Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms's Reading of History as Prophylactic Against American Religious Fundamentalism: The Issue of Fictive Technique in History >> Page 25

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription or past and future, of particulars and universals, of providence and freedom
realities we are incapable of understanding directly are understood through
myth, poetry, prophecy, and history. All of these are prodigal of a kind of
symbolism that locates human experiences in the middle (metaxy is the term
Voegelin uses) between God and the world. When history, for instance, is
reduced to facts and loses its vital connection to the human who hopes, dreams,
aspires, grieves, regrets, worships, then it has been reduced to the deadness of
secular objects of little or no importance in guiding life.
This is what William Gilmore Simms saw when he said of modern (that is,
mid-nineteenth century historiography):

From certain venerable Cantabs of our own age we are astounded,
for the first time, to learn that there is very little ancient history of
any kind that is worthy to be relied on; that, what we have
hitherto been reading with such equal delight and confidence
those exquisite and passionate narratives of Greece and Rome
narratives of soul and sweetness, which have touched our hearts
with the truest sympathy and enkindled our spirits with the
warmest glow of emulative admiration are, in reality, little more
than the works of cunning artists---eloquent narrators and delicious
poets, who have thus dishonestly practised upon our affections and
our credulity, making us very children through the medium of our
unsuspecting sympathies. Stripped of its golden ornaments of
rhetoric and passion, the tale which we are now permitted to
believe, is one from which the most hearty lover of the truth may
well recoil in disrelish or disgust. Where now are those glowing
pictures over which our eyes have glistened the holy traits of
unbending patriotism and of undying loveā€”of maternal courage,
and of filial sacrifice of a valor that knew not self, and of an
endurance that confessed no pain?3

History and Modernity

Simms was reacting against one manifestation of modernity in its
separation of art from history, or more positively, its claim for scientific accurac
by the elimination of "values" associated with the human affections and the
habitual practices of historical people. Of this developing "notion of the
opposition of history to fiction" and the fact that it has "remained unchallenged in
Western thought for so long," Hayden White has in recent years remarked that


3 Simms, News and Reviews, 21-22.


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