October 30, 2012

Simms: poured to waste in Charleston

After the death of his first child, and his wife's pregnancy with his third child resulted in the death both of the child and its mother, a man moved to Mississippi, leaving his only remaining child in the care of a grandmother in Charleston, South Carolina. When the boy, William Gilmore Simms, turned 18, he visited his father in Mississippi, who predicted he would fare better there than back in Charleston. Simms disagreed and returned to his native town, where he would spend the majority of his life as a novelist, critic, historian, and poet. But, on October 30, 1858, he admitted his father was probably correct all along. "Thirty odd years have passed," he wrote, "and I can now mournfully say the old man was right." Charleston, Simms believed, was not as kind to his talents as he felt he deserved:

All that I have [done] has been poured to waste in Charleston, which has never smiled on any of my labors, which has steadily ignored my claims, which has disparaged me to the last, has been the last place to give me adhesion, to which I owe no favor, having never received an office, or a compliment, or a dollar at her hands.

With the exception of a few friends, he continued, the people of Charleston had treated him "as a public enemy, to be sneered at." Simms had every right to call the town "a place of tombs"; by the time he wrote these words, he had lost six children (two died on the same day about a month earlier due to Yellow Fever). More than that, Simms lamented the difficulty of being a man of letters in the South, an area where literature was less appreciated. Northern readers, further, were less likely to pay attention to writers of the South. Loyalty to Charleston was in part based on his hope to elevate culture, the arts, and literacy.

In fact, Simms became recognized as one of the most important leaders in Southern writing both before and after the Civil War. After his death, Charleston in particular celebrated Simms as a local legend.

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