Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Nationalism, History, and Moral Progress in Simms's Earliest Writings >> Page 11

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription Nationalism, History, and Moral Progress
In Simms's Earliest Writings 1

Sean R. Busick

Frederick Jackson Turner noted in his Rise of the New West, that the decay of
the 1820s began with a sense of exuberant nationalism and ended with a fore-boding
sense of sectionalism.2 The 1820s began in the midst of the so-called "Era of Good
Feelings," then witnessed the wave of patriotism inspired by the 50th anniversary of
the Revolution and the passing-away into myth of the generation of republican
heroes who had steered the United States to independence through the tempest of
war. These events, culminating in the death of both Thomas Jefferson and John
Adams on 4 July 1836, caused many Americans to pause and reflect with pride upon
both America's past and anticipated glory.
In Charleston, the passing-away of the Revolutionary heroes coincided with
the loss of the city's leading literati of the first two decades of the nineteenth century
The deaths of locally well-regarded authors such as Edwin C. Holland (1824),
William Crafts (1826), and Henry Tudor Farmer (1828) cleared the stage for the
emergence of a new generation of aspiring literary talents. Chief among these was
William Gilmore Simms, who was destined to become not just Charleston's, but also
the South's, leading antebellum man of letters.
Although only 24 years old when the decade ended, Simms published an
impressive amount of writing during the 1820s. We know that his poetry first began
appearing in the pages of local newspapers at least as early as 1823, while he was yet
in his teens. In July of 1824, Simms's first known prose piece, "Light Reading,"
appeared in the Charleston Courier. Then in 1825, at the age of 19, the Charleston
firm of Gray & Ellis published Simms's Monody on the Death of General Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney as his first separate publication in book form. Before the
decade ended, Simms had published three more books of poetry, scores of short
pieces in journals, and served as editor of at least two literary journals the short-
lived Album and the Southern Literary Gazette. In these early publications, produced
during a period of fervent nationalism, Simms began exploring three themes that

1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1999 meeting of the Society of
Early Americanists, Charleston, SC.
2 Frederick Jackson Turner, Rise of the New West, 1819-1829 (New York: Collier Books,
1906, 1962). See especially, Chapters 1 & 19: pp. 25-29 and 215-226.