Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 2) >> Words Upon a Monument: The Liberalism of Simms' Public Theology >> Page 28

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Page 28

Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription So then, the choice is clear in Simms' eyes – either the inherited
religious sensibility of our civilization or the "false god" of "audacious
egoisme." But at the same time it is evident to Simms that if the inherited
religion presents a too traditional or "orthodox" face to a modern and
enlightened community it will not achieve its maximum purchase on the
people's sentiments and conduct. Simms solution then is a "liberal" or
"compassionate" version of the scriptural faith which has potential to head
off the kind of "scorn of Christianity" which developed over time in France.
Simms then wants a certain "liberalism" to prevail but not of the irreligious,
irresponsible, atheistic, French kind. Simms' remarks on France in his
review of Guizot help to explain then the significance of his short letter to
Gardin. He is implicitly saying to his fellow-citizens: Look at the example of
France! Would you have the United States follow in the same self-
destructive path? Once a nation ceases to believe in God's mercy which is
ultimately to say His Providence it will lose the ability to say wholeheartedly
"In God We Trust." And without such a "trust" what will become of the
incentive for citizens to do their best? National achievements and
misfortunes will be put down to pure chance and not as the inevitable
outcome of the strength or weakness of the virtue and public spirit of the
citizenry. Such I think is the thinking implicit in Simms suggested word
change to the inscription to Reverend Young.

The Sources of Simms' Liberal Theology

If our claims about the political-theological implications underlying
Simms suggested word change to Young be fair then our remaining question
here is to do with the intellectual origins of Simms' theological "liberalism."
Fortunately we have some historical evidence of a bibliographical nature
which can buttress our case.
In 1854, James Warley Miles decided.to travel in Europe for health
reasons and in order to defray the expenses of his trip he had to sell his
considerable library. It was described at the auction as "A valuable
collection of BOOKS embracing a variety of Standard Works, in all
departments of Literature."7 In respect of the fate of this "apparatus" George

7 Catalogue of the Library of the Reverend James Warley Miles, Reprinted
from the only surviving copy of the Charleston edition of 1854, with
introductory and biographical notes by George Walton Williams. Dalco
Historical Society Charleston, South Carolina (Charlottesville, Va.:
University of Virginia Press, 1955), p.31. Miles recounted the story of the
auction of this library in a report to the trustees of the College of Charleston
in which he expresses his great delight and relief that his collection had not
been broken up but had been maintained whole. He explains: "It is always to
be regretted when the private Library of a student is dissipated, for his
special pursuits cause him to bring together works which constitute an
apparatus not easily collected otherwise." pp.31-32.