Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Cassique of Accabee. Tale of Ashley River. With Other Pieces by William Gilmore Simms.

Poetry | John Russell | 1849

      The Cassique of Accabee, a volume of poetry by William Gilmore Simms, features one long narrative poem, which shares its title with the book.  The volume also contains a section of shorter poems.  These poems were all previously published in other forms before they appeared in this collection,[1] published by John Russell in 1849 in Charleston, South Carolina.  As James Kibler notes, the volume was completely printed by September 19, 1849, but copies were still being bound around September 27, 1849.[2]  Kibler observes further that subsequent copies of the work, all of which were printed in 1849, have, “the imprints of Putnam of New York and Harper of New York.”[3] All have the exact same gatherings, and the Putnam version features, “the same cover and paper size as the Charleston copies; and the title page remains the same except for a new three-line imprint which appears to be set from the same type font as the original.”[4]  Kibler uses Hinman collation to conclude that the Russell and Putnam versions of the texts are virtually “two states of one impression.”[5]  On the other hand, the Harper version features some unique characteristics and is therefore more than likely a second impression.[6]  As John Caldwell Guilds notes, although the title of this work would lead one to conclude that Simms was solely focusing on the South or Southwest as his subject within this collection, “in reality only The Cassique of Accabee itself is clearly Southern backwoods in theme or tone,” with the other selected poems having a variety of different topical themes.[7]

      While not one of Simms’s best, this collection was widely publicized.  Recognizing this issue of quality, a New York friend of Simms, Evert Augustus Duyckinck, in his review, which appeared in Literary World in 1850, noted, “No writer whom we can at present call to mind, has suffered so severely from the miscarriages he has made, or has been so little estimated by what he has produced of real and permanent excellence.  It is not that he has done too little, but that he has done too much. No man can deny that Mr. Simms is a poet; and yet no man in the country has sent before the world so much verse of doubtful character….[H]e is constantly sending to the press productions far below what must be his own standards of taste, and which cannot secure his own deliberate approval.”[8]  These criticisms were not entirely new to Simms.  He had heard similar statements, albeit in a personal rather than public context, from South Carolina friend James Henry Hammond.  Simms addressed Hammond’s criticisms in a letter to Hammond dated June 9, 1851.  “Your critique upon my poesies is hasty,” he wrote, “In fact you have never read one twentieth part that I have published. The Southern Passages and Pictures contain more passion than all the American Poets put together.  If you desire a sample of it, read the poem To Time in the collection which accompanies The Cassique of Accabee.”[9]

      The first edition features a blue paper wrapper binding with a decorative border.   The cover reads:  THE | Cassique of Accabee. | A | TALE OF ASHLEY RIVER. | WITH | OTHER PIECES | BY | WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, | AUTHOR OF, ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''RICHARD HURDIS,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ''ATALANTIS,'' ETC. | [decorative floral design] | CHARLESTON, | JOHN RUSSELL, KING-STREET | 1849.

Elizabeth Oswald


[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 189.

[2] James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (Columbia: Southern Studies Program University of South Carolina, 1979), 84-85.

[3] Ibid., 85.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Guilds, Simms, 189.

[8] Ibid., 190.

[9] Letters, 3:126-127.