Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Lyrical and Other Poems

Poetry | Ellis & Neufville | 1827

            The Charleston firm of Ellis & Neufville issued Lyrical and Other Poems, which was Simms’s first published collection of poetry, in January or early February of 1827.  An early date is most likely, because the copyright notice reprinted at the front of the text indicates that Ellis & Neufville filed the necessary paperwork on December 13, 1826, and a review of the volume appeared in the New York Literary Gazette and American Athenæum on February 3, 1827.  The collection was generally well-received by critics and in later years Simms would recall fondly the praise offered by the poet and author James Gordon Brooks:  “Mr. Simms is entitled to take his place among the first of American Poets.  The fire of true genius burns in his song, and its light is pure, warm & brilliant.”[1]  Though Simms would later refer self-deprecatingly to Lyrical and Other Poems, along with Early Lays, The Vision of Cortes, and The Tri-Color, as “the stuff accumulating from the earliest beginnings of my poetical infancy,” he nonetheless took great pride in the early praise that his work received and would revise and republish several of the poems, included in these collections, in later decades.[2]  Simms even proposed the publication of an illustrated edition of his complete poetical writings to Carey and Hart in 1847, and though that publication never materialized, he did publish a two volume collection of his poetry in 1853.  That collection, entitled Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary, and Contemplative, appeared in issues by both John Russell of Charleston and J.S. Redfield of New York and contained five poems originally published in this 1827 volume.[3] 

            The content of Lyrical and Other Poems demonstrates that even at a young age Simms was engaged with historical themes, a pattern that would continue throughout his literary career.[4]  The opening poem in the collection, entitled “The Broken Arrow,” recounts the murder of William McIntosh, a leader of the Creek nation who signed a treaty in 1825 that ceded large tracts of the Georgia frontier to the U.S. Government.   It was in 1825 that Simms made his first trip to the Old Southwest, and that journey apparently inspired him to write about McIntosh.  His poem and its accompanying notes express a deep ambivalence about the removal of Native Americans, a policy that would receive full government sanction when Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.  “Farther west! Farther west! Where the sun as / he dies / Still leaves a deep luster abroad in the skies,” Simms wrote, “Where the hunter may roam and his woman / may rove, / And the white man not blight, what he cannot / improve.”[5] He at once bemoaned the loss of one frontier and the eradication of Native Americans, but at the same time held out hope that another frontier, with its attendant mixture of both freedom and savagery, awaited just over the western horizon.  In the notes, however, he wrote of engaging with a member of the Creek nation, presumably during his travels in 1825, and upon telling him of the bountiful prospects of the western frontier the man replied, “yet when we get good and settled there, and the pipe smoke well, whiteman will want more land,” to which Simms added simply, “This needs no comment.”[6]  As scholars, most notably Jack Guilds, have argued, Simms’s portrayal of Native Americans was more sympathetic and rounded than many of his nineteenth-century contemporaries. That Simms’s thought was complicated is, however, indicated in his letters when he wrote of seeing a full-length portrait of McIntosh during a trip to Georgia in 1831.  Here he described McIntosh as having, “less of dignity than low cunning in his features,” appearing as, “a kind of Indian Van Buren, and was more of the intriguing and wily politician, than the free, frank and generous warrior.”  In the same letter he wrote of Native Americans more generally, saying, “were they not to make it a subject of national concern, the roving practices of their people, would in great measure, prepare the youth for hardihood and daring.”[7]  Here, as in his poetry and prose, Simms simultaneously portrayed Native Americans as cause for both admiration and concern.

            Simms dedicated his volume “To the Clariosophic Societies Regular and Incorporate of South Carolina,” and it was in 1827 that Charles Carroll, after whom Simms would later name his youngest son, nominated Simms for honorary membership in the Clariosophic Society of South Carolina College.[8]  This first edition of Lyrical and Other Poems is from the Kendall collection at the South Caroliniana Library and has rose-colored boards with a dark brown spine.  Neither the boards nor the spine have any stamping.  While this volume enjoyed only one printing, many of the poems included here were collected from work that Simms had published in Charleston newspapers and magazines, beginning as early as 1823.  Several of the poems would also appear later, both in periodicals and in several book-length collections of Simms’s poetry.[9]

Todd Hagstette

[1] James Gordon Brooks (1801-1841), authored the review in the New York Literary Gazette and American Athenæum under the pseudonym “Florio,” one he used frequently.  Brooks was the founding editor of the Literary Gazette, which later merged with the Athenæum, which he then co-edited along with Simms’s long-time friend and confidant James Lawson in the mid-1820s.  Gordon and Lawson also co-edited the New York Morning Courier from 1827-1829.  George and Evert Duyckinck, Cyclopedia of American Literature Vol. II (New York: Charles Scribner, 1856), 323-325.  Simms reproduced the portion of the 1827 review quoted here in an 1846 letter written to Rufus Wilmot Griswold.  Simms to Griswold, 6 December 1846, Letters, 2: 231.  Jack Guilds has speculated that the high praise which the volume received, praise that he deemed beyond what the slim volume deserved, may be evidence that Simms somehow managed to review his own work.  Confusing the issue further is that both Simms and Brooks frequently used the pseudonym “Florio.”  As indicated here, however, Simms several times referred proudly to the Gazette review in his letters as evidence of his early poetic prowess.  He attributed the authorship to Brooks.  Simms’s attribution is mostly likely accurate, and the glowing praise he received likely has a simpler explanation than a covert, self-written review.  While the first extant letter between Simms and James Lawson dates from 1830, those early letters are not introductory, and it is clear that Simms began corresponding with Lawson some time earlier.  Lawson may have used his connections with both the Athenæum and with Brooks in order to persuade Brooks to pen a flattering review in the New York publication.  Whatever the source, the placement did prove beneficial to Simms, as it was later reprinted in the Charleston Courier, which apparently prompted the Charleston Mercury to also review the volume.  John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 24, 372-373 n. 2.

[2] Simms to Griswold, 20 June 1841, Letters, 5:356.

[3] Simms to Carey and Hart, 26 October 1847, Letters, 2:361-363.  The works republished in Poems were, “Come Seek,” “Caius, Amid the Ruins of Carthage,” “Yes, Lone in My Bosom,” “The Evening Breeze,” and “Sonnet to the Past.”  James Everett Kibler, Jr., The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1979), 198, 250-251, 280, 382, 429.

[4] On Simms’s engagement with history see especially, Sean R. Busick, A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005).

[5] William Gilmore Simms, Lyrical and Other Poems (Charleston: Ellis & Neufville, 1827), 8.

[6] Simms, Lyrical and Other Poems, 199.

[7] Simms to The City Gazette, 31 March 1831, Letters, I: 26.  What is also interesting in the letter to The City Gazette is Simms’s suggestion that part of what generated his heightened ambivalence toward McIntosh was the Creek leader’s physical appearance.  McIntosh, who was of mixed racial ancestry, appeared, Simms wrote, “in the general expression of his countenance, its color, &c. … less to resemble the Indian, than some of the bright mulattoes whom we hourly encounter on our streets.”

[8] Letters, 1:lxxxv.

[9] Kibler, Poetry, 55-56.