Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Remembering the Father of Southern Literature >> Page 26

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Today some people dismiss Simms as a pro-slavery, old-fashioned
Southerner. But Simms understood what we have forgotten: that the North
was deeply involved in slavery. Simms understood that slavery was a
national institution, not just a Southern one. He would not allow. the North
to forget its involvement. He repeatedly in his stories and novels pointed out
the hypocrisy of Northerners. To Simms, the North was not virtuous, and
the South was not guilty.
But to Simms the real enormity of America was not slavery. It was
invasion. Simms wrote about the North's invasion of the South eloquently:
20 billion dollars of destroyed property, 620,000 soldiers killed, plus enough
white civilians to bring the death toll to, 1,091,000. In addition, at least
500,000 blacks died of starvation, dislocation, and disease. The national
debt in 1860 was 75 million, but in 1866 it had jumped over 50 times to 4.3
billion. And that was at a time when the Barnwell County Courthouse could
be built for $18,000. Simms wrote of the tortures, the murders, and the rapes
– especially of young black girls. But the greatest casualty was the blow to
American freedom. Our forefathers had given us liberty, born 4 July 1776.
But on the streets of Columbia, February 17 and 18, 1865, Simms records
the death of Lady Liberty. Whatever government we had after 1865, it was
not what our forefathers had fought and died for, and then bequeathed to us.
Shortly before his death in June 1870, Simms rose from his death
bed and delivered an oration later published as The Sense of the Beautiful.
He was addressing people who had lost loved ones, homes, wealth,
reputations, independence. Like Job in the Bible, who lost all except his life,
the people of South Carolina were living, literally, on ash heaps. What kind
of consolation, what kind of hope would comfort'? What now? Where to go
from here? Does God abandon the poor and the outcast'? In his oration,
Simms came back to one of his persistent themes – using God-given talents:
"Every vocation essential to man and society, no matter how humble, is
honorable," he said, "and I would as soon make my fortunes out of turnips
and cabbages, tulips and roses, as from the fields of rice and cotton." There
is no reason, he continued, "why farmer, blacksmith, mechanic, laborer,
should not be trained as gentlemen, though they be trained to toil; the quality
of the gentleman depending upon the honorable purposes, the good conduct,
the considerate sensibilities and, in no degree upon the occupation which is
pursued. The development of the Beautiful in their souls will suffice to
make them so."
Elsewhere, Simms declares, "My friends, the germ of soul is of very
little account, among men or women, unless trained and developed into the
Sense of the Beautiful, which is ever a sense bringing us nearer to God. He
teaches this to all our senses – since nowhere in all His creation has He
failed to blend the types of beauty with every work of his hands."