Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 1) >> Annual Address Before the South Caroliniana Society, 3 April 1943 >> Page 35

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Page 35

Speech | 2007
Transcription for days in the cabi. of some stalwart pioneer, luting. the ver-
nacular, but more often (to use his own words) sleeping under
some virgin tree of the forest, the solitude unbroken save by
sound of bird or beast. Years later, in addressing the University
of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Simms stated that long years before
he had slept on the spot where the University stood, at that
time an unbroken wilderness.
Thus it was that when a hue and cry was raised by the critics
as to the coarseness, the profanity, the salaciousness, the actual
savagery of these border novels, Simms cried out in effect :
"Good God! - I am writing about real people, about scenes I
have actually visited. I know what I'm talking about. You
complain of the brutality of the Murrell gang who figure in
the novels. I knew the lawyers who prosecuted the infamous
gang. I am familiar with every scrap of the testimony. I
knew many of the actors in the scenes. I could, of course, have
softened these characters to make the tales more acceptable to
polite literature, but I am reporting what I saw, what I heard.
The historical events portrayed are in accord with the despotic
facts of a society in the process of formation. I only reserved
to myself the artist's privilege of grouping my characters for
action." As a result, these border novels constitute today our
best available social history of the southwest in the making.
The Simms letters have turned up all sorts of valuable in-
formation as to the source material Simms used When he
wrote the article on De Kalb. He based it on the De Kalb let-
ters in his possession. When he wrote the article on Jahn Rut-
ledge, he had his own collection of Rutledge letters and papers.
He had Henry Laurens' letters and the diary for the Laurens
sketch ; we have his published volume of the John Laurens
letters along. with his forty to fifty page comment. His pub-
lishers pushing him once for an article on McDuffie, he said, in
effect : "Hold your horses. It is true that you ask for but a sketch,
but the experience of a lifetime has taught me that I must write
from., the fullness of a subject, no matter how brief the finished
piece. I must see McDuffie. I must get the comments of his
contemporaries ; I must go into old discussions." After writ-
ing to Armistead Burt to thank him for the very satisfactory
material sent on McDuffie he adds : "But it is not enough.
Send me some more.' At the same time he had written Ham-
mond and others for McDuflie material, in like pressing vein.
And so on through the long list of biographical studies dealing
with nearly every, prominent Southerner of the day, faithfully
and carefully prepared with the object of putting the material.
on record, so that if the source material or artifacts 'were to be
scattered or destroyed, as has so sadly come to be the case in
many instances, the record would have been pace.
Through the Simms letters we learn how Simms prodded
the entire South into putting itself on record, to use one of