Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 73

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription Simms's Romantic Vision
as Shown in His Critical Writings

Doreen Thierauf


Although Simms never endeavored to develop a structured
theory of the aesthetic, he demonstrated a remarkable consistency and
homogeneity of opinion in his reviews, especially in his discussions of
British and American poetry. His evaluative principles and judgments
were founded on his own poetic taste, a sensibility strongly influenced
by the writings of early nineteenth-century and Elizabethan poets as well
as informed by what he considered prudent—a kind of literary common
sense. And although he never wrote in a systematic way about what
constitutes good poetry, his reviews reveal that he had thought long and
deeply on that subject and that he had indeed developed a system of prin-
ciples that enabled him to assess the achievement of an author. Often, a
book served as a springboard for Simms to elaborate on these principles.
This article delineates Simms's assessment criteria in some of his most
prominent critical writings on poetry, revealing the underlying systematic
and ideological pattern of his poetic stance.
It is almost impossible to compile a complete catalogue of
Simms's critical writings since he left nearly all of his reviews unsigned.
Some estimates suggest that he commented on about two thousand
volumes in his lifetime. They chiefly appeared in the periodicals he
edited—the Magnolia or the Southern Quarterly Review—or in the
review sections of the Charleston Courier or Mercury (Kibler, "William
Gilmore Simms" 336). Some of the reviews appear to have been written
in haste and under the pressure of a deadline, due to their heavy padding
with quotations. Most of them, however, demonstrate Simms's ability
to understand and evaluate the author's core intention and to assess the
quality of the piece in his characteristically expressive and bold style.
Simms felt that the starting point for a good reviewer should be
a fair and unprejudiced attitude towards the author and his work. Any
hint of partiality would ultimately render a review useless and undermine
its main purpose as an educational piece. Therefore, Simms aimed at a
just assessment of the work and made an effort to ignore the reputation
of the author. Instead of following the crowd in its veneration or dislike,
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