William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870)
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230 William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870) A native of Charleston, South Carolina, William Gilmore Simms, along with his contemporaries Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe, was among the first American writers to dedicate their careers to making a living as professional authors. Wide-ranging in his intellectual and social interests , grounded in a strong sense of the history of his region, and supported by a community of writers that gathered at Russell’s Bookstore to form the “Charleston School,” during his lifetime Simms would edit at least ten periodicals and produce more than eighty volumes of history, poetry, criticism, biography, drama , essays, stories, and novels. He made a bid for a major presence on the American literary scene through his nationally popular border romances about life on the frontier and historical romances about the American Revolution. Guy Rivers in 1834 and The Yemassee in 1835 were notable successes that put Simms in a good position to achieve a national reputation but with all the disadvantages of a southerner at a distance from the presses and publishing houses of New York City. Because of his self-conscious awareness of his regional position, and his devotion to exploring the southern experience in his writing, he was in a sense the founding father of southern literature. Simms is not known as a humorist, although like most professional writers he would turn to it as occasion or assignment dictated. His deep familiarity with the frontier experience, and his appreciation for the eccentricities of backwoods existence, would lead him to write humorous pieces that reflected the rowdy, dangerous, and unreliable nature of life at the margins of civilization. In so doing , he demonstrated a command of the materials and techniques of the humor of the Old Southwest, just as they were being developed by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet and his followers in the pages of the New York Spirit of the Times and southern newspapers. His best comic tales include “How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and Wife” and “Bill Bauldy.” Text: “Ephraim Bartlett, the Edisto Raftsman” Literary World 10 (February 7, 1852) 107–10. William Gilmore Simms 231 Ephraim Bartlett, the Edisto Raftsman I resume my narrative. In my last, we had just hurried across the common road, once greatly travelled, leading along the Ashley, to the ancient village of Dorchester. Something was said of the fine old plantations along this river. It was the aristocratic region during the Revolution; and when the Virginians and Marylanders, at the close of the war, who had come to the succor of Carolina against the British, drew nigh to Charleston, their hearts were won and their eyes ravished, by the hospitalities and sweets of this neighborhood. Many brave fellows found their wives along this river, which was bordered by flourishing farms and plantations, and crowned by equal luxury and refinement. Here, too, dwelt many of those high-spirited and noble dames whose courage and patriotism contributed so largely to furnish that glorious chapter in Revolutionary history, which has been given to the women of that period. The scene is sadly changed at this season. The plantations along the Ashley are no longer flourishing as then. The land has fallen in value, not exhausted, but no longer fertile and populous. The health of the country is alleged to be no longer what it was. This I regard as all absurdity. The truth is that the cultivation was always inferior; and the first fertile freshness of the soil being exhausted, the opening of new lands in other regions naturally diverted a restless people from their old abodes. The river is still a broad and beautiful one, navigable for steamers and schooners up to Dorchester, which, by land, is twenty-one miles from Charleston . There is abundant means for restoring its fertility.Vast beds of marl, of the best quality, skirt the river all along the route, and there is still a forest growth sufficiently dense to afford the vegetable material necessary to the preparation of compost. As for the health of the neighborhood, I have no sort of question, that, with a dense population, addressed to farming, and adequate to a proper drainage, it would prove quite as salubrious as any portion of the country. Staple culture has always been the curse of Carolina. It has prevented thorough tillage, without which no country can ever ascertain its own resources, or be sure of its health at any time. Cooper River, on the right...


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