Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1840)

Border Beagles: A Tale of Mississippi

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1855

          In The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms, Mary Ann Wimsatt argues that Border Beagles, the sequel to the scandalous Richard Hurdis, shows Simms as continuing to explore the contentious relationship between the older, civilized tidewater south and the wild trans-mountain frontier.[1]  While thus continuing a theme begun with Guy Rivers and Richard HurdisBorder Beagles saw Simms decidedly scaling back the violence found in those two books, especially the latter.  Here, the author’s presentation of the chaos and dangers of the frontier is tempered by humor, with over-the-top backwoodsmen, vicious outlaws, and sundry grotesques coming into conflict with a civilized tidewater gentleman in an adventure that often borders on the slapstick.  One reason for this change in tone was the critical backlash against the astounding violence and sensationalism of the prior work.  In the context of this opinion, such a tactical shift was perhaps understandable. Yet, John C. Guilds notes that this tonal shift produced only a qualified artistic success, as this change in emphasis and narrative technique undermined the central plot of the novel—the pursuit and capture of the outlaw leader Foster, now going by the name of Saxon.  Guilds notes that in “Richard Hurdis Fosterhas been a compelling character, believable in his unwavering commitment to being a bandit…[but] in Border Beagles, he becomes not so much the believer-exponent of outlawry as the unscrupulous rival of [the novel’s protagonist] Harry Vernon.”[2]  In what seemed to be an understandable attempt to move away from the “dyed in blood” narrative of its predecessor, Simms actually limited the aesthetic achievement of Border Beagles.[3]

          In a December 1838 letter to Edward Carey, Simms stated that he had finished “something like ten chapters of the novel which is to succeed R. H. by the same author.”[4]  The manner in which Simms refers to the book here is revealing.  Border Beagles was originally published anonymously by Carey and Hart of Philadelphia in 1840.  Rather than including his name, Simms decided to attribute the book to “the author of Richard Hurdis.”  The previous novelalso had been published anonymously, likely because Simms recognized the scandal its violence would produce; by publishingBorder Beagles as “by the author of Richard Hurdis,” he connected the two novels together, while still working to protect his desired anonymity.[5]  Simms’s personal correspondence around and after the publication of the novel show him attempting to preserve this; even when writing to close friends, such as James Lawson, Simms referred to Border Beagles only tangentially.[6]

          While not the sensation its predecessor had been, Border Beagles seems to have been generally well-received,..  Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler’s William Gilmore Simms:  A Reference Guide cites mostly positive contemporary reviews, and the planned budget reissue in 1846 of Border Beagles by Taylor, Wilde and Company suggests at least some level of commercial success.[7]  Border Beagles was one of only nine Simms novels to be translated into German and sold in Europe between 1846-54.[8]  Redfield reissued a revised edition of Border Beagles in 1855[9]; significant differences between the 1840 and 1855 editions are changes in the dedication and author’s advertisement.  The 1840 edition is dedicated to “M—L—, of Alabama,” and the 1855 is dedicated to “Hon. John A. Campbell, of Alabama.”  M—L— has not been identified, and the reason for Simms’s change in dedication is unclear.

          The Redfield edition features green boards and spine.   The front and back covers have flat double border box stamping inside flat triple border box stamping.  The spine features gilt stamped: BORDER BEAGLES | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of flag, rifle, haversack, drum, and book] | [flat double un-gilt rule] | REDFIELD.  The title page features BORDER BEAGLES | A | TALE OF MISSISSIPPI | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''RICHARD HURDIS''--''THE PARTISAN''--''MELLICHAMPE''-- | ''KATHARINE WALTON''--''THE SCOUT''--''WOODCRAFT,'' ETC. | ''So, at length | The city, like a camp in mutiny, | Saw nothing else to walk her streets unharmed, | But these, your free companions.'' | VAN ARTEVELDE. | NEW AND REVISED EDITION | [ouroboros surrounding a lamp] | REDFIELD | 24 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1855.

W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] Mary Ann Wimsatt, “Passing the Alps:  The Border Romances,”  The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 120-135.

[2] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 96-97.

[3] Ibid., 96-97.

[4] Letters, 5:13.

[5] Guilds, Simms, 96.  Despite Simms’s efforts, Guilds notes that “by this time few readers and fewer critics had any doubt” as to the authorship of Richard Hurdis and consequently, Border Beagles

[6] See letter to Lawson dated 13 Oct. 1841 (Letters, 1:280-282), wherein Simms notes it is “premature” to make “any confession of the authorship of R.H.,” asking Lawson to describe Richard Hurdis and Border Beagles to the New York publishers only as works “imputed” (the emphasis is his) to be by Simms.  This pattern holds true until after Simms publically admitted to being the author of Richard Hurdis—and thus Border Beagles as well—during a round of formal toasts at a 17 December 1842 soirée put on in Simms’s honor by the intellectual community of Tuscaloosa following his delivery of the oration The Social Principle at the University of Alabama.  See Letters, 6:59-60n.

[7] For an overview of the Taylor, Wilde and Company reissue of the Border Romance series, see Simms’s 7 January 1846 letter to James Lawson (Letters, 2:130-134, and especially note 14).

[8] Letters, 4:40n.

[9] Simms had finished revisions for the Redfield edition by February 1855, as evidenced by a letter to James Lawson dated 21 February (Letters, 3:365-66).