Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 6: No 1) >> The Actual and the Ideal: History and Fiction in ''Lucas de Ayllon'' >> Page 29

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Secondary Scholarship | 1998
Transcription The Actual and the Ideal: History and Fiction in
"Lucas de Ayllon"
Sean R. Busick

In the Dedication to the Redfield edition of The Wigwam and the Cabin,
Simms wrote "I need not apologize for the endeavor to cast over the actual that
atmosphere from the realms of the ideal, which, while it constitutes the very
element of fiction, is neither inconsistent with intellectual truthfulness, nor
unfriendly to the great policies of human society."` This blending of the actual and
the ideal, of history and fiction, is perhaps best illustrated in the collection's final
story, "Lucas de Ayllon. A Historical Nouvellette," a tale of an unsuccessful
Spanish attempt at colonization set in Simms's first period of American history. As
Simms stated in the long footnote at the beginning of the story, "the essential facts,
which are supported by quotations from his own History of South Carolina,'are "all
historical ... enlivened only by the introduction of persons of whom history says
nothing in detail."2
For Simms all history, indeed all art, bears the responsibility of "the
elevation of man through the presentation of an ideal, moral, or truth.s3 Like
Aristotle, who in the Poetics observed that poetry is more philosophical than history
because it deals with what might or should have been instead of what actually has
been, Simms recognized the potential of fiction to correct the moral judgments of
history.4 The artist must be faithful to the known facts. Yet where the historical
record is imperfect, "It is really of very little importance to mankind whether he is
absolutely correct in all his conjectures." It is enough if his narrative teaches a
moral truth that "awakens our attention, compels our thought, warms our
affections, inspirits our hopes, elevates our aims, and builds up in our minds a
fabric of character, compounded of just principles, generous tendencies and clear,
correct standards of taste and duty." s This, according to Simms, was the highest
purpose of the artist. He could aspire to no loftier goal than the moral training of
his readers.

This paper was presented at the Simms-Faulkner Conference in New Orleans on 11
December 1997. 29