Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms: Speaking English with a Charleston Accent >> Page 6

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription fared better with Simms than the British commander of occupied Charleston with
Thomas Singleton during the War for American Independence. Unlike the British
Commander Balfour, General Hartwell did not have to face the sight of a monkey
mischievously named for him. Simms had merely "ventilated" the Yankee
Hartwell in a newspaper article, while the British Balfour had become the joke of
Charleston when Singleton insisted upon instructing his pet baboon to "Strut,
Balfour, Strut" while walking the city streets in an exact replica of his military
uniform. Of course there's the possibility that had Simms found a monkey, he
might have been tempted to employ his Charleston accent on the streets of
Columbia by ordering the beast to "Strut, Hartwell, Strut."
Interestingly both William Gilmore Simms and General Hartwell had
already died before one of the greatest losses this country suffered in the
aftermath of the war which brought them together had become fully apparent. We
live today with this loss which neither saw coming, although of the two, Simms
was the more likely to have suspected its approach was not far off The loss was
and continues to be culturally significant, because it centers upon the pride in
language which expands, rather than diminishes, a society's vocabulary and
awareness. Compared to the vocabulary Simms drew on in his day, ours is
impoverished. Our vocabulary lacks much of the richness and subtlety that
existed before centralization leveled its diversity and depth.
Although Noah Webster had already published his 1828 American
Dictionary of the English Language in an effort to standardize the country's
spelling and vocabulary, Simms would resist until his death any and all efforts to
limit the number and the definitions of words he carefully selected to express
himself both orally and on paper.
Nowhere is this resistance to standardization more evident than in The
Golden Christmas. In this novel about an 1850 Charleston Christmas, Simms
plays with words from the first page to the last. Although he was a contemporary
of both the Puritan Nathaniel Hawthorne and the British Charles Dickens, Simms
was inclined to approach his own love of words in a way that more closely
resembled that of the British author who gave us Scrooge and Tiny Tim in A
Christmas Carol.
Simms's style and vocabulary are expansive. It is different from New
England and British authors.
Born in the most English city on the East Coast and raised in one of the
oldest continuing societies in America, Simms grew up with a love for words and
for the mother tongue brought to Charleston in her colonial period by
representatives of the Crown. The English language Simms learned had evolved
over time into what could be better described as Charleston English. Charleston
was after all —a port city attracting visitors and settlers who spoke languages
other than English, adding to and revising almost form the start. The impact of