Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 74

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 74 THE SIMMS REVIEW

he strove to see a work objectively, for himself, impartiality being the
most important requisite of a critic in his opinion (Guilds 31). His goal
was to create an intellectually stimulating atmosphere which would rec-
ognize and support good writing and eventually heighten and strengthen
the reader's appreciation of literature. He considered this necessary for
the intellectual health of his nation and propounded this as the practical
usefulness of poetry.
In honestly and vigorously stating his personal beliefs about
poets and poetry in literary journals and newspapers, Simms hoped to
contribute to the advance of American, and especially Southern, belle
lettres. He firmly believed that the emergence of a rich native literature
was "essential to national patriotism" and "to the independence of the
national mind" ("Letter I" 3). He also saw that any dependence on for-
eign literatures, and especially the intellectual and cultural "bondage" to
Great Britain, was ultimately harmful to his nation's public and social
interests and its mental and moral character. Thus, in all his critical writ-
ings, Simms endeavored to contribute to the formation and the consoli-
dation of a distinct national character away from what he perceived as
mostly imitative and unoriginal writings ("Letter II" 69). His writings
reveal that he saw himself as an educator of the people: he contended
that the literature of a nation "is essential to the utilitarian necessities of a
race" by lifting society from mere materialism into a morally and spiritu-
ally refined state ("Literary Prospects of the South" 198).
Although his anger at English intellectual dominance became
marked at times, Simms never unjustly minimized the achievements of
English writers or downplayed the shortcomings of American authors
despite his passionate advocacy of an authentic American literature.
Instead, he furiously disparaged his fellow critics who, in his opinion,
fawningly and thoughtlessly adopted British metrics of good writing and
assessed every American literary product against an assumed European
original. More damningly, he deplored such critics for their role in fore-
stalling the emergence of a distinctly American critical culture, prevent-
ing American intellectualism from developing native roots.
However, having to admit that his home country still lacked
"unmodeled productions of native genius" ("Letter II" 69), Simms
himself often had to return to the old British masters in his reviews
of American authors. He also tended to be a sharp judge of younger
American poets and throughout his life emphasized the importance of