Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Significance of Simms's First Long Poem >> Page 15

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 15 THE SIMMS REVIEW

Charleston met on August 22, and the Reverend Doctor Gibbes offered
a preamble and resolution, subsequently printed, in token of their "late
revered President." At this meeting, the Reverend Doctor John Bachman
also offered a preamble and resolution recalling the fifteen years that the
Society had met at General Pinckney's house while he was president.
Perhaps the most impressive, certainly the most extensive, of
all these tributes was by Alexander Garden, delivered 1 November 1825
at St. Philip's Church, and published shortly thereafter as a thirty-eight
page pamphlet. This eulogy had been commissioned by the Society of
the Cincinnati of South Carolina, in recognition of Pinckney's services
to that organization. Dr. Garden had included some Pinckney material
in the first series of his rambling Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in
America in 1822; but his 1825 eulogy is neither discursive nor anecdotal.
It is a splendid and moving tribute.
Even though overshadowed by the best of the tributes to
Pinckney, the poem still has significance, even importance. Its author
was not just a nineteen-year-old unknown poet, but William Gilmore
Simms. If somewhat meager in accomplishment, the poem is ambitious
in what it attempts and significant in what it shows about the nature of
the apprenticeship which Simms was subjecting himself to. It is also in
some ways extremely promising for the future.
A description of the poem itself is in order. First, its title
"Monody" is by no means a common one in this period of the late eigh-
teenth and early nineteenth centuries, but Simms may have had in mind
Coleridge's well-known "Monody on the Death of Chatterton." Simms
is obviously not attempting a formal pastoral eulogy, and "Monody" here
simply implies eulogy, or threnody.
As a eulogy, it follows, in its beginning, typical neoclassical
image patterns: the dead hero as a mighty oak; the scene of his accom-
plishments as a great forest beset by a terrible storm, presumably war. In
this natural scene, evil is the product of man: murder, disease, the torch.
"And all was anarchy confusion dire" (51), the poem reads. "Man
gave to Nature premature decay" (46). Monody mentions Pinckney only
once by name, and that in its last line. The only other proper name is
Washington. On the whole, although it lacks clarity of focus, the poem
is a reasonably effective exercise in eulogizing the dead hero in the con-
ventional terms and images of English neoclassical and early Romantic
verse.