Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 6: No 1) >> The Actual and the Ideal: History and Fiction in ''Lucas de Ayllon'' >> Page 32

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 32

Secondary Scholarship | 1998
Transcription According to James Kibler, "Simms above all advocates an inspired way of
seeing, not bounded by the utilitarian or empirical but, rather, open to the deepened
mystery of the world around. Certainly not the reduced and impoverished
materialist's way of seeing the world as real estate or resources to exploit for
profit."' 9 He recognized that the only truly practical pursuits are those that profit
man's spiritual and moral nature. Simms chided his contemporaries for their
excessive materialism. He wrote, "Novelties of invention do not establish the fact
of moral superiority."20 Such novelties merely satisfy our "economies" or "gratify
[our] animal passions."21 Advances in transportation, "--the capacity to overcome
time and space, are wonderful things--but they are not virtues.... I do not believe
that all the steam power in the world can bring happiness to one poor human heart.
Still less can I believe that all the railroads in the world can carry one poor soul to
heaven."22 All those who were preoccupied with material advancement were, like
Ayllon, glutting their passions to the exclusion of their soul. "The soul requires its
own food," wrote Simms. "there must be special provision made for its nurture
and its life, even as we make it for the pleasures of the body.... It can be fed only
upon the fruits of immortality."23 To ignore the needs of the soul is to endanger it.
The soul needs to be nurtured upon the virtues of "Faith, Love, Charity, Beauty,
Taste, Genius, Art, [and] Society"--the virtues of citizenship and Christianity that
the utilitarian scorns as "childish' and "unprofitable".24 Yet, Simms argued, it is
only through such seemingly impractical virtues that our moral and spiritual
condition can be enriched.
Where Simms abandoned the historical record was in his description of
Ayllon's death. Although no one is certain exactly how he died, no account fully
supports Simms's version of events. Most historians have attributed Ayllon's
death and the failure of his second expedition to a number of factors that include a
lack of discipline and preparedness, hostile natives, the foundering of one of his
ships, disease, and other natural causes. Simms in his own History of South
Carolina tells of the Spaniards suffering a shipwreck when they returned to the
Combahee River whereupon they were massacred by the Indians and "fell victim to
the cannibal propensities of the savages."2S Whereas, in "Lucas de Ayllon", he has
the Spaniards make a human sacrifice to "warm the bones" of Chiquola. "At all
events," wrote Simms in Views and Reviews, "whatever may have been the
manner of his death, it is involved in that happy obscurity which leaves the poet at
perfect liberty so to shape his catastrophe as to adapt it to the general exigencies of
his story."26 32