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 6

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Although Simms only obliquely links literature and independence in
this passage, he is much more explicit in a letter written for the Magnolia in
1841:

Assuming that a national literature is essential to national
independence, --essential in so many moral, social, and political
respects, --to the domestic happiness of a people, and to that
honorable place in the regards of strangers which should always be
an object of desire to a generous ambition, the question naturally
occurs, "why is it that we have not this literature?" (Letters I,
215).

Simms, of course, assumes that a "national literature is essential to national
independence," that it is "essential ... in so many political respects." Though
this essay is not as popular as his lecture, Simms here links national literature
to liberty and independence. Supposedly the subject of the letter is "Southern
Literature: Its Conditions, Prospects and History," but Simms, in his
introductory paragraph, conflates Southern and American literature, stating
"This question [why no national literature exists] must be understood is not
confined to the South. It is one equally applicable to the whole nation."
(Letters I, 215). The essay fails to discuss Southern Literature at any great
length, but I would argue that Simms never intended to focus on the South.
His goal, so it would seem, is to point out the lack of a national literature, and
to politicize literature as essential to "national independence." The
misleading title, "Southern Literature," may have only been a lure for
Southern readership; after all, the Magnolia is a Southern publication.
Perhaps the most likely reason for such a title, however, is that Simms
believed that a regional literature could only be established after the formation
of a national one.
As well as placing Southern literature under the umbrella of
American literature, Simms conflates literature and poetry. In his letter,
Simms time and again draws on the work of poets in his discussion of
American literature. Take, for example, his litany of great works:

You will look in vain for anything half so daring as "The Ancient
Mariner" of Coleridge . . . . There are no "Fausts"; no "Tempests";
no "Comuses"; among our poets. --nothing, which may justify the
application, to anyone among them, of the epithet of "Builder!"
(Letters I, 216).

All of the examples here listed are poetry or drama written in verse. So,
clearly, Simms is concerned above all else with a national poetry and the
possibility and formation of a truly independent nation through that poetry.