Published Humanitas, Volume XX, Nos. 1 and 2, 2007

In his biography of William Gilmore Simms John C. Guilds says of his subject that he had “a special fondness for history” and was, in Guilds’s view at least, “the only American author of the nineteenth century to envision, design, initiate, and consummate an epic portrayal of the development of our nation.”1 Elsewhere Guilds says that “Simms’s fullest expression of the relationship between history and art is found in the essay entitled The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction.” He goes on to say that Simms’s theory of art “puts history in the forefront as the subject for literature” while his theory of history “makes literature the only true medium through which the accomplishments and lessons of history are made meaningful to man.” In brief, for Simms, there is a unity of history and art and thus “[t]he scholar who wishes to understand a people or an age must reach and understand the poet-philosophers (i.e. the historical romancers) of that people and age.”2 These remarks on the demands that the craft of history makes on the historian to arrive at the fullest possible self-exposure to the thought and art of the period being studied and re-created remind us forcefully of remarks on the same subject made by Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus it is my purpose in this article to discuss the balance of similarities and differences between Simms and Nietzsche on the question of historiography. In so doing I would hope to bring the American-“Romantic” and the Continental-“Modern” understandings of the meaning and nature of the “historical sense” into the same field of vision. To this end I propose to focus on the second section of the work pointed to by Guilds and on the second of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations known best in the English-speaking world as “The Use and Abuse of History.”

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