During William Gilmore Simms's life (1806-1870), book reviews and critical essays became vital parts of American literary culture and intellectual discourse. Simms was an assiduous reviewer and essayist, proving by example the importance of those genres. William Gilmore Simms's Selected Reviews on Literature and Civilization publishes for the first time in book form sixty-two examples of the writer's hundreds of newspaper and periodical reviews and book notes as well as four important critical essays. Together, the reviews and essays reveal the regional, national, and international dimensions of Simms's intellectual interests.
To frame the two distinct parts of Selected Reviews, James Everett Kibler, Jr. , and David Moltke-Hansen have written a general introduction that considers the development of book reviewing and the authorship of essays in cultural and historical contexts. In part one, Kibler offers an introduction that examines Simms's reviewing habits and the aesthetic and critical values that informed the author's reviews. Kibler then publishes selected texts of reviews and provides historical and cultural backgrounds for each selection. Simms was an early proponent of the critical theories of Romantics such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Edgar Allan Poe. Widely read in European history and literature, he reviewed works published in French, German, and classics in original Greek and Latin and in translation. Simms also was an early, ardent advocate of works of local color and of southern "backwoods" humorists of his day. Simms published notices of seven of Herman Melville's novels, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and favorably reviewed Henry David Thoreau's Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
Simms published numerous review essays of twenty thousand or more words in literary journals and also republished two collections in book form. These volumes treated such subjects as Americanism in literature and the American Revolution in South Carolina. Yet, as part two of Selected Reviews demonstrates, Simms ranged much more widely in the intellectual milieu. Such cultural and political topics as the 1848 revolution in France, the history of the literary essay, the roles of women in the American Revolution, and the activities of the southern convention in Nashville in 1850 captured Simms's attention. Moltke-Hansen's introduction to part two examines Simms's roles in, and responses to, the Romantic critical revolution and the other revolutions then roiling Europe and America.