Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction

Reviews/Essays | Wiley and Putnam | 1845 - 1846

          Part of the Wiley and Putnam’s highly influential Library of American Books, Simms’s two-volume Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction, shows the author theorizing the “American” aspects of American literature, as well as the relationship between America’s history and its imaginative writing.  In this, we can see Simms presenting and promoting the cultural agenda of the “Young America” movement, whose members included Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne.  Views and Reviews is thus a central text in understanding the struggle for defining American literature that occurred between the Democratic nationalists of Young America against the culturally conservative, cosmopolitan, religiously orthodox, and Whiggish group centered around The Knickerbocker, one of the key nineteenth century American literary journals.

          In contributing volumes to the Library of American Books, Simms was intent on demonstrating and analyzing what Alexander B. Meek of Alabama had called, in An Oration before the Phi Kappa and Demosthenean Societies of the University of Georgia, at Athens, August 8, 1844, “Americanism in Literature.”  Simms’s review of this oration appeared in January 1845 in the Southern and Western Magazine, a periodical that he had just started and was editing in Charleston. With the addition of two long notes and other revisions, it became the lead piece in the first series of Views and Reviews.  Perry Miller contends that Simms’s close friend E.A. Duyckinck, editor of one of Young America’s primary journals, Democratic Review, particularly wanted to give this essay a wider audience, as it so well articulated the Young America cultural agenda.[1]  Other essays did similar work, including “The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction,” a long essay that presented the substance of orations Simms gave before the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah in 1842 and, in revised form, later also included in six installments in the 1845 Southern and Western Magazine.  “The Epochs and Events” merged all of these various versions together into a single coherent essay.  The rest of the essays in the two volumes of Views and Reviews further explored the question of what “epoch and events” in American history served “the purposes of art in fiction” through discussions of archetypal historical figures, historical subjects that suited American writing, and existing artistic treatments of history and historical processes, like those by James Fenimore Cooper and Native Americans.

          Publication of Views and Reviews was slow.  Both volumes (or series) have the publication date 1845; according to C. Hugh Holman’s introduction to the 1962 reprinting of Views and Reviews, the first series “was ready and the second under way by October” of that year.[2]  On 19 November 1845, the Broadway Journal announced a November publication, and, then, on 4 December, a December one.  Yet, to Simms’s frustration, the volume was still not out by February 1846.[3]  Indeed, it did not appear until the first of May.  Two months later, the second series still had not gone to press.  While lamenting that Wiley and Putnam showed “so little disposition … to bring [the volume] properly to the view of the public,” Simms insisted that his contract be honored, and the compromise quickly reached was to make a smaller collection.[4]  Even after this decision, it was July 1847 before the second series was issued.  Not included in the end were a number of essays that Simms had indicated, in the “Advertisement” to the first volume, would be part of the work; these excluded essays were pieces from the Knickerbocker, the American Monthly Magazine, the Orion, and other similar publications.

          Because of its central place in the struggle between the Young America movement and its enemies, the reception of Views and Reviews was cold.  The Knickerbocker was savage in its review, and Harvard College’s Eliot Professor of Greek Literature, Cornelius Felton, attacked not just Simms, but the whole Library of American Books, in a review essay in the October 1846 issue of North American Review, the Boston ally of The Knickerbocker.  According to Felton, Views and Reviews “breathe[d] an extravagant nationality, equally at war with good taste and generous progress in liberal culture.”[5]  In Britain, Blackwood’s concurred, judging that “in every page” Simms “has quite liberated himself from all those fetters and prejudices which, in Europe, go under the name of truth and common sense.”[6]  The coldness of its reception would seemingly indicate how seriously the enemies of Young America took Simms’s work in Views and Reviews—and thus also how well the essays themselves elucidated the cultural project of Young America.

          Our copy of Views and Reviews has 1st and 2nd Series bound together in marble boards with black corners and spine.  Spine features gilt stamped:  [double rule] | VIEWS & | REVIEWS | [double rule] | [ornate image of lyre] | [double rule] | SIMMS. | 28 | [double rule] Title page features VIEWS AND REVIEWS | IN | AMERICAN LITERATURE, | HISTORY AND FICTION. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''LIFE OF MARION,'' ''HISTORY OF SOUTH CAROLINA,'' | ''RICHARD HURDIS,'' &c., &c. | [wavy rule] | FIRST SERIES. | [wavy rule] | NEW YORK: | WILEY AND PUTNAM, 161 BROADWAY. | [rule] | 1845.

 

W. Matthew J. Simmons

 

Note:  Portions of this headnote were derived from David Moltke-Hansen’s critical introduction to the University of South Carolina Press’s Simms Initiatives Print-on-Demand edition of Views and Reviews



[1] Perry Miller, The Raven and the Whale:  The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (New York:  Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1956), 155.

[2] C. Hugh Holman, introduction to Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction, first series, by William Gilmore Simms (Cambridge:  Belknap Press, 1962), xxviii.

[3] Letters, 2:142

[4] Letters, 2:170.

[5] Cornelius C. Felton, “Simms’s Stories and Reviews,” a review of Simms’s titles in “Wiley and Putnam’s Library of American Books, 1845-1847,” American Literature 63 (1846): 376.

[6] “The American Library,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Review 62 (1847): 576.