Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 5: No 2) >> An Essential Simms Essay — ''Look at Home'' >> Page 7

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Reviews/Essays | 1997
Transcription An Essential Simms Essay-- "Kook at Home"
James E. Kibler

The following essay appeared in the Columbia Phoenix of 16 June 1865,
four months after the city was burned by its invader. Simms was the editor of the
paper at the time and was living in the ashes of the city. From the essay's title, we
might expect the subject to be a tearful look at the environs, and Simms probably
intended the irony to resonate, for the piece is not about ashes at all, but the great
importance of the genius loci and "attraction in the familiar." He declared that the
opposite, a disregard of place, leads to "absenteeism," which in turn results in "a
perpetual failure in the development of all the natural resources of place" and a
"miserable class of egotists who...are continually warring upon the native
developments and demonstrations of their own people." Here Simms makes clear
that all the progress of civilization comes from the recognition of the importance of
place and a love and honoring thereof. The basis of a "progress to civilization"
begins with rootedness. As he phrases it, 'The first step is to make a people
stationary." In this, he is restating a major premise of his essay The Social
Principle, published in 1843, and of his "Letters from the West" of 1826.
Simms writes, "The light and guidance which shall conduct [society] safely
on its march" are poetry, art, and philosophy. These can only be achieved by a
stationary population. And these in turn "beget the spiritual tendencies" and "all the
higher aims of the intellectual and religious nature." Here in these ideas, he is
restating key tenets of his poetic credo as expressed in Poetry and the Practical
Of the Native American, he notes, "There might have been poets and artists
and philosophers ... great as ever produced . . . had they taken the first step in the
discovery of `The Home Secret.' That they did not, was their fatal mistake. He
speaks to his fellow Southerners two months after Appomattox: "The providence
of God leaves no nation utterly without the means, not only of its extrication and
deliverance, but of its high moral and intellectual triumphs. The seeds of glory, as