Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Nationalism, History, and Moral Progress in Simms's Earliest Writings >> Page 14

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Page 14

Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription art "that the past lives to the counseling and direction of the future, and if she breath
not the breath of life into its nostrils, the wires of the resurrectionist would vainly
link together the rickety skeleton which he disinters for posterity." Once history had
been enlivened by art, "the big, blind, struggling heart of the multitude may rush" to
history "in the humility of its conscious baseness, and be lifted into gradual
excellence and hope!"10
This particular story begins when, after viewing a painting of the Battle of
Fort Moultrie, Simms decides to take a packet out to Sullivan's Island to visit the
scene of the battle. Relaxing on the beach and contemplating the successful defense
of Charleston Harbor against the British, "the eternal, low and mono-tonous rolling
of the waters the soothing and mysterious breeze of evening, and the graduated
lights and shadows of the clouds, together with the high and romantic associations of
the Genius Loci,...wrought upon me a total forgetfulness of time, place and
circumstance, and lifted me into those regions of romance, so ludicrous to the matter-
of-fact animal," writes Simms.11 Gradually, Simms's surroundings undergo a
metamorphosis. Unconscious of the change in his circumstances that had taken
place, he suddenly finds himself in the midst of the famous battle.
Simms joins in the battle and fights shoulder-to-shoulder with those men who
were "fighting for their homes" and to "prove themselves worthy" of the affections
of their parents, wives and children, who were anxiously watching the battle from
Charleston. As a participant in the battle, Simms is able to give an account of it with
all the excitement and immediacy of a first-person narrative. But Simms understood
that. we have to live in the present, and it is for the present that history's lessons are
useful. So, after the British navy has been repulsed, Simms awakes from his nap to
the realization that he has missed his packet back to Charleston.
In William Crafts' 28 June 1825 "Address" commemorating the anni-versary
of the Battle of Sullivan's Island, we find a clue to what Simms may have meant by
the term Genius Loci. "In the mythology of imagination," said Crafts, "there exists

10 Simms, Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction (Cambridge,
Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 1962), 34-35.
11 William Gilmore Simms, "Battle of Fort Moultrie," Southern Literary Gazette new
series 1 (August 1829): 138. This piece of work was unsigned but Simms's biographer,
John C. Guilds, in "William Gilmore Simms and the Southern Literary Gazette," Studies
in Bibliography 21 (1968): 59-92, said that "Battle of Fort Moultrie" was "probably"
written by Simms (p.91). S. Austin Allibone in A Critical Dictionary of English
Literature and British and American Authors (1891), 3 vols., II, 2105, attributed the
piece to Simms. On the basis of this scholarship and the fact that Simms served as
editor of the Southern Literary Gazette, the idea of Genius Loci was an important theme
of his later work, and that the author of "Battle of Fort Moultrie" used remarkably
similar imagery to describe the calming sounds of wind and ocean to that which appears
in a known Simms contribution to the SLG a month and a half later ("The Cypress
Swamp," new series 1 [15 September 18291 211-212). I feel confident in crediting
Simms with authorship of this piece.