Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 1) >> Donald Davidson, the Simms Legacy, and a Reminiscence >> [Page 30]

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[Page 30]

Scholarship | 2002
Transcription It is this kind of touch with the living tradition that would have pleased and
influenced him. He had had his fill of careerism, attacks on tradition by so-called
"progressives," the scientific specialisation of academics on the make, and the rude
boosterism of the placeless materialistic New South. He had seen enough of the
strenuous, bland life that was destroying all fineness and everything he valued right
before his eyes. He had early seen the dangers of a Chamber of Commerce, cash-
register evaluation of life. He and his fellow Agrarians knew the difference between
communities and real estate developments. Thus he would have most surely and
fully appreciated genuine Southernness when he witnessed it.
In Miss May's parlor in 1966, on a table beside a comfortable stuffed chair,
and sitting there solely by itself in its place of honour, was a book of Mr. Davidson's
poems-either The Long Street or Lee in the Mountains, I cannot remember which.
The year before, I had been introduced to the poem "Lee in the Mountains" in
Professor Meriwether's undergraduate Southern Literature class in the old Beatty,
Watkins, and Young anthology, and had enough sense to like it very much. Excited
to see a volume by Mr. Davidson, I was just beginning to understand that famous
poetry could be written by living men, and by one of our own, at that. To this point,
I had probably thought that one qualification for a poet must be his death. I believe
just had time to open the volume and note Davidson's inscription to Mrs. Oliphant
on its flyleaf, before the conversation turned. Most impressed, I made some mention
of Davidson, but Miss May seemed too modest to pursue the discussion of "Mr.
Davidson" beyond an expression of great regard, perhaps protecting the privacy of a
very reticent gentleman.
Winchell's new biography of Davidson provides a distinguished study of a
writer whose understanding of literature and tradition and whose devotion to
cultural Southernness were very close to Simms's own. In a broad sense, Winchell's
biography of Davidson is something of the intellectual, cultural biography of Simms
that Davidson never wrote. Davidson thus lived it rather than composed it. The two
authors are most surely in the same Southern. continuum, and artistically and
philosophically sympatico. In many ways, to understand the one, is to comprehend
the other. Davidson did highest honour to Simms by living his creative, cultural, and
political life in accordance with him, rather than in merely writing about him from a
safe and abstract distance. As Lady Gregory and Coole Park to Yeats, as Virgil to
Dante, so were Mrs. Oliphant, Woodlands, and Simms to Davidson, especially in
the last twenty years of his life. I was lucky enough to be on the fringe of this
profundity.