Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 1) >> ''Woodlands'' Essay from 1955 >> Page 33

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Page 33

Reviews/Essays | [1955]
Transcription the house, with a gable at the front and steps leading from the second story to
a landing directly in front, which was about half the height of the first story,
and steps at each end of this landing led to the ground. The portico was
spacious enough to allow the family a place to promenade in bad weather.
One of the largest rooms on the lower floor was used for a library and study,
and here many of Simms's novels, short stories, poems, and essays were
written. In 1860 Simms's library numbered about ten thousand volumes. He
had bought many books and other writers had given him autographed copies
of their books. Publishers who desired to secure notices from him sent many
volumes to Simms.
The dining room at "Woodlands," like the dining room of all
prosperous and cultured Southern families, was a notable one, where
hospitality and good cheer were dispensed in such a manner as always to
make a partaker thereof remember it for a long time and heartily wish for
another visit.
Simms let his guests eat while he entertained them by relating
incidents in South Carolina and Southern history and tradition, telling
anecdotes and declaiming poetry. He could relate folk tales in the dialect of
either the local Negro, the "cracker," the mountaineer, or persons of
defective speech, as the occasion required. Sometimes he declaimed his own
poetry, at other times that of other poets, or he discussed topics of literature
or art with a vehemence and insistence, which left his guests with little room
to get in a word. Incidentally, that habit made him disliked by those people
who were anxious to show their own wares whether they agreed with his
position or not. That attitude of a few overbearing people has caused Prof.
William P. Trent to infer that Simms was not socially received in Charleston,
and that despite his national and international reputation he was always
looked at askance by the Lowcountry aristocracy of South Carolina.
Such was not the case. Simms had the entree to many of the most
exclusive homes in South Carolina and many of the wealthiest, most
cultured, and most erudite of the men of the state were his friends and
welcome visitors to "Woodlands" or to his home in Charleston.
Before a dinner at "Woodlands," toddies were indulged in, and after
dinner, cigars were passed. Smoking at an end, guests were at liberty to take
a nap or to drive, ride, or walk through the picturesque neighborhood.
Northern visitors usually went first to the Negro quarters to satisfy their
curiosity in regard to slavery. They found sixty or seventy slaves living by
families in comfortable cabins, each with a plot of ground on which the
occupants could raise poultry and vegetables. These products were sold to
their masters, Mr. Simms and Mrs. Roach, for such liberal prices as to have
astonished one of Simms's most loyal and most devoted Yankee friends who
was doubtless well suffused with Scotch blood. It is hardly likely he derived
his views from the Scotch whiskey, which Simms so freely supplied.