Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 10

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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription community, we "re-live" the lives and times of our forebears and
make ourselves part of a "community of fate."27

Simms foreshadowed these words over a hundred and fifty years ago with
greater eloquence:

where are our treasures,-our jewels of song and story,-which,
when our country shall have become venerable with years ... shall
inform the groping nations what she has been, and yield to them ...
models of excellence ... telling of our endurance and our deeds-how
we toiled and how we triumphed--what bards have sung in our glory,
what statesmen have struggled in our behalf, - what valor was in the
hearts of our warriors ...28

Simms, through the large corpus of his work, created an epic of the discovery,
settlement, and rise of the South. It was based on the actual historical record but told
through the genre of historical romance, the short story, and poetry. It basically
described a series of heroic ages, in which the Southern folk, with exemplary heroes
as leaders, settled and established a nation.29 He relished legend, which formed the
basis of many of his literary endeavors. To prepare for his work, he did extensive
historical research. He encouraged others to collect local lore and to write sketches
and histories. He wrote a history of South Carolina, to educate the young. He
articulated four biographies of men whose character he found especially worthy of
emulation by the rising generations. Simms further glorified this Southern nation
through depictions of its alluring landscape. He actively sought by his editorial
endeavors and political interests to educate the Southern people in an appreciation
of their talents and to stimulate them to such heights of artistic and moral
development as to rival ancient Athens as an inspiration to the world.30
Simms was the exemplar par excellence of cultural nationalism in the
antebellum South. He led the way in articulating for the Southern people their sense


27 Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (1986), 180.
28 William Gilmore Simms, "The Epochs And Events Of American History, As Suited To The
Purposes Of Art In Fiction," in Simms, Views And Reviews in American Literature, History And
Fiction, C. Hugh Holman, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University
Press, 1962), 48. First published in 1845.
29 Joseph V. Ridgely in William Gilmore Simms (New Haven, Connecticut: College and University
Press, 1962) adumbrated this basic thesis. See especially pp. 24-26 and 33. However, unlike the
author of this essay, Ridgely saw Simms as viewing the Southern nation as "the essential
American society in the process of forming...."
30 For his belief that the South should rival ancient Athens, see, inter alia, Simms, "Literary
Prospects of the South," Russell 's Magazine 3 (June 1858): 203.


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