Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1853

            Vasconselos is a Colonial Romance (Simms describes it as “ante-colonial,” meaning before European settlement in the future South).  It treats, in various levels of depth, a host of subject matters.[1]  The most notable is the Spanish effort to colonize the New World.  Within this exploration, Simms treats the adjustment of Spanish culture from Medieval to Early Modern standards, the effects of imperialistic ethics upon that culture, ruling class corruption, the alienation of racial and national minorities, and the historic De Soto expedition to mainland North America.  In addition, the opening of the novel focuses on young love corrupted by sibling rivalry and incest.  The end of the novel treats the emergence of a new American national identity influenced by Native American culture and, especially, by the abilities of individuals to adjust themselves to an untamed frontier environment.  Simms lauded his own work as a story of “dark & terrible imaginings,” a tale of the “wildest interest and the most intense powers.  It is a tale of crime, but not of voluptuousness.”[2]

            According to biographer John Caldwell Guilds, Simms had completed a few chapters of Vasconselos as early as 1848[3], and he inquired with Godey’s Lady Book about the possibility of serial publication.  Sarah J. Hale of Godey’s praised some passages but objected to the passion and violence of the novel.  Simms’s next tried Philadelphia publisher Abraham Hart in 1851, specifying that the project was not yet complete.  Hart, who had just published Katherine Walton, also rejected the novel.  The author submitted the first 15 (of an eventual total of 50) chapters to Redfield in January of 1853.  Redfield, which had published earlier Simms works, asked for the remainder.  Simms finished and submitted the manuscript, and it was published by Redfield and printed and stereotyped by E.O. Jenkins in December of 1853.  Redfield reissued the novel in 1857, and a reissue—from the same plates—was produced by Widdleton in 1868 and by A. C. Armstrong and Son, New York, in 1882.  Bedford, Clarke, & Co. of Chicago reprinted it again, also from the original plates, in the same year, as did Burrow Brothers of Cleveland in 1888.  Donohue, Henneberry of Chicago reissued it in 1890. There were three more reprintings, by three different publishing houses, all using images of the original typesetting: Microform versions of the Redfield and Bedford, Clarke printings were produced in 1970, and Adamant Media Corporation produced the final photo-offset paperback reissue in 2001.  The first new edition of the novel since its original publication is the planned 2012 edition from the University of Arkansas Press.

            Simms originally planned to publish the novel anonymously, but he accepted the suggestion of J. S. Redfield, its first publisher, to attribute the work to “Frank Cooper.”  The 1853 edition, the Cooper edition, was dedicated to Dr. John W. Francis of New York. When the novel was reissued in 1856, Simms was listed as the author, and the dedication was revised to include a discussion of the caprice that led him first to publish the work pseudonymously. In addition, Simms discussed in the dedication Dr. Francis’s taste, generosity, and interest in history.  The original Redfield edition did not contain any illustrations; the 1868 Widdleton reissue featured two in its front matter that, though unattributed, were almost certainly by F.O.C. Darley.  The Redfield edition featured a hard cover covered in blue cloth.  There are decorative square borders pressed into the cloth on the front and back cover of the work. The spine features gold imprint and reads: VASCONSELOS | [rule] | COOPER | [rule] | an image of a knight in armor with a sword.  The bottom of spine reads REDFIELD in gold imprint as well.  The title page features:  VASCONSELOS | A | ROMANCE OF THE NEW WORLD | BY | FRANK COOPER | "Wife, mother, child, I know not. My affairs | Are servanted to others. Though I owe | My revenge properly, my remission lies | In Volscian breasts. That we have been familiars, | Ingrate foregetfulness shall poison, rather | Than pity note how much." | Coriolanus [a decorative symbol featuring a lamp encircled by a serpent follows] | REDFIELD | 110 and 112 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK | 1853.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] Much of the content of this headnote comes directly from Kevin Collins’s introduction to the 2011 print-on-demand issue of Vasconselos from University of South Carolina Press.

[2] Simms defended his book in this language in a 15 October 1849 letter to Sarah Josepha Buell Hale upon her rejection of the manuscript for publication in Godey’s Lady Book (Letters, 2:560).

[3] Though he cites no evidence in support of the claim, C. Hugh Holman claims in his introduction to Views and Reviews that Simms had written much of Vasconselos in the 1830’s.