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 30

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription mischief afterwards." Then, commenting further: "What an exaction how is it
possible that the Cherokees should have understood this charge, or,
understanding, that they should have complied with it?" 14
When the treaty calls for the Cherokees not to extend the same hospitality
and ritual friendship to other nations that they had earlier extended to the English
or to trade with them, Simms remarks, "Such was the morality of these selfish
traders. They actually excluded the savages from the exercise of those wonted
rites of hospitality to white men, and to christians like themselves, (for the French
and Spaniards were contemplated by this clause,) which the Cherokees had freely
accorded to the British, and which they must otherwise have extended freely to all
What is obvious about the broad outlines of this story is the presence of a
theme that is expanded over time in the writings of Simms: the expansion of
empire and the consequent reduction of moral character. In the story, the
greatness of the British political advantages becomes obvious, but so does the
growing pettiness of their moral vision. And while the Cherokee's regal stature at
home is shown to be miniscule at the British court, his moral stature is increased
through the words addressed by the orator Skiajagustha to the dying Tonestoi.
Victory for the British becomes the prelude to meanness of spirit; but tragedy for
the Cherokee evokes a nobility otherwise unseen.
In terms of the controversy in which Simms becomes engaged with his
essay on "History and Fiction," we have in "The Cherokee Embassage" an
example of the artist enlarging upon history in a way that is rooted in concrete
facts but is not limited by them. The words of the treaty alone tell the story that
Simms wishes to tell. Who can miss the conniving of the English against peoples
they repeatedly refer to as "friends" and "brothers"? Who is blind to the fact that
a prosperous and powerful nation has taken full advantage of its good fortune
against the smaller nation? Who can fail to understand the bravery of the
"embassage" traveling to an alien nation over unfamiliar waters amid strangers
and existing literally at their mercy? Simms underlines these insights with fictive
devices: the ship monkey that prefigures the eventuality of the Indians being
made to appear as "monkeys" at the court of King George; the innocence of
Tonestoi as he greets the British monarch assuming his peer status and thus
bemusing the court. With his "Ruddy do, Brudder George," and his remark about
the women of the court being George's "squaws," both his innocence and his
vulnerability becomes apparent.
Thus historical fact is enlarged upon and made more truthful, not less, by
the employment of art. This historiography of Simms has practical importance in
the reading of any history, but especially ancient history where the accessibility of

14 "The Cherokee Embassage," 195.
15 "The Cherokee Embassage," 195.