Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Lays of the Palmetto: A Tribute to the South Carolina Regiment, in the War with Mexico.

Poetry | John Russell | 1848

            Lays of the Palmetto is a collection of poems that William Gilmore Simms wrote in honor of the South Carolina regiment that participated in the war with Mexico.  Many of the poems were originally published in the Charleston Courier in February and March of 1848.[1] Simms is directly identified as the author of the work on the title page.  In a March 23, 1848 letter to his friend and New York agent, James Lawson, Simms indicated to him that he had “just finished,” the work and was preparing it to go to press.[2]  In late July 1848, Lays of the Palmetto was published by John Russell and printed by J.B. Nixon, both of Charleston, SC.  In a separate letter to Lawson, sent in August of 1848, Simms states, “Recently, on the celebration of the achievements of the Palmetto Regiment I put forth a pamphlet of lyrics written at various times in their honor, of which I shall send you copies for distribution in the course of next week – some 45 pages.”[3] 

            As a poet Simms saw it as his duty to use his pen to give a collective voice “to the sentiments of his community.”[4]  In order to fulfill this perceived duty, Simms often attended, “public gatherings, celebrations, and dedications,” where he introduced a poem or oration that he had written for that specific event.  The desire to give the Charleston community a collective voice was perhaps Simms’s main reason for producing this collection. As John Caldwell Guilds notes in his Simms: A Literary Life, the, “paper-wrapped pamphlet-sized volumes,” of both Lays of the Palmetto and Charleston and Her Satirists, physically express this intangible desire of Simms, as they were both produced for the local community of Charleston.[5]   Guilds adds that in Lays of the Palmetto “Simms was speaking as laureate for South Carolinians welcoming home the Palmetto regiment from the Mexican War.”[6]

            This honorary work of Simms was displayed at a Charleston celebration held in the regiment’s honor.  As the Charleston Courier described the occasion on July 31, 1848, “one of the principal attractions of the day was a Printing Press, placed on a Car, tastefully decorated [which] at intervals, during the march…was put in operation, throwing off copies” of Simms’s work.[7]  The crowd, in awe at seeing the printing press functioning, rushed forward to receive copies of the work.  

            This first edition of Lays of the Palmetto features a blue paper wrapper, which encloses the bibliographic information of the work in a double-rule, border frame with decorative floral designs at the corners.  The cover reads:  LAYS | OF | The Palmetto: | A TRIBUTE TO | THE SOUTH CAROLINA REGIMENT, | IN THE | WAR WITH MEXICO. | [wavy rule] | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | [wavy rule] | CHARLESTON, S.C. | JOHN RUSSELL, 256 KING STREET. | 1848.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (Columbia, SC: Southern Studies Program University of South Carolina, 1979): 77.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Letters, 2:430.

[4] Kibler, Poetry, 77.

[5] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 188.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kibler, Poetry, 77.