Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Remembering the Father of Southern Literature >> Page 27

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Page 27

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Clearly Simms felt it was more important to develop his soul than to
pad his pockets or impress others by working at a job he didn't feel called to
Simms never became a plantation owner who wrote. He was
instead a talented author who lived on, loved and fully enjoyed a plantation.
Life at Woodlands, like his marriage to Chevillette, opened him up to a
greater development of what he called the Sense of the Beautiful. His life
took on the more balanced blending of work and play so necessary for a
creative spirit. Closeness to nature fuelled his imagination, allowed him to
appreciate the way a flower-scented breeze could lift his spirits, the way a
bird's song could inspire songs of his own creation, and the way a beautiful
sunset far from the city could leave him awestruck and filled with wonder.
At Woodlands he could watch Chevillette constructing a quilt by hand,
working a loom, playing a piano or strumming her guitar while she sang for
guests visiting their home. These up-close and personal observations made it
possible for Simms to breathe life into his female characters in ways Cooper,
Melville and many other 19`'' century American authors never did.
Equally important were the opportunities Simms had to pull his first
son in a wagon over the green, to put him on his first pony and watch him
climb high as he could in a peach tree. While already closely bonded with
his first child Augusta, Simms was able to become a more hands-on parent to
the growing number of children he and Chevillette had during their 27 years
together. The children -- family – had free roam of the room in which he did
his writing in the big house at Woodlands. He knew when they were
teething, when they started to toddle, when they were testing vocal chords
that kept their parents awake at night, and when and why they died.
We know Simms's domestic life because of what he wrote to his
friends. But we do not know about his family life in Charleston. Did his
town house have a garden? Was there a favorite tree he sat under to watch
his children at play there? Is there a picture of his town house painted by a
visiting artist inspired by its beauty? We have no records made by Simms to
guide us in a search for answers to such questions.
Simms's love for Charleston is not in question. It is a certainty.
What is being considered is the impact the country had on his greatness as a
writer. We know he became a delegate from the Barnwell District to the
State Agriculture Convention in 1839. We also know the subject of
agriculture plays a large part in The Golden Christmas, one of his best
novels, as well as in many other Simms books. We know he was elected to
represent the Barnwell District in 1844 as a member of the South Carolina
House of Representatives. He became familiar with the city of Columbia
about which he wrote his eye-witness account of the capital's destruction by
Sherman. In Columbia, Simms learned in 1844, 1845, and 1846 enough
about government and politics to become a wise and calming influence in the