Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Charleston Book: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse

Miscellany | The Reprint Company; Samuel Hart, Sen. | 1845, 1983

           One of the major American cities of the mid-19th century, Charleston was viewed by its citizens as a hub of culture and erudition equal to that of the other great cities of the time, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.  To illustrate the quality of the city’s intellectual life and literary merits, “Charleston book-seller and Reform Jewish leader Samuel Hart, Sr. proposed that Charlestonians join the trend” of putting together an anthology of writings by city residents, much as several other cities had done throughout the late 1830s.[1]  Simms, the leading literary figure of Charleston, and one of the nation’s most widely-read and celebrated authors, was an easy choice for the project’s editor.  Conceived of in 1841, and finally published in 1845, The Charleston Book found little commercial success[2].  Yet, the book is an important document of the vibrant literary scene of mid-century Charleston, one which reveals much about Simms’s understanding of the relationship of his home city and region to the overall intellectual life of the nation.  For these reasons, the University of South Carolina’s Southern Studies program published a reprint of The Charleston Book as a part of their South Caroliniana series in 1983, rounded out by a new introduction as well as biographical and bibliographical notes.

           Simms’s name did not appear in the book itself, but it was well-known that he was the editor; this fact seemed to put critics in a favorable mindset towards the book before its publication.  In 1841, Godey’s commented that “This work will contain specimens of the writings of the Literati of the place…W. Gilmore Simms, Esq. will be the editor—a powerful name and a most estimable gentleman.  It certainly must succeed.”[3]  Unfortunately for Simms, the intervening four years seems to have diminished interest in the book, as after its 1845 publication, The Charleston Book received little attention from the press outside of the city itself.  Reviews in Charleston were, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly favorable, though smacking of civic boosterism.[4]  Despite this praise, the book was, on the whole, a commercial failure. 

           The Charleston Book contains writings from many members of Simms’s social and intellectual circle, including all three Carroll brothers,[5] Charles Fraser,[6] and transplanted New Englanders Samuel and Caroline Gilman, both of whom were widely published authors in their lifetimes.[7]  Thus, Simms gathered together some of the most important living writers in Charleston.  As David Moltke-Hansen notes, though, “the volume was neither all-inclusive nor exhaustive…[and many] of Charleston’s best-known writers” were omitted.  Moltke-Hansen suggests that this selectivity was due to both space limitations and Simms’s overall editorial purpose, as he had “decided to limit the coverage to people born too late to participate in the Revolution…It was these contemporaries’ writings which he wanted to promote, arguing that northern editors ignored them.”[8]  Importantly, Simms did not include any of his own writings in The Charleston Book, either.  Simms, ever balancing his ardent sectional loyalties with his nationalist impulses, seemed to edit this volume with a singular purpose in mind:  to show that Charleston not only had been, but continued to be, instrumental in defining the national artistic consciousness and that its talents were not limited to a select few voices.

           The 1983 reprinting of The Charleston Book features: Plain green boards; green spine with gilt stamp:  [triple rule] | THE | CHARLESTON | BOOK | A | Miscellany | in | Prose | and | Verse | [rule] | SIMMS | Editor | [Reprint Company Emblem] | REPRINT | COMPANY  Its title page features:  THE | CHARLESTON BOOK | A | Miscellany | in Prose and Verse | Edited by | William Gilmore Simms | With | A New Introduction and Biographical Notes | By | David Moltke-Hansen | And Bibliographic Notes | By | Harlan Greene | [Reprint Company Emblem] | THE REPRINT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS | SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA | 1983  The original title page, reprinted in this edition, features: [frame] THE | CHARLESTON BOOK: | A | MISCELLANY | IN PROSE AND VERSE. | [wavy rule] | CHARLESTON: | PUBLISHED BY SAMUEL HART, SEN., | KING STREET. | 1845. [close frame].

W. Matthew J. Simmons              

[1] David Moltke-Hansen, introduction to The Charleston Book:  A Miscellany in Prose and Verse by William Gilmore Simms (Spartanburg: The Reprint Company, 1983), vii.

[2] Ibid., xi.

[3] Letters, 1:384n.

[4] See Letters, 2:11n-12n.

[5] Letters, 1:xcvii.

[6] Fraser, interesting, initially refused Simms’s request to submit work for publication, though two of his poems ultimately ended up in the volume.  See Letters, 1:cvi.

[7] Letters, 1:cviii-cix.

[8] Moltke-Hansen, introduction, viii.