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

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Page 14

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription which is today considered essential to greatness. Both Rubin and Simpson,
and quite a number of others, have decried, or at least privately mourned;
Simms for not being alienated from his society. Simms was very critical of
the South, much more so than most realize, but he was certainly not
alienated in the modern sense, the sense that sees man as an existential being
who can be at home as easily in Britain or China as in America, with no
loyalties but to oneself. Simms's entire philosophy of life was antithetical to
such a view. In this sense Simms is outside the mainstream of modern
literature, but I would argue he is in the chief current of the most important
wellsprings of Western literature and civilization, for man and his
community cannot be separated.
This tie to community brings us briefly to the tie to history. History
was important to Simms' because of the same reason community was
important, because he realized that man is enveloped in a web of
circumstance, environment, and heredity, other -people, both living and dead,
all having contributed to make him what he is. All of these things give man a
status and an identity, and teach him lessons by which to survive and
advance. on life's way. This dependence of one. man upon- another. is, after
all, the story of man from time immemorial. Modern man, who claims to free
himself from the restraints and obligations of traditional and inherited social
ties, who exists of and for himself, is a new thing under the sun, at least in
his audacity, and quite lonely, I might add. Modern critics may descry
Simms's ardent patriotism, whether American or Southern; as being
exceedingly limiting, but lying at foundation of that patriotism are the most
basic and universal traits of human character, traits so greatly admired by
Simms as love, veneration, duty, unselfishness, sacrifice, and courage, and
an acknowledgement of belonging to a community of frail human beings
under the sovereign majesty of God. Whatever assessment we may hav. of
Simms, we may with assurance acknowledge that he was the epitome of a
brave and noble character, a grand representative of the human race, who
gave his all, at great personal sacrifice—certainly in fame and recognition --
to the artistic and intellectual uplift of the people he knew best, and therefore
loved the most. Who can do more? The cause of Southern Literature was the
cause of mankind; its very purpose was the uplift of man's best and most
sacred virtues. Simms performed his duty, even if his people didn't heed his
admonitions, and even if later critics fail to understand him.