Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1835)

The Partisan: A Romance of the Revolution

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1854

          The Partisan: A Tale of the Revolution (1835) was the first composed of Simms’s series of romances about the Revolutionary War, though the second in the series’ overall chronology.  The Partisan was also the first of a “trilogy” of closely-related novels within Simms’s overall Revolutionary War saga, sharing characters and other links with Mellichampe (1836) and Katherine Walton (1851).[1] The novel deals with the 1780 Battle of Camden and its aftermath, especially the guerilla warfare tactics employed by “The Swamp Fox,” General Francis Marion, and other partisan commanders as they harassed and frustrated the British military after the crushing defeat of the Patriots’ regular forces at Camden[2].  Some of Simms’s most famous characters are given their first full treatment in this novel, including Porgy, Katherine Walton, and Major Singleton[3].  In the introduction to the 1854 Redfield edition of The Partisan, Simms noted the novel’s genesis in his visits to the ruins of Dorchester, up the Ashley River from Charleston.  While this once-promising settlement had already declined by the beginning of the Revolution, the British totally decimated Dorchester during the war.  Always a student of history, Simms’s perambulations through these ruins brought him to a meditation on the role of the Revolution in shaping South Carolina, a complex interconnection of historical circumstances he would revisit many times throughout his life, in both fiction and nonfiction.[4]  He began composition of The Partisan in early 1835, upon finishing writing his period romance The Yemassee—but before this book was published.  Writing at a very quick pace, Simms had a dozen chapters finished by June, and the book was published that November by Harper and Brothers in New York.[5]

          As was his wont, especially with regards to his fiction and biographies, Simms was deeply concerned with the critical and commercial reception of The Partisan.  The critical reception was mixed, at best, and especially upsetting to Simms after the near-universal praise The Yemassee had received.  While he did receive some effusive praise for the novel, the critical reaction, especially in the Northern press, was less enthusiastic than Simms had hoped. He was especially troubled by a seeming condescension towards the life and socio-cultural mores of the South expressed by the Northern commentariat.[6]  Simms seemed to find reviews by two men in particular to be acutely painful, those by his friend Henry William Herbert and fellow southerner Edgar Allan Poe[7].  Both, however, were typical in their assessment:  Herbert’s and Poe’s reviews decried the novel’s flawed characterization and uneven plot and pacing, while nevertheless praising Simms’s ability to both bring historical figures like Francis Marion robustly to life and make vivid the swamps and other locales featured in the romance.[8]  On the whole, while most reviews found The Partisan to be a flawed novel generally, reviewers nevertheless continued to praise Simms’s abilities as a writer.

          The fair-mindedness and even generosity of the reviews ofThe Partisan did little to assuage Simms’s anxieties about the novel’s critical reception, and how this would affect the novel’s sales.  In every letter he wrote to his New York friend and de factoliterary agent James Lawson during 1836, there was at least some mention of The Partisan’s reception in the Northern press.  In these same letters, Simms was constantly asking after the sales of the book, as well as how other writers’ books were selling. Interestingly, these anxieties about critical and commercial success were expressed alongside a discussion of Simms’s burgeoning romance with Charleston heiress Chevillette Roach, leading Guilds to suggest that Simms saw the success of his romantic pursuit as dependent upon the success of The Partisan.[9]

          The Partisan was revised and republished as The Partisan:  A Romance of the Revolution for the 1854 Redfield edition.  While there were many subsequent printings, Simms made no revisions or changes after this publication.

          The 1835 edition of The Partisan is published in two volumes.  Description follows.  Volume I:  Front and back covers are plain brown cloth, stained.  Spine features significantly worn paper label: [double rule] | THE | PARTISAN | A NOVEL. | By the Author [of] | ''GUY RIVERS'' | ''THE YEMASSEE'' | &c. &c. | [rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | [double rule]  The title page features THE PARTISAN: | A TALE OF THE REVOLUTION. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' &c. | [rule] | ''And Liberty's vitality, like Truth, | Is still undying.  As the sacred fire | Nature has shrined in caverns, still it burns, | Though the storm howls without.'' | [rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, | NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET, | AND SOLD BY THE PRINCIPAL BOOKSELLERS THROUGHOUT THE | UNITED STATES. | [rule] | 1835.  Volume II:  Front and back covers are plain brown cloth, stained.  Spine features a paper label:  [double rule] | THE |  PARTISAN | A NOVEL. | By the Author [of] | ''GUY RIVERS'' | ''THE YEMASSEE'' | &c. &c. | [rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. II. | [double rule]  Volume II’s title page features THE PARTISAN: | A TALE OF THE REVOLUTION. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' &c. | [rule] | ''And Liberty's vitality, like Truth, | Is still undying.  As the sacred fire | Nature has shrined in caverns, still it burns, | Though the storm howls without.'' | [rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. II. | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, | NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET, | AND SOLD BY THE PRINCIPAL BOOKSELLERS THROUGHOUT THE | UNITED STATES | [rule] | 1835.  The 1854 Redfield edition is in one volume; our copy features a modern binding.  Its title page features THE | PARTISAN | A | ROMANCE OF THE REVOLUTION | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ''MARTIN FABER,'' ''RICHARD | HURDIS,'' ''BORDER BEAGLES,'' ETC. | ''And Liberty's vitality, like Truth, | Is still undying.  Like the sacred fire | Nature has shrined in caverns, still it burns | Though the storm howls without.'' | NEW AND REVISED EDITION | [Circle formed of snake biting its own tail with burning lamp in the center] | REDFIELD | 110 AND 112 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK | 1854

W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] See the introduction to the 1976 reprinting of The Partisan as a part of the series The Revolutionary War Novels of William Gilmore Simms, published by The Reprint Company of Spartanburg, SC.

[2] Simms’s interest in Marion was an enduring one.  Marion features as a character in several of Simms’s romances, and is also the subject of poetry and an influential biography written by Simms. For more on how Simms contributed to the creation of the legend of the “Swamp Fox,” see Steven D. Smith’s “Imagining the Swamp Fox:  William Gilmore Simms and the National Memory of Francis Marion” in the forthcoming William Gilmore Simms’s Unfinished Civil War:  Consequences for a Southern Man of Letters, edited by David Moltke-Hansen, to be published by the University of South Carolina press in early 2013. 

[3] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life  (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 21, 30.  Guilds notes that many characters, situations, and overall themes in the novel are seemingly recycled from earlier short works, especially the story “Moonshine.”  

[4] See Simms’s introduction, appearing as a letter addressed to Richard Yeadon, in The Partisan (New York: Redfield, 1854), vii.  

[5] See Guilds, Simms, 64, for comments on Simms’s breakneck speed in composing The Partisan.

[6] Ibid., 65.

[7] Simms originally seems to have taken Herbert’s review in theAmerican Monthly Magazine in stride, noting it “severe, and I think unjust, yet [written] in an honorable & manly spirit which I like.” (Letters, 1:82).  Nevertheless, there was another review by Herbert that Simms found acutely painful harmful, noting in a letter to Lawson that   “I perceive in Herbert’s notice of the Partisan in the ‘Courier & Inquirer’ that he is disposed to be merciless.  He even suppresses all the gratifying & favorable points of commentary which were sprinkled over his notice in the Am. Mon.” (1:88)

[8] Guilds, Simms, 65-68.

[9] Ibid., 71.  See also several interesting moments in Simms’s 1836 letters to Lawson in which he mentions a desire to be debt-free and not dependent upon the fortune of a wife and her family; Simms seems to understand this desire being met as dependent upon sustained financial success from his novels—which means, at this moment in time, the success of The Partisan.  See Letters, 1:89-91.

 

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