Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 1) >> Donald Davidson, the Simms Legacy, and a Reminiscence >> [Page 29]

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[Page 29]

Scholarship | 2002
Transcription Davidson must have drawn in his association with Mrs. Oliphant. Her positiveness,
wit, and cheerfulness were also sorely needed in the face of his ongoing bouts with
depression, and in a time when the South was being reviled nationally during the
integration crisis.
In late summer 1966, as escort of a beautiful young Italian, Francesca Gozzini,
a student at the University of Milan, I stayed a weekend at Miss May's house at 106
James Street, and had an opportunity to be the recipient of her hospitality. I recall
that Miss May was taken with Francesca's name, and often alluded to Simms's own
"Francesca da Rimini." She wanted Francesca to return to Milan and spread the
gospel of Simms. On this visit, we were introduced to a descendant of Simms's
friend, Benjamin Perry. The two families had still kept up that friendship for over a
hundred years. Miss May had the help in the kitchen of a family retainer who had
come from Woodlands to live in Greenville. I remember Francesca requesting to go
with Miss May when she drove her home. Miss May's daughter, Mary Simms
Furman, lived next door to Miss May; and as I recall, Francesca and I swam in her
pool. She too showed us hospitality.
We had excellent meals in the formal dining room at 106 James, eating from
the gold and white Greek Key-patterned china Simms had used at Woodlands,
somehow miraculously saved from the looting and burning in 1865. Some of the
dishes were cracked. Miss May was far from nonplussed by the fact, and instead
made it into a witty aside, saying that everything she had in the old house had a
crack in it. She understood that cracks when honestly gotten were no shame, and
when they showed history's impress, were not undesirable. Even then a lover of all
things authentically old, I had not thought them bad in the first place (if the soup
didn't run out); and to be eating from plates that were Simms's and being
surrounded by things that were his at Woodlands, made the proper impress. No
doubt Davidson, who would have eaten from these same plates, must have felt the
same.
I recall also bits and snatches of Miss May's conversation. On one occasion,
she had reason to say that people were too rigid in their professional endeavours, too
money-hungry, and were always too much in a hurry. Life was being lived too
strenously. One needs time just to sit, be idle, and have time to reflect, she said,
because in that way, one often finds his path. And memory is key. She was no
scientific specialist. A real scholar did not have to be, and should never los sight of
the whole. This wisdom must have endeared her to Davidson, for one of the great
themes of I'll Take My Stand is the folly and destructiveness of the too strenuous
urban-industrial materialistic life. A related theme was the necessity of the balanced
whole individual, and a contingent critique of scientism and so-called progress.
At another time Miss May commented on someone's "badness," and added
that if one had to be bad, one had the responsibility of being bad in an interesting
way. "If you can't be good, dear, at least be interesting," she concluded; and I wrote
this down verbatim in my commonplace book. Simms would, of course, have
agreed; and so, likely, would Mr. Davidson.
Davidson, from 1956 to 1960 and afterwards, thus must have experienced
hospitality similar to that shown Francesca Gozzini and me in the summer of 1966.