Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 2) >> Words Upon a Monument: The Liberalism of Simms' Public Theology >> Page 27

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Page 27

Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription We must ask here why Simms was so susceptible to making such a
"theological error" from the "orthodox" point of view. The answer here has
to be not that Simms wished to limit but rather to enhance the cause of
"theism" in the "Public Square." And with this end in view and given the
temper of the times he thought the message of "mercy" rather than
"goodness" was the best way to make the inscription to Reverend Young as
influential on the community as possible. But why is Simms so concerned
to "maximize" the influence of the monument's "theistic" inscription on
public sentiment in the first place? For an answer here we should refer to
some of his views on the history and politics of France.

The Idol of Self

Simms frequently alludes to France as a nation which has suffered
politically because of the "skepticism" which has come to prevail in that
country. The Enlightenment and the rise of revolutionary thought has led to
very evident political difficulties which have bedevilled all efforts to mak
France a more politically stable and prosperous polity. Indeed, Simms is
sure that "one of the great difficulties in the way of French democracy" is
that it "lacks religion" and "scorns Christianity." Why has this been the
case? Simms answers that it is because the "lessons of its literature, for a
hundred years, have been too frequently hostile to faith, devotion, a
reverence for holy things, for the divine laws - for that providence, which
still, whatever our wisdom, our strength, our self-confidence, `Must shape
our ends/Rough hew them as we will.' What has been the consequence of
this literary hostility to the providence of God as it relates to the French
nation? It is that "The idol of self in France has overthrown all deities."
Once this "false god" had been raised to replace the traditional one the
French were destined to become a nation of "egoists."
The decree which formally declared the absence of any necessity for a
Deity, in the wild days of Robespierre and Danton, was based upon
the easy convictions of a people, whose faith in their own genius was
a prominent feature in their career. The formal decree which restored
the Deity to his altars, did so nominally only. His restoration did -not
overthrow the false god, which the erring hearts of the vain people
had set up. The egotistical sentiment which had raised self into the
godhead, was not driven from possession. With a host of highly
endowed and popular teachers, from Voltaire and Rousseau to the
present day, all busy in the inculcation of a most audacious egoisme,
it was not possible to bring back the erring and blind flock to the fold
of the Good Shepherd. This is at the root of all the misfortunes of the
French people, bringing with it a confusion of ideas, and a perverse
struggle after unreasonable purposes.6

6 "Guizot's Democracy in France" Southern Quarterly Review 15(1849),
pp. 162-163