Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Echoes of the ''Sleepy Hollow'' Courtship in Simms's ''Sharp Snaffles'' >> Page 21

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription Echoes of the "Sleepy Hollow" Courtship in Simms's "Sharp Snaffles"

Ed Piacentino

William Gilmore Simms's "How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and Wife," published
posthumously in 1870 in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, has been aptly called "one of the
finest tall tales ever written by a Southern humorist" (Parks 9). James B. Meriwether, who has
written insightfully both about "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy" and "Sharp Snaffles," perceptively
observes that Sam's tale "has to do with sex, and money, and the connection between them" (68).
Some attention, as might be expected, has been devoted to probable sources for "Sharp Snaffles."
Donald Davidson, who seemed relatively certain that Simms was drawing on folk tradition in the
tale, noted that "Sharp Snaffles""is almost pure folk tale, but lightly worked over. It stands
almost without a peer among the 'tall tales' recorded or written in the United States" (Letters 1:
lii). James E. Kibler, Jr. has substantiated Davidson's hunch, proving from Simms's own journal
the extent to which Simms used American folk motifs in "Sharp Snaffles," particularly "a
wonderful hunt,""a man being carried into the air by wild geese," and "a hunter being pulled from
a hollow tree by a bear" (56). Mary Ann Wimsatt, who likewise sees the motif of the wonderful
hunt informing the tale and who generally acknowledges its occurrence in European and
American folktales, has added that the "courtship narrative" is the "shell" of "Sharp Snaffles." To
Wimsatt, this plot pattern of "frontier courtship" resembles the type popularized in William
Tappan Thompson's Major Jones's Courtship (1840) in which, "a rustic and awkward suitor has
to overcome obstacles, often imposed by relatives to get his sweetheart" (163). Alexander E.
Jones, who focused his attention exclusively on the wild geese episode in "Sharp Snaffles," has
argued that Simms likely borrowed this from a similar account involving wild ducks in Rudolph
Raspe's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Like the American folk tradition, this German
connection as a possible source has merit, since American variants of Munchausen tall tales
enjoyed wide currency in the United States in the nineteenth century (Blair 125-26, 133). Given
Simms's varied and eclectic literary interests, any or all of these sources were viable spheres of
probable influence on "Sharp Snaffles."

Yet another possible source, although likely an indirect one, may be Washington Irving's
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which inspired numerous sketches and tales of nineteenth-
century Southern backwoods humor. According to Cohen and Dillingham, in their introduction
to Humor of the Old Southwest, "Sleepy Hollow" contained "most of the ingredients of a typical
sketch of Old Southwestern humor: the physically awkward, ugly, and avaricious Ichabod; the
good-natured but rowdy Brom Bones and his friends, who love a practical joke; the desirable
plum, Katrina Van Tassel" (xxi). Some of the frontier sketches they cite as directly influenced by
Irving's classic tale are Joseph B. Cobb's "The Legend of Black Creek," William Tappan
Thompson's "The Runaway Match" and "Adventure of a Sabbath Breaker," and Francis James
Robinson's "The Frightened Serenaders" ()oxi). To their list, I would add Cobb's "The Bride of
Lick-the-Skillet," A. B. Longstreet's "The Turn Out," O. B. Mayer's "The Corn Cob Pipe: A Tale
of the Comet of '43," and Simms's "Sharp Snaffles"--all of which bear earmarks of "Sleepy
Hollow," either directly or indirectly.

Most of the Southern renditions of "Sleepy Hollow," Simms's "Sharp Snaffles" the notable
exception, were first published in the 1840s or early 1850s. Though not published until 1870,
"Sharp Snaffles" at least in its base elements, may have been conceived in the fall of 1847, when
Simms, some friends, and several professional hunters journeyed to the Balsam Range in
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