William Gilmore Simms Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Gilmore Simms was known in his lifetime as a novelist, short-story writer, poet, historian, and journalist; today his reputation rests on his novels. Simms’s childhood was an unusual one. His mother died while he was still an infant, and his father left the baby William in the care of his maternal grandmother. He seems to have had only casual schooling, but he read widely and listened intently to his grandmother’s stories of the American Revolution as it had occurred in the South. When the boy was ten years old, his father, a frontiersman who had gone westward toward the Mississippi River, paid a visit to Charleston, and at eighteen William went to visit his father on his plantation in what is now Mississippi.

During this visit he observed frontier life and American Indian tribes. Upon his return to Charleston, Simms published some poems, most of them with a Byronic flavor. In 1828 he entered upon the editorship of a short-lived magazine titled The Tablet. After its failure he became editor of the Charleston City Gazette, which opposed the election of John C. Calhoun. Because of the political animosity he incurred as a result, plus the deaths of his wife, grandmother, and father, Simms left for the North, where he found friends and a future.

Some early work was published shortly after he left Charleston, but his first important success came with the publication of Guy Rivers in 1834. A story of gold mining in northern Georgia, the novel, packed with action, is a romantic piece of writing with a realistic American theme. His next work was The Partisan, which was...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

William Gilmore Simms Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Gilmore Simms was the son of an Irish immigrant tradesman. His mother died when he was two, and Simms was left in the care of his maternal grandmother when his father moved to Tennessee and later to Mississippi. Simms’s formal schooling amounted to less than six years, and he was largely self-educated. At the age of twelve, he was apprenticed to a druggist but later left that trade to study law. In 1827, he was admitted to the bar in Charleston. His marriage to Anna Malcolm Giles in 1826 ended with her death in 1832. Simms’s literary talents became manifest very early in his life. At nineteen, he edited the literary journal, The Album (1825), and two years later published his first two volumes of verse. In 1828, he cofounded and edited The Southern Literary Gazette. He ventured into journalism as the editor of the daily newspaper, the Charleston City Gazette, from 1830 until its bankruptcy in 1832. Between 1833 and 1835, he published four novels, Martin Faber: The Story of a Criminal (1833), Guy Rivers: A Tale of Georgia (1834), The Yemassee, and The Partisan: A Tale of the Revolution (1835), and established his reputation as a significant voice in American fiction. In 1836, he married Chevilette Roach and moved to her father’s seven-thousand-acre plantation, “Woodlands.” His newly acquired wealth freed him to pursue his literary career more fully and to venture into new avenues, such as serving, from 1844 to 1846, as a representative to the South Carolina legislature. His marriage to Roach lasted until her death in 1863 and produced fourteen children. During the period from 1836 to 1860, in addition to his many literary productions, Simms was active in the editing of several magazines, including The Southern and Western Monthly Magazine (1845), The Southern Quarterly Review (1849-1855), and Russell’s Magazine (1857-1860), which he helped Paul Hamilton Hayne to edit. Simms’s fortunes were ruined by the Civil War; in 1865, “Woodlands” was burned by stragglers from William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. Reduced to poverty, Simms spent the final years of his life editing newspapers and writing to support himself and his children. He died in Charleston on June 11, 1870.

William Gilmore Simms Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

William Gilmore Simms was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 17, 1806, the second son and only surviving child of William Gilmore and Harriet Ann Augusta Singleton Simms. Simms’s father came from Ireland after the American Revolution and established a successful mercantile business in Charleston. His mother’s family, the Singletons, had lived in the port city for generations. Her grandfather, Thomas Singleton, was one of the Charleston citizens arrested by the British authorities during their occupation and, despite his advanced age, sent in exile to St. Augustine; her father, John Singleton, had fought as a soldier on the side of the patriots.

Simms’s mother died in 1808, and shortly thereafter, his father, grief-stricken at the loss of his wife, left Charleston to journey westward, placing his only child in the care of his late wife’s mother, Mrs. Gates (she had remarried in 1800 after the death of John Singleton in 1799). The elder Simms went on to lead what must have seemed an incredibly exciting life to his impressionable son; the boy heard tales of his father’s fighting under Andrew Jackson in the Indian Wars in Florida and later at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 before settling in Mississippi, then the edge of the frontier. Thus, Simms the boy grew up surrounded by legends and dreams of almost mythical characters—the Revolutionary War heroes on the Singleton side of the family, and the pioneer-soldier he saw in his own father. Both romantic threads would run throughout Simms’s writings. In addition, growing up in historic Charleston allowed him to visit sites of revolutionary incidents in and near the city. His unflagging interest in history (especially that of South Carolina but also of foreign lands) provided a foundation for his wilder imagination, and his writings would always contain a solid understructure of fact.

Although tradition has held that Simms grew up in genteel poverty in Charleston, feeling ostracized by that aristocratic city’s more prominent citizens, his father had, in fact, left him substantial property holdings, and Simms was recognized early for his achievements. Still, it is equally clear that Simms was sensitive to slight—partly because of boyhood loneliness after the loss of his immediate family—and his enormous artistic energy no doubt fed on this partial uncertainty.

In 1812, at the age of six, Simms began school in Charleston. He entered the College of Charleston when he was ten, and at twelve he began work in a local apothecary shop. He was already writing poetry and drama. By the age of sixteen, he had published verse in a Charleston newspaper; at age seventeen he was editing a juvenile periodical, the first of many editorships he would undertake in his lifetime. The next year, 1824 to 1825, Simms spent with his father in Mississippi. Together they ranged into the wilderness, where Simms met and carefully observed the types of frontiersmen (rascals and rogues among them) and American Indians that would people his romances.

When Simms returned to Charleston in 1825, he set about establishing himself as a writer. His first volume of verse, Monody on the...

(The entire section is 1302 words.)