Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Egeria: or, Voices of Thought and Counsel, for The Woods and Wayside

Miscellany | E.H. Butler & Co. | 1853

                Egeria: or, Voices of Thought and Counsel, for The Woods and Wayside was published by E.H. Butler of Philadelphia in 1853 as a collection of Simms-authored laconics written over the course of many years.[1]  Simms began composing his proverbs as early as April 1846 when he published selections of them in the Southern Patriot until April 1847 under the title, “Wayside Laconics.”  Soon afterward, Simms collected these alongside many others and sought Rufus Griswold’s assistance in locating a book publisher for the manuscript, which proved unsuccessful.  Simms then turned to Evert Augustus Duyckinck around July 1847 to offer the collection to Wiley and Putnam.  Again having no success, Simms instructed Duyckinck to transfer the manuscript — by then titled “Sybillane” — to James Lawson who would submit the manuscript to Appleton; Simms acceded to Lawson that he was “willing to let them have the publication for five years (the Copyright in my name) for half the profits.  Should they consent to any arrangement, I propose to add to the collection & very it with other matters.”[2]  Lawson, too, was unable to procure publication. By February 1850, Simms had returned the manuscript to Duyckinck to negotiate, once again, with other publishers.

                In a 16 February 1850 letter to Duyckinck, Simms described the collection as “a nice little volume of new proverbial philosophy” that he “carefully elaborated, and had been accumulating on hand for several years” as the “fruits of study & experience.”  Simms conceived of the “small specimen of laconics” as a “nice little gift of social morals” that he wanted to publish anonymously in 300 pages.  In the same letter to Duyckinck, Simms continued: “There are some 350 or 400 of these apothegms, more or less long, running from a sentence of three lines to a page.  I flatter myself that they will pass muster with the critics in other spheres beyond our own.”[3]  Though the book manuscript was repeatedly rejected by Wiley and Putnam, Redfield, and Appleton between the years of 1847 and 1852,[4] Simms’s laconics were being published anonymously in serial installments in Richards’ Weekly Gazette from 1849 to 1850. [5]  Acquiring a publisher for his manuscript collection would require patience, persistence, and many of the other virtues included in Simms’s collection of proverbs.

                A June 1853 letter to James Henry Hammond reveals that Simms finally secured Philadelphia firm E.H. Butler & Co. to publish the manuscript under his name that same year.  Egeria was reviewed favorably upon its release by many journals; most notable was the Literary World on 27 August 1853 which observed that the text revealed much about the author: “Self reliance, industry, literature as a study have been [Simms’s] means in the development of a generous nature.  These are the proved qualities which give value to a book of thoughts like that before us.  A maxim per se may be of considerable value; it is of far greater when we read it as the index and secret of a noble life.”[6]  In a November review, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine echoed this sentiment in its praise of the collection: “The fruit of a long and familiar intimacy with society and letters, it presents many striking, pregnant thoughts, clothed in a transparent and attractive garb.”[7]  John C. Guilds considers Egeria a uniquely significant work that elucidates Simms’s “basic philosophy — his rugged individualism, his faith and self-reliance, his traditional moral values.”[8]  As Guilds points out, Egeria fared quite well with both critics and readers.[9]

                The 1853 edition of Egeria housed in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina has a cover that features faded green boards and spine with ornate pattern stamped with publisher's initials (EHBCo) in the center of the front and back covers.  The book’s spine features ornate pattern stamped along with gilt lettering surrounded by a gilted shield that reads: Egeria. | OR | Voices of | Thought | AND | Counsel.  The title page reads: Egeria: | OR, | VOICES OF THOUGHT AND COUNSEL, | FOR | THE WOODS AND WAYSIDE. | BY | W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ., | AUTHOR OF "KATHARINE WALTON," ETC. | [rule] | PHILADELPHIA: | PUBLISHED BY E.H. BUTLER & CO. | 1853.

Michael Odom

[1] Letters, 3:241.

[2] Ibid., 2:357.

[3] Ibid., 3:19.

[4] Interestingly, Redfield published Simms cumulative collection, Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary, and Contemplative in 1853—the same year that Egeria, an accumulated collection of proverbs, was finally published.  In 1892, biographer William P. Trent, ever critical of what was incidentally a publishing coincidence, stated that both volumes were “needless” for the writer to indulge in at that stage in his career.  See William P. Trent, William Gilmore Simms, American Men of Letters (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), 206.

[5] Ibid., 2:316; 3:177n.

[6] Literary World XIII (August 27, 1853): 69.

[7] Harper’s New Monthly Magazine VII (November 1853): 859.

[8] John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayatteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 217.

[9] Ibid., 218.