Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 1) >> Donald Davidson, the Simms Legacy, and a Reminiscence >> [Page 26]

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Scholarship | 2002
Transcription Donald Davidson, the Simms Legacy, and a Reminiscence

James Everett Kibler

In his new biography of Donald Davidson, Mark Winchell provides
Sirnmsians more insight into Davidson's role in the revival of Simms studies in the
1950s.' Winchell quotes from Davidson's unpublished diary in the possession of
descendants. In December 1956, Davidson was in South Carolina with the Bucks
and Oliphants in Greenville and at Woodlands, primarily to see Mary C. Simms
Oliphant, an editor of The Simms Letters. The first volume had appeared in 1952,
four years earlier. This volume had included Davidson's introduction discussing
Simms as "saga man," closely in touch with the folk traditions of the South, and
thus the kind of writer Davidson most approved.2 The fifth and final volume of The
Letters had just appeared in 1956, the same year of the diary entry; and thus
Davidson had now been able to take full measure of the author, especially charting
his Sectionalism, his spirited and active defense of the South during the War, and
his heroic struggle during its aftermath. Seeing Simms's difficulties no doubt made
Davidson feel better about his own, which now must have paled by contrast.
Knowing that despite Simms's losses and extremely dire situation, he continued to
write, may have been an impetus for Davidson to do the same.
At the urging of Mrs. Oliphant, Davidson was contemplating writing a
biography of Simms, now made possible by the completion of The Letters project.
A biography was considered the next most urgent need in Simms scholarship, and
the highest on Mrs. Oliphant's list. Davidson's diary entry of 14 December 1956
reads:

Earnest talk with Mrs. O. in her study about the Simms biography &
my plans. I told her my situation. She says only a man who
understands & can defend the South ought to write the biography.
Biography of Simms is in principle a defense of the South & what it
has stood for thro' the centuries—Simms the most representative of
all Southern writers: he is the South.

Although Davidson never wrote the biography, his fine poem "Woodlands,
1956-1960," came from this experience. It was published in his poetry collection
The Long Street (1961); and in its own very different way is a great contribution to
the Simms field, proving how Simms's legacy and worth as a poet-novelist-

Mark Winchell, Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance
(University of Missouri Press, 2000).
2 For Davidson's best treatment of this aesthetic credo, see his "Poetry as Tradition," in his Still Rebels, Still Yankees (LSU Press, 1957 and 1972).