Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms: Speaking English with a Charleston Accent >> Page 5

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Page 5

Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription quarters in the General's carriage with a large basket filled with champagne and
canned delicacies.
The next day the General confided to Colonel Nathaniel Haughton that, if
William Gilmore Simms were a specimen of the South Carolina gentleman, then
he would never enter into a tilt with one of them again. "He out-talked me, out-
drank me and very clearly and politely showed me that I lacked a proper respect
for the aged." Colonel Haughton's simple reply was, "I told you so."
Those familiar with the charm and persuasiveness of a true Charleston
accent can fully appreciate what General Hartwell was up against when he
endeavored to take Simms —a born and raised Charlestonian to task. They will
know this accent is as easy on the ear as it is soothing to the mind. They will also
be aware of the accent's somewhat hypnotic influence on a listener who is
unaccustomed to hearing it. The Charleston accent is well suited to thoughtful
conversation. We have all heard the familiar expression "think before you
speak." But the leisurely speech pattern of a Charlestonian allows the speaker to
think while speaking. Drawing out some words, contracting others, and adding
pauses provide both breathing space and time to form creative images. Thus the
speaker can add related thoughts to the subject at hand, or stop short of saying
something that may be discourteous or inaccurate.
If General Hartwell expected a submissive and conquered Southerner, a
man broken in spirit by his personal, economic and political misfortunes, as well
as his state's loss of its War for Independence, then he greatly miscalculated.
Simms, who at the time of his arrest had only $7.00 to call his own, had not lost
his courage, his love of liberty, his confidence, his Charleston accent, his sense oF
humor, his gift of gab, or his splendid command of the English language. He was
superbly equipped for any war of words General Hartwell might care to wage.
Because Hartwell was so obviously bested by Simms in their tilt, we
might well wonder what the General knew about the editor of the Columbia
Phoenix before he sent soldiers to arrest him. Did the occupying general know he
would be dealing with the South's most prominent and prolific author, a man who
would be know in time as the Father of Southern literature? Was he aware of.
Simms's standing as a novelist, short story writer, poet, biographer, historian,
literary critic, songwriter and dramatist? Had he not heard that Simms passed the
bar on his 21 birthday to become a practicing attorney and a Charleston
magistrate? Had no one told him Simms had been a South Carolina state
representative and a public speaker, whose orations went into print within weeks
of their delivery? We will never know the answer to any of these questions,
although the best question is yet to be asked.
Did Hartwell ever suspect before or after their tilt that Simms had
inherited his grandfather Singleton's penchant for provoking the commanders of
an occupying army which had invaded his home and state? Hartwell may have