Coming in January!

As we approach the New Year, my posts will continue to be in sync with The Humourist’s publication dates. 

January 1

  • The Humourist explores the ancient tradition of presenting “Tokens of Friendship” on New Year’s day.

January 8

  • The Humourist humors himself by writing several letters to himself under the names of Tom Sprightly and Ignotus.

January 15

  • The Humourist examines the foundations of drama.  In addition, he writes another letter to himself that includes “doggerel lines composed by some snarling fellow”:  “The Triple Plea:  Law, Physic, and Divinity.”

January 22

  • The Humourist asserts that writers should adjust their diets to suit the nature of the subject matter under consideration.  For example, “A Pastoral Writer must addict himself to the primitive way of living; Vegetables for his Diet, and for his Drink, the purling Stream.”

January 29

  • The Humourist ends the month with an essay about the paradox of the wise man of Mitilene:  half is better than the whole.  “One half of our abilities properly husbanded, and the other half discovered, is of more real Importance, than the whole profusely squandered.”

The Humourist on the Power Of Imagination, on the Anatomy of Human Heads, and on Making Hay

Today, The Humourist gifts us with  an essay on the power of imagination, an advertisement about a forthcoming publication on the anatomy of human heads, and a song on making hay!  But, interestingly enough, even though it is the day before Christmas, he makes no mention at all of Christmas!

If he were a New Englander, I would not be surprised by his silence.  Colonial New Englanders—especially Puritans—brought with them many of the Reformation issues that were prevalent in Europe, including controveries about the celebration of Christian feast days.

But the Humourist was living in Colonial South Carolina, where Anglicans (Episcopalians), Lutherans, and Roman Catholics celebrated Christmas with feasting, dancing, drinking, cock fighting, and lavish entertainments. How strange that the Humourist on this day before Christmas does not once mention Christmas!

Regardless, let’s enjoy and celebrate The Humourist!

24 December 1753


Into a thousand parts divide one man,

And make imaginary puissance.     SHAKESPEAR.1

That all men entertain high notions of their own importance, is a position of great antiquity; experience, that best of masters, never fails to shew it in the most glaring colours:  From the minister of state to the cobler in the stall, every individual swells at his own imaginations; no man considers himself as ordained to act a part only; we are all universal players, and are as eminently qualified for princely dignity as rustic familiarity; and in our own eyes appear equally suited for the hero or the buffoon, the king or Abel Drugger.2

I have frequently considered these ideas as flowing from a mind emulous of fame, and centering at least in innocent amusement.  These imaginary operations, may truly be termed the science of Castle-building; there is a pleasure arising from this profession, unknown to all others.

I have patronized this art many years, and after having run thro’ the several stages of life, am happy enough to find my finances in tolerable order.

If a man has any talent for building, my scheme not only furnishes him with fruitful designs, but likewise with suitable materials.  In the ordinary course of architecture, the pocket suffers, and the house must bear the shocks of weather and inconvenience of situation; now I can erect a little citadel, vary the prospects at pleasure, can suppose myself its governor, attended with all the pomp of a military cavalcade, and, by the forgeries of imagination, persuade myself into a firm belief that the enemy are soliciting for favor and protection.

I remember a brother of mine busied in the noble art of turning nine-pins, who, to all outward appearances, had look’d as if the balance of power depended upon every individual pin; I have erected houses for children by the help of cards, houses, in my opinion equal to those of Venice, and have absolutely undertook the arduous task of compiling laws for their inhabitants, equal to those of Solon and Lycurgus.3

If mankind can by any lawful means amuse time, remove inquietude to a great distance, and from mere fancy picture to his mind any grateful objects, sure this art must take place:  If a sign-painter can imagine himself possessed of the finger of a Raphael,4 that his portraits are surprizing, his pencil bold and animating, and that his figures swell on the canvas and quicken into life, permit him to hug the blest idea, no one suffers for it, no one receives an injury; the incident affords pleasure to the one, and a fund of laughter for the rest:  Thus all men may live in harmony, and a more just degree of equality subsist in the world; common humanity alone justifies this reasoning;

— — The pleasure is as great

In being cheated, as to cheat,

in the language of Hudibras.5

Henceforward let the curate look the bishop with impunity, the lawyer (if he list) suppose himself a judge, the merchant what he pleases, and in short, let every member of the world look every thing.

24 December 1753


Shortly will be published.

The Anatomy of human heads, describing the various kinds, the mathematical, spherical and elliptical; interspersed with many curious anecdotes, and reflections, critical, moral, and philosophical; and illustrated with near a million of worthy personages, as engrav’d by the best masters.

24 December 1753


As Damon one Day with his fair One was sate,
He talk’d pretty freely of this and of that,
While he toy’d on the Green in Negligence gay,
And Proverb-wise quickly began to make Hay.

Lord bless me, how rude! such a Man I protest
Is the Plague of my Heart, and Foe to my Rest;
No Woman can bear such like Freedom as this,
And the NO shall from henceforth take place of the YES.

He whisper’d an Accent so sweet in her Ear,
When she look’d a smile, (if smiles are sincere)
But too soon to his Grief, responsive Eccho
Gave, instead of the YES, a Gentle NO, NO.

Unskill’d in the Arts of Lucinda the gay,
He soon discontinu’d his amorous play;
She slighted him too; for the Women detest
That a Man should invert what’s meant as a Jest.

Henceforth ye fond Lovers, who wish to obtain
The thousand endearments oft sought for in vain,
Accept this Advice, which th’ experienc’d all know,
That a Woman means YES whene’er she says NO.


1  William Shakespeare, the “Prologue,” Henry the V.

2  A character in Ben Jonson’s comedy The Alchemist, first performed in 1610. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the play “one of the three most perfect plots in all literature.”

3  Solon is known as the lawgiver of Athens; Lycurgus, the lawgiver of Sparta.

4  Raphael (1483-1520), an Italian painter and architect.

Hudibras, Part II, Canto III by English satirical poet Samuel Butler (1612-1680). The full quotation reads: “Doubtless the pleasure is as great / Of being cheated as to cheat; / As lookers-on feel most delight, / That least perceive a jugler’s slight; / And still the less they understand, / The more th’ admire his slight of hand.”

Thoughts on Leaving Charleston, South Carolina

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo! it is ended.
from Robert Frost’s “Reluctance”

Ended! My research trip here in Charleston has ended.  And as I pack my bags to return to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, it is with some reluctance that I leave the Colonial streets The Humourist would have trod, that I leave the sights The Humourist would have seen—even with the full realization that I will return here to continue my research journey.

Reluctance notwithstanding, I have the satisfaction of going back home knowing that I have enjoyed full success—I have accomplished three of the four goals that I established for myself before the start of my trip:

  1. I have verified my initial transcript of The Humourist essays against the original copies of The South Carolina Gazette;
  2. I have explored The South Carolina Gazette for 1753-1754 to make certain that I have not missed references to The Humourist; and
  3. I have selected specific Humourist essays to be used as facsimiles in my forthcoming publication of the essays.

In terms of my fourth goal, I did not have time to explore other primary materials, but I identified them, and, equally important, I generated other angles that will prove helpful as I move ahead with developing my case for authorial attribution.

What more could I want or expect!  Did I say that now I feel  more grounded in Charleston’s history?  I do.  Did I say that now I feel more grounded in Charleston as a place?   I do. Place.  How important.  I am reminded of what American short story writer and novelist Eudora Welty has to say about place.  In her essay “Place in Fiction“, she writes:

I think the sense of place is as essential to good and honest writing as a logical mind; surely they are somewhere related. It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you are. Place absorbs our earliest notice and attention, it bestows on us our original awareness; and our critical powers spring up from the study of it and the growth of experience inside it. It perseveres in bringing us back to earth when we fly too high. It never really stops informing us, for it is forever astir, alive, changing, reflecting, like the mind of man itself. One place comprehended can make us understand other places better. Sense of place gives equilibrium; extended, it is sense of direction too. Carried off we might be in spirit, and should be, when we are reading or writing something good; but it is the sense of place going with us still that is the ball of golden thread to carry us there and back and in every sense of the word to bring us home.

As we move ahead with more of The Humourist’s essays—starting this coming Monday, December 24—we will see that “place” figures prominently in what he has to say:  Charleston and South Carolina become real and alive.  The sense of place is one reason why The Humourist essays stand apart from those being written to the North.

As I pack my bags to head home, I’m glad to have had a personal reminder of the joy that comes from researching primary materials, of mining veins that others have not mined. I’m glad to have had a personal reminder of how genuinely helpful people are and of how genuinely interested they are in the research that others are doing. Finally, I’m glad to have had a personal reminder that research can be completed in small bites:  “I can eat an elephant if I take small bites.”

Come to think of it, we can tackle anything and everything in our lives, we can overcome anything and everything in our lives, and we can complete anything and everything in our lives—if we “take small bites.”

More News from Charleston, South Carolina

What a luxury, mine—yesterday and the day before, all day, both days—working at the Charleston Library Society, magnifying glass in hand, verifying my transcriptions of The Humourist essays against the original South Carolina Gazette for 1753-1754. Yesterday may not have been a double rainbow day, but it doesn’t get any better than working with fragile, brittle newspapers that are nearly three hundred years old in an effort to solve the mystery of who wrote these incredible Colonial American essays.

In my December 17 post, I shared with you snippets from the Gazette that gave you glimpses into employment, books that had arrived, and travel plans of a young lady going to Virginia.

Today, I thought that I would expand the picture by sharing with you passing looks at imports, exports, and a visitation to a free school.  “What’s this?” you ask.  “Accreditation in Colonial America?”  Yes, indeed!

Without fail, every week the Gazette published merchants’ advertisements listing commodities that had arrived by ship from abroad.  Here’s a typical advertisement from November 26, 1753:

Just imported in the Nancy, Capt.White from London and to be sold by the subscribers, at their store on the Bay at the most reasonable rates, a choice assortment of printed callicoes, chints, English cottons and linnens, Scotch, German and Irish oznabrigs, yard wide 7 8th, and 3 4th Irish linnen, Irish sheeting, fine gulix, nuns and tandem hollands, cambrick and lawns of all sorts, check and all sorts of Manchester goods, hair and silk shags, velvets of different colours,  sattin and brocaded silk shoes, men, womens and children leather shoes, womens worsted damask, callimanco and everlasting shoes, stockings of all sorts, gloves of all sorts,  gold and silver lace, womens head lace, quilted petticoats, scarlet cloaks, newest fashion’d  capuchines, sattin hats and silk bonnets, Hyson green and behea tea, single and double refin’d sugar, super fine broad cloths and whitneys, duffils and fine bankets, mattrasses, bed tick, worsted stuff of all sorts, pickles of all sorts, Florence Oil, a large assortment of china ware, cutlary and iron ware of all sorts, brass ware of all sorts, India silks, English sattins and damasks,  mens ready made cloaths, carpets and painted floor cloths, saddles and all sorts of sadlery ware, stationary and tin ware, hair and rice sieves, pewter of all sorts, fowling pieces and horse pistols, fine prints and maps, with many other articles proper for the season.

Stuart & Reid.

N.B. Choice Florence Wine at Twelve Pounds per half chest.

The Gazette published similar advertisements for commodities being exported.  I share a list below from the December 17, 1753, Gazette, not only for general interest but also because of relevance to several forthcoming Humourist essays:

Exported from Charles-Towne

Since Nov. 1, 1753.  Of the Country Produce.

Rice, 6,099 Barrels.

342 half ditto.

Pitch, 273 Barrels.

Tar, 74 Barrels.

Turpentine, 216 Barrels.

Deer-Skins, 50 Hhds.

Indico, 2,151 lb.

Leather, 359 Sides.

Corn, 14,528 Bushels.

Pease, 3,158 Bushels.

Beef, 29 Barrels.

Scantling, 5,423 Bushels.

Shingles, 28,000.

Staves, 1,500.

Of the Rice, 2,052 half Barrels, have been shipp’d to the Southward of Cape-Finisterre.

And, yes, accreditation was around even in Colonial America.  Here’s proof, as found in the December 17, 1753, Gazette:

At a Visitation of the Free-School Charles-Towne, Dec. 12, 1753.  As many of the honorable school-commissioners as attended, ordered the following advertisement to be published in the next Gazette, viz.

That after examination of the several classes, they declared themselves fully satisfied with the improvement of the scholars of the said school, and with the diligence and fidelity of the masters of the same.  And more over, that it is their opinion that whoever shall be pleased to send their children to the said school for education, may depend to having all due care taken of them with respect to the several branches of learning taught therein.  Certified by

A. Garden, Vice President

I started today’s post by mentioning the fragile condition of The South Carolina Gazette.  At the same time, they are in remarkable condition considering the newspaper’s age.  Indeed, how remarkable it is that they survive at all!

Thus, I end today’s post with a tribute to libraries and to librarians!  (Special thanks to Rob Salvo, Assistant Librarian, Charleston Library Society, for his gracious assistance!)

In her poem “Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967,” Rita Dove (Poet Laureate of the United States, 1993-1995, and Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 2004-2006), pays tribute to her hometown library and to librarians.  She reads the poem in the video below, filmed at the White House on May 11, 2011, as part of President Barack Obama’s “Poetry Evening.”  I love the ending of the poem, especially the lines

I can eat an elephant

If I take small bites.

In like manner, I can solve this “literary whodunit”—I can discover The Humourist’s identify—if I take small bites, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Enjoy Rita Dove’s reading of “Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967”:

Breaking News from Charleston, South Carolina!

When I stepped outside my hotel early this morning and saw a double rainbow for the first time in my life, I knew that today would bring joyful and transformative discoveries about my scholarly work on The Humourist essays.

I was right!

I have no doubt whatsoever—in fact, I am certain of it—that you will recall the promise that The Humourist made to us in his November 26, 1753 essay:

… as an inducement to the World to Read my Paper, they may shortly expect a Present of my Picture, which, like the Statue of Mercury in the Fable, shall be thrown into the Bargain.

And then in his next essay of December 10, 1753, The Humourist wrote:

I promised in my last paper, to give you a copy of my countenance; but as it is impossible to procure it in any reasonable time, if the painter may be allowed to shew his skill or do justice to my person, I shall therefore beg my readers patience, and present them with a true sketch of my figure in print.

What a tease!

However, today, I found something new…nothing major, mind you, but new, nonetheless…something that I had missed before. Continue reading

Meanderings in Charleston, South Carolina

Here I am, at last, in Charleston, South Carolina, on a research trip that has several specific goals:

  1. verify my initial transcript of The Humourist essays against the original copies of The South Carolina Gazette;
  2. explore The South Carolina Gazette for 1753-1754 to make certain that I have not missed references to The Humourist;
  3. select specific Humourist essays to be used as facsimiles in my forthcoming publication of the essays; and
  4. examine other primary materials that will strengthen my case for authorial attribution.

The goals are ambitious for a five-day research trip, but if I stay focused, I am confident that  I will achieve the first three goals and that I will make progress with the fourth one.

I’ll be doing a large part of my work at the Charleston Library Society, established in 1748 by seventeen young men who wished to “avail themselves” of the latest publications from Great Britain. The Charleston Library Society paved the way for founding the College of Charleston in 1770, and its core collection of “natural history artifacts” served as the basis for the Charleston Museum, the first museum in America (1773).

Yesterday, when I arrived here, I had one simple task:  meander.  I wanted to walk the streets that The Humourist would have walked and see some of the buildings The Humourist would have seen when he lived in Charles Towne.  (The name was not changed officially to its current spelling until 1783.)  And as I walked the streets I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “My Lost Youth,” and, so, I will share a stanza or two here:

Often I think of the beautiful town 
  That is seated by the sea; 
Often in thought go up and down 
The pleasant streets of that dear old town, 
  And my youth comes back to me.          
    And a verse of a Lapland song 
    Is haunting my memory still 
    ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ 
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,           
  And catch, in sudden gleams, 
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas, 
And islands that were the Hesperides 
  Of all my boyish dreams. 
    And the burden of that old song,           
    It murmurs and whispers still: 
    ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ 

My thoughts were long, long thoughts as I rambled the streets, trying to imagine what Charles Town would have been like in 1753/1754 when The Humourist wrote his essays.

The South Carolina Department of Parks and Tourism boasts of historic Charleston this way:

Known as the “Holy City”,  for its long tolerance for religions of all types, Charleston is the state’s most beautiful and historic treasure. Charleston has had a starring role in South Carolina history since its founding more than 300 years ago. The English established the first permanent European settlement on the Ashley River in 1670. War,  fires, earthquakes and hurricanes have threatened this resilient city over the years but it still stands strong and beautiful. The city’s historic district today has barely changed, boasting 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings, 136 late 18th century structures and over 600 others built in the 1840s.

My walk in the “Holy City” took many twists and turns, and, to my surprise I ended up at a building where perhaps I should have started since it is the oldest in Charles Towne.

The Old Power Magazine (79 Cumberland Street)

The Old Power Magazine
79 Cumberland Street

The Old Powder Magazine is the only public building remaining from the era of the Lords Proprietors, the eight English aristocrats who owned Carolina from 1670 to 1719, under a charter granted by Charles II of England.

My ramblings took me as well to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

St. Michael's

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
80 Meeting Street

Construction of the church began in 1751 but was not finished until 1761. 

 St. Michael’s may well be the church that The Humourist mentions in one of his later essays when he offers up a “Catalogue of several Paintings and Drawings … [including] a Church half-finished.”

I also visited St. Philip’s Church.

St. Philip's

St. Philips’ Church
142 Church Street

Founded in 1670, St. Philips Church is the oldest Anglican congregation south of Virginia.

Finally, I wanted to see some houses that survived from the period when The Humourist would have walked these streets.  They are a goodly number, of course, but somehow I found myself in Ansonborough, laid out by Lord Admiral George Anson in 1745.  Some of Charleston’s oldest Greek Revival houses are in Ansonborough, and two caught my fancy.

The first was the Col. William Rhett house, built between 1711 and 1722.


Col. William Rhett House54 Hasell Street
Col. William Rhett House
54 Hasell Street

 The second was the Daniel Legare House, finished about 1760.  This is the oldest surviving house of Colonial Ansonborough.


Daniel Legare House
79 Anson Street

Hopefully, this helps you see in part Colonial Charles Towne as I glimpsed part of it in my meanderings yesterday, and as The Humourist saw it during his lifetime in the “Holy City.”

 And as I bring this post to a close, I wonder whether The Humorist ever saw in his lifetime what I just saw a few minutes ago—a first for me in my lifetime— when I stepped outside my hotel:  a double rainbow!  Single rainbows I have seen often, but never until today a double one: double rainbows are symbolic of joy and life transformations.

When the Charleston Library Society opens this morning at 9:30, who knows what I will find there that will bring me joy and that will “transform” my scholarly work on The Humourist essays?

The Humorist (December 10, 1753)

Today, The Humorist returns, taking his rightful place center stage. However, before I retreat to the wings, let me share a few brief thoughts about some of my research challenges.

First, working with historical documents from the 1700s is a challenge in itself in terms of establishing editorial principles.  I have taken a conservative approach, always with an eye toward providing a text that is accurate yet readable.  With the following exceptions, I have preserved capitalization, paragraphing, spelling, and punctuation:

  • capitals of two fonts appearing in the same word have been emended to regular capitals;
  • ornamental words used at the beginning of paragraphs have been emended to upper and lower case letters; and
  • long s‘s have been shortened.

The second challenge is the fact that archivists have laminated some numbers of the Gazette in an attempt to mend torn pages.  As a result, I  struggle with reading some of the underlying passages.  <I enclose all conjectural transcriptions in angle brackets to alert the reader just as I have enclosed this sentence in angle brackets.> In any instance when I cannot read a word or if a line has been torn from the Gazette, I provide an alert in square brackets, such as [one illegible word] or [one missing line].  Fortunately, conjectural transcriptions, illegible words, and missing lines are infrequent.

A third challenge is translating some of the Latin quotations that The Humorist uses.  (How  I wish that I had studied Latin somewhere along the way!)  Often I have been able to find reliable translations.  Sometimes, however, I have not.  In today’s essay, for example, I need help with two passages:  see Notes 8 and 1.

Now, as promised, I retreat to the wings.  Enjoy The Humorist’s essay of December 10, 1753.  It’s a keeper.


A CHAP.  Wherein the author takes great pains to say more of himself than of the subject.

— — — Intent to gaze

Creation thro — — — THOMPSON.1

I promised in my last paper, to give you a copy of my countenance; but as it is impossible to procure it in any reasonable time, if the painter may be allowed to shew his skill or do justice to my person, I shall therefore beg my readers patience, and present them with a true sketch of my figure in print.

My body is small, my soul capacious, and my stature low; but what of that, a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself:2  I have extraordinary amorous eyes, for they are ever best employed in discerning each other.  These are the only singularities of my person.

I am possessed of an excellent perspective, that multiplies the species, and presents to my sight the actions of every man; for distinction’s sake, I term it the Otacousticon:3  By the help of this amazing machine, I can observe cuckold’s horns, the philosopher’s stone4, and new projections; I can discover windmills in one man’s head, and hornet’s nests in another.  This will amply suffice as an emblem of that power with which I am invested.

As to my private character, that falls more immediately within the sphere of the historian than the painter.

The curiosity of mankind may possibly extend so far as an impatience, to know what my inducements are for embracing such notional and vague sentiments; ambition is the answer:  I ever had a soaring mind.  A man may grovel like a reptile upon earth, from his entrance upon the stage of life to his exit, unnoticed, unobserved.

If a man wants to be talk’d of, he must surprise; there is nothing equal to a great action:  Longinus might bless his stars, when he wrote his treatise upon the Sublime;5 observe what eulogiums Eunapius bestowed upon him, he sties him, light of nature! giant of wit! eagle in the clouds! lamp of the world!6  These are the blest rewards of soaring minds!

I say with my good friend Horace, seriam sydera;7 I am for driving my head against the stars, snuffing the moon! and as Heinsius expresses himself, and that like a man of the first magnitude too, in speculo positus, omnia saecula, praeterita, praesentia videns, uno velut intuitu.8

If cold white mortals censure these great deeds,

Warn them; they judge not of superior beings,

Souls make of fire, and children of the sun.  Young.9

But to resume the thread of my discourse, and argue in a more serious way.  Aerial Architecture is of great antiquity; the tower of Babel10 is one notable instance; this evidently shews that the ancients supposed a possibility of building castles in the air:  To dwell long upon a case so much in point, would argue a kind of suspicion in me to produce any other instances; have we not essays on the non-existence of matter, on the non-existence of religion, and quires of paper fruitlessly scribbled over, upon the possibility of longitude?

What immense pains have been taken, and to no purpose, to find out the quadrature of a circle, and the creeks and sounds of the north east and north west passages?  Are not these so many notable instances of castle-building; so many ideas, so many notional and imaginary conceptions, tending to justify that boldness which primá facie appears in this undertaking?

All this, and more, is literally true:  Search the records of old time, and look into the annals of the present, to authenticate what I assert.  They were most certainly unsuccessful in their endeavours; but, as good often arises out of evil, and as the vulgar proverb says, ’tis a bad wind that blows benefit to no one, I am the better for it:  I have collected such materials from their ruins, as will shortly convince mankind of the reasonableness of these fabrics, and the great and innumerable advantages arising therefrom.

I shall pursue my design; it is indeed my duty to do so:  Quintilian peremptorily says, perseverandum est, quia cæpimus.11


To be sold very reasonable, many considerable lots, and an estate of great value, a wide expanse! in Nubibus only.

Wanted, immediately, a professor of the occult sciences, an adept in palmistry and physiognomy, and a gentleman of a liberal education, who can serve in the capacity of an itinerant thro the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Wanted, several artificers, mechanics, etc. etc. etc. to assist the author in fitting up his aerial habitation:  ‘Tis hoped the prices will not be extravagant, as the workmen will live more reasonably than when employed in their terrene occupations, and as their diet will capacitate them to dispatch more business and in a shorter time, having nothing to subsist on but air.


1 James Thompson (1700-1748), English poet and author of The Seasons. The quote comes from “Summer” and, in full context, reads: “Nor to this evanescent speck of earth / Poorly confined, the radiant tracts on high / Are her exalted range; intent to gaze / Creation through; and, from that full complex / Of never ending wonders, to conceive / Of the Sole Being right, who spoke the Word, / And Nature moved complete.”

2 Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke in 1676 saying, “What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” However, the phrase goes back to the twelfth century and is attributed to humanist and philosopher, Bernard of Chartres.

3 An instrument used to assist in hearing.

4 The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “A mythical solid substance, supposed to change any metal into gold or silver and (according to some) to cure all wounds and diseases and prolong life indefinitely.”

5 Attributed to Longinus, a Greek rhetorician and literary critic who may have lived in the 1st or 3rd century AD, “On the Sublime” is a treatise on aesthetics and literary criticism and is generally considered to rank second in importance to Aristotle’s Poetics.

6 Eunapius (c. 345 – c. 420), a Greek historian known for his Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists.

7 Horace (65BC-27AD), a leading Roman lyric poet.

8 Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), a Dutch scholar and poet.  Wanted, a translator:  “in speculo positus, omnia saecula, praeterita, praesentia videns, uno velut intuitu.”  ‘Tis hoped the prices will not be extravagant, as the translators will translate more reasonably than when employed in their terrene occupations.

9 Edward Young (1683-1765), British poet and dramatist. The lines are from his The Revenge: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1721).

10 “1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to , let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said , Go to , let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded . 6 And the LORD said , Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do : and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:1-6, King James Version).

11 Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100). a Roman rhetorician known for his 12-volume Institutio Oratoria (Institutes of Oratory).  Wanted, a translator:  perseverandum est, quia cæpimus”.   ‘Tis hoped the prices will not be extravagant, as the translators will translate more reasonably than when employed in their terrene occupations.

Literary Mysteries: Solved and Unsolved

“A lot of the fun lies in trying to penetrate the mystery; and this is best done by saying over the lines to yourself again and again, till they pass through the stage of sounding like nonsense, and finally return to a full sense that had at first escaped notice.” —Anthony Hecht

Dare I confess how gratified I have been with my blog’s traffic since it began a week ago today?  Well, I am!

  • 446 views (including 1 from the United Kingdom!)

Not bad stats for my first week.  Now bad at all for a first-time blogger.  Thank you!

And since I am confessing, let me confess something else:  I’ve shared my joy—and my amazement—with a handful of folks in my close circle, and, over and over again, they have replied enthusiastically with the likes of:

“WOW!  Doesn’t surprise me a BIT!!!!!  Everybody wants to know who wrote those essays!”

Some of your comments affirm:

“Ahhh…everyone loves a good mystery!” 

“Oooh, I love a good mystery! … I look forward to watching you unravel this centuries old mystery.”

To be certain, I’m hooked on the mystery, too:  who was The Humourist?  Preparing a critical edition of his essays will be straightforward—well, to the extent that scholarly research is ever straightforward.  On the other hand, identifying the author will require keen analysis and extensive research in order to make a conclusive (and, if not conclusive, then convincing) case that will stand up to scrutiny and review.

Solving the mystery hinges to a large degree on internal clues to be extracted from the essays.  Looking at the Humourist’s November 26, 1753, essay, we find three clues already.

Clue One: One of my followers—soyfig, in fact—picked up on this one by writing:  “I had to read the Humourist’s first essay three times before I began to understand it!  They certainly wrote on a higher plane then than now!”

Indeed.  Whoever he is, the Humourist is erudite.  In one short essay, he provides a sweeping overview of literary tastes, going all the way back to “Days of monkish Ignorance” and continuing on up to novel writing that reigned in his own time.  

Clue Two Whoever he is, the Humourist seems fascinated by the past.  He opens his first essay with a quote from Horace, and he refers to the past several times in that essay:  “If we make a Retrospect into past Times” and “various Tastes of Mankind in the former ages.”

Clue ThreeWhoever he is, the Humourist seems to have an intense interest in painting:  “as an inducement to the World to read my Paper, they may shortly expect a Present of my Picture.”  However, as we shall discover next week in his December 10, 1753, essay, “as it is impossible to procure it [the painting] in any reasonable time, if the painter be allowed to shew his skill or do justice to my person, I shall therefore beg my readers patience, and present them with a true sketch of my figure in print.”

What a mystery!  What a puzzle!

As I move ahead with my efforts to solve the mystery, I have another confession to make:  I love the task of transcribing the Humourist essays—of sitting at my computer, typing away on the keyboard.

Typing.  I love it:  typing!  It’s not nearly as poetic as the suggestion that Anthony Hecht offers up for penetrating a mystery:  “saying over the lines to yourself again and again, till they pass through the stage of sounding like nonsense, and finally return to a full sense that had at first escaped notice.”  

Typing.  It’s probably more akin to what Carl Jung says about mysteries:

“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

In that sense, then, as I transcribe the Humourist’s essays—as I type them—my hands are helping me become familiar with the essence of his literary outpourings, character by character, letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, essay by essay.  My hands are helping me become familiar with his style.  My hands are helping me see what he put in—and what he left out!

After I have typed one of his essays once or twice—actually, I typed his November 26, 1753, essay three times—I can say with some degree of certainty:  I know that essay well.

I know that essay even better because I have done what I always do with documents:  I checked the Readability Statistics.  So, here’s Clue Four.  Whoever he is, the readability statistics for the Humourist’s November 26, 1753, essay are as follows:


  • Words:  444
  • Characters:  2181
  • Paragraphs:  20
  • Sentences:  13


  • Sentences per Paragraph:  1.3
  • Words per Sentence:  24.6
  • Characters per Word:  4.6


  • Passive Sentences:  15%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 56.7
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:  10.3

Admittedly, these readability statistics are skewed because the Humourist quotes other writers rather extensively in his first essay.  Nonetheless, it is a beginning.

As we move to future essays—and as I continue doing what I have begun doing—all the clues will converge, and I am certain that the Humourist himself will lead me to discovering who he is.

But I digress.  My scheme for sharing Humourist essays with you will be in the same fashion that he shared them with the world:  weekly.  This week, however, he did not publish an essay.  (His next one will appear on December 10.)

Therefore, as I contemplated my post for this week, I was intrigued by how intrigued my readers were by the mystery—by my efforts to solve this literary whodunit—and I was particularly smitten by “soyfig’s” comment:

“A different mystery has been solved.”

Continue reading

Coming in December!

December 3

  • The Wired Researcher explores “Literary Mysteries:  Solved and Unsolved.”
  • To be posted during the late afternoon or early evening.

December 10

  • The Humorist presents us with a “true sketch of [his] figure in print,” and he ruminates on “Aerial architecture.”

December 17

  • The Wired Researcher shares his “Meanderings in Charleston, SC.”

December 24

  • The Humorist ponders the art and science of “Castle-building.”