Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Nationalism, History, and Moral Progress in Simms's Earliest Writings >> Page 13

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription progress morally was by learning the moral lessons of history. "It is an argument
addressed to all that is hopeful and proud in the hearts of an ardent and growing
people," Simms later wrote. Unless Americans were content to be "a mere nation of
shop-keepers," they needed to cultivate "...qualities of soul and genius, which if not
yet developed in our moral constitution, are struggling to make themselves heard and
felt." The national character "must receive its higher moral tone from the exigencies
of society, its traditions and its histories." Familiarity with America's history would
produce "those vigorous shoots, of thought and imagination, which make a nation
proud of its sons,...and which save her from becoming a by-word and reproach to
other nations."7 Americans would truly be able to boast of their national greatness
only after their national morals, and not just their political institutions, had
progressed beyond those of Europe.
It should come as no surprise then, that much of Simms's writing during this
period of intense nationalism had a historical theme. As has already been mentioned,
his first published book was the Monody on the Death of General Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney. His three collections of poetry contained such historically-
themed poems as "Death of King Philip,""Benedict Arnold,""Major Andre,""On
the Legislature of South-Carolina, Appropriating Ten Thousand Dollars, For the
Benefit of the Heirs of Thomas Jefferson,""Epigram, On Reading a Fourth of July
Address to Freedom," and "The Vision of Cortes." Simms also contributed
numerous historically-themed pieces to the magazines he edited, such as the story
"Moonshine," (which eventually evolved into Simms's first Revolutionary War
Romance, The Partisan), and the poem, "The Rebel Flower," both of which appeared
in The Album; and "Battle of Fort Moultrie," which was published in the Southern
Literary Gazette.8
In "Battle of Fort Moultrie," Simms attempted to seamlessly blend history
and fiction in order to make the past live for his readers as it did for him. A firm
believer that history held moral lessons for the present, Simms also believed that "the
most rational, the most noble, and the most important duty imposed on man by his
creator,... [is] contributing by every means in his power, to promote the welfare and
happiness of his fellow beings," which "may, without presumption, be said to
constitute the very essence of genuine Religion."9 Simms hoped to serve his fellow
man by instilling the moral lessons of history in his readers. Oftentimes he
attempted to accomplish this by fusing history and fiction: Simms believed that the
artist could breathe life into the dry bones of history. It is through the application of

7 Simms, Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction (Cambridge,
Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 1962), 15-17.
8 For Simms's contributions to the Album and the Southern Literary Gazette, see John
C. Guilds, "Simms's First Magazine: The Album," Studies in Bibliography 8 (1956):
169-184; and "Simms and the Southern Literary Gazette" Studies in Bibliography 21
(1968): 59-92.
9 Simms, "Whom the Coat Fits, Let Him Wear It," The Album 1 (November 5, 1825):
146.
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