Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Simms's Monthly Magazine: The Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Simms's Monthly Magazine: The Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review

Article excerpt

Early in November 1844, William Gilmore Simms accepted the editorship of a proposed new magazine from Burges and James, the Charleston publishers. In spite of his misgivings about the name the owners had chosen for the periodical--"Simms's Southern Monthly"--the editor was only able to get them to change the title to a more unwieldly double one by the time the first issue appeared in mid-January 1845: Simms's Monthly Magazine: The Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review. Even the awkwardness of the title cannot ultimately obscure the rather sophisticated contents of the publication, however; and the enthusiasm reflected in the material betrays Simms's own zest for the writing and editorial tasks.

Simms's Monthly was, without a doubt, one of the finer periodicals published below the Potomac before the Civil War. What gave the work its distinctive place among Southern magazines was its flexible design, the editor's expertise in using that format, and the sensitive intelligence displayed in the magazine's content.

Simms chose to make the Southern and Western, in general, the kind of publication the Southern Literary Messenger was and the kind the Southern Literary Journal, the Orion, and the Magnolia had been--a periodical that combined the features of the review and the magazine. The 1845 publication, seen by Simms as an extension of the defunct Magnolia, retained more than just the general format of that periodical. The title "Editorial Bureau" was kept, for example, for the pages of comment at the end of each issue. Simms had given the name to the columns of commentary in P. C. Pendleton's Magnolia when he became co-editor in April 1842. Pendleton had used the title "Editor's Table" prior to Simms's joining the staff. Perhaps it was because Lewis Gaylord Clark's potpourri of editorial offerings in the Knickerbocker had the same title as Pendleton's that Simms sought a change.

All periodicals in the South did not use the same format, however; some used the more confining form of the review. Such publications could and did offer long review-articles, but they had no place for stories and poems or even for regular editorializing. The Boston-based North American used the format, of course; but in 1845, the Southern Quarterly was using it as well. D. K. Whitaker, formerly editor of the Southern Literary Journal, began publishing the Southern Quarterly Review in New Orleans in 1842. The following year, he moved his periodical to Charleston where it survived until 1856, finishing its life in Columbia, S. C., shortly after moving to that third location. Ironically, in 1849 Simms was to become editor of the Southern Quarterly, a journal he thought was poorly conducted under Whitaker's leadership. Simms improved the Quarterly; but he was restricted by the format. The publication was never as exciting as the Southern and Western.

By 1845, Simms had learned to avoid poor departmentalization and overdepartmentalization in organizing a magazine. The Southern and Western had only two sections. One, untitled, contained all original contributions, long reviews, and poems. The other, editorial comment. Readers could become familiar with this simple organizational pattern almost immediately, and it had none of the disadvantages of the method of ordering used in the Southern Literary Gazette's May, 1829, issue, for example. The Gazette had no stable principle of organization throughout its run. Simms seemed to be experimenting with format in that publication, changing it from month to month. By May, however, he had instituted four departments--(1) critical notices, (2) original poetry, (3) short fillers and features in a section titled "General Miscellany," and (4) editorial notices. At first glance, this pattern seems perfectly reasonable; however, having even these four divisions in a comparatively small magazine could have been quite problematical. For example, in order to begin major articles at the top of a page and to avoid wasting paper, poems and short features were commonly used as "fillers" in most magazines. …

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