Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription The Significance of Simms's First Long Poem

James B. Meriwether

Simms's Monody, on the Death of Gen. Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney, a poem of 184 lines, was published anonymously in Charleston
about a month after Pinckney's death on 16 August 1825. Few besides
the most devoted of Simms scholars know it, and there is little reason to
think that it was ever read by more than a few people among the nine-
teen-year-old poet's immediate circle in Charleston.
Its text exists in only one form, the original pamphlet publication
of the work. No manuscript is known, and Simms apparently made no
earlier (or later) attempt to publish part of it in periodical form. As well,
it exists in only one complete copy, in the New-York Historical Society.
Another, once in the library of Harvard College, was lost in the mails
many years ago, when it was sent out on interlibrary loan. But when
the great Charles Carroll Simms Collection was deposited in the South
Caroliniana Library, it was discovered that Simms himself had kept three
copies. Two were pasted in a scrapbook and a third loose-leaf paste-up
was kept in what has come to be called Simms's "Manuscripts Poetry
Box" (Meriwether).
It is fortunate that Simms preserved the work, for otherwise there
could have been some doubt that the anonymous work was his. Simms
never claimed it among his titles. In all the lists of his writings, in all his
accounts of his literary career that discuss his juvenilia, he never so much
as referred to it. And although Trent includes it in his list of Simms's
writings in his 1892 biography, he did so on the basis of having seen only
"the cover in which Simms's own copy once resided" (45). Even though
Trent's lack of sympathy for Simms and Charleston led to so many irre-
sponsible comments and conjectures as a biographer and critic, he was
nevertheless scrupulously honest in his bibliographical descriptions, for
he notes that he had not actually seen a copy of the text.
Trent also shows that the pamphlet had received "a complimen-
tary notice" in the Charleston Courier of 14 September 1825 and goes on
to say that the editor of the journal declared the poem "to have proceeded
from a hand not unknown to his readers" (45). Alexander Salley, in the
biographical introduction to Volume I of Simms's Letters, has confused