Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 1) >> The Muse of Southern Literature >> Page 12

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Page 12

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription reveals how this could be. Simms was discussing the mutual animosity
between England and America. Vis-a-vis the world, Simms was an ultra-
American. Within America, he was an ultra-Southerner.
Similarly, his essay "Americanism in Literature" has been
misconstrued. Even here, what was most on his mind and in his heart was
Southern literature. After all, the essay appeared in Southern and Western
Magazine, a primary purpose of which was to promote the development of
Southern literature. Simms's- major theme in this. essay was the establishment
of a native literature to liberate American letters from inherited British
models, but this in no way prevented American literature from having
distinct branches. In fact, he ends this essay by urging the development of
the Southern characteristics of "our literature."22 Simms notes in his essay
the advantages to literature which "grow out of our system of confederated
sovereignties. The very inequalities of things in moral respects, in
employments, in climate, soil, and circumstance, which we find in these
severalties, is at once calculated to provoke the mind in each to exertion, and
to endow it with originality.... A natural rivalry and emulation are the
consequence of a form. of political independence, which, in all. domestic
subjects, leaves us utterly free to our own pursuits. We watch the progress of
our neighbor, and strive rather to surpass than to follow."23 Diversity
between states and nations promoted creativity, and therefore the
advancement of literature.
But why could one not be creative wholly on one's own? To
Simms, man was a creature of society. Great men, Simms noted, derive what
they are from the society which raised them. Simms made this explicit in
speaking of men deserving of biography when he wrote: "His boyhood, his
first struggles for position; his claims to a hearing, his voice in counsel; his
exercise of authority, all demand an intimate acquaintance with his
associates, the character and conduct of the society by which he was reared,
of their wants and feelings; of their habits and acquisitions, of all that virtue
and quality in the soil, of which the great men is the representatives soul and
genius."24 And elsewhere Simms wrote: "It is the family fireside—the source
of all the virtues – that the lawgiver must first learn to protect.... Hence
spring all the virtues and securities of a nation...."25
Simms believed that national themes in literature are "among the
most enduring.26 In fact, Simms believed that "the themes of Homer, of
Dante, of Milton, Shakespeare, Byron, Burns, and Scott, and, indeed, of
almost every writer who has possessed any marked individuality of
character" are "in great degree" concerned with "either of three leading
subjects—their religion, their country, and themselves! "27
These subjects are of lasting value, because, personal to the author,
they elicit from him his profoundest and most individual creative thought.28
How is one's country personal!? "It is because it is our country—because - its