Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Count Julian; or, The Last Days of the Goth

Novel (Romance) | William Taylor & Co. | 1845 - 1846

                While generally considered to be one of Simms’s weakest novels, Count Julian; or, the Last Days of the Goth provides one of the most intriguing textual histories of any of the author’s numerous works.  Conceived as a sequel to Simms’s 1838 novel Pelayo, Count Julian continues Simms’s fictional treatment of Medieval Spain, dramatizing the legendary betrayal of Julian, Count of Cueta, an act that helped lead to the Muslim conquest of Iberia.  The work suffered from multiple delays in both composition and publication and was not published until 1845 or 1846, more than seven years after the appearance of its companion piece, Pelayo.  These delays seriously hurt the overall development and final quality of Count Julian, a fact of which Simms himself seemed keenly aware.

                By January 1839, Simms was already at work on Count Julian, though he noted to James Lawson that his work was proceeding “rather slowly.”[1]  By March of 1839, Simms had made significant progress; however, an unforeseen circumstance would severely delay the work.  In a 30 March letter, Simms asked Lawson to “call on the Harpers & see if they have received any M.S. from me, of the sequel to Pelayo.”[2]  This manuscript contained the first five books of Count Julian, but was lost at some point during its delivery to the publishers.[3]  The manuscript was not recovered until 1841, as evidenced by Simms noting in a letter from October of that year that the work “has now only recently been restored to me.”[4]  The Letters do not include any subsequent mention of Count Julian until mid-1843, when the author resolved to take the work back up.[5]  The intervening years created a significant obstacle to easy completion of Count Julian: quite simply, Simms seems to have forgotten what it was he was doing in the novel.  Though he had yet to finish the work, Simms had made arrangements to have Count Julian published by Park Benjamin by August 1843; as a part of these arrangements, the author had forwarded the manuscript to Benjamin.  Not in possession of the manuscript pages for a second time, Simms wrote to Lawson that he hoped his agent would encourage Benjamin to make “immediate progress, with the novel, as it will be impossible for me to prepare the sequel until I get the printed sheets which precede.  I have not read the thing for years.”[6]

In October 1843, just as Simms seemed to be wrapping up the novel, new delays appeared.  He wrote to Lawson to “see Benjamin on the subject of the novel.  My understanding was that they were to put it to press instantly, or as soon as possible.  Instead of this, here is 1 ½ months, and no proof yet […] Do see them about it, and unless they are willing to proceed at once, or if they show any reluctance, let the MS. be withdrawn.”[7]  When he eventually did receive and review the proofs, Simms told Lawson that “I very much fear that Count Julian will be a wretched failure.  This is entre nous.  It seems to me from reading some 40 pages of the proofs that it is monstrous flat.  Heaven grant it may get better as it proceeds.”[8]  By April 1844, Simms had still not “heard anything from Benjamin” about the novel’s publication.[9]  Benjamin’s edition of Count Julian was never published. 

By early 1845, Simms had moved on to working with two other possible publishers for Count Julian, J. Winchester and Burgess, Stringer and Co.  Simms continued to struggle with completion of the novel, and his relationship with these publishers was soon strained, just as it had been with Benjamin.  He wrote to Lawson in February,  “As soon as [Winchester] sends me the proof of what he has, I will finish the story. . . .  This I cannot do, unless I rewrite and reinvent all that portion which he retains.  You will also get from Stringer the printed volumes & retain them for me.  I do not care to urge the work upon him, altho he was pledged for it.”[10]  By June, William Taylor had purchased the rights to Count Julian.[11]  Simms was soon able to finish the work, but there were still delays, as Simms pointedly asked Lawson in November 1845, “Why has Taylor delayed the Count?”[12]  While the copyright was secured in 1845, it remains ambiguous if the work was actually brought out to the public in late 1845 or early 1846; nevertheless, Taylor did, in fact, publish Count Julian in pamphlet form.[13]  It is clear that Simms’s seven-plus year ordeal with Count Julian perhaps ruined his chances of creating a truly robust work.  Reviews were highly negative, and became particularly caustic when attacking Simms for dedicating such a poor work to John Pendleton Kennedy, a writer most critics held in high esteem.[14]

The South Caroliniana Library copy of Count Julian features a late nineteenth-century binding around the original paperback.  This later binding features green and black marbled boards and a solid black spine with gilt stamping The original paperback cover features a double frame surrounding all, and reads: COUNT JULIAN; | OR, | THE LAST DAYS OF THE GOTH. | A HISTORICAL ROMANCE. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | "GUY RIVERS," "THE YEMASSEE," "THE DAMSEL OF DARIEN," "THE KINDSMAN," | "RICHARD HURDIS," "BORDER BEAGLES," &c. | "Count Julian, call'd the Invader: not because | Inhuman priests with unoffending blood | Had stain'd their country; not because a yoke | Of iron servitude oppress'd and gall'd | The children of the soil; a private wrong | Rous'd the remorseless Baron." | Baltimore: | WILLIAM TAYLOR & CO. | CORNER OF NORTH AND BALTIMORE STREETS. | New-York: | WILLIAM TAYLOR, 2 ASTOR HOUSE. | 1846.  The original title page reads: COUNT JULIAN; | OR, | THE LAST DAYS OF THE GOTH. | A HISTORICAL ROMANCE. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | "GUY RIVERS," "THE YEMASSEE," "THE DAMSEL OF DARIEN," "THE KINDSMAN," | "RICHARD HURDIS," "BORDER BEAGLES," &c. | "Count Julian, call'd the Invader: not because | Inhuman priests with unoffending blood | Had stain'd their country; not because a yoke | Of iron servitude oppress'd and gall'd | The children of the soil; a private wrong | Rous'd the remorseless Baron." | SOUTHEY'S RODERICK. | Baltimore: | WILLIAM TAYLOR & CO. | CORNER OF NORTH AND BALTIMORE STREETS. | New-York: | WILLIAM TAYLOR, 2 ASTOR HOUSE. | 1845.

 

W. Matthew J. Simmons



[1] Letters, 1:139.  Simms’s slow progress here was likely due to the fact that he was writing The Kinsmen and The Damsel of Darien at the same time.  Throughout the entire, lengthy composition process, Simms was concurrently at work on several other works; taken together, these facts offer likely hints as to why Count Julian ended up as one of Simms’s weakest works.

[2] Ibid., 1:142

[3] For an interesting anecdote about this loss, see John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life, (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 393n.  In short, Simms was separated from the manuscript because he was instructed by a psychic to not take a certain ship from New York to Charleston.  Simms had already booked passage on that ship, and his luggage—including the Count Julian manuscript, was already on board.  Though unable to retrieve his belongings, Simms followed the advice of the psychic and cancelled his passage on that ship, which would eventually go down off of Cape Hatteras.  According to family legend, the manuscript of Count Julian was found washed up on shore. 

[4] Letters 1:281

[5] Ibid., 1:355.  Simms wants to continue his relationship with the Harpers; for whatever reason, the deal did not work out.

[6] Ibid., 1:365.

[7] Ibid., 1:375-76. 

[8] Ibid., 1:392

[9] Ibid., 1:416

[10] Ibid., 2:39

[11] Ibid., 2:70

[12] Ibid., 2:115

[13] The ambiguity in year of publication is reflected by the differences in date between the original title page, which reads 1845, and the original cover, which reads 1846.

[14] See, for instance, the excerpt from the Knickerbocker review in Letters 2:160n.