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  • Simms in the War-Time Richmond Weeklies
  • Miriam J. Shillingsburg

When the Civil War began, South Carolinian William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) lost not only his royalties valued between $1200 and $1800 per year, and his copyrights and plates worth, by his reckoning, about $25,000 (Letters IV: 397-399), but he also lost access to his regular publisher J. S. Redfield of New York. By January 1862, after having just buried the ninth of his fourteen children and with the war turning ominously from Virginia toward South Carolina, Simms began to complain of poor sleep and frightful dreams:

I no longer read or write with satisfaction, or success [he wrote to William Porcher Miles]. . . . My occupation utterly gone, in this wretched state of war & confusion, I have no refuge in my wonted employments. . . . Could I go to work, as of old, having a motive, I might escape from much of the domestic thought. . . . But nobody reads nowadays, and no one prints. My desks are already filled with MS.S. Why add to the number—the mass,—when I so frequently feel like giving these to the flames? . . . I no longer put pen to paper, or books to print.

(Letters IV: 393-394)

Two weeks later he wrote, "My brain is seething with some new conceptions, but . . . I can now publish nothing" (Letters IV: 398). [End Page 41]

During the war years this normally prolific journalist, poet, dramatist, and novelist apparently wrote nothing completely new. The only publishing venues left to Simms were in the South—where he managed to republish poems and sketches in periodicals, and he brought out a collection of his older poems in Charleston. He did revise two long manuscripts he had worked on intermittently for more than two decades, placing them finally in war-time weeklies issued from Richmond, Virginia. These were the Southern Illustrated News, which ran from September 13, 1861, through March 25, 1865, and the Magnolia Weekly, which ran from October 4, 1862, through April 1, 1865. Both weeklies (among many war-time periodicals published in Richmond) had various titles, sub-titles, and design formats, and the Magnolia had a wide circulation throughout the South because "in the words of one Richmonder, . . . the South's readers should 'no longer be compelled to read the trashy publications of itinerant Yankees'" (Library of Virginia website). Both of Simms's works appeared during the first eight months of 1863, and, while neither was about current events, both were brought up to date by allusion to military, historical or social events of 1863.

These works, Paddy McGann; or, The Demon of the Stump and Benedict Arnold: The Traitor. A Drama, in an Essay have both suffered neglect by Simms scholars and scholars of the periodical press and of the Civil War era, in part, no doubt, because of their ephemeral publication. Yet each is among Simms's more interesting long works—Paddy McGann for its social commentary on both the North and the South and its well-developed Southwest humor format and characterization (Bush, Vautier); and Benedict Arnold for its thoughtful revisiting in the essay portions of Simms's theories of dramatic license and the relationship between history and art, and in the dramatic portions for its expansive treatment of a subject popular with dramatists throughout the nineteenth-century (Shillingsburg). Charles Watson believes that in Paddy McGann, and Benedict Arnold as well, Simms was finally able to speak "directly and openly . . . about matters that earlier he had been obliged to treat indirectly and through the Revolutionary analogy" (135).

Benedict Arnold had been accepted in the form of a dramatic poem in 1847 for serial publication in Graham's, though it never appeared (Letters II: 347). In 1848 Simms "confided a rude draft" to an actor who held it for a year but never produced it (Letters II: 460). At his death, Simms left the information in his own handwriting that [End Page 42]

The rough original of this drama was written somewhere about the year 1824. It was left in a fragmentary condition, untill [sic] 1862 when a second revision brought it to its present state, when I published it serially, at the Magnolia Magazine, published...


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pp. 41-52
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