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:
- I have verified my initial transcript of The Humourist essays against the original copies of The South Carolina Gazette;
- I have explored The South Carolina Gazette for 1753-1754 to make certain that I have not missed references to The Humourist; and
- 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.”