Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1838)

Matilda: or, The Spectre of the Castle. An Imaginative Story.

Novella | F. Gleason | 1846

           Carl Werner was published in December 1838 by George Adlard of New York.[1]  In the author’s advertisement, Simms classified the collected stories as “moral imaginative” tales, a form of allegory illuminating the “strifes between the rival moral principles of good and evil.”  Such stories, according to John C. Guilds, may often exploit supernatural elements, although it is not necessary.  Simms attributed the origin of the title story to “an ancient monkish legend,” as he set “Carl Werner” in the deepest parts of the German forest where the narrator and his friend discuss ghost stories, which are birthed out of the solitude of country life (set against the counterpart of the city’s unbelief and “warring strifes”) that fosters belief in superstition.[2]  The collection of imaginative tales was dedicated to Prosper Montgomery Wetmore, with whom Simms shared a mutual friend in James Lawson. Wetmore was member of the New York State Militia, a businessman, and a poet associated with many educational and cultural organizations.[3]

           Reviews of Carl Werner were mixed.  The New York Mirror praised the work’s “power and brilliancy, both of imagination and language,” adding that it was “by far the most attractive that has been given to the public by Mr. Simms.”[4]  The New York Review called it a “production of no common order in the class of works to which it belongs.”[5]  The Boston Quarterly Review considered the collection to be “written with considerable power,” containing “many passages of great beauty;” however, the review looked unfavorably on Simms’s “free use of the supernatural” and “German diatribes.”[6]  The Knickerbocker also criticized the German elements employed by Simms, which they argued exposed an ignorance of German literature, people, language, or customs—“essential prerequisites to the proper understanding of the character and peculiarities of the Germans.”[7]  William P. Trent speculated that Simms composed the “worthless collection” for no other reason than “to show that he had been reading translations from the German.”[8]  Guilds seems to agree that most of the stories in the collection are not memorable, but he makes exceptions with the title story and “Jocasée,” an Indian tale that was also collected in The Wigwan and the Cabin.  Considered one of Simms’s best Indian tales, “Jocasée” features a first person narrative that relates how the eponymous river received its name.  Guilds and Charles Hudson assert that the story’s major strength lies in its treatment “with reverence and dignity [of] what is portrayed as the moral and spiritual core of the Cherokee culture.”[9]

           Carl Werner did not circulate widely, as evidenced by Simms’s repeated inquiries to Lawson about the success and reviews of the collection from January to July 1839.  Subsequent letters show that Simms attributed the tepid reception to publishing trends, and he made repeated attempts to re-introduce the collection of imaginative tales to the reading public.[10]  Simms wrote to Evert Augustus Duyckinck in June 1845 to propose having Carl Werner republished along with The Wigwam and the Cabin through Wiley and Putnam.  According to Simms, Carl Werner had been “put forth at a most unfortunate season, during the money pressure, and just as the public mind had been eager & selfish in consequence of the Cheap Literature passion.”  Simms complained that Adlard “had no facilities” and priced the book at an expensive rate, “when similar collections were selling at 12 or 25/100.”[11]  Writing to Duyckinck two months later, Simms concluded that Carl Werner “failed of circulation from the simple fact that it was an expensive book after the old time prices—say $2.00 just at the moment when the great revolution in cheap literature had begun.”[12]  Mary Anne Wimsatt notes how the financial plights of the publishing industry greatly disadvantaged Simms.  The rising popularity of inexpensive publications created a market that made Simms’s literature increasingly expensive and inaccessible.[13]   

           Discounting its weak circulation and mixed reception, Simms continued to regard Carl Werner among the best proofs of his imaginative and inventive power, which he claimed had “no resemblance in American Literature, unless in the writings of Poe, and partially of Hawthorne.”  In a December 1846 letter to Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Simms placed the collection alongside Castle Dismal, Confession, and Wigwam as publications that were “marked chiefly by the characteristics of passion & imagination—by the free use in some cases of diablerie and all the machinery of superstition & by a prevailing presence of vehement individuality of tone & temper.  They constitute, in all probability, the best specimens of my powers of creating & combining, to say nothing of a certain intensifying egotism, which marks all my writings written in the first person.”[14]  In a 4 September 1868 letter to Redfield, Simms remained committed to having the story republished, suggesting that the subtitle be changed to “the Good & Evil Genii.”[15]

           The 1838 edition of Carl Werner is housed in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.  The book features plain blue boards and spines; the spine features a paper label and reads:  CARL WERNER | AND | OTHER TALES. | By the Author of | "THE YEMASSEE," | "GUY RIVERS," & c. | IN TWO VOLS. | VOL. [I/II].  The title page for volume one features: CARL WERNER, | AN IMAGINATIVE STORY; | WITH OTHER | TALES OF IMAGINATION. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | "THE YEMASSEE," "GUY RIVERS," | "MELLICHAMPE," & c. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | NEW YORK: | GEORGE ADLARD, 46 BROADWAY. | [rule] | 1838.  The title page for volume two features: CARL WERNER, | AN IMAGINATIVE STORY; | WITH OTHER | TALES OF IMAGINATION. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | "THE YEMASSEE," "GUY RIVERS," | "MELLICHAMPE," & c. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. II. | NEW YORK: | GEORGE ADLARD, 46 BROADWAY. | [rule] | 1838. 

Michael Odom

[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 90.  Guilds states that publication with George Adlard is an indicator of Simms’s “widening break with the Harper brothers.”  One of the tales, “Conrad Weickhoff,” was first published in the 1837 edition of The Magnolia.

[2] “Advertisement,” Carl Werner, An Imaginative Story; with Other Tales of Imagination, 2 vols. (New York: George Adlard, 1838); Guilds, Simms, 92.

[3] See Letters, 1:cxliii-cxliv, 139.

[4] New York Mirror XVI (December 22, 1838): 207.

[5] New York Review VII (January 1839): 267.

[6] Boston Quarterly Review II (April 1839): 261.

[7] Knickerbocker XII (January 1839): 80.

[8] William P. Trent, William Gilmore Simms, American Men of Letters (Cambridge: 1892), 115.

[9] John Caldwell Guilds and Charles Hudson, eds., An Early and Strong Sympathy: The Indian Writings of William Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 178.

[10] The title story, “Carl Werner,” was revised, reset, and published by F. Gleason of Boston under a different title, Matilda: or, The Spectre of the Castle, in 1846.

[11] Letters, 2:66-67.

[12] Ibid., 2:98-99.

[13] Mary Anne Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 142.

[14] Letters, 2:224.

[15] Ibid., 5:157.