Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems.

Poetry | James S. Burges, 44 Queen Street | 1829

            The Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems, Simms's fourth separate publication, was issued in the summer of 1829.  Like his three previous works, it is a volume of poetry.  Comprised primarily of the three long poems “The Vision of Cortes,” “Cain,” and “Ashley River,” the volume also contains a number of shorter works, some of which had been previously published in other venues.  The subject matter of the volume ranges widely, moving from the title poem, which recalls in verse the 1518 expedition of Hernán Cortés into Mexico, to an ode to South Carolina’s Ashley River.

            Other than to acknowledge its existence, Simms did not mention The Vision of Cortes in his collected letters.  He did, however, include a brief statements about the background of each of the longer poems.  He indicated, for instance, both that the title poem “was originally introduced in one of larger dimensions on the subject of the Incas, which I was wise enough to destroy” and that he might consider expanding “Cain” into a larger project, but only if the public reception of his initial offering was favorable.[i]  About the collection of shorter poems in the second part of the book, Simms said that they represented a portion of the fugitive pieces that he had written during the preceding two years and “appear, generally, as originally written.”[ii]  Of the fourteen named poems that appear under the heading, “Micellaneous Poems,” nine were previously published in the Southern Literary Gazette, a short-lived literary journal that Simms co-founded and co-edited with James Wright Simmons.[iii]

            The last poem from The Vision of Cortes that Simms published in the Gazette was “To Thyrza,” which appeared on July 1, 1829.  Shortly thereafter the Charleston publisher James S. Burges released the collection, and on August 7 the Charleston Courier carried a short notice announcing that the “very neat little volume, containing ‘The Vision of Cortes,’ ” had just arrived at their office.[iv]  Simms had dedicated the volume to James L. Petigru, an influential South Carolina lawyer and politician who was related to Simms both by marriage and by political affinity.  During the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833 both men would stake out positions as strong supporters of the Union.[v]

            This first edition features brown board covers with the title, author, and publisher all printed on the front.  The back cover has an advertisement for the publisher and on the spine is printed, “Simms Poems | The | Vision | of | Cortes, | &c. | 1829.”  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, Jr., | Orangeburg S.C. | June 18, 1896.”[vi]  The front cover verso includes both a partially obscured name stamp, presumably from the individual who owned the book prior to Salley, and an ink inscription written in Salley’s hand.  While several of the poems would appear in later publications, The Vision of Cortes had only one edition and one printing.

Ehren Foley

[i] William Gilmore Simms, The Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems (Charleston: James S. Burges, 1829), 6, 46.   Whether due to inadequate public support or because of his own fleeting interest, there is no record that Simms ever expanded “Cain” into a more substantial production.

[ii] Simms, The Vision of Cortes, 86.

[iii] James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Biography (Spartanburg: The Reprint Company, Publishers, 1979), 179, 217, 239, 263, 269, 289, 297-298.  The first issue of the Southern Literary Gazette appeared in September 1828.  By late 1829 Simms’ efforts to revive the Gazette had failed, and on the first day of 1830 he assumed the editorship of the Charleston City Gazette, having just bought the newspaper.  The nine pieces that Simms reproduced in The Vision of Cortes represent only a small portion of the total number that he wrote for the Gazette.  During the one year of the journal’s existence, he published some 114 works in its pages, including 63 poems.  John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 26-30.

[iv] Kibler, Poetry, 60.  A clipping of the notice is also attached to the front cover verso of the copy reproduced in the Simms Digital Edition.

[v] Simms’ first wife, Anna Malcolm Giles Simms, was the cousin of Petigru’s wife, Jane Postell.  Mary C. Simms Oliphant, Alfred Taylor Odell, and T.C. Duncan Eaves, eds., The Letters of William Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1954-1982), I: cxxx.

[vi] 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>