Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A Legend of the French Broad'': With an Eye on the Horizon >> Page 56

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 56 THE SIMMS REVIEW

itself is somewhat backward-looking, it is the piece's structure that dem-
onstrates—perhaps as strongly as any of Simms's poetry—the ways that
Simms viewed the American mind as a work-in-progress, very different
from the European minds that spawned it.

An 1852 letter from Simms to E.A Duyckink indicates that the
author viewed his 2,267-line poem, "The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A
Legend of the French Broad," as a potential volume unto itself: "If you
relish my Poem give me your notion as to the propriety of publishing
with copious descriptive, legendary, historical & other notes. Such a
vol., say 250 pages, with illustrated titles and vignettes from Darley
might be a popular book. Eh?" (207). Neither Duyckink nor any other of
Simms's publishers shared his vision, though, and the poem languished
in the family estate for more than 130 years after its author's death, the
autograph manuscript eventually becoming part of the Charles Carroll
Simms Collection at the South Caroliniana Library of the University of
South Carolina, until it was published in 2003.
While the poem is remarkable in many ways, particularly in the
way it maintains its consistent octosyllabic meter and end-line rhyme
over such a length, it is nevertheless true that the publishers probably
showed the greater wisdom, particularly in a period when publishers, to
quote John Guilds, "were, in general, reluctant to run the financial risk
of publishing lesser-known American writers, especially poets" (501).
The poem tells the story of a city dweller who escapes to the mountains,
where he meets an old hunter who tells him the tragic story of lovers
from two warring Indian tribes, essentially a frontier version of Romeo
and Juliet. When examined in the context of Simms's lifelong anticipa-
tion of Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis, though, the poem
takes on added significance due mostly to its three-part structure. Even
in a narrative poem in which he consciously attempts to transplant a
well-known Old World story to the American frontier, Simms precisely
foreshadows an essential point that Turner was to make prominently, that
is, that the rapid development of a new sort of mind on the American
frontier depended on the shifting relationship between new generations
of pioneers and the "establishment" figures to the east of them, people
who had been the pioneers of an earlier generation.
Turner describes the rapid evolution of the American character as
a sort of "cultural relay race," with each generation, in each new region,