Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Sabbath Lyrics: A Christmas Gift of Love

Poetry | Press of Walker and James | 1849

            Sabbath Lyrics is a collection of poems written by William Gilmore Simms based on Christian scripture.  The poems featured in this collection had been published previously in Godey’s throughout 1848 and 1849.[1]  These individual poems were published as a collection in 1849 by the Press of Walker and James in Charleston, SC.  Simms intended for this work to be, “a Christmas giftbook,” that people could give as a Christmas present to their loved ones.  His effort to find a printer for the work in July of 1849, however, was unsuccessful.[2]  In a letter to Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, dated 24 December 1849, Simms stated that he had “just given to a couple of printers in Charleston for their own benefit, a couple of slight volumes.  One consists of a versions from and paraphrases of various passages in Scripture, chiefly from Isaiah and some original things of serious character. I call it Sabbath Lyrics, a brochure of 72 pages.”[3]  Kibler interprets the phrase “given…for their own benefit,” which Simms uses to describe his publication of the work, to mean that Simms did not expect to make any money from the publication of the volume.

            Ultimately Simms’s hope that this collection would be distributed as a Christmas gift was not fulfilled.  As Kibler notes, “although intended as a Christmas ‘giftbook’ and advertised as such, it did not appear until after December 25.”[4]  Expressing his frustration with publishers in general, Simms, in a letter to Evert Augustus Duyckinck dated February 16, 1850, wrote that Sabbath Lyrics, “was put forth by a Charleston publisher as a sort of Christmas Gift – though, as usual with publishers, it did not appear till a week or two after Christmas.”[5]  Kibler observes the volume did come out a week after Christmas and, “was advertised in the Charleston Mercury of 29 December 1849, as just published and for sale, now as a New Year’s gift. The price was listed as 63 cents.”[6]

            The book was primarily reviewed in Charleston, where it was exclusively sold, and received abundant praise.  For instance, the Charleston Courier on 31 December 1849 stated, “It is hardly necessary to speak of the contents of the work, rather than to say it contains short Poems, on religious subjects from the pen of W. Gilmore Simms, to insure its general perusal.”[7]  The first edition features a brown cloth covering stamped in gold on the cover: SABBATH LYRICS | [decoration] | A CHRISTMAS GIFT OF LOVE. There is no stamping on the spine.  The title page reads:  SABBATH LYRICS; | OR, | SONGS FROM SCRIPTURE. | A | Christmas Gift of Love. | BY | W. GILMORE SIMMS. | [wavy rule] | CHARLESTON: | FROM THE PRESS OF WALKER AND JAMES. | MDCCCXLIX.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 190.

[2]James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (Columbia: Southern Studies Program, University of South Carolina, 1979), 87.

[3] Letters, 2:580.

[4] Kibler, Poetry, 87.

[5] Letters, 3:18.

[6] Kibler, Poetry, 87.

[7] Guilds, Simms, 191.