Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 1) >> Whitman on Simms >> Page 41

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Page 41

Secondary Scholarship | 1846-03-09
Transcription WHITMAN ON SIMMS

When Butterworth and Kibler compiled William Gilmore Simms:
A Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980), we did not know a very
important article by Walt Whitman on Simms' Wigwam and the Cabin
Second Series (1846). This review appeared in Whitman's Brooklyn Daily
Eagle for 9 March 1846. It has never been published in its entirety. We
encourage a reader with access to a file of the Eagle to reprint it for u
in the pages of The Simms Review. Here follows a tantalizing small
section of the article as patched together from several books on Whitman:

"The Wigwam and the Cabin. Second Series."

Simms is unquestionably one of the most attractive writers
of the age; and yet some of his characters--to our mind at
least--are in exceedingly bad taste. It may be all well enough
to introduce a "foul rabble of lewd spirits," in order to show
that "Virtue can triumph even in the worst estates," but it is
our impression that ladies and gentlemen of refinement--to
say nothing of heads of families--would rather take the
maxim upon trust than have it exemplified to them or their
children through the medium of a picture so very coarse and
indelicate in its details, as that drawn by Mr. Simms in his
"Caloya:'...[The last chapter of "Caloya"] is rendered
particularly objectionable by the introduction of a revolting
drunken scene--and the tale as a whole is certainly
calculated to reflect no credit on American literature, either
at home or abroad.

As Whitman critic Thomas Brasher writes, "Whitman did not care
to have native writers picture those American coarsities which English
writers had already commented upon so eloquently, even when, as in
'Caloya,' the drunken characters were a Negro slave and a degenerate
Indian."'"Caloya" also treats sex frankly and openly; it is interesting
that Whitman here takes the position of a genteel critic, a protector of
"family values," and, moreover, a prudish moralist. He obviously wished
Simms to idealize life or at least avert his eyes from certain "lewd" and
"foul" subjects--subjects not "appropriate" to literature. Perhaps Simms'
realism, as much as Emerson's "The Poet," prepared the way for
Whitman's drastically changed attitude a decade later in Leaves of Grass.
It is clear that in 1846, Simms was looking at life frankly and choosing