The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992 Page: 286
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
maintains that, under modern circumstances, the constructing mind-self-
consciousness, as the philosopher speaks of such things-transforms the ob-
jects of its attention, absorbing those objects in the process of contemplation
into the act of thinking-nature, man, society, and God. Looking for versions
of this intellectual enterprise in the works of particular American artists or in
whole sets of related texts has been the characteristic focus of most Simpson
essays. The pattern is sustained in this new book.
Mind and the American Cvl War is made up out of the 1988 Walter Lynwood
Fleming Lectures in Southern History. But they are as much concerned with
New England as the South. There are three of these addresses, followed by a
curious epilogue on why Quentin Compson in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! at-
tended Harvard University. The first of these lectures concerns the alternative
versions of American intellectual life that have been with us from our begin-
nings as a culture and the 1815 visit by a youthful New England historian to
Monticello. Jefferson's home is here understood as the southern locus of our
republic of letters, "the transference of word, God and man into mind" (p. 12).
According to Simpson's typology, Jefferson's home, "directly reflecting the
mind of its architect . . . was in itself a concentrated symbol of the unalterable
movement of modern history, the movement into mind" (p. 12). But, in the
final judgment of Simpson, Jefferson never fully believed his own teaching be-
cause, as a slaveholder, he knew how the best of men were bound and limited
by history. The theoretical answer to Mr. Jefferson at his most sanguine Simp-
son deduces from Sir Robert Filmer's assertion that society shapes intellect, and
not the other way around. In Pattlaicha there is an explanation for a division in
the Virginia character, a line reflected by the divided spirit shaping Jefferson's
Notes on the State of Vzrginia (1787). The intransigent reality of slavery left the
southern intellectual no way of respecting himself without converting his re-
gion's social system into the positive basis for a new and higher civilization, one
grounded in a sense of mission by means of which he "spiritualized the secular"
particulars of southern life, including slavery itself (p. 3 1). None of these devel-
opments answered to Mr. Jefferson's aspirations for a culturally redemptive
South. Moreover, as the republic of letters failed to take root in Dixie, it like-
wise lost its hold in New England-a region as much defeated by Union victory
in 1865 as the Confederacy had been.
The other addresses in this book concern sectionalism and cultural imperi-
alism in New England and the problems of race and inheritance as they af-
fected the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson. They are beautifully done. And
the Emerson essay breaks new ground, showing the Concord Sage as a man as
much undone by Appomattox as George Fitzhugh had been. As defined by
blood and history, New Englanders have as little to do with the culture of mind
as do the most reflexive southern conservatives. Concerning the propriety of a
defeated Quentin at a defeated Harvard, Simpson is most persuasive. His "Mis-
sissippi Puritan" (p. 104) cannot escape history or "create an ideal order."
Simpson concludes that New England and the South are mirror images, com-
ponents of a symbiosis not to be measured or known apart from one another. It
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992, periodical, 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/m1/332/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.