Controlled Revelation #3: Numerous Confirmations and a New Research Discovery/Challenge that Has Me Reeling!

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;”

 Thus far we have seen the Humourist playing many parts:

      • Classicist
      • Bibliophile
      • Historian
      • Lover of Literature
      • Painter
      • Science Aficionado

This week, as we give his essay of December 24, 1753, a close reading, we will discover numerous confirmations that he played those parts well, but we will also discover a new research challenge that, quite frankly, has me reeling on my own research stage!

Let’s start with the confirmations that I have discovered this week.  We’ll save the new discovery/challenge for the end of this post, thereby allowing it to become the grand finale.

We have major confirmations, of course, that the Humourist is a lover of literature.  Interestingly enough, however, his literary selections and references begin to show a genre preference:  drama.  This week, for example, we find him quoting from Shakespeare’s “Prologue” to Henry the V: “Into a thousand parts divide one man, / And make imaginary puissance.”  Further, he makes reference to the “Abel Drugger”—a character in Ben Jonson’s comedy The Alchemist, first performed in 1610.

Equally important, notice his theatrical language:  “no man considers himself as ordained to act a part only; we are all universal players”.   It continues—with some significance that may point us in the direction of the Humourist’s general age—when he writes:  “after having run thro’ the several stages of life, am happy enough to find my finances in tolerable order.”

“Having run thro’ the several stages of life.” Candidly I have read this essay many, many times, and it was not until yesterday when I re-read it once more that those words caught my attention.  Several stages of life.  Of course!  Coming as it does in an essay with a Shakespearean quote as the headnote, the Humourist is referring to Shakespeare’s seven stages of life proclaimed by Jacques in As You Like It (2. 7. 139-167):

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Again, what we have is a confirmation that the Humourist is knowledgeable of drama.  More, though, we have a means of determining, with some accuracy, the Humourist’s age.  He says that he has run through the several stages of life and that he is happy to find his finances in tolerable order.  Clearly, he is past the fourth stage of life—the soldier stage—focused on seeking the “bubble reputation.”  The Humourist has achieved that already.  He seems to be in the fifth stage of life—the justice stage—focused on comfort and wise sayings and playing the part well.  This is the stage of life generally achieved in our fifties.  I feel fairly confident in saying that the Humourist is in his mid- to late fifties.

As might be expected, this week’s essay confirms that the Humourist was a lover of poetry:  “The pleasure is as great / In being cheated, as to cheat.” The quote is from 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.”

Also, the essay establishes the Humourist to be a Poet, as evidenced by his “Song,” the first of several original poetic flights that he would take.

The Humourist continues to bring the art of Painting and Drawing into his essays:  “If a sign-painter can imagine himself possessed of the finger of a Raphael, that his portraits are surprising, his pencil bold and animating, and that his figures swell on the canvas and quicken into life, permit him to hug the blest idea.”

Further, in his “Advertisement” promising to publish the anatomy of human heads, he indicates that the work will be “illustrated with near a million of worthy personages, as engrav’d by the best masters.”  This new angle—engraving—intrigues me and will be set aside for further rumination.

Thus have I shared “gleanings” from my close reading of the Humourist’s December 24, 1753, essay—gleanings that confirm that which we knew already and at the same time sharpen the focus of what we know about the Humourist:  he’s a lover of literature, yes, but he is knowledgeable of the theater, and he is a poet.  He’s a painter, perhaps, but he knows how to draw and he may be familiar with engraving.  Finally, he shares with us the fact that he has run through the several stages of life and has his finances in order, thereby establishing (with some accuracy, I believe) that the Humourist is in his mid- to late fifties.

I have yet to share, however, the new research discovery/challenge that has me reeling!

In fact, I remain so aswoon that I nearly wish I had not given the essay this close of a reading.  Let me explain.

As I have noted, giving a text a close reading requires paying attention to every word:  each one matters and has significance, especially words that are not customarily or frequently used.  I sit up and take notice when I find them.  That’s exactly what I did when I saw “aerial architecture” in the Humourist’s December 10, 1753, essay.  At the same time, I put it aside.  After all, the Humourist himself noted that “Aerial Architecture is of great antiquity; the tower of Babel is one notable instance.”

Then, in his December 24, 1753, essay, I found:  “These imaginary operations, may truly be termed the science of Castle-building“.

Aerial architecture.  Castle-building.

Why had I not asked myself the question before, “When were these terms used for the first time?”

Immediately, I consulted one of my favorite reference tools:  the Oxford English Dictionary.  I started with “castle-building” and found its first usage to be as follows:

1740    G. Cheyne Ess. Regimen Pref. 7   Enthusiasm, Romanceing, and Castle-building.

Interesting, I thought, but not useful.  However, the second usage of the phrase caught my full attention:

1750    Student 1 223   Castle-building, or the science of aerial architecture.

“Castle building” and “aerial architecture” used together, in the same source, in 1750—just three years before the Humourist used those same terms in his essays!

One of two things seemed likely to me at that point:  being well-read, the Humourist had access to The Student and used it as the source for his phrases.  Or—joy of all joys—what if the Humourist was the author of an essay that had been published in The Student?  And—joy beyond all joys—what if The Humourist was the author of the essay and provided his real name rather than a pseudonym?

I knew that I had to acquire a copy of The Student.  The task has not been easy but I have a copy of the two-volume publication.  I’m perusing the volumes now.

Here’s the full title:  The Student, or, the Oxford, and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany.  Volume 1 was published in 1750; volume 2, 1751.

Here’s a brief excerpt from “To the Reader”:

“And tho’ we might with impunity comply with the common practice of preying indiscriminately on the labours of others, yet we shall not to our knowledge publish any thing that has been printed before, or without the consent of the respective authors: for the one we consider a fraud on the publick, and the other an invasion of private property.”

Consulting the “Index to the Prose’ (The Student published original poetry too and provided a separate index for that), I found that Volume 1 contains an “Introduction to a New System of Castle-Building” and four additional chapters on the subject.  When I consulted the Volume II, I discovered that it contains chapters 5-10 on the science of castle-building.  It also contains the “Introduction to the Second Book of Castle Building” along with Chapters I, II, and III.

I knew that I had to read those essays.  I knew that I had to give them a close reading.

Truth be told, I didn’t have to read too closely and that is precisely why I am reeling:  I have found passages in the castle-building essays published in The Student that are identical (or nearly identical) to passages that appear in the Humourist essays.

Matching Passages:  The First Instance

The “Introduction to a New System of Castle-Building” ends with:

“and my own picture, like the statue of Mercury in the fable, shall be thrown into the bargain.” (The Student I, 223)

Note how the Humourist ends his essay of November 26, 1753:

“expect a Present of my Picture, which, like the Statue of Mercury in the Fable, shall be thrown into the Bargain.”

Matching Passage:  The Second Instance

Chapter I of  A New System of Castle-Building opens with:

“Notwithstanding I have promised in my introduction to present my readers with a copy of my countenance at the close of this work, yet I can’t help being better than my word, and giving a small sketch of myself.


“… my stature is so very low … My eyes, which are extremely small and hollow, may truly be styled of the amorous kind, for they are always looking at one another


“Have we not essays on the non-existence of matter? —On the non existence of religion? —And rheams on the possibility of the longitude and perpetual motion?


“Therefore, as honest Quintilian says, Perseverandum  est, quia caepimus.” (The Student I, 249-50)

Now let’s compare the above passages against those that appear in the Humourist’s December 10, 1753, essay:

“I promised in my last paper, to give you a copy of my countenance … I shall therefore beg my readers patience, and present them with a true sketch of my figure in print.


“…my stature is low … I have extraordinary amorous eyes, for they are ever best employed in discerning each other.


“…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?


Quintilian peremptorily says, perseverandum est, quia caepimus.”

Matching Passage:  The Third Instance

Chapter III of A New System of Castle-Building has this passage:

“I have seen a Pantile-Peg Maker at work with an air of as much importance, as if the administration of Europe had depended upon every individual peg he made … his mind doubtless was busied in erecting fabricks more superb than those of Venice, and furnishing them with laws very little inferior to those of Solon or Lycurgus.” (The Student I, 332)

Below is the parallel text from the Humourist’s December 24, 1753, essay:

“I remember a brother of mine busied in the noble art of turning nine-pins, who, to all outward appearance, had look’d as if the balance of power depended on every individual pin; I have erected 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.”

Finally, in Volume I, we find the following passage in Chapter IV:

“When house and land is gone and spent
Then learning is most excellent.”


“… there are many and singular advantages which an ideal estate has above a real one, too many indeed to be recounted, but some of the principal ones are as follows.  The parish and the parson, tythes and taxes, tenants and repairs … stewards … the impudence of servants, the danger of riding in a coach, the precariousness of life under the conduct of eminent physicians, and profuseness of expensive viands are insurmountable objections to riches and honour.” (The Student I, 380)

And, now, here’s the similar passage from the Humourist’s essay of February 5, 1754:

 “When House and Land is gone and spent,
Then Learning is most excellent;

“From whence he drew these important Inferences … The Parson and the Parish demand their Tythes and Taxes; the Tenant is perpetually perplexing with want of Repairs … Stewards with their unmerciful Charges, the Impertinence of Servants, Physicians prescribing under the Sanction of Eminence … the Apothecary’s profuse Viands, are the eternal Incumbrances of Men of Wealth.”

So, now, can you understand why I am reeling?  But wait!  We have more!

The castle-building essays from The Student were published under the pseudonym “Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis.”

Yes:  reeling!  Stunned!  Now I am faced with two possibilities.

I shall offer up the more cynical possibility first:  The Humourist is a plagiarist, and I have just unwittingly disclosed what may well be the first documented case of academic dishonesty in Colonial America.

Or, shifting to a more optimistic possibility, is it possible that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same?  If that’s the case, the parallel passages are all fine and well because a writer may certainly borrow from his own work and use it in multiple publications!  More, though, if that’s the case—if Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same—I have just expanded significantly what I believed to be The Humourist’s literary canon.

I was not expecting this turn of events at all!  You bet:  it’s a blog on the challenges, discoveries, and joys of research!

10 thoughts on “Controlled Revelation #3: Numerous Confirmations and a New Research Discovery/Challenge that Has Me Reeling!

  1. My goodness. I’m not surprised you’re reeling and writhing; it’s a wonder you’re not fainting in coils!

    Racing up the shoulders of your close reading and lucubrations, I quickly Googled a solution to your mystery — or so I thought. However, it seems the “Monster of Cambridge” never came to the New World.

    I hope The Humourist turns out to be a self-borrower, because The Wired Researcher happens to be death on plagiarists. (Except for the ones who win contests.)


    • Thanks, Lisa. The beauty of “close reading” is that it develops an eye for detail. I am persistent! I want to do everything that I can to move from 99% authorial certainty to 100% authorial certainty! Thanks for coming along on the journey.


  2. I really enjoyed reading today’s post Brent. You are a true detective and you tell such a compelling story! Thank you.


  3. I can’t imagine how you keep yourself on track, sir! I sat down this morning with the aim of writing an intelligent note about recycling one’s writing (citing as an example P.G. Wodehouse’s thrifty habit of lifting whole set-pieces from his novels and reissuing them as short stories). I started by reading today’s Revelation and dutifully clicking the links back to The Humourist’s essays, rereading them and following your argument every step of the way. Then I spotted “forgeries of imagination” in The Humourist’s essay. Wow, I thought! Forgeries, plagiarism, pseudonyms … that’s gotta be relevant! Look at me: close reading! I googled the phrase immediately, and found three instances — all from The Wired Researcher! Lacking an OED, I was stymied. I moved on.

    I wanted to know more about “The Student.” Obviously an Oxford/Cambridge student newspaper, I thought. But then I checked the dates and … could The Humourist have been a student in 1750 and a man in his 50s in 1754? I Googled “The Student + 1754,” knowing I would get a million useless hits and be stymied again, but! I scrolled down the first page, hoping against hope as one does, and spotted one of my favorite words, “Humbug.” I glanced at the blurb and couldn’t believe my eyes. “The oldest known written uses of the word are in the book The Student (1750–1751), ii. 41.” WOW! And: “When referring to a person, a humbug means a fraud or impostor.” WOW! And then a citation to L. Frank Baum, one of my favorite fabulists.

    I would not call The Humourist a fraud or an impostor, but he IS a person who hides behind one (or more!) pseudonyms. For fun, probably, as many pseudonymists do. I imagine it’s a hard habit to break.

    But I repeat: How do you keep on track when there are so many fascinating byways and coincidences in the World of Research! I sincerely hope that The Humourist and Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis ARE one and the same. You may be solving two mysteries with one blog!


    • Thanks for your comment. It is chock-full of intelligent insights! Candidly, I missed “forgeries of the imagination.” Now, I must revisit because it is definitely relevant. I am delighted to see that you are close reading! I suspect that you have always been a close reader! Splendid!

      The Student is phenomenal! I, too, spotted “humbug” as I perused the publication.

      The Humourist received his education decades before 1750. So, he would not have been an Oxford/Cambridge student then. (I don’t think that he was educated there at all!) However, as a learned individual who had relocated to America, don’t you think it reasonable that he would have retained close ties with other learned individuals in Europe? Don’t you think it reasonable that he could simply have been a contributor to The Student? Mind you: I do not know, yet. However, now I must determine whether The Humourist and Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis were one and the same? I’d love to solve both mysteries!

      How do I keep track? It is not easy, but I am so consumed by my research that all the clues seem to keep track of themselves mysteriously!


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