Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Tri-Color; or The Three Days of Blood in Paris. With Some Other Pieces

Poetry | Wigfall & Davis, Strand | c. 1831

          William Gilmore Simms published The Tri-Color; or the Three Days of Bloodin Paris. With Some Other Pieces in the winter of 1830 or the spring of 1831.  He did so anonymously, and the advertisement at the front of the text says simply, “The Work, now offered to the notice of the British Public, is by an American Citizen.”  Though Simms told James Lawson that he did not “wish to be known as its author for a variety of reasons,” he did list it among his publications multiple times within his letters.[1]  James Kibler suggests that one reason that Simms may have desired anonymity was because of the subject matter of the text.  The Tri-Color deals with the French Revolution of 1830, or the “July Revolution” of 27-29 July, and in it Simms offers support for the power of a free press to bring political reform.  As a young Unionist editor working in Charleston, he may have thought it impolitic to issue the volume under his own name.[2]  Simms’s motives may also have been practical as well as political.  Writing to Rufus Wilmot Griswold a decade later Simms remembered that he wrote Tri-Color “at a few sittings, or rather, goose-like, standing on one leg,” and self-deprecatingly offered that it, along with a few of his other early works, represented “performances either of boyhood or of extreme youth.”[3]  But Simms’s reflection came with the perspective of time, and any concerns that he may have had about the quality of his work were likely subordinate to his political calculations.

          Like much of Simms’s earliest work, The Tri-Color is a volume of poetry.  Its focus on the July Revolution, though, demonstrates Simms’ early interest and engagement with historical themes.  Already he was attempting to join historical writing with various literary forms, an approach that was much less foreign to the writing of history in the mid-nineteenth century than it would be later.  In his narrative introduction to the volume, Simms described his style, saying he gave historical record precedent over everything else, but “Where it has been supererogatory in its particulars, I have taken the liberty of abridging them to the limits imposed by my bookseller.”[4]

          The proximity of the publication of The Tri-Color to the events described meant that Simms was producing a “first draft” of that history.  In the spring of 1831 he described writing the volume the year before, and the same year is listed on the copyright page, so he was only several months removed from the July revolution. While the copyright date of the volume was 1830, Simms placed the actual publication date at 1831 in his letter to Dawson.  He wrote that Tri-Color was “published in our city, during my late visit to Louisiana & Mississippi.”[5] Simms began his journey to Mississippi in late February 1831 and returned in May.[6]  Also of note is the fact that Simms indicated that the volume was published in Charleston, not London.  Kibler suggests that, as with the reasons for publishing anonymously, Simms probably elected to use a false imprint in an attempt to place the volume above partisan politics.  He also concludes that physical similarities between the first edition ofTri-Color and the first edition of The Vision of Cortes, published by James S. Burges of Charleston in the previous year, indicate that Burges most likely produced Tri-Color.[7]  

          This first edition features tan paperboard covers with a brown cloth spine.  There is no stamping on either cover or spine. This copy is part of the A.S. Salley collection in the South Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina, and the inscription on the front flyleaf recto reads, “A.S. Salley / Columbia, S.C. / March 25, 1939.”[8]  The back flyleaf recto has an attached check in the amount of $5.00 made out to Anna Wells Rutledge and dated 22 March 1939.  The check, from A.S. Salley and drawn on The Lower Main Street Bank of Columbia, South Carolina, was likely the one used to purchase this book.  While several of the poems in the volume were first published elsewhere, The Tri-Colorhad only one edition and one printing. 

Ehren Foley

[1] Letters, 5:38.  See also Letters, 1:163; 2:471; 5:356.

[2] James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (Spartanburg: The Reprint Company, Publishers, 1979), 62-63.

[3] Letters, 5:356.

[4] Simms, The Tri-Color, 9.

[5] Letters, 1:38.

[6] Kibler, Poetry, 63; William Stanley Hoole, “Alabama and William Gilmore Simms,” Alabama Review 16, no. 2 (April 1963): 83-107.

[7] Kibler, Poetry, 62.

[8] Alexander S. Salley (1871-1961) was a native of Orangeburg, South Carolina and an avid Simms collector.  Salley served as secretary of the South Carolina Historical Society and in April 1905 became the first secretary of the South Carolina Historical Commission, the precursor to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. http://www.palmettohistory.org/exhibits/centennial/centennial.htm<accessed 21 July 2010>