Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 1) >> The Muse of Southern Literature >> Page 11

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Page 11

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Art shall rejoice to repair, from all other countries... to relight their
extinguished torches, or to catch those gleams for yet unlighted altars, whose
inspiration, in future days, shall honor our models, while they fondly build
their own!"18
You can see that Simms was the very opposite of the status-quo
man he is so often portrayed to be. Rather, his vision was for a South that
developed into the leading intellectual and artistic center of the world. Nor
did he believe that even then the South would achieve that perfect
civilization which may have accused the South of believing itself to already
have enjoyed in the 1850s. He recognized that other peoples would build
their own artistic models. Simms was a progressive; he believed firmly in
progress, as David Moltke-Hansen has shown,19 but only progress built on
tradition.
A key to Simms's thought lies in the words "imagination" and
"creativity." In creativity, in the exercise of the imagination, man soared
above his animal instincts and approached closer to the God who had created
him, in whose image man was made. To copy another's civilization was not
sufficient; man was made to create anew, to see life in a new perspective.
Thus Simms's ardent espousal of Americanism in literature. As colonies of
Britain, we had modeled our intellectual and artistic life after Britain's.
Americans needed to seize hold of their own unique circumstances and
fashion a literature of their own. They needed to exercise their creativity and
not slavishly follow British examples. The exact same-reasoning -Simms used
in urging Southerners to emancipate themselves from Northern literary
dominance.
Simms's career as a leading exponent of the literary Young
America's creed development of a native American literature freed of its
British subservience has caused much confusion among Simms's' scholars:
John Guilds has I think come closest to understanding Simms here. As Guild
relates, at least through 1845, Simms at all times espoused both Southern and
American literature, it was his emphases which changed. To Simms there
was never any contradiction between the two. As a Southerner, Simms was
an American; as an American; Simms was a Southerner. The South- was-
sharply distinct in Simms's eyes, but it was still definitely American. Many
have mistaken Simms's meaning when he wrote George Frederick Holmes
in 1842: "...I am an ultra-American, a born Southron "20 believing that
"ultra-American" meant that Simms's loyalties and interests were foremost
American in the sense of the entire American nation rather than Southern;
and that it was only with the crisis associated with the 1850 Compromise
that Simms shifted his loyalties and literary emphases to the South. 21 What
Simms meant when writing to Holmes was that he was both an ultra-
American and an ultra-Southerner (Southron meant essentially ultra-
Southern in loyalties); with no inconsistency. The' context of the' statement


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