Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 1) >> Annual Address Before the South Caroliniana Society, 3 April 1943 >> Page 39

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Page 39

Speech | 2007
Transcription defiance of convention which kept Simms in hot 'water nearly
all of the time. He .was probably the .first, man in polite society
to tell .that a woman had legs. - How bold he was one hundred
years ago to speak of "ladies" as women, proclaiming brazenly
that to him the word "woman"' was the sweetest in the English
language !
I'm through my story' without reporting Simms in his halcyon
years, in the front rank of American authors, his books brought
out in England and Germany, making a peak of $6,000 a year.
'Time. should have been found to touch upon his. relations with
his remarkable. friends. Certainly an inkling should have been
given- of the delightful plantation life, with perhaps a thumb-
nail sketch of the first burning of the home early in the war.
Simms describes himself leaping from .a ladder to a. second -story
window as the floor fell: in, his heart touched to the quick by
the. wailing of his slaves : "Master, Master, save yourself."
There was Mrs. Simms rallying the slaves as the flames lit up
the. darkness : "Boys, save Mr. Simms' books." There was the
old saw mill man from around Branchville who drove into the
yard next day. "Mr. Simms", he said, "tomorrow morning my
wagons start hauling all the lumber you need for rebuilding
Woodlands. And you shan't pay me a cent. You have been a
public man all of your life. This has been a public house. Let
South Carolina .do for yon." And South Carolina did, stopping
in the throes of war to raise some $4,000 toward the rebuilding
of Simms' home.
Especially would I like to have spoken of Simms' last pub-
lic appearance in' the May of 1870, just a month ' before his
death. In writing a northern friend. about it he told how proud.
he .was of the ovation Charleston had `accorded his address
"The Sense of the Beautiful", but that he was prouder of the.
fact that he had managed to hold out to the last and that no
one suspected that he was dying. "If you should come upon
me now," he wrote, "lying upon 'my sofa, surrounded by. a circle
of young literary men, and hear me talking oracularly, you
would see no failing of voice or memory. I sometimes think' of
the old Arabian tale of the living head that delivered oracles
while joined to a dead or petrified. body. I am only reminded
of .my mortality , when I forget myself and seek to rise and
illustrate my thought by action. It is then that the body pulls
me off my perch. Terrible", he concludes, "that a man's brains
should be at the mercy of his bowels."
Paul Hamilton Jayne says that Simms killed himself work-
ing, that in the nine months toward the close of his life he had
written three thousand pages of closely written manuscript. In
the throes of Reconstruction, with his market for his writings
practically wiped out, he still managed to support himself and
family and to help numbers of less fortunate friends ruined