The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 17. Simms

The improvement in this edition may doubtless be attributed to William Gilmore Simms’s War Poetry of the South (1866). It was a noble task undertaken by this “weary old Titan” of Southern letters to preserve the writings of the younger poets, many of whom had been inspired by his friendship or by his lifelong devotion to Southern letters. The spirit in which he made the book is indicated in the following words from the preface:

  • Though sectional in its character, and indicative of a temper and a feeling which were in conflict with nationality, yet, now that the States of the Union have been resolved into one nation, this collection is essentially as much the property of the whole as are the captured cannon which were employed against it during the progress of the late war. It belongs to the national literature, and will hereafter be regarded as constituting a proper part of it, just as legitimately to be recognized by the nation as are the rival ballads of the cavaliers and roundheads by the English in the great civil conflict of their country.
  • Not much can be said for the critical standards which allowed Simms to publish so much unworthy poetry, none more so than the seven poems from his own pen. His desire to give a place to representative poets of all states, and especially to his personal friends, is in part responsible. Furthermore, the book was thrown hastily together without any arrangement of the material with regard to authorship or chronology. When all has been said, however, we find in this volume the first anthology of practically all the important poems produced by the South during the war—seven each by Randall, J. R. Thompson, and Simms himself, six by Hayne, three by Ticknor, three by Flash, and, above all, eleven by Timrod. It is this recognition of Timrod’s greatness as a poet, this first setting him forth as the poet of the South who expressed in adequate verse every aspect of the struggle, that increases the value of the book and our appreciation of Simms’s critical judgment.