Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Simms's Least Known Separate Publication: A First Examination >> Page 8

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Page 8

Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription hands for months" (Letters 2:408). Morosely, even today Simms is not free
from that demon, the rascally printer, who so often hounded him, as my
experience with the printing of the handbills for the radio series 'Tall Tales
from the Hunters' Camp" proves! l
So perhaps it's not surprising that there is an ambiguity, obviously
deliberate on Simms's part, in his identifying the Printer and the Press here.
The operation of the printing press on that car on July 28, 1848, and its
identification with the Charleston Typographical Society, would seem to
make the printer and the printing press the subject of the ode. But for the
most part, Simms is describing something that he could no doubt praise with
an easier conscience: The Press as the newspaper, or journal, for the
imparting of news and opinion.
Simms describes quite honorifically the role of the Press in the mid-
nineteenth century: "Tis he that, from sentinel stations, / Still watchful for
man in each clime, / Sets in motion the might of the nations, / For the
conquest of truth over time!" It's the Printer who pursues Truth in order to
impart it to others; it is he who "Tear[s] falsehood and error to tatters." But
Simms describes the Printer's role as a step beyond simply being a seeker and
imparter of Truth. Albeit humorously, with a hint of double entendre, and in
somewhat wincing rhyme scheme, he asserts a strong claim for the Press as
the parade car moves along: "Make way for the Press, and keep moving, /
For know, when you hearken its rush, / That the head there's no chance of
improving, / It is morally certain to crush."
Underlying the praise of the newly returned Palmetto Regiment seem
to be some principles concerning the printing establishment, as deemed by
Simms, whom we trust as narrator (though by the end of the poem he is
referring to himself and the printers as "we.") On the one hand, on a world-
wide basis, it is the duty of the Press to set the record straight for all ages t
come, by accompanying soldiers into war and reporting back to the citizens
the truth and nobility of their deeds. But on the other hand, on a domestic
scale, this sense of duty takes on a different twist; the Press is extolled to
crush the stupidity of mankind (my emphasis) by holding up for example and
inspiration the actions-of the brave and valorous. In no small measure, then,
Simms is intimating that it is the duty of the Press to function in the
community as moral conscience as well as truthteller.
To bring his point home Simms uses familiar examples, ones that the