Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Remembering the Father of Southern Literature >> Page 23

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Page 23

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription I and all other Simms scholars agree instead with Lewis Simpson.
You may not know that Simms scholars don't always see eye to eye, all the
time, about the details and interpretations, but we do all agree with Lewis
Simpson in The Dispossessed Garden: "As nearly as the South had a center
in the Republic of letters following the age when Monticello was such a
place, Simms's plantation was it. It is hardly too much to say that in a
literary sense the Age of Jefferson was succeeded by the Age of Simms." If
the Simms Society had a mantra for membership, that statement would be it.
We all profess the importance of Simms. We all believe Simms has been
neglected and slighted, and we all realize the importance of Woodlands and
therefore of the Barnwell District.
So, Welcome Home Simms! After fourteen years of the Simms
Society, we are finally home, we are finally where we should be. Certainly
there is no more fitting time or place than here-and-now to contemplate the
mark plantation life made on Simms, who answered his divine calling to
write. Yes, you heard me right. Simms declared on several occasions that
.he had a call from God, a vocation, to be a writer, more particularly a poet
His calling came from God, but his decision where to develop that calling
was his. Simms could have lived most anywhere in the South, or out of the
South, and he could have married any number of eligible women. But he
chose the Barnwell District. And by all accounts – contrary to William P.
Trent – Simms made the right decision and remained faithful to his calling,
to his wife, and to his home. Not everyone feels called, but Simms did, and
he lived that calling here.
We will never know what this area looked like before Sherman
burned it. But we do know that Simms chose to live here for the rest of his
life. We also know that while he was here, he wrote his best literature.
Simms brought to plantation life his calling as a poet, and his skills as an
author. Here he matured into the Father of Southern Literature.
I want to make another statement that helps us understand Simms.
Nineteenth-century South Carolina was Jeffersonian. Much of America
before 1860 was Jeffersonian. Simms and his world were committed to a
Thomas Jefferson's view of the land, to a Thomas Jefferson view of limited
government, and to a Thomas Jefferson view of America. Simms was proud
of what South Carolina had accomplished during the War for American
Independence. He was proud of South Carolina heroes like Francis Marion.
And he agreed with Jefferson who stated that Americans should be the
happiest people in the world, because of our newly won independence from
the British Empire, and because of our resources. All we needed was a good
Today we don't talk nearly as much about the Founding Fathers'
America as we do about Lincoln's centralized state designed to project
national power around the globe in the name of "the proposition that all men