Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Cub of the Panther: A Hunter Legend of the ''Old North State''

Novel (Romance) | The University of Arkansas Press | 1997

           In the closing years of his life, William Gilmore Simms found himself physically unwell, near-indigent, and living in a post-Civil War world that challenged his entire conception of social order.  Yet, out of this, Simms produced one last great flourish of creativity, including The Cub of the Panther:  A Hunter Legend of the “Old North State.”  This novel shares certain features with the author’s earlier border romances, exhibiting a similar interest in violence, comedy, and social stratification.  Yet, the different socio-political circumstances of the postbellum world demanded that Simms set this late fiction in what Miriam J. Shillingsburg calls “a new frontier,” one which the writer could use “to understand and accept the new postwar social order.”[1]  By setting The Cub of the Panther in the mountains of North Carolina, Simms was able to “face the fact of postwar life, not only devoid of slaves but also devoid of all those other class distinctions that accompanied slavery in the Old South.  As Simms said, this was ‘out of the beaten path.’”[2]

           While the setting and social concerns of The Cub of the Panther may leave the beaten path of Simms’s earlier work, at least one other feature of the work is exceptionally familiar. Like many other projects throughout his life, this novel was written at least as much from economic necessity as it was out of artistic vision.  Simms biographer John Caldwell Guilds notes that Cub “held a relatively low priority with the impoverished, hard-working author.”[3]  Nevertheless, Simms needed this novel, as illustrated in a March 1869 letter to Paul Hamilton Hayne: “I do not now write for fame or notoriety or the love of it; but simply to procure the wherewithal of life for my children; and this is a toil requiring constant labour.”[4]  Thus, it was largely for the need of money that Simms published The Cub of the Panther in twelve monthly installments in The Old Guard, a New York periodical published by Charles Chauncey Burr, between January and December 1869.  This serial publication was the only edition of Cub for nearly 130 years, until the University of Arkansas Press issued the authoritative edition of the novel in 1997.  This edition, edited by Shillingsburg, saw not only the republication of the novel, but the restoration of two chapters that appear in the manuscript edition, but not in The Old Guard serialization. 

           Guilds notes that the “germ for The Cub of the Panther is contained in a vivid notation in Simms’s 1847 Appalachian notebook  […] That Simms combined folklore, raw border life, and colorful vernacular of hunters in a hastily written ‘mountain legend’ suggests both the strengths and the weaknesses of Cub.”[5]  While flawed and uneven, the novel’s strengths  suggest it as a book needing wider study.  Shillingsburg convincingly argues that Cub is “a vehicle for contemplating the change from the old order to the new[…]under the adverse conditions he suffered in 1868-1869, the novel looks forward, not only to realism and local color, but to a new postbellum South with revitalized social structures, values, economics, and even popular education.”[6]  Thus, whatever flaws the work might have as a result of the immense economic pressures Simms was under to produce it, The Cub of the Panther serves as a key work for understanding the goals of the writer’s last, “out of the beaten path” efforts.  It also perceptively predicts the directions American literature would take in the late nineteenth century.

           The University of Arkansas Press’s 1997 publication of The Cub of the Panther appears as follows:  Green boards with gilt stamp on front cover:  THE CUB OF | THE PANTHER | A | HUNTER LEGEND OF THE | ''OLD NORTH STATE'' | W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | EDITED BY | MIRIAM JONES SHILLINGSBURG | INTRODUCTIONB BY JOHN CALDWELL GUILDS Spine features gilt stamp:  SIMMS | [rotate ninety degrees clockwise] THE CUB OF THE PANTHER | A HUNTER LEGEND OF THE ''OLD NORTH STATE'' | [rotate ninety degrees counterclockwise] | [University of Arkansas Press logo]  The title page features: THE CUB OF THE PANTHER | A Hunter Legend of the ''Old North State'' | [curly rule] | SELECTED FICTION OF | WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS | ARKANSAS EDITION | Edited with an Afterward, Historical and | Textual Commentary, and Notes by | Miriam Jones Shillingsburg | INTRODUCTION BY JOHN CALDWELL GUILDS | SERIES EDITOR | THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS PRESS | FAYETTEVILLE [curly rule] 1997.

 

W. Matthew J. Simmons



[1] Miriam J. Shillingsburg, “The Cub of the Panther:  A New Frontier,” in William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier, ed. John Caldwell Guilds and Caroline Collins (Athens, GA:  The University of Georgia Press, 1997), 222. 

[2] Ibid.  Mary Ann Wimsatt suggests that “out of the beaten” path serves as a useful descriptor not just for The Cub of the Panther, but for Simms’s final work generally.  Thus, despite being written under duress, the writer’s final fictions can be seen as compromising a fairly unified artistic statement.  Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms:  Cultural Traditions and Literary Form (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 236.

[3] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms:  A Literary Life (Fayettevile:  The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 314.

[4] Letters, 5:213.

[5] Guilds, Simms, 315.  The notebook Guilds mentions was written during a hunting trip to Polk and Buncombe Counties, North Carolina, in 1847, and also provided the source material for Simms’s previous effort, Voltmeier, as well as two masterful short stories, “Sharp Snaffles” and “Bald-Head Bill Bauldy.”

[6] Shillingsburg, “The Cub of the Panther,” 231.

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