Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 76

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 76 THE SIMMS REVIEW

imaginative powers, and the emotional and intellectual depth of a poem
as well as its honesty and moral value. Simms was well aware of the fact
that a judicious and well-founded discernment of these factors depended
on a wide and deep knowledge of poetry and on the reviewer's emotional
empathy with the author (Letters 1:157). However, when he reviewed a
work from a Southern author, he tended to exult in the mere existence of
the work, a reflection of his belief in the importance of the establishment
of a specific regional literature. In his "Southern Poets and Poetry," for
example, he briefly reviews two recent volumes of Southern poetry and
then goes on to elaborately praise the emergence of a native literature.
Likewise, Simms praised the poetry of Henry Rootes Jackson,
whose description of Georgian natural scenery strove "to do honour to
the region of his birth," as Simms put it, and revealed his ability to suc-
cessfully merge the patriotic with the poetical ("Art. IX" 262). Although
he found several of Jackson's poems stylistically defective he com-
plained, for instance, about Jackson's habit of using the words "thee"
and "you" in the same stanza—he discerned the features of good poetry
in almost all of the pieces. According to Simms, "grace, freedom, bold-
ness and spirit" were abundantly present in Jackson's "The Live Oak," a
poem about rootedness to place and Southern patriotism ("Art. IX" 260).
These were exactly the features of good poetry that Simms sought, and
they earned his highest praise here: "The genius of Mr. Jackson, as in the
case of the true genius always, is true to home" ("Art. IX" 262).
Simms's determination to disregard the reputation of a poet
became especially marked when looking at his reviews of female poets,
both American and British. In Simms's opinion, as he wrote in 1854, the
famous British poet Caroline Norton lacked ambition, inventiveness and
variation ("Art. X" 512). He deprecated Frances Sargent Osgood's poetry
despite her rank as one of the most popular female American poets of her
time, finding fault with her superficial "pratling," her "outgushes of an
exuberant spirit, inspired by a girlish fancy" and her lack of deep thought
("Art. XI" 262). The equally popular Phoebe Cary received a chiding
for what Simms perceived to be unpolished and unfinished verses that
were not yet ready for publication. In a relatively detailed commentary
on Cary's writing from 1854, Simms draws his reader's attention to her
grammatical errors and her marked preoccupation with death, which
renders her poems monotonous. His review on Cary then turns into one
of the instances in which Simms lengthily remarks on the duty of earnest