Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Southward Ho! A Spell of Sunshine

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1854

            William Gilmore Simms assembled his 1854 Southward Ho!  A Spell of Sunshine largely out of his various periodical fiction publications, many from the late 1840s.  Often categorized as one of the author's novels, the work is organized as a collection of short stories unified by the central narrative conceit of a group of storytelling passengers on a sea voyage from New York to Charleston.[1]  The travelers pass the time by sharing stories of their homes or other familiar (usually southern) locales.  Because of this organization, John C. Guilds says the text exhibits a "Chaucerian framework,"[2] whereas Simms on several occasions described it with reference to The Decameron.[3]  In its content, Southward Ho! "contains observations on the people, politics, and geography of the various states along the eastern seaboard, but also as far west as Texas and Missouri."[4]  Although widely considered to be one of the author's lesser works,[5] this expansive view of the southern landscape and its varied cultures makes the book of interest today.  Of particular note are passages portraying the Native American as a kind of stagnant placeholder for European colonization, discussing the differences in the life of the planter versus the life of the manufacturer, and reflecting on the traditional animosity between North Carolina and her neighboring states.

            Simms first mentioned the idea for Southward Ho! in a 25 February 1847 letter to Evert Augustus Duyckinck, pitching it as a volume of sketches about the scenery and traditions of the South, titled "Slopes & Summits of the South."  Initially envisioning the work as an anonymous publication (which he sometimes did to test the merit of a volume outside the influence of his famous name), by 1853 Simms seems to have had largely fiduciary goals in mind for the text.  This is reflected again in his anxiety over potential European piracy of the book as enunciated in his 25 April 1855 letter to Duyckinck.  Simms was for the most part silent in his correspondence on the composition of the book, but in a 4 September 1854 letter to James Lawson he noted that Southward Ho! was in press, with Simms himself overseeing production.  The volume came out later that fall, published by Redfield and stereotyped by C.C. Savage, both of New York.  The cover was comprised of green boards with flat triple-border stamping on front and back.  The spine features gilt stamping that reads:  SOUTHWARD HO! | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of three leaf- or spade-shaped objects attached to center hollow circle] | [double rule] | REDFIELD.  The title page features:  SOUTHWARD HO! | A | SPELL OF SUNSHINE | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, Esq. | AUTHOR OF ''THE YEMASSEE'' - ''THE PARISAN'' - ''MELLICHAMPE'' - | ''KATHARINE WALTON'' - ''THE SCOUT'' - ''WOODCRAFT,'' ETC. | ''Southward ho! | As the waves flow, as the winds blow, | Spread free the sunny sail, let us go, friends, go.'' | [Circle formed of snake biting its own tail with burning lamp in the center] | REDFIELD | 110 AND 112 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK. | 1854.

            Being essentially a collection of previously published material, Southward Ho! has an extensive textual history that spans from the early 1830s forward.  Of the dozen or so stories within the frame narrative, six were previously published in Graham's Magazine, primarily in the 40s; three appeared in Simms's 1833 collection The Book of My Lady; and several of the others were featured in such periodicals as Godey's Lady's Book, Southern and Western, Magnolia, and Southern Literary Journal.  Only two of the stories, "The Ship of Fire" and "Blackbeard," appear to be new to the volume.  As a complete text, Southward Ho! went through many subsequent printings, both during the author's life and for years afterward.  Some of the major publishers who put out printings and issues of the text after Redfield were Widdleton of New York, Russell of Charleston, and Donohue & Henneberry of Chicago.

Todd Hagstette


[1] The editors of The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, volume 3 note, "For the framework of Southward Ho! Simms used a revision of his 'Spells of Sunshine; or, a Summer in the South,' nine chapters published in the Charleston Evening News of June 12, June 13, June 18, June 25, July 2, July 3, July 16, July 30, and July 31, 1849" (314, note 144).

[2] See Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 218.

[3] See, for example, his letter of 17 July 1854 to Evert Augustus Duyckinck (Letters, 3:313-15) and his letter of 24 December 1854 to John Esten Cooke (Letters, 3:355-56).

[4] Guilds, Simms, 219.

[5] Simms seems also to have held this view of the comparative quality of Southward Ho!  In a letter of 16 June 1854 to Duyckinck, he suggested the book (under the title Tales of Glow and Glamour) as a "Christmas Fireside" volume, while in a subsequent letter of 6 December 1854, he recommended it as a "good book for the traveller & for the Holidays."  Both valuations connote a work aimed at popular appeal over literary merit.

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