Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Father Abbot, or, The Home Tourist; a Medley

Journalism | 1849

           Father Abbot collects together a series of related political fictions Simms wrote for the Charleston Mercury from September to November 1849.[1]  Here, the author revealed his significant wit and complex thinking about social, political, and philosophical issues through the perambulations of the titular Father Abbot about Charleston and its environs.  As Father Abbot travels around the city with various companions, its economic and political future are discussed; this conceit allowed Simms to use his satirical gifts to create a humorous, yet biting, commentary on the socioeconomic and political situation of the mid-century South.  John Caldwell Guilds suggests that these writings arose from Simms’s conversations with his friends, J. H. Hammond especially, noting that Father Abbot presented the “political and philosophical views that [Simms] and Hammond fervently held, and privately discussed, but only now dared to utter publically.”[2]  Hammond himself seemed to very much enjoy Father Abbot, noting playfully that “I…charge you flatly with stealing a great deal of my thunder” and that “[i]t will be read with pleasure fifty years or more hence.”[3]

           “The Home Tourist,” the newspaper column that would be collected as Father Abbot, was published unsigned.  Simms’s use of anonymous publication is well-known, as are his various and complex reasons for utilizing anonymity.  In this case, Simms at least partially seemed to be testing the waters for a political campaign; he wrote, in an October 1849 letter to Hammond, that the “articles to the Mercury had an object beyond what was apparent on the surface.  It is not improbable that they contributed to the nomination to Congress.”[4] Highly politically active at this point in his life, Simms had not received a long-desired-for ambassadorial appointment from newly-elected President Zachary Taylor, nor had he become “historiographer of South Carolina,” another position he wished for during this period.[5]  Nominated to stand for the 1850 Congressional election at least partially on the strength of “The Home Tourist”—or so Simms seemed to believe—the author “applied to put [the collected columns] in pamphlet or book form” before the series was completed, suggesting that the ideas put forth here were indicative of Simms’s own political platform[6].  December 1849 saw the collection and printing of “The Home Tourist” sketches as Father Abbot, published by Miller & Browne in a pocket-sized and inexpensive edition, selling for twenty-five cents each.  Whether or not the affordability and portability of Father Abbot gives credence to Jon L. Wakelyn’s claim that it was little more than a “[s]plendid piece of campaign propaganda” is a vexed question. [7]   What is clear, however, is that this volume provides a glimpse into the political situation of the time and the socio-political thought of Simms, as well as his biting wit and talent as a writer of satire.  As Guilds claims, it is “a work of little literary significance per se, but of interest to the Simms scholar for its insight into the sometimes pungent, unconventional wisdom of its author.”[8]     

           The Simms Initiatives’ copy of Father Abbot has been re-bound, featuring plain red boards, spine features a gilt stamp: [rule] | FATHER | ABBOT | [short rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | 1849.  Its title page features FATHER ABBOT, | OR, | THE HOME TOURIST; | A MEDLEY. | [rule] BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | [rule] | CHARLESTON, S.C. | PRINTED BY MILLER & BROWNE, | No. 5 Broad-street. | 1849.

W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] This series was published in the Mercury as “The Home Tourist,” which would become Father Abbot’s subtitle.

[2] John Caldwell Guilds. Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 191.

[3] See Letters, 2:565n.

[4] Ibid.  It is interesting that statement appears during the ongoing publication of “The Home Tourist,” with its first number published on the 18th of September and its final on the 5th of November, 1849.  It thus seems likely that Simms’s name had become attached to “The Home Tourist” in some capacity if it had “contributed to the nomination to Congress.” 

[5] Guilds, Simms, 124.

[6] Letters, 2:565.

[7] Jon L. Wakelyn, The Politics of a Literary Man: William Gilmore Simms (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973), 150.

[8] Guilds, Simms, 191.