Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Book of My Lady: A Melange

Miscellany | Key & Biddle | 1833

                While a minor work overall in the Simms canon, The Book of My Lady: A Melange, published in 1833 by Key & Biddle of Philadelphia, is nevertheless an important text.  Here, Simms presents several stories that appear in later works, positioning The Book of My Lady as an interesting transitional work.  This collection of nineteen stories and ten poems also provides a clear glimpse of the influence of Romanticism on Simms, particularly in his thinking about the complex relationships between art, history, and nationality—subjects that would fascinate the author throughout his life.  While there is some evidence to suggest that Simms himself found the work largely forgettable later in his career, The Book of My Lady nevertheless shows the writer in the final stages of his apprenticeship, exploring the concerns that would be central to his mature work.

                Simms published The Book of My Lady under the pseudonym “A Bachelor Knight;” the Romantic themes and the opening “Epistle Prefatory to My Lady” show this pseudonym to be well-chosen, as the book contains what John C. Guilds summarily refers to as the “most romantic and chivalric of [Simms’s] juvenile forays into prose and poetry.”[1]  As such, Guilds contends that the work can be understood as “a potboiler designed for the growing market of women readers.”[2]  Simms initially thought well of the work, noting in a letter to James Lawson of 27 November 1833 that “I do entertain a notion that its merit is very far from being inconsiderate .… it does seem to me that the public will do themselves great unkindness if they do not find vast pleasure in its perusal.”[3]  The public seemed not only to find the desired pleasure in the writings of this “bachelor knight,” but also to regard their tone as appropriate; the December 1833 Knickerbocker noted that “the ladies should all buy this book, or rather the gentleman should buy it for their respective favorites.  They will take a pleasure when reading it, to think that it must have been written by one of those gallant spirits, who, had he lived in the days of the old romance would have broken a lance against every comer in defence of the peerless pretensions of his own ladye [sic] love.”[4]

                There is some ambiguity about Simms’s relationship to the work later in his life.  After 1833, The Book of My Lady is discussed three times in the letters.[5]  Two of these are in letters to Rufus Griswold, in which Simms provided a brief overview of his literary career.  In the first of these, from June 1841, Simms remarks that “In the ‘Book of My Lady’ published by Key and Biddle in Phila. you will find several specimens of my early poetry which I think needs revision only to be as good as anything I have done.”[6]  The second of the these two letters to Griswold, from December 1846, includes a clipping of the Knickerbocker’s review of The Book of My Lady; inclusion of the review is seemingly done to give an overview of the critical reception of Simms’s writings, as evidenced by the following comment: “I gather up & send you along with this, all the odds & ends of criticism,—such as it is—which have been preserved from a bulky mass which my writings have provoked.”[7]  Yet a July 1849 letter to James Henry Hammond describes The Book of My Lady as one of those “publications of youth which I have since suppressed.”[8] 

Despite the glowing review from the Knickerbocker, the works included in The Book of My Lady are of inconsistent quality.  Yet, a significant number of works in the collection would be revised and republished in later works, including periodicals and collections like Southward Ho!  Thus, while Simms’s reasons for having “suppressed” The Book of My Lady remain unclear, it seems likely that Simms the mature writer recognized that the book had merely served its purpose, helping him to produce the germ of some of his later fiction, as well aiding him in working through several of the concerns that would be central to his mature output.  The Book of My Lady is thus important as Simms’s final apprentice work; after this, he would no longer be a “bachelor knight,” but a true artist.

The South Caroliniana Library copy of The Book of My Lady features brown speckled boards with plain-brown inner edge and outer corners.  Brown spine with gilt stamp:  [double rule] | BOOK OF | MY LADY | [double rule] | [Stylized Harp] | [double rule] [spine color changes to green] SIMMS. | 2 | [double rule] [spine color reverts to brown].  Its title page reads as follows: THE | BOOK OF MY LADY. | A Melange. | BY A BACHELOR KNIGHT. | ''Volti subito.'' | [rule] | PHILADELPHIA: | KEY & BIDDLE, 23, MINOR STREET. | 1833.

 

W. Matthew J. Simmons



[1] John C. Guilds, Simms:  A Literary Life (Fayetteville:  The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 54.

[2] Ibid., 53.

[3] Letters 1:53.

[4] Letters 1:52n.

[5] I am here excluding letters in which Simms simply lists his published works, as he does a few times.

[6] Letters 5:358 

[7] Letters 2:232.

[8] Letters 2:544