Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos >> Page 22

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Page 22

Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription describes the Spanish strain in Cuba and the South.16
The prototypic story in which the protagonist loses love and leaves his
native place for the wilderness can be seen in Simms's Border Romances such as
Richard Hurdis (1838) and Guy Rivers (1834). In these romances the protagonists
dash out to the frontier owing to their unrequited love; but toward the end of the
story they go back home after they know the lost love was merely the product of
their own misconception. In the frontier of the old Southwest depicted in the Border
Romances, violence, bloodshed, death, and an insatiable desire of the whites for
land and wealth rage furiously. The home to which the protagonists return is
presented as a pastoral world, as the model for which Simms takes the low country
provinces in South Carolina.
Philip is an outsider, a Portuguese in an army mainly made up of the
Spanish. His cultural isolation is adequately expressed in his banner which "bore the
image of a ruined castle, from which a falcon had spread its wings and was away"
(192). His independent mind results from the ruin of his castle or absence of home.
In his confession to his friend Nuno de Tobar he makes it clear that "My dream now
is of repose, of a sweet solitude in the shade" (310). The revelation of Olivia's secret
makes him participate in the expedition. The distinctive difference between
Vasconselos and the two Border Romances mentioned above is that Philip's flight
from home to the wilderness results from the collapse of the home he seeks in
In its role as a pastoral utopia, Havana plays a far more important part in
Vasconselos than it might first seem. Although this base of De Soto's expedition
was once burned to ashes by French attack, it is "at the period of the events which
we record...a growing hamlet of little more than a hundred dwellings" (177). The
Havana bay is overflowed with sweet leisure ("dolce far niente"):

Her beautiful bay, then as now lacked but little of the helps of art to render it
as wooing and persuasive as that famous one of the Italian; and, in the
luxuriance of her verdure, which covered, with a various and delicious
beauty, all her heights; in the intense brilliancy and clearness of her
moonlight, which seemed rather to hallow and to soften, than to impair the
individuality and distinctness of objects, as beheld by day; in the exquisite
fragrance from her groves, and the soothing sweetness of the sea-breeze-
which, in that tropical climate, one regards as the most blessed of all the
angels who take part in the destinies of earth playing like a thoughtless and

16 William Gilmore Simms, Beauchampe; or the Kentucky Tragedy (Chicago: Donohue,
Henneberry & Co., 1890) compares Beauchampe's "fervent, passionate nature" (94) to "a wild
strain of music—from the rolling, rising organ, or the barbaric drum and Saracenic trumpet"
(108), and also describes how the Americans follow "the trumpets of chivalry" (15). Chivalry is also connected in Guy Rivers with a spirit of adventure in most Southern and Western villages. See Simms, Guy Rivers: A Tale of Georgia (New York: AMS Press, 1970), 62: "A spirit, we may add, the same, or not materially differing from that, which, at an earlier period of human history,though in a condition of society not dissimilar, begot the practices denominated, by a most licentious courtesy, those of chivalry."