Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 7

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Page 7

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription This feeling of inferiority is noted by the intellectual historian Michael
O'Brien, who recognized "The South shared a characteristic with other Romantic
cultures, even or especially the instigating Germans: it was a provincial culture
anxious to ... legitimate itself." O'Brien goes on to say that: "To call it provincial is
not to insult, for any Romantic sensibility honored itself by the adjective. The
indigenous always mattered. The attraction of Romanticism was precisely the
dignity it gave to the local. Romanticism was the doctrine of the outsider, its pattern
a sense of unjust denigration swelling into a proclamation of self-worth."18
The local mattered very much in early America. As historian John McCardell
notes in The Idea Of A Southern Nation, "The United States in 1815 was a
confederation of states, each of which pursued its future with little direction or
interference from Washington."19 Fellow historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown describes
the United States as "held together largely by common memories of Revolutionary
triumph and the making of the Constitution" and goes on to note that "America
before the Civil War was little more than a collection of state baronies – not much
different from the North German Confederation before Bismarck completed
unification."20 Nathaniel Hawthorne well expressed the strong feeling of attachment
to one's native state in seeing that "he had so much country that he had no country
at all, and that in the attempt to make a land with `no limits and no oneness ... a
matter of the heart, everything falls away except one's native State."21
Simms felt the pull of the South when he journeyed North for the first time as
he had perhaps never felt it before. Impressed upon his mind were new scenes,
which, though impressive, were not home, and manners, at least in New England,
which he found quite cold. From Great Barrington in Massachusetts in 1837 he
wrote: "I am heartily tired of this region. It is physically and morally a cold one."22
He gained confidence in Southern literary worth with his own successes with
Atalantis, Martin Faber, Guy Rivers, The Yemassee, The Partisan and Mellichampe.
Already smarting from Northern condescension toward the South, he was at first
dismayed and then angered at the Northern Abolitionist crusade, which to Simms
was a violation of the mutual trust and good faith in each other which made the
Union possible.

18 Michael O'Brien, Rethinking the South: Essays in Intellectual History (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1988), pp. 50-51.
19 John McCardell, The Idea Of A Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and Southern
Nationalism, 1830-1860 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1979), p. 21.
20 Bertram Wyatt-Brown, "The South Against Itself," a review of William A. Freehling, The Road
to Disunion,Il: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (Oxford University Press), in The New York
Review of 10 Oct. 1991.
21 Benjamin T. Spencer, The Quest for Nationality. An American Literary Campaign (n.p.:
Syracuse University press, 1957), 254.
22 Simms to James Lawson, 30 August 1837, in The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, I, 113.