Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos >> Page 18

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Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription refused to pay a visit is transformed into a highly compact yet imaginative one

where Philip shows up in front of him to declare the defeat of the Adelantado.

Remarking about the battle of Mauvila about which the Spanish and Portuguese

narrators "labored to obscure, to modify, and even to pervert the details whose

results were so disastrous to their progress" because of "their national pride and

vanity," Simms declares that he draws on the ancient chronicle of the High Priest of

Chickasah, Oolena Ithiopoholla who "wore the sacred symbol, somewhere about the

year 1619," offering readers "this ancient and veracious" handwritten chronicle.5

Thus Vasconselos associates the Spanish conquest with the beginning of the history

of the United States (the year 1619 being the date of the first colonial assembly and

the beginning of the import of Black slaves), and at the same time overturns the

historical viewpoint of the Spanish who had a great influence on the ensuing

relationship between Native Americans and whites.

The most interesting and yet confusing question to ask is why the

description of Havana where De Soto stays before he leaves for Florida occupies

thirty-one chapters of the story which consists of fifty chapters. Vasconselos has

been subject to many irrelevant criticisms for this. It is certainly an unbalanced

apportionment for a romance which portrays the conquests of De Soto in the south

of the United States. James Henry Hammond, for example, criticizes it for this. He

says that "The Cuba part is sometimes too long drawn out ... Very natural, but not

artistic or as interesting as if condensed."6 He goes on to say that Simms should

have given "a full & effective account of the melancholy death & romantic burial of

De Soto" and of Olivia.7 However, in Vasconselos Simms gives a minimum

rendering of the death of De Soto and Olivia.

Some critics, however, give a high evaluation to the part on Havana. For

example, Trent admits that Simms obtains some success as a romance writer in his

description of Havana. However, he does not evaluate the Havana part in its proper

light which necessarily justifies Philip's marriage with Cocalla, because he points

out that the defects of De Soto's character are "unpleasantly exaggerated" and the

racial amalgamation between Philip and Cocalla is "fatal mistake."8 On this point

Guilds poses a higher appraisal of the Havana part: "The technique of thus setting

the stage for rapid, dramatic action once the Spaniards' landing on Floridian soil has

taken place is reminiscent of Melville's preparation for the symbolic closing pursuit

of Moby Dick."9 Yet it is clear that Guilds feels more interested in the collision and

confrontation of the De Soto army and Native Americans, and, in this sense, he

5 William Gilmore Simms, Vasconselos: A Romance of the New Word (Chicago: Donohue,

Henneberry & Co., 1890), 487. References to this work are to this edition, and cited in the text by
page number.

6 Quoted in Letters, III, 256.

7 Quoted in Letters, III, 256.

8 William P. Trent, William Gilmore Simms (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892),

Guilds, 215.