Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Simms's Least Known Separate Publication: A First Examination >> Page 9

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Page 9

Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription people watching the parade, the average citizens, would recognize and
respond to immediately and collectively with fervor and pride. He
summarizes the emotional events surrounding the recently-won Mexican
War, speaking in the language of the common man, describing "that dolt
Ampudia, With Arista, the big, at his back,/ [who] Cross'd the Bravo, with
silly idea,/To give the bad scare to old Zack." Simms tosses out the names of
the Mexican generals who were by now household words back home in
America (thanks to the Press) –those generals against whom the Palmetto
Regiment had so recently and so bravely fought, while he speaks with
authority and familiarity of both the Rio Grande and General Zachary
Taylor. The facts surrounding these generals and their battles were all well
known to the citizens watching this parade because of the efforts of the Press
and this point is underlined and strengthened because of the opportunity now
before them to observe the truth being put into print.
So (in this ode at least) it would seem that we, the people, owe our
knowledge of the world, of our heroes and their fame, to the Press–heroes,
their fame.
But a careful reading of the last lines of the last stanza raises a
question that Simms doesn't answer. After praising the courage, modesty
and triumph of the Regiment, he reminds the reader that it was "Our [the
Press's] voices that hail'd their devotion, / In each progress through danger
to fame." Then, the finale: "The press shall declare to the ages, / The valor
and worth we approve; / And the future that broods o'er our pages, / Shall
honor the brave whom we love!" [my emphasis]
Is Simms hinting at something subversive here or is this just a
gropingly awkward rhyming couplet? Is it slightly troubling that this passage
can be read two ways? A first reading is reasonable enough: it is the
obligation of the Press to publish and praise the very best of man in action
and the line of duty. But a second reading questions the nature of the Press
itself. Is he saying that the Press, along with being truth-seeker, historian,
and moral conscience of a community, must also be its opinion-maker? That
only such valor and worth as is approved by the Press will be that which comes
down to all ages? If we accept the second interpretation, then it should
follow that all of our heroes would be picked by the Press–thus giving them
sole authority and control over history in ages to come. That is subversive
indeed!
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