Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 1) >> Annual Address Before the South Caroliniana Society, 3 April 1943 >> Page 29

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Page 29

Speech | 2007
Transcription son, Washington Irving and a score others and not to find
any, trace of such letters keeps us in a fever of anxiety lest pub-
lishing day may arrive without them.
Though we have not yet found a. single letter written by Simms
before his thirty-first birthday, We can fortunately tell his early
story in his own words because of a brief memorabilia written
in Simms' hand in the Charles Carroll Simms Collection in
Washington, D. C. and of another personal account preserved
in the Duyckinck papers of the New York Public Library.
These accounts, with the long, explanatory, autobiographical
prefaces to Simms' books, with asterisks pointing to autobio-
graphical dotes in the body of his novels and even in his poems,
illuminate Simms' youth, piecing together the gaps of the story
and. supplying the hiatus of the. early letters.
In both of the personal accounts Simms tells movingly of his
mother's death when he was an infant, of his father's passion-
ate grief which turned his hair snow white within the space of
a single week and set him marching off to the wars under An-
drew Jackson. Simms was left in Charleston with his mater-
nal grandmother as the custodian of a very nice little estate,
remnant of his wealthy great-grandfather's (Thomas Single-
ton) property. There were two city houses, twenty-five slaves,
property in Edgefield District and a Simms plantation in Mis-
sissippi. Simms says that the estate was ample for support
and for an adequate education but that his grandmother mis-
managed it so that they steadily grew poorer and poorer. He
started- out in the free schools and, poor as these schools were
reputed to be, he says that he was so advanced at the age of
ten that he entered Charleston College, poor, he adds, though
the college was reputed to be in those years.
At least a year or two before he entered the college, that is,
at the mature age of eight or nine, Simms says that he was so
aware of history in the making that he had put into doggerel
a large number of, the events of the War of 1812, mostly naval.
Ile adds that he was a great reader, that he devoured everything
he could lay his hands on, exhausted the libraries of his friends,
was active in debates of juvenile societies and, by the time he
entered Charleston College at ten, was possessed of more na-
tional and literary history than most persons of twenty. He says
that he had picked up enough French, Spanish, Italian and even
German to enable him to dabble in translations, of which he
made a good many. By the time he was twelve he had written
a drama, full of red paint. Deciding to study medicine, he
got through the materia medica, quit college and entered a
chemist's shop, becoming something of a chemist himself.
Despite these amazing activities, Simms felt that he lived a
lonely and unhappy childhood the twice of his nature bent by
two dominant and conflicting minds, his father and his grand-