Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 2) >> John Esten Cooke's Sketch of Simms >> Page 35

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Reviews/Essays | 1858 - 1859
Transcription 35

facilities for increasing the love of virtue,
or for glossing over and recommending
vice, are enormous and almost incalculable.
The temptation of the popular novelist to
choose the latter is, unfortunately, very
great, and proportionably difficult to resist.
Men greedily accept what panders to their
passions and prejudices—to their vile
tastes and corrupt imaginations. He who
believes that the majority of the human.
race love purity and hate impurity, is but
slightly read in the annals of mankind.
The novelist soon finds that the contrary
is the fact. There is a far shorter and
easier path, he soon discovers, to the at-
tainment of his ends. He has only to cari-
cature, to sneer, to debase—to sprinkle
with wit, double entendre, and licentious-
ness, after the method of the French
school—and the mixture is seasoned ex-
actly to the taste of the great mass of his
readers. Money flows in upon him ; no-
toriety, if not renown, attaches to his name,
and he rides the highest wave of popular
success.
These sentences may be regarded as only
so many truisms; but the truisms have
passed from mind—gone quite out of fash-
ion. We announce them, in order to add
that it is surely a noble and honorable
trait in an eminent and influential writer
never to forget that he is a decorous citi-
zen and a gentleman ; to use his high tal-
ents for the instruction and entertainment,
not the degradation and debasement of his
contemporaries. We claim as much for
WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, of South Car-
olina. His long and honorable career has
never been stained by vicious teachings,
or false philosophy. In his pages the
lovers of falsehood, vice, or licentiousness,
will find nothing to cater to their base in-
clinations. The scholar; the poet, the gen-
tleman, speaks—not the vile pander to the
low and grovelling tastes of the vicious
and degraded. The career of an author
who has for more than a quarter of a cen-
tury pursued his noble calling, without
one stain upon his "singing robes," and
has largely influenced thought and opinion
in his day and generation, is a profitable
subject for consideration.
William Gilmore Simms was born in
Charleston, South Carolina, April 17, 1806.
His father, who bore the same name, was
of Scotch-Irish descent, and having failed
as a merchant in Charleston, removed to
Tennessee, where he held a commission in
Coffee's brigade, under General Jackson,
in the Seminole war. His mother was
Harriet Ann Augusta Singleton, of a dis-
tinguished Virginia family, who early be-
came residents of South Carolina, and
were ardent patriots in the Revolution ;
Colonel Singleton, of the Partisans, having
been, if we are not mistaken, our author's
ancestor. Before he had passed his in-
fancy he lost his mother, and was intrusted
to his grandmother. He never received a
collegiate education, we believe ; but as
much might be said of Irving, and many
of the most celebrated writers of America
and Europe. His own active and ener-
getic mind supplied the defects of training,
and the works of Mr. Simms indicate, un-
mistakably, a large, comprehensive, and
generous culture.
Like a thousand other born " children
of the pen," he fancied that the law was
his calling. An explanation of this almost
universal inclination in literary men for
the pursuits of the forum, may, possibly,
be found in the great influence and high
position of the profession, and the conse-
quent tendency in liberal and aspiring na-
tures to embrace the most arduous of hu-
man employments. Such was, doubtless,
the motive of the young Carolinian, who,
finding himself upon the threshold of man-
hood, among the large and respectable
class of poor gentlemen," burned to win
fame and fortune in the contests of the
forum, for which he undoubtedly possesses,
by nature, very marked abilities. Few
persons who have heard Mr. Simms upon
public occasions—who have listened to his
sonorous voice, and the stormy music of
his animated and rolling periods—will
have any doubt upon the subject of his