OPINIONSrnMore Than a Statuernby Thomas Flemingrn”Fame is like a river, that beareth up things Ught and swoln, andrndrowns things weighty and soUd.”rn—Francis BaconrnSimms: A Literary Lifernby John Caldwell GuildsrnFayetteville, Arkansas: University ofrnArkansas Press; 456 pp., $35.00rnSelected Poems of WilliamrnGilmore Simmsrnedited by James Everett Kibler, /r.rnAthens, Georgia: University of GeorgiarnPress; 426 pp., $50.00rnAt the height of his career, WilHamrnGilmore Simms was ranked withrnthe best writers produced by the UnitedrnStates. In the Northeast, his novels werernconsidered inferior only to Cooper’s, andrnthere were many in the South whornwould have put him higher. As a man ofrnletters, Simms was preeminent in thernSouth, and his labors as editor, reviewer,rnand godfather gave him an influencernthat did not dissipate until years afterrnhis death. Despite the accolades he receivedrnin his lifetime—from Poe andrnBryant among others—Simms was chiseledrnout of the literary pantheon in therncourse of this century and has enduredrnthe writer’s ultimate disgrace: he is betterrnknown to scholars and historians thanrnhe is to readers. Even in his native staternof South Carolina, he is little more thanrna statue and the original author of thernstate-history text used by the publicrnschools.rnUntil fairly recently, I acquiesced inrnthe general condemnation of Simms asrna quaint Victorian of no more than historicalrninterest. The novels most frequentlyrnpushed upon students. ThernYemassee and Eutaw, are, at best, on parrnwith Cooper and not the best of Coop-rnThomas Fleming is the editor ofrnChronicles.rner. But Simms is not without his admirers,rnand some of those admirers arernscholars worth listening to: James Meriwether,rnClyde Wilson, and the authorsrnof the two books under review. Afterrnpersuading me to read Simms’ best novels.rnWoodcraft and Katharine Walton,rnbullying me into a fast trip through hisrnletters, and nagging me into reviewingrnthese books, Professor Wilson has forcedrnme to the conclusion that Simms notrnonly deserved the reputation he earnedrnin his lifetime but ought to be consideredrnone of the very few really significantrnliterary figures of 19th-centuryrnAmerica.rnI say literary figure rather than writer.rnbecause like the ancient Eratosthenesrnwho won the nickname Beta for his almostrnfirst-rate accomplishments in a varietyrnof fields, Simms succeeded atrnnothing perfectly. He is one of the firstrnof the great frontier humorists, butrnTwain took the genre to higher literaryrnheights; he is one of the best Americanrnverse satirists who ever wrote, but hernlacks epigrammatic wit and occasionallyrnfalls back on conventional or even forcedrnrhymes; as an editor he shone withoutrnhaving the money to pay contributors tornthe Magnolia or the Southern QuarterlyrnReview or any of his other publishingrnprojects doomed, from their very conception,rnto failure; he is perhaps as goodrna storyteller as this country ever produced,rnbut his style is frequently diffuse,rnhis syntax clumsy, and his taste toorninclined to the macabre, the violent,rnand the sanguinary. Much of what hernwrote, both in prose and verse, couldrnjust as well have been left unpublished,rnbut at his best—and it is remarkablernhow often in his career he managed tornhit a rich vein—he is unequaled in hisrnability to convey experience. Comparedrnto Simms’ best pages and chapters,rnHawthorne seems a prissy puritan, Twainrna mean-spirited village atheist, and Poerna clever dabbler, not really interestedrnin the human stories that are the bloodrnand marrow of literature. Even in hisrnbest work, Twain rarely succeeded inrncreating true and original characters;rnlike Dickens, he lapses time after timerninto exaggeration or mere caricature.rnSimms, on the other hand, when he isrnnot going through the motions of thernconventional love story, has created arnseries of memorable characters—villainousrnruffians, like Hellfire Dick, with arnslim streak of decency, and the inimitablernCaptain Porgy, the erudite epicureanrnwho is too fat to climb into thernAPRIL 1993/25rnrnrn