Controlled Revelation #12: The Humourist as Master of Sarcasm and as Promoter of Colonial South Carolina

Now that my “Vay-kay” has ended, I am back to The Humourist with more vim and vigor than before!

Today, we’ll be giving The Humourist’s essay of February 26, 1754, a close reading. However, before we start that analysis (and simply by way of reminder), I want to share with everyone my plan for these “Controlled Revelations.” (I shared it with you in my April 16 post.)

“[Here’s] my PLAN for sharing with you the extensive clues that have allowed me to solve this Colonial American “Literary Whodunit”.

“My plan is, as Dr. Watson might have said (but, in fact, did not say, except in the movies), “Elementary, dear Watson.”

“I have shared with you the Humourist’s essays, week by week without fail, since last November 26. As I shared them with you, I kept copious and extensive notes of my own reactions, insights, and investigative excursions. I have given his essays a carefully controlled and disciplined “close reading”. This is an ancient method, going all the way back to Roman rhetorician and literary critic Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria, composed about 92-96). (The Humourist himself would be delighted because he, too, was familiar with Quintilian, quoted him on at least one occasion, and knew the value of paying attention to every detail!)

“It goes without saying (I should hope) that while the controlled revelation of the clues will be important, of equal (or, perhaps, greater importance) will be the candid disclosure of my process: what clues led me to particular revelations and what clues came together, ultimately, to allow me solve this literary mystery.

“Starting next week, I will make my posts available on Monday. Thus, on Monday, April 22, I will share with you my close reading of the Humourist’s first essay from November 26, 1753. (Go ahead: click on the link and re-read that essay now. See what clues YOU find. Start with the obvious ones and see where they lead. I welcome your comments sharing your own observations and insights!)

“The following week (Monday, April 29), I’ll provide a close reading of the Humourist’s second essay. I will continue that week-by-week strategy until we have come full circle to the Humourist’s last essay.

“Then, dear followers, my controlled revelations will have ended. Then I will reveal the Humourist’s identity. The revelation will be stupendous!”

Today, I want to share one more detail regarding my Controlled Revelations plan.  It’s significant, so sit up and take notice! 

We are fast approaching The Humourist’s last essay, and, as a result we are fast approaching “the revelation.” 

In response to a faithful-follower comment, I indicated that I would reveal The Humourist’s identity at some point during the week of August 5th!

Today, I will be even more specific.  I will reveal The Humourist’s identity on Thursday, August 8 at The Charleston Library Society where I will be the guest speaker.  Below is the text of the announcement:

Step back into history for a moment, if you will.    We’re in Colonial Charleston where we’re reading the The South Carolina Gazette for November 26, 1753.  Starting on that date and continuing weekly through April 9, 1754, we find 17 essays, 7 letters, 1 song, 1 unfinished poem, 2 advertisements, and 2 related items—all published under the pseudonym, “The Humourist.”

The Encyclopedia of the Essay (ed. Tracy Chevalier, 1997) places “The Humourist” essays in the tradition of Samuel Johnson’s Rambler essays and observes that they are the only “full-fledged literary” works to have appeared in the South Carolina Gazette.  J. A. Leo Lemay (du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware) noted in A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Southern Literature (1969) that the essays should be edited, published, and the author identified.

And that’s exactly what Dr. Brent L. Kendrick is doing.  As part of his Chancellor’s Professorship (2012-2014) awarded by the Virginia Community College System where he is Professor of English at Lord Fairfax Community College, he is preparing a critical, annotated edition of the essays, and, of equal importance, he has identified the author.   As Dr. Kendrick notes, The Humourist was well known in the Colonial South Carolina, and before come to South Carolina, he was well known in England and throughout Europe.

Now, more than two hundred and fifty years after their original and only publication, these essays (and their heretofore unknown author) are being brought to light as a significant literary voice from Colonial Charleston.

You can read more about the Speakers Series by visiting the website:  The Charleston Library Society.  When you get there, check out their Events and Programs.

The program is free and open to the public.  I’d love to see some of you there for this important revelation!  If you cannot join us, rest assured that I will provide concurrent coverage right here, orchestrated in a way that will allow you to find out The Humourist’s identity at the same time that I am disclosing it to those attending my live presentation.

I’ll share more details as we get closer to August 8.  For now, let’s get down to business and see what clues we can find in The Humourist’s essay of February 26, 1754.

You will recall, I am sure, that the essay is The Humourist’s longest.  It’s divided into two parts, really.  The first part provides a critical analysis—a close reading, if you will—of “A True Relation of the Dreadful Combat between Moore of Moore Hall and the Dragon of Wantley.”  For the full text of the poem, see “The Dragon of Wantley.”

Go ahead:  give it a quick read. You will discover that a “quick read” is about all the ballad deserves!  Great literature it is not!

It goes without saying that a classicist like The Humourist also knew that the poem was not great literature and that it was hardly worthy of the nearly 700 words that he devotes to it in his essay. Yet he does so with such exquisite sarcasm that what is ridiculous already becomes even more so.

One example from the essay incorporates a quote from “The Dragon,” and it will serve to illustrate my point:

The great Excellence of an Author is to raise Expectation, to wind up the Soul as a Body would a Clock, keeping the Springs in a continual Motion:  This Rule is most incomparably observed in the Work now before us; Silence Gentlemen, pray Gentlemen be all Attention, raise your Ideas of a Hero, and observe the following Stanza, wherein the Dragon of Wantley far excels Hercules, for tho’ he slew Lerna, yet he was indebted to Implements of Force, he did it Vi et Armis.

‘But he had a club,

‘This dragon to drub,

‘Or he’d ne’er don’t, I warrant ye;

‘But Moore of Moore-Hall,

“With nothing at all,

‘He slew the Dragon of Wantley.

What a noble Description is this!  Who does not feel a secret pleasure for Moore upon this Conquest, when we find under what Disadvantages he procured it?

Suffice it to say:  The Humourist is a master of sarcasm.

Now, let’s move on to the second part of his February 26, 1754, essay, in which he writes letters to himself under various names: Alice Wish-For’t, Calx Pot-Ash, Pine Green Tar, and Urbanicus.

As  I noted in my Controlled Revelation #11, before coming to South Carolina, the Humourist had been criticized for being overly zealous of his nationality. To be certain, the second part of the essay that we are exploring today discloses that The Humourist transferred his zeal to his new home.  He recognized the challenges facing the Colony of South Carolina in terms of industry, trade, manufacturing, and social issues, and he addressed them in his Humourist column.

As Alice Wish-For’t, the Humourist makes a strong plea for giving preference to commodities produced in South Carolina:

Nothing adds to the Wealth of a People and encourages Industry, than the Exclusion of foreign and Use of their own Manufactures.  All wise Nations and judicious Subjects, industriously avoid the purchasing of that from abroad, which they can be well supplied with at Home.

I confess myself quite unskill’d in Trade, therefore hope, the above Hints will be considered as arising from the Love of my Country.  I have a Fortune sufficient to purchase Wheat-Flour, yet chuse to eat nothing but Rice, because it’s of our own Growth; nor will I touch even a Piece of Johnny-cake, except made of Wheat-Flour sent from the Back-Settlements; all the Furniture of my House, etc. is of Carolina Make; so is my riding Chair, and most of my Cloaths; and Mr. Scott’s Beer (as soon as I saw his Advertisement) had the Preference to all foreign Liquours, and is become my constant Drink.  I wish every Lady in the Province was of my Humour; what a Number of Dollars should we then have at Command more than at present!

As Calx Pot-Ash, The Humourist makes a plea for manufacturing pot-ash along with rice and indigo and goes so far as to suggest that the proposal be taken to the General Assembly:

But, as the Reasonings of private Persons can seldom prevail against public Prejudice, I would ask your Advice, if it would be improper to recommend myself to the General Assembly, for their Encouragement and Support, as their Notice of me would bring great Numbers of British Subjects annually to settle your back Countries, would liquidate the Public Debts, and put your Currency on a Par with the Cash of your Mother Country. 

As Pine Green-Tar, The Humourist promotes green tar:

On further Enquiry, am told by Mr. Pot-Ash, Merchant, that He is of the same Sentiments with myself; and that we both should meet with Encouragement among you, had you any Person well skilled in bringing us to hear:  But the Process is so easy, and the Profits so considerable, that it’s amazing, you think it not worth while to send an ingenious Person to see how we are managed.

Finally, as Urbanicus, The Humourist is informed of—and concerned about—issues facing Charleston:  a lighthouse with cannons on Cumming’s Island, for defense; a pest-house for dealing with individuals infected with Small Pox; tighter control on the number of retailers licensed to sell liquor; the requirement for plantation owners to have one white person for every ten Negroes; the need for a jail of sufficient quality; and the need to wall in the White-Point section of Charleston to prevent hurricane damage.

So, today, we have seen The Humourist as a master of sarcasm.  More important, though, we have seen him as a promoter of Colonial South Carolina.  I like seeing that side off him.  It anchors him historically, and it shows him to be at the center of some major issues facing not only the Colony of South Carolina but also the city of Charleston.

4 thoughts on “Controlled Revelation #12: The Humourist as Master of Sarcasm and as Promoter of Colonial South Carolina

  1. The announcement notes, “1 unfinished poem.” Perhaps you, Dr. Kendrick, would be willing to finish the poem? I know it would be marvelous……


    • I am flattered, Curious, but I confess: my poetic flights are no better than the “Dragon of Wantley”! However, it seems to me that I should extend to others–including you–the “invitation” that you sent my way. Stay tuned for a Special Post tomorrow or the next day! You’ll enjoy it!


  2. Wow! This is absolutely fantastic! Revealing the identity of The Humourist in his home state, live and in person, near the very date when you would have announced it in your blog! Who could have anticipated it would end like this?!

    And, of course, it is NOT the end, right? Because you must reveal the subject of your Next Research Project!


    • My Goodness, Holy Cow! I’m already wired, but your enthusiastic response to my August 8 speaking engagement has me wired even more tightly, if that is possible! Candidly, I never anticipated that things would work out this way, but it is a perfect way to wrap up this part of my Humourist research!

      Rest assured: August 8 will not be the end of my blog. For starters, I still have lots more Humourist research to conduct, and I’ll be sharing it here, including a trip later this year to England and Scotland where I’ll be studying some manuscripts written by the Humourist. (Oh my! Did I just drop a clue, accidentally?)

      And once my Humourist work has ended, I have two other research projects waiting for me–and you!


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