Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A Legend of the French Broad'': With an Eye on the Horizon >> Page 55

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription "The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A Legend of the
French Broad": With an Eye on the Horizon

Kevin Collins


Beginning in 1893 a half century after Simms's most fecund
period Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the presence of the frontier
made the minds of Americans different from the minds of their mostly
European forebears. Turner's Frontier Thesis, perhaps the single most
influential historical theory in the twentieth century, suggested that
these differences had both positive and negative aspects: that the pres-
ence of the frontier, the possibility of starting over, bred in Americans
an optimism, a willingness to improvise, and an egalitarian and demo-
cratic instinct that were much more prominent than they had been in the
European parent-cultures, but that it also bred an instinct for violence and
ruthlessness more extreme than those of the old cultures.
Both Simms biographer John Caldwell Guilds and I have iden-
tified several passages from Simms's fiction, mostly from the Border
Romances, which seem to foreshadow the Frontier Thesis quite closely,
as part of a broader research project exploring the ways that Simms's
body of work anticipates Turner. This pattern is remarkable in itself, but
it is rendered even more so by the fact that Turner, working in the late
nineteenth century, was an avid disciple of Charles Darwin, whose work
on natural selection—particularly the ways that life forms tend to adapt
to new environments—made something like the Frontier Thesis perhaps
inevitable, while Simms was evidently unaware of Darwin's work.
As we have worked to develop our findings into a book-length
study, Guilds and 1 have looked at Simms's poetry as well, and we
have discovered that—much like the fiction—it is a mixed bag, with
works set in the Carolina lowlands mostly replicating the mind sets of
European poets and works dealing with the frontier more often treating
Americans as adapting to the frontier in the ways that Turner would
describe. This article treats "The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A Legend of
the French Broad," a long poem that was finished in 1852 but that was
first published only in 2003 in Simms's An Early and Strong Sympathy:
The Indian Writings of William Gilmore Simms, a volume co-edited by
Guilds and ethnohistorian Charles Hudson. While the theme of the poem
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