Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 2, Printing: 1 (1854)

Mellichampe: A Legend of the Santee

Novel (Romance) | Harper & Brothers | 1836

          The second of eight novels in the Revolutionary War series, William Gilmore Simms’s Mellichampe was originally published by Harper in 1836, then revised and republished in the Redfield edition in 1854.  The story follows the fictional band of Francis Marion’s partisans in the fall of 1780 after the Battle of Camden, as they engage in guerrilla warfare on the Santee River against loyalist and British forces.  In his advertisement to the first edition, Simms considered Mellichampe a “Historical romance” that accurately conveyed the career of Marion[1] to the “very letter of the written history.”[2]  Simms made first mention of writing Mellichampe in a letter to James Lawson in January of 1836; he called it a sequel toThe Partisan and hoped to have it published in October before his upcoming marriage.[3]  Mellichampe is, therefore, considered part of a trilogy within the Revolutionary series, a second installment resuming the narrative thread suspended at the conclusion of The Partisan.[4]  In a February 1850 letter to Evert Augustus Duyckinck, Simms explained that each work in the trilogy “is independent of its fellow, but the progress of the action (Historical) is uniform and consistent through the whole bringing down events from the Siege & Fall of Charleston, to the virtual close of the conflict in the famous battle of Eutaw.”[5]  Laying the groundwork inThe Partisan enabled Simms to avoid “preliminary narrative” and plunge “at once into the bowels of [his] subject.”[6]  Simms, however, was careful to refer to Mellichampe as an episode in the progress of The Partisan rather than a continuation of it, allowing the work to stand on its own.[7] 

          Mellichampe was not considered one of Simms’s better Revolutionary War novels, nor warmly received among critics.[8]  John Guilds criticized the marked dissonance in language between the crude, dialect-rich minor characters and the poetic language of the two lovers, Ernest Mellichampe and Janet Berkeley, as an obstacle for contemporary readers’ enjoyment of the text.[9]  One critical exception was Caroline Gilman, a Charleston editor of theSouthern Rose, who praised “Simms’s characterization and inventiveness and called Mellichampe the most interesting of his works.”[10]  Gilman specifically admired Simms’s inventive depiction of a scene in which the character Bill Humphries traps Goggle Blonay in a hollow cypress tree.[11]  Nevertheless, Gilman did complain about Simms’s use of crude language, taking exception to the author’s propensity for slang when he had such a rich vocabulary from which to draw.[12]  Guilds reserved some praise for Simms’s combination of characterization with a “penchant for sensual, visual depiction of the lush Carolina low country”; rather than focus upon a specific historical event, Mellichampe “portrays guerilla warfare, the swampland raids by Marion’s partisans, whose depiction depends largely upon the author’s imagination.”[13]  In dramatizing the partisan, guerilla tactics that took place in the Revolutionary War of South Carolina, Simms avoids romanticizing his patriot characters at the expense of British ones; in fact, Simms imbues all characters with a complexity that displays both virtue and vice, regardless of Whig or Tory commitments.[14]  In a ten year retrospective letter to Rufus Wilmot Griswold, dated December 6, 1846, Simms estimated that Mellichampe, “was, as a whole, a better work, and better written [than The Partisan], but possibly had not so many scenes of power.”[15]

          The copies of both the 1836 and 1854 editions ofMellichampe are housed in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.  The title page of the 1836 text features:  MELLICHAMPE. | A LEGEND OF THE SANTEE. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | "THE YEMASSEE," "GUY RIVERS," &c. | [rule] | "Valour may despair | His weapon, and give o'er the fierce display, | Beholding such devotedness of love, | Through danger, in the young and woman heart." | [rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, | NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET. | 1836.  The title page of the 1854 edition of the work from Redfield features:  MELLICHAMPE | A LEGEND OF THE SANTEE | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN,'' ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''KATHARINE WALTON,'' | ''THE SCOUT,'' ''WOODCRAFT,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ETC. | 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.

Michael Odom

[1] Simms maintained an abiding interest in Francis Marion throughout his writing career.  As the forthcoming essay, Steven D. Smith, "Imagining the Swamp Fox," William Gilmore Simms’s Unfinished Civil War: Consequences for a Southern Man of Letters, ed. David Moltke-Hansen (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013), illustrates, Simms was not only the biographer of Marion, but also featured him as a character in his fiction (Mellichampe and Katharine Walton) and poetry. 

[2] “Advertisement,” Mellichampe, Revolutionary War Novels, vol. 3, Published for the Southern Studies Program, University of South Carolina, eds. James B. Meriwether and Stephen Meats (Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company Publishers, 1976), 2. 

[3] Letters, 1:80.

[4] Mellichampe is followed by Katharine Walton in the triology. 

[5] Letters, 3:19.

[6] “Advertisement,” 1.

[7] Ibid. For more treatment of Simms’s advertisement, see the discussion in John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 78.

[8] Guilds, Simms, 79.

[9] Ibid., 80.

[10] Ibid., 77.

[11] Ibid., 79.

[12] Letters, 1:cix.

[13] Guilds, Simms, 78-79.

[14] Letters, 1:xlii.

[15] Letters (2: 229).