Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Some Current Scholarly Desiderata in the Simms Field >> Page 31

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription Some Current Scholarly Desiderata in the Simms Field
James B. Meriwether

I am honored to be the final speaker at this conference devoted to
William Gilmore Simms, the greatest man of letters in the nineteenth
century American South. But I am not sure that I am worthy of the honor;
my own past contributions to the Simms field are very modest, and my future
contributions are likely to be even more so, if I am to honor certain
commitments to another Southern writer, this one our greatest twentieth
century Southern writer.
Still, perhaps my commitments to that twentieth-century Southern
writer give me a perspective upon the Simms field that may be useful-even to
an audience of Simms specialists like yourselves. Faulkner is hardly
neglected, but as a Southern writer, shaped by his cultural heritage as a
Southerner, he is very often misunderstood; Simms is both neglected and
misunderstood. And I strongly believe that if we are to understand the South
of William Faulkner, we must understand the South of William Gilmore
Simms. If we are to understand Faulkner fully, we must understand
Simms —and understand him first.
Though my subject calls for me to look toward the future of Simms
studies, especially those that we may call scholarly, rather than critical, I wan
to make my starting point the immediate past, and the publication of those
two monumental achievements, the six volumes of Simms's Letters edited by
Mary C. Simms Oliphant and Duncan Eaves, and the biography by John
Caldwell Guilds. The two accomplishments are comparable in magnitude
and in significance; I do not mean to belittle in any way the importance and
extent of the labors that went into the collection, transcription, and
annotation of those letters, but I think it only fitting and proper here today to
recognize the fact that an at least equal amount of devotion, of time, and of
research went into the making of the biography.
There have been other significant recent contributions to the Simms
field, of course–I think of the editorial labors that produced the four