Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos >> Page 19

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Page 19

Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription admits that the Havana part is too long.
As conquistador, De Soto stimulated Simms's personal feelings. In late
1824 or early 1825 he traveled to the old Southwest to visit his father who was then
engaged in pioneering there. After taking a nap in his travels with his father in the
primeval forest, he awoke to find that he had slept with one grave under his pillow,
and asked by his father, he quickly answered that it was the grave of one of De
Soto's men. His romantic imagination was never discarded, though his father
"combated this notion"10 like the father in his poem "Indian Village Chilhowee,"
and he later talked about this experience to the students at the University of
Alabama at Tuscaloosa in 1842. This is why we must discuss at length questions of
great interest and importance: why does Simms give an elaborate and enthusiastic
description of Havana where De Soto lived only for six months, and why does it
need to be longer than that of Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, and
Mississippi which provide the background of De Soto's conquest for four years?
De Soto roused Simms's great concern as a personage who played an
important role in "the first dawning of that era of discovery which led the European
to our shores."11 Rather than explorers such as Verazzani and Cartier and Arcadic
colonies, he pays greater attention to "Spanish discovery in our own
neighbourhood" and he makes a detailed mention of De Soto instead of Ponce de
Leon and Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon.12 The reason why De Soto draws Simms's
concern is that he played an important role in forming the start of the history of the
South, though he belongs to the conquistador group which have the same
importance as Cortez and Pissarro in history. In "The Social Principle: The True
Source of National Permanence," the address given at Tuscaloosa, Simms says that
the Spaniards sought gold and conquest in the New World, while the English sought
home. De Soto is described in Vasconselos as a conquistador who roamed to the
west, and as a prototype of the American goaded by the westward movement. The
Spanish conquest was "the small but impressive beginnings of a wondrous drama in
which we, ourselves, are still living actors" (2).

The principal object of the Havana part of Vasconselos is intensely focussed
on the culture of Spanish knighthood in Cuba. In the sixteenth-century chivalry
novels of Spain the hero who accomplished heroic achievements abroad was given a
kingdom or island as a reward, and many conquistadors influenced by this literature
ventured on perilous expeditions.13 It was to get an independent state governed by
himself somewhere in the New World that De Soto threw away the luxurious and
easy life which he had obtained due to the Peru expedition and went for Florida. De
Soto, an expert on spears and swords and outstanding in horsemanship, sponsors

10 Trent, 15.
11 Views and Reviews, 87.
12 Views and Reviews, 87-98.
13 Marianne Mahn-Lot, La Conquete de 1'Amerique Espagnole, tr. Hidefuji Someda (Tokyo:
Hakusuisha, 1984), 19-20.