Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Geography of South Carolina

History | Babcock & Co. | 1843

            The Geography of South Carolina, written as a companion piece for the 1842 edition of The History of South Carolina, was published by Babcock & Co. in 1843.  Simms conceived of The History and The Geography as parts of a single project and initially desired the two books to be published together in one volume.[1]  Sean R. Busick notes that such a publication was cost-prohibitive; thus, The History and The Geography were published separately.[2]  In the preface to The Geography, Simms suggests another reason for their separate publication:  by breaking up his subject into two parts, he might “simplify” it, “as to make its perusal by the youthful reader, a pleasure rather than a task.”[3]  Simms's purpose in writing The Geography, then, was educational, much like its companion piece.  Simms sought to provide the children of South Carolina with an understanding of their state, its history, people, culture, and resources.[4]  Simms's desire to see The Geography used as an educational tool is further evidenced by his inclusion of study and review questions in the book's final appendix; years later, Simms would include questions of a similar sort for the revised 1860 edition of The History.

             Busick observes that The Geography draws heavily upon the work of Robert Mills.  However, unlike Mills’s important atlas, Simms's book is not merely a presentation of the physical features of the state and its places.  Rather, Busick argues that The Geography of South Carolina can be best understood as a “natural history,” drawing on conventions of a “particularly American genre” that we see in something like Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia.  In other words, Simms's work is a book that describes the natural and physical features of the state, but then “moves on to...describing its human inhabitants and their higher attainments.”[5]

             The Geography was one of only three Simms publications in 1853, along with his oration, The Social Principle, and an epic poem, Donna Florida.  Simms biographer John Caldwell Guilds suggests that the relatively low output of that year was due to Simms's editorial work on the Magnolia magazine.[6]  Of the three published books, Guilds notes that they “elicited little interest and cost their author little labor, being at best occasional pieces or resurrections of earlier efforts."[7]  Guilds’s suggestion that The Geography produced “little interest” seems to be sound; though initially well-received,[8] and despite Simms's care and concern for The Geography as a significant educational tool to be used alongside The History, it was not published in subsequent editions during his lifetime; neither was it reworked into a public school textbook after the author's death, as was The History.  Simms himself even seems to have lost interest in The Geography, as suggested by an interesting moment in an 1858 letter to James Henry Hammond—the only mention of The Geography in the extant letters after the mid-1840s.  Simms described an accusation made against him by an Augusta newspaper:  the paper suggested that he had “said, in some geographical notice, that [the Savannah River] ran to Charleston!"  Simms dismisses the accusation, declaring, "my mistake, if I did make it, was made 20 years ago, in a little geography of S.C.”[9]  The editors of the Letters note that they cannot find such an error.[10]  Here, then, the author himself presents the work both diminutively and as something forgettable.

             The first edition of the book features red boards and spine, with plain front and back covers.  The spine features gilt stamp: [rule] | [double rule] | GEOGRAPHY | OF | SO. CAROLINA | [double rule] | [double rule] | SIMMS | [double rule] | [double rule].  A flyleaf inscription by A.S. Salley notes that the book was rebound in 1906; its original cover was leather.  The title page features THE | GEOGRAPHY | OF | SOUTH CAROLINA: | BEING A COMPANION TO THE | HISTORY OF THAT STATE: | BY | WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS. | COMPILED | FROM THE LATESTS AND BEST AUTHORITIES, | AND DESIGNED FOR | THE INSTRUCTION OF THE YOUNG. | [wavy rule] | CHARLESTON. | PUBLISHED BY BABCOCK & CO. | [wavy rule] 1843.    

 W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] See Letters, 2:229-30.  Here, Simms speaks of the two books as a single entity.

[2] Sean R. Busick, A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian (Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 53.

[3] The Geography of South Carolina (Charleston: Babcock and Co., 1843), iii. 

[4] See Simms’s dedication of The Geography to “Southern Teachers.”

[5] Busick, Sober Desire, 53.

[6] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 143.

[7] Ibid., 165.

[8] See Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler, Jr., William Gilmore Simms:  A Reference Guide.  (Boston:  G.K. Hall & Co., 1980), 54.  The Southern Quarterly Review, in a July 1843 review of both The Geography and The History, found both books excellent and suggested that Simms does more good for South Carolina with these volumes than with his novels.

[9] Letters, 4:83-84.

[10] Ibid., 84n.