Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 9

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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription her liberation from British rule to Northern brains and brawn. Simms's response in
his famous lecture delivered in the North in 1856—"South Carolina In The
Revolution"--toward which Northern audiences took such great offense, goes to the
very core of ethnic and national identity and sentiment:

It is an outrage upon sacred histories which I resent. It is the
memories of a grand national epic, which I would protect from the
assailant---the fame of great Sages and Statesmen-great Patriots and
Warriors--that chronicle of Pride, upon which a whole people brood
with satisfaction, & to which they refer their sons, when they would
train them to honorable aims and a generous ambition. The blow is
aimed, alike, at the Dead and the Living-the past, present & future;-
robbing the one of laurels made sacred; consecrated forever by their
tears and blood;--the other of all those monuments by which the
future generations are to be taught becoming lessons & examples.
The crime of the Incendiary who should penetrate your sanctuaries
and burn your archives, is nothing to this, since the memories of men
may still cherish all the essential histories. But to tear away from the
hearts of men their loving faith in the virtues of their sires-this is to
slay the very hopes of a people, along with all their honest pride and
most prolific impulses. This is to deprive them of all the most noble
stimulants which goad a people to great performance.26

Here Simms is invoking a principal theme of nationalistic movements,
admiration of heroic ages, as a standard of emulation for future action. The British
sociologist Anthony Smith avers that:

It is never mere antiquarianism that inspires historical
rediscoveries, never a disinterested enquiry into the past "as it really
was" but a yearning desire to re-enter into a living past and make it
respond to our needs... .
Romance, mystery, drama-this is the stuff of any nationalist
salvation-drama. It is important, because it helps to teach us "who
we are," to impart the sense of being a link in a chain which stretches
back over the generations to bind us to our ancestors and our
descendants. It is also important, because it teaches us "where we
are" and "who we should be," if we are to "recover ourselves." By
conveying the atmosphere and drama of past epochs in the life of the

26 William Gilmore Simms, "South Carolina In The Revolution. A Lecture," in Simms, The
Letters of William Gilmore Simms, III (1954), 523.