Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Forayers; or, The Raid of the Dog-Days

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1855

            Simms biographer John Caldwell Guilds notes that, in 1855, Simms would "enter a four-year period marked not by the exuberance and the surging creative force of the young Simms, but rather by an artistic imagination tempered and refined by maturity and experience."[1] The first major product of this new period was The Forayers, another in Simms's series of revolutionary romances, published by Redfield in 1855.  The Forayers is concerned with the British army's retreat from its outpost at Ninety-Six, and explores the events leading up the Battle of Eutaw Springs in 1781; in thus returning to the Revolutionary War romance series, Simms bridged the considerable gap in narrative time between the events of The Scout and those of Woodcraft, rounding out his epic exploration of the American republic's genesis-in-fire[2].  Starting on this project in November of 1854, while he was finalizing the revisions for the Redfield edition of Guy Rivers, Simms soon realized that he would need two books to accomplish his goal.[3]  As was characteristic of him throughout his career, Simms wrote at breakneck speed; he claimed to be halfway done with The Forayers, the first of the two planned novels, in February of 1855, four short months after beginning.[4]

             Simms wrote The Forayers at a particularly busy time in his literary life, starting and stopping the book on multiple occasions, all facts that make the speed with which he finished the novel and its overall quality more impressive.  He began The Forayers while finishing the revisions of Guy Rivers, and was revising Border Beagles, Confession, and Beauchampe, plus later correcting the proofs for the Redfield edition of Guy Rivers, alongside his work on The Forayers.[5]  This same period also saw his putting on a play, Michael Bonham, as well as giving an oration at the College of Charleston, “On the Choice of a Profession.”[6]  Nevertheless, despite this exceptional workload, The Forayers was published by Redfield in November 1855—while Simms was already hard at work on its sequel, Eutaw.  The many subsequent printings of The Forayers have all been based on the 1855 edition, with no changes by Simms at a later time.

               An author who was always deeply concerned with how his work was being received, Simms complained, in letters from late 1855 and early 1856, that he was hearing very little about The Forayers in the press.  He was especially concerned with how well the book was being received in the North—something, again, typical for him.  Despite this frustration, we see Simms positively beaming in other moments in the letters, as his circle of literary friends all seemed to be praising The Forayers in a manner commensurate with Simms's own conception of the book's strengths.[7]  He went so far as to brag to John Reuben Thompson in a letter from May 1856 that “All my critical friends agree in pronouncing them [The Forayers and its sequel, Eutaw] my best books.”[8] While Simms may not have heard much about his novel in the press, there is little indication the reception was less than positive.  Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler, Jr. list four contemporary notices or reviews of the book in their William Gilmore Simms:  A Reference Guide, and these four are all overwhelmingly positive.

               The 1855 first edition features green boards and spine.   Front and back have flat double border box stamping inside flat triple border box stamping.  Spine features gilt stamped:  THE | FORAYERS | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of flag, rifle, haversack, drum, and book] | [double rule] | REDFIELD.  Its title page features: THE | FORAYERS | OR | THE RAID OF THE DOG-DAYS | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN''—''MELLICHAMPE''—''KATHARINE WALTON''—''THE SCOUT''—''WOODCRAFT''—''THE YEMASSEE''—''GUY RIVERS,'' ETC. | CONST. Hark, how our steeds for present service neigh! | DAUPHIN. Mount them, and make incision in their hides, | That their hot blood may spin in English eyes, | And daunt them with superfluous courage. | KING HENRY THE FIFTH | [Circle formed of snake biting its own tail with burning lamp in the center] | REDFIELD | 34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1855.

W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 222.

[2]The Scout was originally published as The Kinsmen in 1841, while Woodcraft had been first published in 1852 as The Sword and Distaff.  Both were revised and republished, under new titles, for the Redfield edition in 1854.  The insertion of The Forayers and Eutaw in between the actions of those other two books effectively rounds out Simms's presentation of the Revolution in the Carolinas.  Only Jocelyn, a book that provides a sort of back-story for the conditions  of the Revolution in the Carolinas, was still to be written to finish Simms's epic.

[3]Guilds notes that Simms's announcing the title of the new book to Duycknick as The Forayers and not Eutaw in a 2 February 1855 letter suggests that Simms had settled upon the necessity of writing two books.  See Guilds, Simms, 223

[4]See the aforementioned letter of 2 Feb 1855 to E. A. Duyckinck, in Letters, 3:362.

[5]See Letters, 3:333, 366, 385.

[6]“On the Choice of a Profession” was given at the College of Charleston on 23 February 1855, while the play Micheal Bonham was presented in Charleston on March 26, 27, and 28 of the same year.  See Letters, 3:365n, 368n.

[7]For an overview of Simms's feelings about how The Forayers was being received, both by the press and by his friends, see letters 796 and 797, both written to Duycknink in December 1855.  Simms's own thinking about the novel is revealed in the latter letter, where he expresses hope that Duycknick will “find it a bold, brave, masculine story; frank, ardent, vigorous; faithful to humanity, yet as faithful to the ideals which should crown humanity.”  See Letters, 3:409-14.

[8]Letters, 3:433.