William Gilmore Simms
Biography of William Gilmore Simms
Simms was born in Charleston, S.C., and lived much of his life in or near it.
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 Civil War 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.
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.
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.
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William Gilmore Simms Poems
Blessings On Children
Blessings on the blessing children, sweetest gifts of Heaven to earth, Filling all the heart with gladness, filling all the house with mirth; Bringing with them native sweetness, pictures of the primal bloom, Which the bliss for ever gladdens, of the region whence they come;
The Lost Pleiad
NOT in the sky, Where it was seen So long in eminence of light serene,— Nor on the white tops of the glistering wave,
The Decay Of A People
THIS the true sign of ruin to a race— It undertakes no march, and day by day Drowses in camp, or, with the laggard’s pace, Walks sentry o’er possessions that decay;
I. Our city by the sea, As the rebel city known, With a soul and spirit free
Sumter In Ruins
I. Ye batter down the lion's den, But yet the lordly beast g'oes free; And ye shall hear his roar again,
The Angel Of The Church
I. Aye, strike with sacrilegious aim The temple of the living God; Hurl iron bolt and seething flame
The Swamp Fox
WE follow where the Swamp Fox guides, His friends and merry men are we; And when the troop of Tarleton rides, We burrow in the cypress tree.
Ode--Shell The Old City! Shell!
I. Shell the old city I shell! Ye myrmidons of Hell; Ye serve your master well,
Flight To Nature
SICK of the crowd, the toil, the strife, Sweet Nature, how I turn to thee, Seeking for renovated life, By brawling brook and shady tree!
I Do ye quail but to hear, Carolinians, The first foot-tramp of Tyranny's minions? Have ye buckled on armor, and brandished the spear,
Song In March
NOW are the winds about us in their glee, Tossing the slender tree; Whirling the sands about his furious car, March cometh from afar;
Where dwells the spirit of the Bard--what sky Persuades his daring wing,-- Folded in soft carnation, or in snow Still sleeping, far o'er summits of the cloud,
Oh! from the deeds well done, the blood well shed In a good cause springs up to crown the land With ever-during verdure, memory fed,
Hast Thou A Song For A Flower.
HAST thou a song for a flower, Such as, if breathed in its ear, Would waken in beauty's own bower
The Decay Of A People
THIS the true sign of ruin to a race—
It undertakes no march, and day by day
Drowses in camp, or, with the laggard’s pace,
Walks sentry o’er possessions that decay;
Destined, with sensible waste, to fleet away;—
For the first secret of continued power
Is the continued conquest;—all our sway
Hath surety in the uses of the hour;
If that we waste, in vain walled town and lofty tower!