The Southern Mythnby Benjamin B. AlexandernThe Lytle/Tate Letters:nThe Correspondence ofnAndrew Lytle and Allen Tatenedited by Thomas Daniel Youngnand Elizabeth SarconenJackson and London: University Pressnof Mississippi; 374 pp., $37.50nSoutherners and Europeans:nEssays in a Time of Disordernby Andrew LytlenBaton Rouge and London:nLouisiana State University Press;n308 pp., $32.50nAndrew Lytle and Allen Tate, twonof the original Vanderbilt Agrarians,nmaintained a remarkable friendshipnspanning some half a century, fromnthe early 20’s until Tate’s death in 1979.nWhile both pursued prolific literaryncareers, their paths crossed less frequently,nparticularly as Tate becamenidentified with modernist poetry andncriticism in the Eliot tradition. Lytle, onnthe other hand, maintained his Southernnloyalties, spent more time in hisnnative region, and did not cultivate thenAnglo-American attention that Tate,nmore than any of the original VanderbiltnAgrarians, sought. The influence ofneach is still evolving, particularly withnthe current publication of the Lytle-nTate correspondence and the collectionnof Lytle’s literary essays entitled Southernersnand Europeans. We are able tontrace the multifaceted talents of each —nTate, a poet, editor, historian, andncritic; Lytle, a novelist, historian, editor,nand teacher of writing.nInitially Lytle and Tate found themselves,nbecause of when they were bornn(Tate, 1899 and Lytle, 1902), at anprophetic crossroads in the understandingnof American history and its mythicalnmeaning. The legacy of a Protestant-inspirednegalitarian democracynprovided no comfort nor illuminatednthe historical complexities from whichnTate and Lytle emerged in the eariyn20th century. In an 1872 speech, PaulnHamilton Hayne said of the Civil War,n”many of the tongues have essayed tonnarrate its history, but not for us, not innour generation, can the ‘Iliad’ of thenSouthern war be said or sung!”nHayne’s Homeric allusion anticipatesn34/CHRONICLESnthe early Civil War writings of Tate andnLytle. Both devoted themselves to biographiesnof Southern leaders — Tatento Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson,nand Robert E. Lee, and Lytle to NathannBedford Forrest. Their eady lettersnreveal both in substance and in thenuse of the folk idiom of Tennessee andnKentucky an oral and instinctive embracenof history. The past is no abstraction,nbut reveals itself as vivid memorynand myth.nThe letters of Lytle and Tate shownthe delight that both took in relivingnthe brief military and political fortunesnof the Confederacy. The correspondencenis a running account of theirngrowing understanding of its meaning.nWe discover that both found themselvesnto be interpreters of the mostnintense fratricidal strife that the nationnhas ever witnessed. While the generalsnand leaders of the Confederacy hadnbeen completely absorbed in the militarynand tactical affairs of an abortivenWar of Independence, Lytle and Tatenfound themselves to be commandingnanother battle — the battle for thenmeaning of it all.nWhile Tate and Lytle attempted tonsolidify the national memory of thenSouth by a vicarious identification withnlegendary leaders, their intellectualnprowess allowed them to see the fissuresnin the emergent Confederatennation that were there from its beginnings.nBoth were linked by family tiesnand regional loyalties to the “old West”nof Tennessee and Kentucky. And it isnthese loyalties that encouraged Lytle tonquestion the location of the Confederatencapitol at Richmond. Lytle believednthat it should have been in Montgomery,nAlabama. He writes Tate in 1929nthat the geographic position of thendeep South city “made it the idealncapitol of the Confederacy, withoutnconsideration of other strategic andnpolitical advantages.” In the same letternLytle remarks of a proposed settlementnat a Virginia farm: “How can a Tennesseannand Kentuckian return to Virginia?nI have a suspicion that a Virginianndoesn’t differentiate much betweennone who comes from the North andnone who comes from behind the BluenRidge, and if he does, he will favor thencarpetbagger to, shall I say, the scalawag.”nThese reflections, we find, are fueledneven more by Tate’s growingnnndislike of both the Confederacy’s president,nJefferson Davis, and the commandernof the Army of Northern Virginia,nRobert E. Lee. Tate tells Lyflenthat “Davis never knew fundamentallynwhat the war was all about. He reallynthought it was about political abstractionsnand civil liberties; it was foughtn(largely unconsciously) for that irrationalngood known as national independence.”nBut it is General Lee who comes innfor Tate’s severest rebuke. Initially, innthe 1930’s, Tate had undertaken tonwrite an exemplary biography of Lee asnthe exemplary Virginian. But the morenTate analyzed Lee’s career, the morenhe grew to dislike him. It was Lee whonencouraged in President Davis whatnTate identifies as a “capitulation to thenVirginia viewpoint after he went tonRichmond and his neglect of thenWest” (Tennessee and the lowernSouth). Tate further faults Lee for hisn”state rights provincialism which lednhim to prefer doing his duty to winningnthe war — his duty being to Virginianalone,” and goes on to suggest thatn”Lee had a kind of egoism that yieldednto no influence — not even to thenindependence of his country. It wasnthe egoism of self-righteousness, and itnwas absolutely unassailable.” By 1931,nTate writes Lytle that he has come tondespise Lee and suggests the prospectnof continuing to write his biography isntoo much of an ordeal. At least, Tatenconcedes, Davis could be excused becausenof intellectual deficiency andnweakness of character. Analyzing Lee,nhowever, Tate can muster no suchncaveat, and says finally that undernLee’s heroic surface there is “an abyssnand it is to this that I do not want tongive a name.”nLytle and Tate’s advocacy of Agrariannfreedom fighting, however, wasnblunted by the rhetorical power of I’llnTake My Stand, which accentuated thenperception of the romantic isolation ofnthe Confederacy, “taking its stand.”nTate and Lytle both believed that thenallusion to the Confederacy’s nationalnanthem in I’ll Take My Stand glorifiednthe “Virginia ethos” — a sense of selfconsciousnabstract heroism that wouldnbecome a later staple for sentimentalnimages of the South. Tate and Lytic,non the other hand, saw in the Southernnwar the paradigm for the ethnic revolutionnof the soil, and preferred callingn