Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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City of the Silent

Poetry | Walker & James, Publishers | 1850

            The City of the Silent is a poem of 500 lines written by William Gilmore Simms in November 1850.  It was published by Walker & James in Charleston, SC that same year.  The cover lists a specific date, November 19, which was the date that Simms delivered the poem at the consecration of the new Magnolia Cemetery on the banks of the Cooper River, just north of Charleston.  Although it was being published in December of 1850, and despite the fact the cover notes the date of publication as 1850, the work was released as a pamphlet in February of 1851.[1]

            Simms explained the origin of the poem in a letter dated November 12, 1850 to Evert Augustus Duyckinck, New York friend and editor of the Literary World:  “just as I was packing up for removal from the City to the plantation, with the buoyant hope that I should be able to give at least a week to deer & turkey hunting, I am appealed to to prepare a poem for the opening of a great public cemetery near Charleston – a task which I found it impossible to evade. My sporting week has been accordingly devoted to this labor.”[2]  A week after writing this letter, Simms read the poem at the dedication of the Magnolia Cemetery.[3]

            The poem received a considerable amount of critical attention in both the North and the South.[4]  For instance, the Charleston Sun reviewed the poem November 20, 1850, the day after Simms delivered it, applauding the work: “As a conclusion to the interesting services of the occasion, Wm. Gilmore Simms, a writer of whom South Carolina should be proud – and indeed the only professional author at the South – delivered a Poem, who [sic] we at once set down as one of the best, perhaps the very best, he has ever penned. It was a lengthy production, but the interest was sustained to a remarkable degree, as the unflagging interest of the audience evinced.”[5]  It was so widely reviewed that upon the publication of the poem, the 500 copies that Simms had printed were sold quickly.  In a subsequent letter dated March 10, 1851, Simms noted that the edition was nearly exhausted.[6]  In the same letter to Duyckinck, Simms’s pride regarding the work shone through: “The subject has never been handled in English verse before.  Since it was written I have seen in your ‘World’ a poem of Holmes on the subject, but it seemed feeble & commonplace. Mine will not be found so, I imagine.”[7]

            The first edition copy housed in the Salley-Simms Collection at the University of South Carolina’s South Caroliniana Library has been rebound into a hardcover to protect the fragile book.  The title page reads:  THE | CITY OF THE SILENT:| A POEM.| BY W. GILMORE SIMMS.| DELIVERED AT THE| Consecration of Magnolia Cemetery.| November 19, 1850.| CHARLESTON:| WALKER & JAMES, PUBLISHERS.|1850.  The front cover of the book itself is inscribed by Simms to, "Mrs. Louisa McCord with compliments of the author."  Despite the fact that it was popular, the work appears to have had only one printing.  It was featured, however, in a Walker & James publication entitled Magnolia Cemetery, which was released in 1851.  It was also included in volume one of Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative, published in 1853. 

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 201.

[2] Letters, 3:73.

[3] Guilds, Simms, 202.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Letters, 3:96-97.

[7] Ibid.