William Gilmore Simms


Simms was born in Charleston, S.C., and lived much of his life in or near it, making frequent visits to northern publishing centers and to the Gulf Coast and the southern mountains. His extensive knowledge of southern regions influenced novels and tales set in the Low Country, such as The Yemassee (1835), The Partisan (1835), and The Golden Christmas (1852), which trace the development of the region from the colonial era through the Revolution and into the antebellum period. Simms also published border and mountain romances like Richard Hurdis (1838) and Voltmeier (1869), set in the antebellum backwoods South.

To a greater extent, perhaps, than any other 19th century southern author, he gave a comprehensive picture of his region in its historical and cultural diversity - of the Low Country with its class hierarchy, its agrarian economy, its increasingly conservative politics, and its keen sectional self-consciousness; of the Gulf South, both civilized and violent, part plantation, part frontier; and of the Appalachian Mountain South in its pioneer phase. His writing exhibits qualities that mark southern literature from its beginnings: a sense of time and history, a love of southern landscape, a respect for southern social institutions, and a firm belief in class stratification and enlightened upper-class rule. In addition to fiction, poetry, drama, orations, and literary criticism, he wrote a history and a geography of South Carolina and biographies of Francis Marion, Captain John Smith, the Chevalier Bayard, and Nathanael Greene. At the beginning and near the end of his career, he edited several South Carolina newspapers, and in the 1840's and 1850s he served as editor of important southern journals, among them the Magnolia, the Southern and Western, and the proslavery Southern Quarterly Review, which gave voice to sectional issues.

The embodiment of southern letters, Simms was also an influential spokesman for what he saw as the region's social and political concerns. A unionist in the 1832 nullification controversy, in the 1840s he supported the intensely nationalistic Young America group, which pushed for American freedom from British literary models. Active in politics, he served in the South Carolina Legislature from 1844 to 1846, conferred with prominent planters like James Henry Hammond about southern agricultural policies, conducted a copious correspondence with fire-eating Beverley Tucker of Virginia about slavery and secession, and helped develop the proslavery argument. As his southern nationalism mounted in the 1840s and 1850s, he supported the annexation of Texas and advocated the creation of a southern empire in the Caribbean. When the War for Southern Independence broke out, he served as advisor to several southern politicians and made elaborate proposals for Confederate military defenses. During the war he wrote little of literary importance save the lively backwoods novel Paddy McGann (1863); after it, he ruined his health by the incessant writing and editing chores he took on to support his impoverished family. Energetic and often humorous, his work is important for its sweeping picture of the colonial and antebellum South in its regional diversity and also for its representation of continuing southern literary and intellectual issues.

Primary Works

A prolific writer, Simms published (before the Civil War) eighteen volumes of poetry, thirty volumes of fiction, biographies, essays, and articles. Given below are a few of the titles:

Martin Faber: The Story of a Criminal, 1833; The Yemassee. A Romance of Carolina, 1835 (e-text); The Life of Francis Marion (Gutenberg text); The Wigwam and the Cabin, 1845; The Sword and the Distaff, 1852; Woodcraft, 1854; The partisan: a romance of the revolution; 1856.

The writings of William Gilmore Simms. Centennial edition. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1969. PS2840 .A1 v.1

Selected Bibliography

Bakker, Jan. "The Pastoral Pessimism of William Gilmore Simms." Studies in American Fiction 11.1 (Sprg 1983): 81-90. 

Brichford, Charles H. "That National Story: Conflicting Versions and Conflicting Visions of the Revolution in Kennedy's Horse-Shoe Robinson and Simms's The Partisan." Southern Literary Journal 21.1 (Fall 1988): 64-85.

Butterworth, Keen, and James E. Kibler. William Gilmore Simms: a reference guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Z8819.2 .B87

Current-Garcia, Eugene. The American Short Story before 1850. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Dye, Renee. "A Sociology of the Civil War: Simms's Paddy McGann." Southern Literary Journal 28.2 (Sprg 1996): 3-23.

Frye, Steven. "Simm's The Yemassee, American Progressivism and the Dialogue of History." Southern Quarterly 35.3 (Sprg 1997): 83-89. 

Guilds, John C. ed. Long Years of Neglect: The Work and Reputation of William Gilmore Simms. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1988.

Blythe, Anne M. "William Gilmore Simms's The Cassique of Kiawah and the Principles of His Art." 37-59.

Guilds, John C. "'Long Years of Neglect': Atonement at Last?; Essays in Honor of Thomas Cary Duncan Eaves." 3-19.

Kibler, James E., Jr. "Perceiver and Perceived: External Landscape as Mirror and Metaphor in Simms's Poetry." 106-125.

McCardell, John. "Biography and the Southern Mind: William Gilmore Simms." 202-216.

McDaniel, Linda E. "American Gods and Devils in Simms's Paddy McGann" 60-75.

Meriwether, James B. "The Theme of Freedom in Simms's Woodcraft." 20-36.

Meriwether, Nicholas G. "Simms's The Lily and the Totem: 'History for the purposes of art'." 76-105.

Moltke-Hansen, David. "Ordered Progress: The Historical Philosophy of William Gilmore Simms." 126-147.

Moore, Rayburn S. "Paul Hamilton Hayne and William Gilmore Simms: Friends, Colleagues, and Members of the Guild." 166-182.

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. "Simms, Charleston, and the Profession of Letters.' 217-234.

Shillingsburg, Miriam J. "Simms's Failed Lecture Tour of 1856: The Mind of the North." 183-201.

Wimsatt, Mary Ann. "The Evolution of Simms's Backwoods Humor." 148-165.

- - -. Simms: A Literary Life. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1992.

- - -., and Caroline Collins. eds. William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1997.

Arnold, Edwin T. "Facing the Monster: William Gilmore Simms and Henry Clay Lewis." 179-91.

Bakker, Jan. "Simms on the Literary Frontier; Or, So Long Miss Ravenel and Hello Captain Porgy: Woodcraft Is the First 'Realistic' Novel in America." 64-78.

Boyd, Molly. "Southwestern Humor in The Wigwam and the Cabin." 165-78.

Collins, Caroline. "Simm's Concept of Romance and His Realistic Frontier." 79-91.

Donovan, Gerard. "Irish Folklore Influences on Simm's 'Sharp Snaffles' and 'Bald-Head Bill Bauldy'." 192-206.

Grantham, Nancy. "Simm's Frontier: A Collision of Cultures." 105-17.

Guilds, John C. "The 'Untrodden Path': Richard Hurdis and Simm's Foray into Literary Realism." 47-54.

Kibler, James E. "Stewardship and Patria in Simm's Frontier Poetry." 209-20.

McHaney, Thomas L. "Simm's Border Beagles: A Carnival of Frontier Voices." 95-104.

Moltke-Hansen, David. "Between Plantation and Frontier: The South of William Gilmore Simms." 3-26.

Moore, Rayburn S. "William Gilmore Simms's Guy Rivers and the Frontier." 55-63.

Newton, David W. "Voices along the Border: Language and the Southern Frontier in Guy Rivers: A Tale of Georgia." 118-44.

Schmidt, Sabine. "William Gilmore Simms and Friedrich Gerstacker: American and German Literary Perspectives and Parallels." 258-72.

Shillingsburg, Miriam J. "The Cub of the Panther: A New Frontier.' 221-34.

West, Elliott. "The American Frontier: Romance and Reality." 27-43.

Wimsatt, Mary Ann. "Frontier Humor and the 'Arkansas Traveler' Motif in Southward Ho!" 147-64.

Johanyak, Debra. "William Gilmore Simms: Deviant Paradigms of Southern Womanhood?" Mississippi Quarterly 46.4 ( Fall 1993): 573-88.

Kibler, James E. "Simm's Prophetic Muse." Mississippi Quarterly 49.1 (Wint 1995-1996): 109-13.

Meats, Stephen E. "Bald-Headed Bill Bauldy: Simms' Unredeemed Captive." Studies in American Humor 3.4 (Wint 1984-1985): 321-329.

Meriwether, James B. "Simms's 'Sharp Snaffles' and 'Bald-Head Bill Bauldy': Two Views of Men - and of Women." South Carolina Review 16.2 (Sprg 1984): 66-71.

Okker, Patricia. "Gender and Secession in Simms's Katharine Walton." Southern Literary Journal 29.2 (Sprg 1997): 7-31.

- - -. "Serial Politics in William Gilmore Simms's Woodcraft." Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-Century America. Eds. Kenneth M. Price and Susan B. Smith. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995. 150-65.

Patrick, Marietta> "The Dream Sequences in William Gilmore Simm's Castle Dismal." Southern Quarterly 35.1 (Fall 1996): 7-12.

Reed, Glenn. "Sectional Tensions in Simms's The Yemassee.' Southern Studies 26.4 (Wint 1987): 282-294.

Ridgely, J. V. William Gilmore Simms. NY: Twayne, 1962. PS2853 .R5

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. The Edge of the Swamp: A Study of the Literature and Society of the Old South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.

Shillingsburg, Miriam J. "The Maturing of Simms's Short Fiction: The Example of 'Oakatibbe'." Mississippi Quarterly 38.2 (Sprg1985): 99-117.

- - -. "Simms's Last Novel, The Cub of the Panther." Southern Literary Journal 17.2 (Sprg 1985): 108-119. 

Wakelyn, Jon L. The politics of a literary man: William Gilmore Simms. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1973. PS2853 W33

Watson, Charles S. "Portrayals of the Black and the Idea of Progress: Simms and Douglass." Southern Studies 20.4 (Wint 1981): 339-350.

- - -. "Simms and the Beginnings of Local Color.' Mississippi Quarterly 35.1 (Wint 1981-1982): 25-39.

- - -. "William Gilmore Simms." The History of Southern Literature. Eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr. et al. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1985. 108-117.

- - -. "Simms and the Civil War: The Revolutionary Analogy." Southern Literary Journal 24.2 (Sprg 1992): 76-89.