Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos >> Page 16

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Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos

Masahiro Nakamura

Simms portrays Hernando De Soto's expedition which played an important
role in the conquest of the New World in Vasconselos or a Romance of the New
World (1853). He ranked it more highly than Pelayo (1838), The Damsel of Darien
(1839) and Count Julian (1845), and called it "my highest work."'John C. Guilds
persuasively points out that "Vasconselos and The Lily and the Totem prepare the
way for The Yemassee and The Cassique of Kiawah in the same way that the two
colonial romances anticipate the Revolutionary Romances, and the Revolutionary
Romances in turn anticipate the Border Romances."2 It represents the first of the
four epochs and events into which Simms divides American history in order to
inquire into "the moral steps by which we attain the several successive epochs in our
national character."3 With a few exceptions, the work has been subject to unfair
criticism. The purpose of this essay is to argue that to read it in its proper light we
should classify it as one of Simms's Border Romances which portray the westward
movement of European settlement. I will analyze Vasconselos in light of the
confrontation of4 home and the wilderness, and consider its unique relation to
Simms's other Border Romances.

The letters which Simms wrote from 1847 to 1848 to Albert James Pickett
demonstrate how deeply he was interested in the Spanish conquest and had access to
as much material concerning De Soto as could be collected in the mid-nineteenth
century. He owned many English translations of history related to the Americas
written by the Spanish and the French, as well as W. H. Prescott's History of the
Conquest of Peru, and did research at historical societies and libraries. As for the
books concerned with the conquests of De Soto, he owned not only the South-
related history books but also "The Report of the Portuguese witness" who
participated in the expedition of De Soto.
The primary sources concerning the Florida expedition of De Soto total four
narratives, three of them being individual records by three officers who participated

1 Mary C. Simms Oliphant, Alfred Taylor Odell, T. C. Duncan Eaves, eds., The Letters of William (Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 5 vols., 1952-1956; vol. 6, 1982),vol. I, 147. Hereafter abbreviated as Letters, and cited by volume and page number.
2 John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992),216.
3 William Gilmore Simms, Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction, first series, C. Hugh Holman ed. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962), 76-77.