Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 1) >> Simms and Major Henry >> Page 6

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 6

Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription to be thrown away upon the rude hunters of the mountains, who require the
greatly salient in their narrations, and need striking incident in their attention. Th
quiet humours, the latent fun, and irony, are not so easily perceptible to them;
and the exaggerations of the `Lying Camp' especially, called for the startling, the
wild, extravagant; for the droll rather than the wit!'" (p. 468). Major Henry, in
fact, seems personally aware of his limitations as a storyteller. As the intruding
authorial narrator interjects, "Henry was conscious of all this, and was disposed to
dodge his responsibility to the circle [of hunters at the lying Camp]; but the more
he shied the duty, the more authoritatively did `Big Lie' insist upon it;--and the
Major was forced finally to respond" (468) by recounting the tale of the former
African prince who now navigates a flatboat at McCord's Ferry on the Congaree
River in South Carolina. In lightly criticizing Major Henry's brand of humor, the
narrator plainly insinuates that Henry's comic storytelling does not qualify him as
a bona fide backwoods raconteur. As the story he recounts about the African
flatboattnan makes clear, Henry seems too genteel, too guarded, too stodgy, and
too sophisticated in his manner of storytelling. The one interesting aspect of his
alligator anecdote is that he gives his old African, to whom he gives the name
Cudjo, an assertive and amusing voice in the narrative. In spite of this, Major
Henry's story still lacks the zest and vitality as well as the extended vernacular
monologue that characterize Bill Bauldy's alligator story, and therefore in terms
of the overall impression, it pales in comparison.
Although a few of the stories that comprise Major Henry's Tales of the
Packolette are humorous and witty in somewhat the same sense as the narrator
describes the storytelling methods of the fictional Henry in "Bill Bauldy" and
have features and a subject matter suggestive of Southern backwoods humor, they
lack not only the earthy exaggeration and the prominence given to colorful
vernacular characters but also the frolicsome appeal of some of the better and
representative Southern antebellum frontier sketches and tales such as those
penned by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Johnson Jones Hooper, Thomas Bangs
Thorpe, and George Washington Harris. Still, two of Henry's more amusing
contributions that occasionally display some earmarks of Southern backwoods
humor and that appeared during Simms's tenure as editor of the Magnolia are
"Tetotality" (November 1842 number) and "The Jimplicate" (April 1843
number). Among the backwoods features found in one or the other of these
pieces are the frame device, incongruous comparisons, some colloquial dialect,