Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> A Note on Simms and Neoclassicism >> Page 24

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 24 THE SIMMS REVIEW

use of personification too, indicating close knowledge of poems such
as Johnson's "Vanity of Human Wishes." Simms also indulges in poetic
diction of the type Wordsworth rejects in his analysis of Gray's sonnet
to West in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, a work Simms probably did
not yet know. More significant, Simms follows neoclassical thought in
employing the Chain of Being to portray Pinckney, whom he associates
with the sun and the oak images at the top of their classes in the hier-
archy. He also characterizes Pinckney as fighting to throw off the British
tyranny that has violated the rightful order of American liberty.
Simms wrote some other early poems in neoclassical style, includ-
ing his poem in defense of Irish independence, "Address for the Benefit
of the `Association of the Friends of Ireland in Charleston"' (1829), but
what is most striking is that he reverts to neoclassicism from time to time
after establishing his mature style as a Romantic. For example, in 1837
he resurrects the heroic couplet for a poem celebrating the new theater
in Charleston, itself of neoclassical Palladian construction (Kibler 25).
Again in 1848, to answer a lady critical of his hometown, like Pope in
The Dunciad, he adopts the eighteenth-century style for Charleston, and
Her Satirists, an accomplished effort but one of only local interest at the
time. However, two years later, taking seriously the poet's duty to teach
and delight, he delivered outdoors The City of the Silent at the commemo-
ration of Magnolia Cemetery. This poem well illustrates his mastery of
neoclassical form and tone and was well received not only in Charleston,
where it was published and quickly sold out in early 1851, but throughout
the country as laudatory reviews appeared in the South but also in several
eastern publications.
As James Kibler's Selected Poems convincingly makes clear,
Simms may primarily be a Romantic poet but his range was wider than
any of his contemporaries' as he wrote poems that we can classify as
narrative, lyric, dramatic, contemplative, personal, descriptive, satirical,
cavalier, and existential. As Simms says in Egeria, "every book must
have its own style, peculiar to its character, rather than that of the writer,
and the author may show just as much or just as little of himself, as he
thinks proper" (232). Consequently, throughout his career as a poet, when
it proved most suitable to his subject and his purpose, Simms donned the
style of the neoclassicist, much like Byron, his earliest influence among
the Romantics.