Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1833)

Martin Faber and Other Tales

Short Stories | Harper & Brothers | 1837

           One of the most important works in Simms’s development as a writer, Martin Faber has a long and intriguing publication history.  Originally published as a novella by J. & J. Harper of New York in 1833, it was revised and expanded for re-publication, alongside nine other short stories and a poem, as Martin Faber, the Story of a Criminal, and Other Tales, issued by Harper & Brothers in 1837.[1]  Simms biographer John Caldwell Guilds notes the significance of Martin Faber for the author, as its writing and Simms’s hopes for it, seemed to seriously alter his life in his late twenties: “Simms was ready, it would seem, to heed the earlier pleadings of his father, now echoed by his uncle as well, to leave South Carolina for Mississippi.”  But with the impending publication of Martin Faber, Simms, up until this point almost exclusively a poet, had found a new genre and a new life’s work; as Guilds notes, “Ultimately, it was the publication of Martin Faber that changed a poet into a novelist [….] At age twenty-six Gilmore Simms had found the genre for which his talents were best suited.  Thereafter […] he was primarily a writer of fiction.”[2]

           The initial publication of Martin Faber was surrounded by controversy and accusations of plagiarism; the novel bore a resemblance, in topic, tone, and mood, to English writer F. M. Reynolds’s Miserrimus, a novel published in London and New York in 1833.[3]  Simms, however, based his novel on a story he published earlier in the 1 November 1829 edition of the Southern Literary Gazette, “Confessions of a Murderer.”[4]  The 1833 edition found great popular success, and by July 1834, Simms was writing to his friend James Lawson to note that “I am to prepare a revised edition of Martin Faber & other things, making two volumes.”[5]  The critical reception was, however, much more subdued.  The Knickerbocker review of October 1833 is typical; while praising its exciting features, the reviewer finds the book to exhibit “obvious defects in style.”  Nevertheless, reviewers tended to find Martin Faber representative of a promising new voice in American letters.[6]  This critical bipolarity continued when the 1837 edition of the work was issued.  Martin Faber and Other Tales was reviewed more favorably than the 1833 single-novella publication, though the later book’s defects were still noted.  The Knickerbocker again provides a typical view, claiming that though the reader will see “some things which he could wish were otherwise, he will find them but the rich superfluities of early genius.”[7]

           Simms made substantial revisions for the 1837 second edition of Martin Faber.[8]  This later text shows the author experimenting with several of the modes that would become important aspects of his fiction throughout his career.  The stories collected with the title novella exhibit concerns with American history, the fantastic, and the romantic.  “A Passage of Arms in ‘76” is one of Simms’s earliest pieces of Revolutionary War fiction, and briefly explores an aspect of Charleston’s experience with that conflict.  Thus, this story prefigured what would become one of Simms’s major subjects in his fiction.  Other stories, like “The Plank” and “Juan Ponce de Leon,” elicit Simms’s interest in how other aspects of history serve as the material for imaginative literature, exploring how American history and national development was shaped not only by English colonization, but also by Spanish explorers and the effects of piracy.  Simms later robustly and eloquently explored these themes in The Cassique of KiawahMartin Faber itself exists as a precursor to the southern gothic mode, and the influence of German Romanticism on Simms’s work is seen in tales like “Sweet William” and “The Spirit Bridegroom.”[9]  Martin Faber and Other Tales closes, interestingly, with a poem, suggesting that while Simms may have come to see the novel as his primary genre, he would never abandon his first love. Throughout his later work, he, in fact, would often marry poetry and prose together.[10] Here, then, we have a collection that presents the most significant moves of Simms’s overall literary project in miniature.

          Perhaps in recognition of the thematic importance to his overall oeuvre, Simms frequently thought about republishing Martin Faber.  While monetary concerns seem to be a part of these considerations,[11] it is also possible that he desired to rework his early novella for inclusion in the Redfield edition.  Martin Faber and Other Tales was one of the six works for which Simms bought the copyright back from Harper & Brothers in 1853.  Of these, only Martin Faber and Pelayo did not appear in the Redfield edition.[12]  Simms had a vexed relationship with Pelayo, perhaps suggesting he would have had little interest in republishing that work.[13]  Martin Faber, on the other hand, continued to concern Simms until near the end of his life; in a September 1868 letter to Justus Starr Redfield, Simms suggests Martin Faber as a possibility for republication.[14]  If not for the failure of the Redfield publication house and the Civil War, it seems at least possible that Simms would have revised Martin Faber, bringing his mature talents to bear on the youthful flaws of his first commercial success.

           Martin Faber and Other Tales features brown boards with faded raised flower pattern and a  brown spine with a paper label reading: [double rule] | MARTIN FABER, | AND | OTHER TALES | By the Author of | ''MELLICHAMPE,'' | &c., &c. | IN TWO VOLS. | VOL. [I/II].  Its title page features MARTIN FABER, | THE STORY OF A CRIMINAL; | AND OTHER TALES. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ''MELLICHAMPE,'' &c. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL [I/II]. | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, | NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET. | [rule] | 1837.  The Salley-Simms Collection copy of Martin Faber at the South Caroliniana Library features worn brown boards, with gilt stamp on the front cover: WALTERBORO | LIBRARY SOCIETY. The spine features worn gilt stamp: [double rule] | [double rule] | MARTIN | FABER | [double rule] | W.L.S. | [double rule] | [double rule] | [double rule].  The title pages reads: MARTIN FABER; | THE | STORY OF A CRIMINAL. | [inscription:  by | Wm. Gilmore Simms] | [rule] | 'Since then, at an uncertain hour, | That agony returns, | And, 'till my ghastly tale is told, | This heart, within me, burns.' | Auncient Marinere. | [rule] | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY J. & J. HARPER, | NO. 82, CLIFF-STREET, | AND SOLD BY THE BOOKSELLERS GENERALLY THROUGHOUT | THE UNITED STATES. | [rule] | M DCCC XXXIII.


W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] These other stories are “Sweet William:  A Tale of Faerie,” “The Mental Prism,” “The Sins of Typography,” “The Spirit Bridegroom,” “A Passage of Arms in ’76,” “The Plank,” “Major Rocket,” “Chatelard, the Poet,” and “Juan Ponce de Leon.”   The collection closes with the poem “The Fountain of Youth.” 

[2] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms:  A Literary Life (Fayetteville:  The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 43-44.

[3] Adding to the confusion was surely the fact that the American edition of Miserrimus was published by J. & J. Harper of New York, the same publishing house that released the first edition of Martin Faber.  As such, both texts were of similar sizes, covers, and bindings.  See the WorldCat catalog entry for Misserrimus.

[4] Simms defends himself from charges of plagiarism in the author’s advertisement to the 1837 Martin Faber and Other Tales, where he states that “From the paper entitled ‘Confessions of a Murderer,’ the work was subsequently elaborated—partly in 1829, partly in 1832, and finally revised for publication in 1833, when it appeared in its present form.”  See the “Advertisement to the Second Edition,” Martin Faber; The Story of a Criminal; and Other Tales, Vol. I.  (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1837), xii.

[5] Letters (1:61).

[6] Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler, Jr., William Gilmore Simms:  A Reference Guide (Boston:  G.K. Hall & Co., 1980), 23.

[7] Butterworth and Kibler, William Gilmore Simms, 38.

[8] For a complete list of textual variations, see Stories and Tales, Volume V of the University of South Carolina’s Centennial Edition of the works of Simms, published in 1974.

[9] This latter story was one of the most enduring tales to appear in this collection.  Originally published in The Book of My Lady, it was republished for the November 1836 number of the Southern Literary Journal before being placed in Martin Faber and Other Tales.  Its final publication was in Carl Werner, An Imaginative Story:  With Other Tales of the Imagination, where it had been revised and re-titled “The Star Brethren.”  Late in life, this story was one of a select few that Simms considered for possible republication alongside Martin Faber.  See Letters, 5:156-157.

[10] See Simms’s regular insertion of verse passages into the narratives of his romances.

[11] Simms proposes republishing Martin Faber, as well as his other works of short fiction, as books “for reading in camp and along the highways,” a proposal seemingly based totally in the commercial possibilities of his work.  See Letters (4:420).

[12] The other books whose copyrights were repurchased from Harper & Brothers are Guy Rivers, The Yemassee, The Partisan, and Mellichampe.

[13] See Simms’s December 1846 letter to Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Letters, 2:236.

[14] Letters, 5:156-157.