Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 6: No 1) >> The Actual and the Ideal: History and Fiction in ''Lucas de Ayllon'' >> Page 31

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Secondary Scholarship | 1998
Transcription brave--rushing into battle with the phrenzy of one who loves it--he prolongs the
conflict, unhappily, long after mercy entreats to spare."" Simms's Indians are not
caricatures. He recognized that they are "human; having, though perhaps in a small
degree and less activity, the same vital passions, the same susceptibilities--the
hopes, the fears, the loves and the hates, which establish the humanity of the
whites."' 2 Thus, they are much more complex characters than the typical noble
savage. It is surely no exaggeration to point out, as John Guilds has written, that
Simms produced the most realistic treatment of American Indians in nineteenth
century American literature.' 3
In contrast to the virtuous Indians, Simms described the Spaniards as
possessing the vices of greed and cunning. Lucas Velasquez de Ayllon, we are
told, was a criminal who "brought cunning" with him to the shores of Carolina.'°
"Having the narrow contracted soul of a miser, he was incapable of noble thoughts
or generous feelings. The love of gold was the settled passion of his heart, as it
was too much the passion of his countrymen."'s Indeed, it was Ayllon's greed that
brought him to Carolina. So covetous was Ayllon that he forbore firing on the
Indians when they attacked his ship for fear that he might thereby diminish his
profits. "I see not present enemies but future slaves in all these assailants," he
explained to his crew." 6
Simms's Spaniards are technologically advanced, but morally bankrupt.
They lack all the generous tendencies that Simms hoped to awaken in his readers.
Thus, the two societies in conflict provide a good illustration of what Simms meant
when he contrasted moral versus material (or technological) progress in such works
as his Egeria and Poetry and the Practical.
Like many of his fellow Southerners, Simms clearly distinguished moral
from material progress. As Christians, Southerners tended to define moral
progress largely in terms of the spread of Christian teachings. Material progress,
on the other hand, was evident in the rising standards of living and astonishing
technological innovations that accompanied the industrial and transportation
revolutions--a kind of cash-register evaluation of life. As Eugene Genovese has
astutely observed, "slaveholders displayed deep ambivalence toward that material
progress which the overwhelming majority of them saw as inevitable: Literally,
they loved and hated it."" Southerners welcomed the comfort and convenience that
accompanied material progress. Simms, like other Southern intellectuals, did not
repudiate material progress. Rather, he repudiated "the cult of progress . . . and the
moral and political decadence of a modernity run wild."' 8