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Augusta Evans Wilson

There is no southern novelist better known than this author, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, May 8, 1835. There are few romance writers of this country whose books have reached a greater circulation than those of Augusta Evans (Mrs. Wilson).

Her father was M. R. Evans, a man of wealth, intellect and refinement, and her mother was Sarah S. Howard, a descendant of the Howards, one of the most cultivated families of Georgia. She was a child when her father moved to Texas at the end of the Mexican War, and no educational opportunities being offered in the neighborhood of San Antonio, her home, her schooling devolved upon the mother. It was there she received that literary training which fitted her for the remarkable achievements which have followed the course of her career. The mother was not only a woman of refinement and intelligence, but of literary tastes and any amount of pure southern bravery, who allowed nothing to prevent her daughter from cultivating her natural talent.

Her first story, Inez, a tale of the Alamo, was written when she was only fifteen years old, and was published by the Harpers in 1855. Its scenery represents the surrounding country of the author's home, and the exciting events accompanying the Mexican War furnished a bright part of the theme.

Beulah next appeared, and is considered by many her best book.

The civil war interrupted her literary work, and it was a long time before her third novel, Macaria, was published. It passed the blockade by going to Cuba and thence to New York. It was written while the author sat in hospitals and nursed soldiers at Camp Beulah, near Mobile. A bookseller of Virginia first printed the book on coarse paper at an office in South Carolina. It was dedicated to the brave soldiers of the southern army, but the edition was all destroyed by a Federal officer in Kentucky. The issue was finally made by Lippencott & Derby, and the author partly protected as to her rights through the efforts of this firm.

After the civil war ended Miss Evans took the manuscript of St. Elmo to New York in person. This was then the greatest of her works, and abounded with many historical references, showing great study and research. There have been few novels more abused or more commended than St. Elmo. Its success exceeded all expectations, and the author was the idol of the day. Towns, hotels, race horses and steamboats were named after the book, and the remuneration received by Miss Evans was a big figure. St. Elmo contains a description of that marvel of oriental architecture, the Taj Mahal at Agra in India—a marble tomb erected to perpetuate the name of Lalla Rookh.

A traveler visiting Agra in 1891, writes that he was surprised to find a Parsee boy almost in the shadow of the Taj Mahal reading a copy of the London edition of Mrs. Wilson’s Vashti. This book also met with unbounded favor.

About this time Miss Evans married Mr. Wilson, a prominent citizen of Mobile, Alabama. On account of her health he requested her to discontinue her novel writing, which she did, devoting herself to decorating her home and grounds. This home is located in a grove of magnificent oaks and fragrant magnolia trees on a beautiful road near Mobile.

She has refused time and time again liberal offers, and not even a proposition to let her name her own price for a serial could tempt her. She has been offered $35,000 to allow her books to be published in cheap paper back form, not to interfere with her library bound editions, but refused to do so. She received $15,000 for Vashti before it ever went to press.

Ten years elapsed between Infelice and her last work, At the Mercy of Tiberius. Mrs. Wilson loves Beryl the best of all characters, and considers At the Mercy of Tiberius her strongest book.

Her whole life has been spent in the south, and she is a typical southerner. Sensitive and retiring, she is very appreciative of the good will of her fellow beings, and considers it a nobler privilege to possess the affections of my country-women than to assist my country-men in making national laws. Miss Mildred Rutherford says of Mrs. Wilson: “Mrs. Wilson has frequently been pronounced the most brilliant and fascinating writer in the south. That she is a remarkable woman no one will deny. Entering the literary field without literary training at the age of sixteen, by her continued meritorious work she stands without question at the head of the novel writers of the south. She has woven into her novels all that is good and great in the human race, and she has given to her heroes and heroines the imperishable virtues of morality, Christianity and beauty. She is not a professional writer; literature has rather been an embellishment of her life. Her style has been severely criticised as pedantic, but certainly this charge may with equal justice be brought against George Meredith, Buliver and George Eliot, and it is well established that Mrs. Wilson's books have in many instances stimulated her young readers to study history, mythology and the sciences, from which she so frequently draws her illustrations.”

Source: Memoirs of Georgia, Containing historical accounts of the states civil, military, industrial and professional interests and personal sketches of many of it’s people, Volume II, The Southern Historical Association, Atlanta, Georgia, 1895

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