Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1842)
Edition: 2, Printing: 1, Volume: 1 (1856)

Beauchampe; or, The Kentucky Tragedy

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1856

            Early in the morning of 7 November 1825, in the town of Frankfort, KY, a young lawyer named Jereboam O. Beauchamp crept to the house of the state attorney general, Solomon P. Sharp, and stabbed him to death.  The murder was orchestrated to avenge the honor of Anna Cook[1], Beauchamp’s wife, who as a single woman had been seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by Sharp[2].  The event was a national sensation immediately following its discovery and Beauchamp’s capture days later.  Following Cook and Beauchamp’s failed joint suicide attempt and the latter’s subsequent execution, the event has entered the realm of legend and come to be referred to as the “Kentucky Tragedy.” As such, it has inspired a spate of literary treatments from its own time to the present.  Writers such as Thomas Holley Chivers, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Fenno Hoffman, John Savage, and Robert Penn Warren have all penned works based on these events.  Simms’s own version of the story was originally published in 1842 as a two-volume work titled Beauchampe; or, the Kentucky Tragedy. A Tale of Passion.  Later, in 1856, Simms edited and expanded the work into two separately-titled novels.  The first he called Charlemont; or, the Pride of the Village. A Tale of Kentucky and the second retained the title Beauchampe.  The first volume details the early life of the heroine in her frontier Kentucky village, including her gradual seduction by a pseudonymous Sharp.  As such, this portion of the story is almost entirely fictional.  The second volume, conversely, stays very close to the historical record of the murder and aftermath.

            As early as a 16 August 1841 letter to James Lawson and following close on the heels of his gothic domestic novel Confession, Simms had a draft of the novel that would become Beauchampe underway.  Even at that time, he had the work planned as an anonymous publication to be “one of the ‘Hurdis’ series,” that is, a Border Romance[3].  It was Simms’s custom of the time to publish all of his border series works without definitive authorial attribution.  This was supposedly to bemuse the critics[4], with whom Simms often had a dicey relationship, though John C. Guilds asserts that, in the case of Beauchampe at least, “the ruse misled few.”[5]  How much of the novel had been written by August 1841 is uncertain, but as of 10 September of that year, Simms was already feeling pressure to complete the novel.  He deferred a planned trip to New York at that time, telling Lawson, “I am to finish 'Beauchampe' before I can depart and this may take me until the 1st. or 10th. October.  I am very much behind hand.”[6]  A little over a month later, Simms lamented about Beauchampe, I have been “writing myself half blind & not done yet. It will be the most voluminous of my books.”[7]  Ultimately published as a two-volume novel in the Spring of 1842, the novel’s great size led to Simms’s decision to split it into two separate works in its 1856 Redfield edition.  For this format, Simms edited and expanded the work.  Charlemont was published around 1 March 1856, and Beachampe was issued around 22nd of the same month[8].

            Both volumes of the 1842 first edition of the novel are bound in plain brown boards with paper labels on the spine.  The title page reads:  BEAUCHAMPE, | OR | THE KENTUCKY TRAGEDY. | A TALE OF PASSION. | [inscribed W.G. Simms] | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''RICHARD HURDIS,'' ''BORDER BEAGLES,'' ETC. | ''Nor will I be secure | In any confidence of mine own strength; | For such security is oft the mother | Of negligence, and that the occasion | Of unremedy'd ruin.'' | THOS. NABBES—Microcosmus. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. [I/II] | PHILADELPHIA: | LEA AND BLANCHARD. | 1842.  The Redfield editions of 1856 are both bound in the trademark green boards with gilt stamped spines.  The title page of the first novel reads:  CHARLEMONT | OR | THE PRIDE OF THE VILLAGE | A TALE OF KENTUCKY | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN'' — ''MELLICHAMPE'' — ''KATHARINE WALTON'' — | ''THE FORAYERS'' — ''THE SCOUT'' — ''WOODCRAFT'' — ''BEAUCHAMPE,'' ETC. | ''Nor will I be secure, | In any confidence of mine own strength, | For such security is oft the mother | Of negligence, and that, the occasion | Of unremedy'd ruin.''Microcosmus — THO. NABBES. | [ouroboros surrounding a burning lamp] | REDFIELD |34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1856.  The title page of the “sequel” reads:  BEAUCHAMPE | OR | THE KENTUCKY TRAGEDY | A SEQUEL TO CHARLEMONT | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN'' — ''MELLICHAMPE'' — ''KATHARINE WALTON'' — | ''THE FORAYERS'' — ''THE SCOUT'' — ''WOODCRAFT'' — ''GUY RIVERS,'' ETC. | [tab] ''Maid of Lulan,'' said Fingal, ''white-handed daughter of Grief! a cloud, marked with | streaks of fire, is rolled along thy soul. Look not to that dark-robed moon: look not to those | meteors of Heaven. My gleaming steel is around thee, the terror of thy foes.'' .... | [tab] ''I rose, like a stalking ghost. I pierced the side of Corman-trunas. Nor did Forna- | Bragal escape. She rolled her white bosom in blood. Why, then, daughter of heroes, | didst thou wake my rage?'' — OSSIAN. Cath. Loda. | NEW AND REVISED EDITION | [ouroboros surrounding a burning lamp] | REDFIELD | 34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1856.

Todd Hagstette

[1] No consistent version of the names exists in the historical record; she is most often referred to in the way we do here, but is also called Anne Cook, Ann Cook, and Anna Cooke.

[2] Sharp denied the paternity.

[3] Letters, 1: 267.

[4] See Letters 1: 299, 316.

[5] Simms: A Literary Life, 164.

[6] Letters, 1: 277.

[7] Letters, 1: 282.

[8] See Letters 3: 366n.