Journalist, naturalist, novelist. Sass was born in Charleston on November 2, 1884, son of the poet George Herbert Sass and Anna Ravenel, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. St. Julien Ravenel. His grandfather was the creator of submarines for the Confederacy, and his grandmother was the author of the classic Charleston: The Place and the People. Taking his inheritance seriously and rarely leaving the city, Sass graduated from the College of Charleston with a B.A. in 1905, an M.A. in 1906, and an honorary Litt.D. in 1922. Starting to work for the News and Courier in 1908, he used his love of the lowcountry as the basis of his long-running column, “Woods and Waters.” The nature artist and writer Charles Livingston Bull convinced him to send similar work to the Saturday Evening Post, which, along with other national magazines, published his nature stories. National publication enabled Sass to give up newspaper work in 1924, having served as both city editor and assistant editor.
Sass’s collections of nature stories, showing his lush use of language and intimate knowledge of bird and animal life, include The Way of the Wild (1925), Adventures in Green Places (1926; enlarged, 1935), Gray Eagle (1927), and On the Wings of a Bird (1929). His fascination with lowcountry and Native American history is dis- played in his historical novels War Drums (1928), Hear Me, My Chiefs (1940), Emperor Brims (1941), and most especially in his best work, Look Back to Glory (1933), a tale of the Civil War. A chapter was published in Fort Sumter (1938) with a chapter from DuBose Heyward’s novel Peter Ashley. In Heyward’s novel the title character debated between his head and heart in throwing in his lot with the South; but Sass and his characters supported secession and the South wholeheartedly. The author saw no reason to doubt the rightness of the “lost cause” and argued passionately for the political principals of John C. Calhoun, in both his fiction and his magazine pieces. Believing that history should be colored with romance, he used his lyric talents to celebrate the lowcountry and a past he saw as fabled and tragic. This showed in his nonfiction works: A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, with Alice R. H. Smith watercolors (1936); Out- spoken: 150 Years of the News and Courier (1953), whose conservative racial views he championed (most especially in his 1956 Atlantic Monthly article “Mixed Schools and Mixed Blood”); and The Story of the Carolina Lowcountry (1956), in which he argued that the role of the lowcountry and that of the South in shaping the country had not been adequately acknowledged by historians. He was so adamant in this in his magazine pieces that the historian Bernard De Voto answered him in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post.
Shy, redheaded, tall, lean, and gracious, Sass was nicknamed “Hobo” for his wandering ways in the lowcountry and his hobbling together of income to support his wife, Marion Hutson, and three children. At least two of his short stories became the basis of films; The Raid came from his “Affair at St. Albans,” and Anne of the Indies was drawn from his story of the same name. He died on February 18, 1958, and was buried in Charleston’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Cemetery. While all could not agree with him politically, none could deny his love or loyalty for the Carolina lowcountry.
“Charleston Author Tells of Wild Life in Woods and of His Native Heath.” Charleston News and Courier, December 4, 1938, 9-iii.
Coit, Margaret. “Tribute to Herbert R. Sass.” Charleston News and Courier, March 2, 1958, p. A12.
“H. R. Sass Dies after Long Illness.” Charleston News and Courier, February 19, 1958, pp. A1, A11.
“Myth, Says Devoto of Sass’ Charges.” Charleston News and Courier, January 12, 1954, p. A10.