Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> ''Dazzling Outlawries of the Imagination'': William Gilmore Simms and the ''Americanism'' of the Sonnet >> Page 5

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription "DAzzLING OUTLAWRIES OF THE
IMAGINATION"
WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS AND THE
"AMERICANISM" OF THE SONNET

JASON W. JOHNSON

"Our literature, so far, has been English in its character."
--William Gilmore Simms

So argued Simms in his lecture, "Americanism in Literature" (11).
Through the course of his career, Simms was perhaps more concerned with
the formation of a distinctly American literature than anything else. In his
lecture, Simms accuses the majority of American authors of his time of
creating nothing more than work derivative of their trans-Atlantic neighbors
in England and Europe:

Our writers are numerous . . . . But, with very few exceptions, their
writing might as well be European. They are European. The
writers think after European models, draw their stimulus and
provocation from European books, fashion themselves to
European tastes and look chiefly to the awards of European
criticism. This is to denationalize the American mind. This is to
enslave the national heart --to place ourselves at the mercy of the
foreigner, and to yield all that is individual, in our character and
hope, to the paralyzing influence of his will, and frequently hostile
purposes ("Americanism" 7-8).

Simms's choice of words here is significant, invoking as it does
events which took place only some seventy years before. His concern over the
enslavement of "the national heart" harkens back to the written beginning of
the Revolutionary War, as does his use of other such loaded phrases. "A
resolute will, a bold aim, and a spirit that courageously looks within for it
encouragements and standards, --these are our securities for intellectual
independence" ("Americanism" 12, my italics). That Simms infuses his
lecture with language reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson's inflammatory
declaration is surely no accident. For Simms, something very serious is at
stake here, something as significant as national independence itself.

1 A version of this essay was read at the Bicentennial Simms Conference in
Philadelphia, 27-29 April 2006

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