Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 78

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 78 THE SIMMS REVIEW

and Milton. In a letter to Charles Warren Stoddard, Simms advises the
young poet to "study Tennyson less, and the earlier masters more," urg-
ing him to go back to Milton, Shakespeare, and Dryden (Letters 4:616).
His choice of masters was based on what he felt was most needed: in a
similar letter, he recommends Milton to the aspiring poet Alfred B. Street
(Letters 2:156).
Simms's thoughtful comments on the achievements of British
poets are numerous and pervade the entire body of his criticism. In his
poem "Heads of the Poets," Simms included verses on most of the British
poets he held in high esteem, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser,
Milton, Burns, Scott, Byron, Shelley, Tennyson, the Brownings, Horne,
Bailey, Taylor, and Campbell. He considered the generation of early nine-
teenth century poets such as Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey
among the greatest masters of all time and at one point refers to them as
"the high priests of British literature." He felt that they incorporated all
the "great characteristics of the English nation inflexibility, intensity,
—the stately and the passionate—the thoughtful, the contemplative and
spiritual" (Views, 2nd ser. 173).
Still, he clearly considered the earlier poets such as Shakespeare,
the singer of a "universal song"; Chaucer, who established "England's
tongue" as a poetical language; and the prophetic Milton, with his "god-
like voice"—to be unmatched in their literary achievements ("Heads of
the Poets" 155). Milton especially earned his greatest encomia, noting in
a review of a new edition of Paradise Lost that Milton was one of the
few "who sit on the topmost height of epic song, in almost unapproach-
able supremacy" ("Art. VIII" 277). Even Wordsworth, with his voice
of "purest thought in sweetest music" ("Heads of the Poets" 159) and
his "sublime speculations, and pure, profound musings" ("Art. X" 487)
ranked below the old masters. The younger Simms had been strongly
influenced by Byron, yet as he grew older, he preferred the contempla-
tive Wordsworth. As he put it: "From 15 to 40 a man of blood enjoys
Byron & Moore. After that he asks for the food of thought, and not of
passion" (Letters 4:443). It was an idea he elaborated on in Poetry and
the Practical:
For young hearts, there is the earnest and amorous Bums,
and the passionate Byron. For the universal heart there is
Shakspeare [sic]; Homer lights the fires of war and per-
suades to Fame; Wordsworth beguiles the soberer mood