Wlliam Gilmore Simms
image of pageExplore Inside

Grouped Thoughts and Scattered Fancies: A Collection of Sonnets

Poetry | 1845

            Grouped Thoughts and Scattered Fancies, a collection of sonnets written by William Gilmore Simms, features poems published in the Southern Literary Messenger throughout 1844 and 1845.  This volume was also printed by the Messenger’s printer, W. Macfarlane, in 1845.[1]  Simms is not specifically named as the author on the title page; however, he is identified as the author by the listing of two of his other notable works, Atalantis and Southern Passages and Pictures. Simms personally selected the works for Grouped Thoughts and Scattered Fancies “from his private repertoire of more than 160 mainly classical or traditional sonnets.”[2]  In a March 8, 1844 personal letter to James Lawson, his friend and New York agent, Simms mentioned beginning to compile this collection, noting that he had, “about 60 sonnets, and one hundred songs,” from which to choose.[3] 

            Released in limited distribution, this volume did not receive many critical reviews, but the majority of those were positive.  William Cullen Bryant, a New York editor, poet, and personal friend of Simms, stated in the New York Evening Post on May 23, 1846, that this particular volume held “some of the best verses of the author.”[4]  Similarly, a review in the New England Magazine praised the work, noting, “The descriptions are almost invariably beautiful & graphic & the language is well chosen & picturesque….We hope to hear from this author again, for he is capable of doing excellent service to the Literature of this country.”[5]  Simms himself was proud of this collection, writing to Everett Augustus Duyckinck, New York editor and friend, “I am vain to think [they] are the best collection of sonnets ever printed in America.”[6]  One must wonder, however, why Simms, being so proud of this particular collection, stipulated that the work, “not be published, but merely circulated among the select, the sacred few.”[7]  As John Caldwell Guilds points out, “the answer probably is that Simms, knowledgeable of the condition of the publishing industry in 1845, correctly surmised that no cost-conscious American publisher, however reputable, would undertake an edition of his sonnets at a time when, because of the absence of copyright laws, pirated reprints of noted European writers offered ‘cheap literature’ competition.”[8] 

             The first edition copy housed in the Salley-Simms Collection at the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina is contained within an archival quality protective folder due to the fragile nature of the book itself, including its lack of an original cover.  Although this particular manuscript shows signs of having once been bound, with some remnants of a tan spine present on the edge of the pages, the work has now deteriorated into five separate pieces.  The cover/title page reads:  GROUPED THOUGHTS | AND | SCATTERED FANCIES, | [rule] | A COLLECTION OF SONNETS. | [rule] | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''ATALANTIS,'' ''SOUTHERN PASSAGES AND PICTURES,'' &c. | [rule] | RICHMOND, VA. | Printed by Wm. Macfarlane, Messenger Office: | 1845.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 184-185

[2] Ibid., 185

[3] Letters, 1:408.

[4] Guilds, Simms, 185.

[5] Letters, 2:222.

[6] Guilds, Simms, 185.  Brackets in original.

[7] Letters, 2:111.

[8] Guilds, Simms, 185.