Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''Cash is Conqueror'': The Critique of Capitalism in Simms's ''The Western Emigrants'' and ''Sonnet—The Age of Gold'' >> Page 92

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 92 THE SIMMS REVIEW

In his view, this transition defiled the divinity of agriculture by trans-
forming it into a practice driven solely by monetary gain. We can hear his
anger in "The Western Immigrants": "[He goes] seeking wealth / Not
wealth, but money! Heavens! what wealth we give, / Daily for money!"
(48-50). Here Simms clearly distinguishes between the monetary wealth
that capitalists crave and the spiritual wealth that agrarians enjoy. Simms
also conveys the idea that materialistic desires have transformed planters
and farmers in Mississippi into individuals who care not for their lands or
families, but only for capital and monetary wealth. As John Guilds points
out in his biography, Simms's own father pleaded with him to come to
Mississippi, stating, "I will guarantee you a fortune" (18). Instead, the
young Simms like the speaker in "The Western Immigrants" and unlike
the patriarch he describes—preferred the spiritual wealth of his native
South Carolina.
In Poetry and the Practical, Simms condemns the materialist
[E]xcept in mere matters of business, [the mind] is tabu-
la rasa—a mere blank, upon which Faith, Love, Charity,
Beauty, Taste, Genius, Art, Society—writes no records.
These are all childish things. They are unprofitable. He
has but one taste the one passion from which nothing
can divert him. (77)
The passion Simms refers to here is, of course, the passion for the
American dollar.
In "Sonnet The Age of Gold," Simms presents the capitalist
as a man who epitomizes this materialistic desire for capital, a portrait
which shares many similarities with that of the patriarch in "The Western
Emigrants." In his introduction to Poetry and the Practical, James Kibler
details Simms's belief that "the materialist dealt only with the surface,
the selfish, the temporary, and the time bound" (xii). Simms describes
the materialist as extremely superficial, perhaps to emphasize the super-
ficiality of capitalism itself. In the poem, Simms declares the materialist
a "worldling" who "shakes His money bags, and cries `My strength
is here; / O'erthrows my enemy, his empire takes, / And makes the ally
serve, the alien fear!" (5-8). Just as the man in "Sonnet—The Age of
Gold" rattles his purse to display his love of riches over all else, the patri-
arch in "The Western Emigrants" displays his desire for monetary gain
over the simpler but more profound rewards of South Carolina by leaving