Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 1) >> The Muse of Southern Literature >> Page 10

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 10

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Southerners lacked the talent even the interest in literary pursuits, but
because of the agricultural occupations of the vast majority of Southerners
and the widely dispersed population without the focal point of a large city to
stimulate intellectual activity. Because of these factors Southern writers
lacked the stimulants necessary for successful literary endeavor.15 Since
Simms fervently believed that literature and the other fine arts were
necessary to the uplift and advancement of any people, intellectually,
spiritually, and materially, he saw a basic' need. for ' the advancement of
literature within the South, regardless of any special qualities in the region.
But Simms's desire to advance the literature of the South went
much deeper than this. As a man stepped in the romantic beliefs of his age,
Simms believed in the individual character of nations and peoples. America
had an individual character when contrasted with Europe and Britain; each
American state had a special character of its own,16 and the South as a whole
had individualism of character in comparison with the Northern States of the
The South, therefore, with its own distinctive character, had its own
individual needs, its own particular path to follow toward literary
development. As Simms said in "Literary Prospects of the South," an 1858
essay in Russell's Magazine, the authors of the South "are about to rear
together a fitting altar to the Muses of Humanity -- for the exposition of their
own truths and affections – for the defense of their society and domestic
institutions—for the consecration of their native arts -for the exercise of
their peculiar gifts for the development of their own genius – for a native
priesthood which shall especially minister at the shrines of the fair
Humanity, whose Muses they shall welcome home to a fitting homage, in a
virgin empire!" The South was a virgin empire for literature, a home for
literary talent, with its own special contribution to make to learning and the
fine arts.
The South both needed its own literature because of its own special
needs, to further the progress of its own unique society, which no one else
could do for the South, and the South, in making its own unique
contribution, would enhance the universal man's literary life, with original
contributions to literature.
In the first Social Moral lecture, delivered in Charleston in 1857,
Simms holds up Athens as the great model for artistic and intellectual
creativity. Simms's dream, and fond desire, was to see the South shine in the
arts as Athens had shone,- to be a model in art for the world. In "Literary
Prospects of the South" Simms said it with beautiful imagery: May the
authors and artists of South he had particularly named "the poet, the
painter, the novelist, the historian, the essayist, in the moral and the
picturesque, the philosopher in the social-moral"—make the South "like that
of Attica—superior to that of Attica – to which, in due time, the Pilgrims of