Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Philosophical Aesthetics and Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 69

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 69 THE SIMMS REVIEW

of the complexities and nuances of human nature, those who receive a
literary education will have the opportunity to become more stable and
more multifaceted) in their own humanity, and they will be in a position
to realize themselves, not only as individuals but also as enlightened
members of a political community. This is a goal that cannot well be
achieved either by pursuing one's own bent or by resting complacently
in the point of view associated with a particular political or social posi-
As we have seen, Schiller and Kant are convinced that aesthetic
experience is uniquely capable of including, and even synthesizing, the
operations of both theoretical reason and practical reason. For them,
aesthetic experience is that which supremely promotes self-conscious-
ness or self-realization by comparison with other modes of cognition.
Nevertheless, they do not set aesthetics in opposition to these other
modes, as though aesthetics did not involve them or as though it had
its own separate interests. Unfortunately, one of the effects of their
enormously influential philosophy was that it fostered in many people's
minds, throughout the nineteenth century, the idea that artistic conscious-
ness ought to be construed as a very high thing indeed, existing far above
all moral and utilitarian concerns, in a sphere unto itself, for its own sake.
Edgar Allan Poe, more or less, takes this position when he summarizes
Kant in the following passage from his review of Longfellow's Ballads:
Dividing the world of mind into its most obvious and
immediately recognizable distinctions, we have the
pure intellect, taste, and the moral sense. We place taste
between the intellect and the moral sense, because it is
just this indeterminate space which, in the mind, it occu-
pies. It is the connecting link in the triple chain. It serves
to sustain a mutual intelligence between the extremes.
Poe notes as well that "the offices of the trio are broadly marked. Just as
conscience, or the moral sense, recognizes duty; just as intellect deals
with truth; so it is the part of taste alone to inform us of BEAUTY"
(436). Since poetry is the handmaiden of taste alone, its province does
not extend beyond the limits of beauty. "It[s] sole arbiter is Taste. With
the Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations. It has
no dependence, unless incidentally, upon either Duty or Truth" (439).