Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Simms as Editor and Prophet: The Flowering and Early Death of the Southern Magnolia

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Simms as Editor and Prophet: The Flowering and Early Death of the Southern Magnolia

Article excerpt

I.

When Philip C. Pendleton approached William Gilmore Simms in the spring of 1842 about the possibility of becoming editor of the Magnolia: or Southern Monthly, Simms found himself in a bargaining position. The Charlestonian was by then a noted author who could add little to his own reputation by editing another Southern literary journal, but whose name on the title-page would give immediate prestige to any magazine in his region. Certainly his experiences with the Album and the Southern Literary Gazette had made him fully aware of the trying difficulties with which the editor of any Southern periodical must contend. In fact, when late in 1840 Pendleton had moved the Southern Ladies' Book from Macon to Savannah and had changed its title to the Magnolia: or Southern Monthly, Simms had written a long letter to the editor prophesying the "almost certain fate which awaits" any Southern magazine:

Woodlands, (S.C.) Dec. 1, 1840

To P. C. Pendleton, Esq.

      Dear Sir:--When, something like a year ago, you drew my attention ... to
   the Literary project which you had in view, and solicited my aid ..., it
   was with a degree of indifference ... which almost amounted to coldness,
   that I yielded to your wishes, in a promise of compliance, to a certain,
   but very limited extent. It was not that I was unfriendly to your purpose.
   That was noble, and I could admire its aim, however much I might question
   its policy. But I had no faith in the project then; and, you will pardon me
   if I confess, I have very little more faith in it now. I have had so much
   experience, either as an editor or as a contributor, in the making of
   Southern Magazines, and know so thoroughly their history, and the
   inevitable event, that my conviction of the almost certain fate which
   awaits them, inspires me with a feeling, very like disgust, when I am told
   of any new experiment of this kind in contemplation. I know, and can
   predict, the usual story of confident hope and bold assurance with which
   they commonly begin. The editor feels his strength and his friends
   willingly promise theirs. His neighbours pledge their subscriptions, and
   the beginning of the work is made with considerable energy and eclat. But
   the progress of a few months undeceives the confiding, and blunts the
   energy of the most sanguine. The editor discovers that he has overtasked
   himself. His contributors--men, generally, in our country, devoted to other
   professions,--can only write for him at moments of leisure.... He is
   necessarily compelled to wait upon them for their articles, which, good,
   bad or indifferent, he is compelled to publish. The constant drain upon
   himself, enfeebles his imagination and exhausts his intellect .... the
   station which he has selfassumed, so far from being a chair of state, from
   which he may dispense judgment, and exercise a dignified authority over the
   world of letters, becomes one of pain, disquiet and the most unintermited
   [sic] mental drudgery. To these are added other evils. The collections are
   to be made over an extensive tract of interior country, from a community
   scattered "broad-cast" over thousands of miles, and are realized too slowly
   for the current expenses of his journal. The printer, who is seldom a
   capitalist, clamors for his monthly dues, and the subscriber recedes from
   the subscription list, the moment, he is called, upon for his. Under the
   pressure of pecuniary difficulties, the publication of the work becomes
   irregular--it is finally sent forth on villianous [sic] paper, "but half
   made up," and then, chiefly, of such material as is tecknically [sic]
   called "Balaam" among the journalists;--by which is meant that inoffensive
   sort of commonplace, which is usually furnished by young Misses from their
   school exercises, and young Masters when they first begin to feel the
   startling sensations of tender passion. … 
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