Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 13: No 2) >> Selections from Simms's Docket >> Page 5

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Page 5

Reviews/Essays | 1859-07-12 - 1859-08-09

One of the rarely used sources in Simms scholarship is his series of forty
articles in the Charleston Mercury entitled "Our Literary Docket." It ran from
20 May to 29 October 1859 and commented on a wide array of books,
periodicals, authors (old and new), and various literary matters, like, for
example, the business of publication itself. The subjects of these volumes
included biography, fiction, poetry, history, drama, travel, science, economics,
textbooks, memoirs, letter collections, and agriculture. There were also asides
on current history, politics, religion, and society. The column's unusual format
differentiates it from other literary reviews. Simms, speaking as Judge Mercury
brings authors before an imaginary court docket where defense and prosecution
argue the merits and flaws of the works at hand. Judge Mercury passes the final
judgement. As Simms said, he created this format in order to "lessen the
commonplace baldness of literary notices" (Letters, IV, 158). Simms succeeded
in this goal because the essays are by turn humourous, jovial, witty, satiric,
gracious, and thoroughly entertaining. The essays are written in a lively style.
He gives his various characters in the "trials" comic names—from marriage
parson Knitemfast and bride Dolly l3uckcatcher to attorneys Gab, Gammon, Gas,
and Gabble. Such name play accompanies Simms's sharp satire on the sloth,
dull-wittedness, pretension, and .vanity of modern society.
Simms addresses the volumes under review in a frank yet pleasant manner.
This critical style is consistent with his belief that "the merit of a critic, like the
merit of any other judge is to see- that justice is done,—not to pass judgement,
but to award justice" (Letters, I, 157). The result is criticism of a high order
both honest and sympathetic. In the process of his reviews, he gives his feelings
as to what constitutes great literature (fiction and poetry) and the best history
and biography. The Docket thus is another essential source for establishing
Simms's artistic credo, as well as his views on a myriad of topics. Here in
these essays we enter the mind of the author, one who has thought long and
deeply about the world. Of man himself, Simms wrote in his 24 September
1859 colw n: "We must take the nature of man, as we take all other nature,
even as we find it." His essays provide evidence of the tolerance and respect
that he practiced both as critic and human being. The Docket also gives
important biographical information on the author's lifestyle and his comings,
goings, and doings—from his favourite cigars to his Rhine wine in summer and
Madeira in winter, from the meals he enjoys at the Mills House Hotel in
Charleston to comments on being in "the thick of packing up" for various trips.
The Docket will thus be an invaluable source to the future Simms biographer.