. “…I thank God every day,” he wrote, “for the strength and the will that enabled me to keep my promise to myself that I made on the first of last January to turn out three books by Christmas - if I lived - and from that purpose I never swerved. The two State primaries knocked me out of two stories in August and September, and proof-reading and printing “The Charleston Stage” lost me two weeks in November, but I held on, and ‘Laguerre’ was in the bookstores on Christmas Eve. In each of these books I’ve tried to put my people right before the world, and the letters that come to me almost every day, bring me much comfort.” Rice’s devotion to research and writing appears to have been no less slavish, as evidenced by a lengthy late-night letter from 19 May 1924. “I have not yet read your last article,” he wrote on that evening. “My custom is to wind up on them just before bedtime; and it is only 12 o’clock now, with three hours of work ahead.”

Despite their friendship, Gonzales was first and foremost a businessman and newspaper editor, and on more than one occasion he chided his friend over the length of articles he declared “so long, it is not always possible to find room for them.” “You wield a lusty bludgeon against brevity,” he scolded on 25 May 1926. “I shall not discuss the subject with you, for the essayist, the pamphleteer, could never bring himself into orientation with the man charged with the responsibility of compressing the vital news of the day into a certain number of columns. Like the Vintner at the winepress he is concerned only with the juice he can squeeze out of his grapes - not with their purple skins.” Nor did Gonzales waver when responding on 2 March 1921 to an agent’s offer to publish in his paper “Mr. Rice’s Natural History stories which you propose to syndicate,” noting, “While I am fully sensible of Mr. Rice’s fine equipment for such work, The State being now under contract with Houghton, Mifflin Company for the John Burrough’s Nature Notes, we cannot at this time take on another series.”

But the ties that bound them together in friendship were to be forged even stronger by their unity in other causes, including outspoken opposition to the editorials of fellow writer E.T.H. Shaffer. Writing on 21 January 1922, Rice first apprises Gonzales of the purchase by Daniel R. Taylor of some 10,000 acres of plantation land: “The significance of this will be appreciated when you reflect that this is the first time (is it not?) that a man of wealth from outside the State has come into it, bought land and gotten ready to settle it with farmers. Others have bought land, but with the object of developing it for themselves, with the exception of the DuPonts who bought land for the purpose of inflating Clinch Heyward, but he was so full of holes he would not inflate and remain in the same collapsed state as before.” He then turns his attention to Shaffer. “Here is some news for you. An article appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (no less) in the current issue, written by E.T.H. Shaffer, of Walterboro, showing how he saved Colleton County from the Boll weevil. To refresh your memory: E.T.H. Shaffer is the son of the Shaffer who sent a negro to pin a tax execution on the door at Oak Lawn when you were a child, and who stole land by thousands of acres in the county. The place that E.T.H. Shaffer owns now, formerly the Minott tract, was stolen by the elder Shaffer. E.T.H. Shaffer had a German down there, Paul Walter by name, when I arrived in 1916. Walter was selling whiskey wholesale throughout the entire region, chiefly to negroes. That unfortunate misfit, Alec. Salley, says through his nose that Shaffer is a fine fellow. A shrewder, sleeker scoundrel does not exist. He never ran a farm in his life. He and Paul Sanders organized the ‘Colleton Products Association’ for selling corn, grain, meat and so on for farmers; but the ‘farmers’ did not take kindly to the plan and there is no business being done. It is dead. Yet Shaffer has worked The Atlantic Monthly for a free advertisement and actually names the Colleton Products Association in the article! How is that for you! For pure cold dead nerve Clinch Heyward himself could not beat it#!.”

Edward Terry Hendrie Shaffer’s controversial September 1923 essay in The Atlantic Monthly, “The New South - The Negro Migration,” was reprinted by The State on 9 September and fueled additional comments. Gonzales wrote four days afterward saying that Rice’s rebuttal of the Shaffer article would be published in the following Sunday’s edition of The State. The editorial, “Mr. Shaffer on Negro Migration,” blames the exodus in large measure upon “the persecution from the bushman, who had the idea that running out the negro would confer a monopoly on him.” Gonzales took up the cause too, hinting on 3 November 1923 that Rice might be amused by “tomorrow’s fable of the Goatherd and the wild goats” in which he had “taken a crack at the free range parasites that land-owning taxpayers of the coast country have had to support ever since the war.”

Ambrose Gonzales died on 11 July 1926. Two years earlier, on 23 May 1924, James Henry Rice, Jr., had written poignantly of their relationship: “No letters, among all that come from the ends of the earth, appeal to me as do your’s. They come nearer filling the void made when my Father passed into silence and everlasting rest.” Rice was to live on for another nine years. Among the letters from this later period is that of 7 November 1928 to his son Edward Carew Rice. Commenting on the election of Herbert Hoover, whom he defended even though he had “supported Smith on general principles,” Rice comments on what he thought to be a strategic change in Southern politics: “The election proved that the South is no longer solid. The real reason is that the Democratic Party in the South has become hopelessly inefficient, affording no protection to life and property, just as it is down here and people get tired of that sort of thing in the long run.”

As Rice continued to write and publish, even in his later years, his efforts continued to be warmly received. Future poet laureate Archibald Rutledge wrote from Mercersburg, Pa., on 4 October 1928 wondering “why you have not employed your extraordinary powers of observation and your literary gift in giving to the world articles and stories of the things you have seen and heard” and urging that he knew of no one “quite so well equipped as you are to entertain the discriminating reader. I shall never be quite happy until I see your name appear where it belongs on the front covers of our leading magazines.” The bulk of the later correspondence, however, concerns more routine family matters, children, grandchildren, family pets, and Rice’s own struggles with his declining physical condition - to his daughter-in-law Rice confided on 30 July 1932, “My burdens multiply as my strength wanes; and I am very weak all the time, though I manage to shuffle along and get things done.”

| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |

 

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