Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 1) >> Donald Davidson, the Simms Legacy, and a Reminiscence >> [Page 28]

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[Page 28]

Scholarship | 2002
Transcription biography of Simms Davidson would no doubt have written. It demonstrates a
living tradition in other words, the practicing of tradition, rather than the
recounting of tradition in abstract academic form. Davidson always desired the
living tradition over Traditionalism. For Davidson, the living presence of the
tradition-loving, tradition-practicing Simms must have provided both the stimulus
and companionship which an anti-traditional age could never give him, and most
especially in a "progressive," science and secular dominated, specialist, and
increasingly radicalized academia. Mrs. Oliphant, who was in so many ways the
reincarnation of her grandfather and a living testimony to the South's strengths and
cultural wholeness and health, no doubt served Davidson in the same way.
As one who also knew Mrs. Oliphant at about this same time, and through the
same connection of Simms scholarship, I can describe from first-hand knowledge
what Davidson himself must have experienced. I graduated from the University of
South Carolina in June 1966, and before entering the graduate program there in
September, Professor James B. Meriwether assigned me as a "work-study student"
to assist "Miss May" on her trips from Greenville to the South Caroliniana Library.
She, in turn, quickly gave me the task of creating a Simms "log" that was to
document as far as possible what Simms did every day of his life. Miss May was
creating this log as groundwork for the Simms biography, and "Mr. Davidson's"
name was often mentioned. This, of course, was before his sudden death in 1968.
Miss May, like most of those who knew him, always called him "Mr. Davidson,"
and in a tone that showed she revered him. As his diary shows, he called her "Mrs.
Oliphant."
During the three summer months, I despaired of creating a Simrns log, and
shifted the project more finitely toward identifying Simms's pseudonyms. My
reasoning was that the most important days of Simms's life would involve what he
wrote, and we had to know that first. In 1966, we were still sadly short of learning
precisely what Simms had written. The project tripled the number of known
pseudonyms (to nearly 200) and doubled the number of his proved poems (to almost
2,000). I later brought both projects to completion as books published in 1976 and
1979. Miss May encouraged and showed sincere appreciation throughout the
process.
During this and the following summers of 1967 and 1968, I had many
occasions to witness Miss May's strength, determination, and devotion to family.
Even though too young to appreciate fully what I was encountering, I did discern an
easy courtesy and frank good manners, always simple and personal. Her good cheer,
wit, and kindness always sparkled, even though she was in some pain from a car
accident that required wearing a tightly-laced back support. She always showed a
positiveness, an assurance, an aura of command that must have come both from the
old plantation society, as well as from knowing she was doing for her grandfather
what a granddaughter should and must. Southerners understand this devotion; and
so did Donald Davidson. In his poem "Lee in the Mountains," Davidson has Robert
E. Lee, in his last years edit the memoirs of his dead father, rather than write his
own. Lee remarks that he himself will have no say; "Let him only speak...what I do
is a devoir to a lost father." These are the kinds of correspondences and validation