Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 79

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 79 THE SIMMS REVIEW

to contemplation; Milton and Dante wing the soul for
heaven, with all the ardour of divine enthusiasm. (91)
Simms referred to Byron's passion and impulsiveness in a number of
letters and reviews, and seemed to consider him the personification of
enthusiastic and powerful poetry. However, Byron's self-pity and lack of
restraint formed the most considerable flaw for Simms: "every breathing
of Lord Byron's egotism and passion—his vain pride—his intense kin-
dlings his stubborn resolution to do right because his enemies censure
his doing wrong declare the genuine English character" (Views, 1st ser.
39). Simms admired Byron's "bull-dog powers of endurance" and his
"boldness of aim," but deprecated his "stubborn consistency in error"
that derived from false pride and selfishness. In Poetry and the Practical,
Simms calls Byron an unconscious moral teacher. His "prolonged cry
of torture" is, according to Simms, "that of a struggling soul, harnessed
by a Demon, and writhing, and raging, to break away and escape to
holier and happier pastures" (23). Simms saw in Robert Burns a similar
"capricious" master, a "man of pride and sorrows, weak yet strong," a
"melancholy conqueror" of art who could not master his own "irregular
soul." In contrast to the flawed Burns and Byron, Sir Walter Scott did not
possess any personal defects. His poetry was Homeric in its "rush" and
"strife" of action, but confined to a "trumpet lay of chivalry and pride"
("Heads of the Poets" 157-58). His merit consisted of his grand ability
to unite the epic and the ballad, as he did in Lady of the Lake and other
verse romances (Views, 1st ser. 96).
Simms called Wordsworth "probably the greatest contempla-
tive poet that has ever lived," which may not be an altogether unstained
compliment. "The contemplative writer," Simms remarks, "is usually a
phlegmatic in temperament" and lacks the ability to arouse enthusiasm or
intense emotions in his readers the way Byron and Scott did (Views, 1st
ser. 37). These writers possessed "great personal courage and character"
and "appeal to the blood and brain in common," according to Simms.
Their poetry became the song of a whole nation and also part of their
readers' own nature. In contrast to this, Wordsworth's poetry tended to
be colder, more moralizing and merely didactic at times, and failed to
win Simms's unqualified praise. Nevertheless, he admired Wordsworth
for his hermit-like seclusion from the world and the total dedication of
his life to writing poetry ("Art. X" 246-47). He considered Wordsworth's
Prelude one of the poet's most important works, praising its "earnest