This week I’m here in Charleston, South Carolina, where I am continuing my research work on The Humourist. For this trip, however, I decided to stay off the beaten path: I’m out on Sullivan’s Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Edgar Allan Poe spent thirteen months here at Fort Moultrie, beginning November 18, 1827, and it was here on Sullivan’s Island that he wrote his famous short story, “The Gold Bug.”
Later this morning, I’ll be visiting the South Carolina History Room, Charleston County Public Library. I want to examine some land plats from the 1750s when the Humourist was publishing his essays in the South Carolina Gazette, and I want to examine some wills from the period. Obviously, I’m looking for the will of the person I believe to be The Humourist. I want to see whether the will contains any information that might confirm that he is actually the writer!
I realize, of course, that it’s a long shot, but who knows! Last week, I was chatting with one of my colleague’s about my research, and I mentioned to him that I was 99% certain who wrote the essays, but I still hoped to find a direct statement somewhere that “Mr. X” was The Humourist. My colleague looked at me and wisely replied, “You’ll never find it because it probably doesn’t exist.” He’s probably right, and I know that I won’t find such a statement in The Humourist’s will. However, I might find such a statement in someone’s diary, someone’s journal, or someone’s letters. And who knows: I might just find it on this research trip.
I keep reminding myself, however, that identifying the author of these essays is only part of my project. The larger and more important part is making the Humourist essays available to students, scholars, and the world at large. I am well on my way to doing just that by making the essays available here in this blog.
You will recall that last week’s Controlled Revelation #3 left me reeling because I discovered multiple passages in the Humourist essays that were identical to passages that had appeared in a series of “Castle Building” essays that had been published in The Student under the name of Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis. I offered up two possibilities, as follows:
“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.”
Since last week, I have discovered that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis was a pseudonym used by English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771). Smart, not The Humourist, is the author of the “Castle Building” essays that appeared in The Student.
Therefore, I must report that—Oh! How it pains me to say it! Can I even type it? No! I cannot! Yes! I must!—The Humourist, in the instances that I cited last week, was indeed a plagiarist!
There, I have typed it! The deed is done! Now you know! Obviously, in my critical edition of The Humourist essays I will have to deal with this issue in greater detail and greater depth. Even so, this discovery has a positive side to it: it provides another bit of evidence confirming my identification of the writer! Throughout his life, the person whom I believe to be The Humourist had a reputation for being somewhat dishonest and misleading.
But let me move on to this week’s close reading of The Humourist’s January 1, 1754, essay to see what we can find there. The essay explores the custom of giving and receiving tokens of esteem on New Year’s Day. What strikes me about this essay is The Humourist’s knowledge of history, especially ancient history. In fact, the Humourist uses the word ancient twice in this essay: “A very limited and confined Knowledge of the Ancients, will suffice to illustrate this Truth” and, later in the essay, “It is evident, that the Ancients looked upon these Customs as promotive of the social Duties, and as so many Obligations to the Performance of them.”
Now that I think about it, the Humourist uses ancient frequently, so often that I must check all of the essays to see how many times!
So this essay strengthens the claim that The Humourist is an Historian.
Beyond that, the essay shows his fondness for Charleston society, and I had actually missed that point until I gave the essay a re-reading this week. Toward the end of the essay, he writes:
It is with Sincerity I offer my Thoughts on this Subject, tho’ far more unnecessary in this Place (than in many others) where so noble a Generosity, joined with an hospitable Dignity, prevails. (emphasis added)
And on that pleasant note, I end today’s post so that I can head off to the Charleston County Library to see what discoveries await me there!