The Envelopes, Please!

“Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

I confess—with some surprise but with great delight—that I am bowled over by the response to last week’s “Ricocheting Around Inside My Blog.” It engendered 119 views from all around the world: the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada. I am buoyed up, spurred on, by the reverberation! Thank you!

However,  I had no sooner finished that blog and clicked on “Publish” than I started thinking about today’s blog. It’s been a week to the day, and, I haven’t stopped thinking about it, in much the same way that Louise Glück (former United States Poet Laureate) thinks about writing—especially poetry. She sees it as rather miraculous but reminds herself that not everyone wants to write.  But she does, and writing calls her. When she starts working on something, she finds herself thinking, “It’s waiting for me” (The Poet’s View: Intimate Film Profiles of Five Major American Poets). That’s how I’ve been feeling: “my miraculous blog’s waiting for me.”

In anticipation of today, I am more than a little surprised that I did not ready up my office for the occasion of opening the envelopes that have been waiting for so long.

Jokingly I emailed a good friend, “I’m feeling as if I need to ready up my office. For such an event, surely the press will appear!”

Her  rejoinder “Ha ha ha, you have to be your own press agent!” strengthened my resolve to keep the clutter (and perhaps my creativity) (“5 Reasons Creative Geniuses Like Einstein, Twain, and Zuckerberg Had Messy Desks—and Why You Should Too”).

And I am equally surprised that I have not peeked inside the two envelopes so that I could “orchestrate” the outcome of today’s blog. But I have not. In fact, I have not even touched them (“Integrity is what you do when no one is watching”), but I do know exactly where they are in the midst of my desk clutter.

Of this much you can be certain, for better or worse: what you are reading is what I am writing spontaneously! Other than knowing that I will open at least one of the envelopes today, I have no other plan!

What I hope to find in one or both of the envelopes is the linchpin that gives me conclusive evidence that Alexander Gordon, Esq. (Scottish antiquary, operatic singer, secretary to Colonial South Carolina Governor James Glen, and Clerk of His Majesty’s Council) is the author of our much-celebrated Humourist essays.

I identified Gordon as the author on August 8, 2013, at the Charleston Library Society in my presentation, “Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery Is Solved.”  I anchored my claim to a preponderance of evidence found in the essays after I had given them an ever-so-close reading. The evidence is laid out point by point in the presentation, but the main thrusts are as follows:

  • The Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of the classics, of languages, of literature, and of drawing and painting. So, too, did Alexander Gordon.
  • The Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of theater and drama. So, too, did Alexander Gordon.
  • The Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of history and “the antients.” So, too, did Alexander Gordon.
  • The Humourist essays disclose insider information about the workings of the South Carolina General Assembly. Gordon was the Clerk.
  • The Humourist essays often mention “constables.” Gordon served as a constable.
  • The Humourist essays include references to Egyptian mummies.  Gordon had written two essays on Egyptian mummies.

I could proceed easily and readily with a formal, scholarly publication of the Humourist essays and my work on Alexander Gordon, especially since the evidence that I have amassed—and the corollary authorial attribution that I have made—cannot be contradicted or refuted.

But my researcher conscience will not allow me to do so until I have explored everything that I know to explore that might give me conclusive, linchpin evidence! If it exists, I want to find it.

So that’s what I’m looking for in these envelopes.

I think that the envelopes contain copies of documents written by Alexander Gordon. The one—I am certain—contains his unpublished history and chronology of Egyptians. That has to be inside the envelope from England, measuring 6 x 3/4 inches and weighing a nearly weightless 1.16 ounce. I’m betting that it’s on a CD.

Of the other envelope—the one from Scotland measuring 14 x 10/16 inches and weighing a hefty 17.21 ounces—I am uncertain. Letters perhaps from Gordon to friends in Scotland? I hope! Drawings? Again, I hope.

In those envelopes, I hope to find a word. I hope to find a phrase. I hope to find an allusion. I hope to find something—anything—known to be by Alexander Gordon that matches precisely something—anything—in the Humourist essays that I have attributed to Alexander Gordon.

I realize, of course, that my quest is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.

I realize, too, that I have more than a small degree of fear as I anticipate opening the envelopes. The fear is intense, in fact. What if I am wrong? What if those envelopes contain nothing more than ephemera?

Can I hold up to that blow? Let’s see. Right now—at this moment—I am certain that I have  myriad and sundry other things that I should be doing. I’ve biked my usual 30 miles indoors today. Wow! I’m betting that I would feel really ecstatic if I biked 20 more. Maybe later. Oh, I know. Breakfast! I haven’t had breakfast yet. I’ll bet that some broiled, thick-sliced cauliflower steaks drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, turmeric, and black pepper would be yummy.

Excuse me, please. I’ll be right back.

Twelve minutes later, and I’m back! Wow! The cauliflower is PHENOM. So easy. So quick. The turmeric adds color, and the slight char adds a really tasty crunch!

Okay. Now that breakfast is out of the way, maybe I should check out one of those adjustable, standable desks that I have been considering as a replacement for my far-too-low farm-table-desk.

Can you tell? I’m a master of avoidance. I suspect that other researchers and writers are, too.

Thank you, Natalie Goldberg, for yanking me right back to reality, right now: “Write. Just write” (Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within).

Fine. I will write, as soon as I share my second fear. Well, it’s really more of a concern. Reading and transcribing eighteenth century handwritten documents is a formidable task even for someone who is experienced.  I have read and transcribed a good many of them, and every time, I do so with some trepidation.  Whole words and phrases don’t jump off the page. They require a letter-by-letter, character-by-character reading. Add to that the challenge that spelling was not standardized. The demands are so extensive that earlier this week I did a refresher by checking out the United Kingdom’s National Archives‘ article, “Palaeography.” (It includes several useful and fun tutorials. You might want to check it out, too.)

All right. Having spoken my fears, I’m past them. Understand, however, that I make no promises—absolutely no promises—about how far I will go today in terms of sharing the entire contents of the envelopes.

Today, all that I can promise is to open the envelopes and see what’s inside. If I hit quick and easily accessible pay dirt, you bet: I’ll share. If I don’t, I’ll share that with you, too, along with my action plan for moving ahead with my research.

So, without further adieu (and in response to all of the “Amen! It’s about time!” that I am hearing from my followers), might I have the envelopes, please?

Okay. The longed-for press is not here. Sigh. And I have not heard the longed-for drum roll. Double sigh.

Nonetheless, I will proceed anyway by opening the envelope from Scotland measuring 14 x 10/16 inches and weighing a hefty 17.21 ounces.

I picked it, not because it is heavier. I picked it, not because bigger is better. Instead, I picked it simply because its contents are lesser known and, therefore, contain greater possibilities.

But I shall have some fanfare on this occasion. I shall use a silver-with-inlaid-leather letter opener that my sister Arlene gave me over fifty years ago, making it an antique, I suppose, though not so much as I! And to add a little more fanfare I shall use the magnifying glass given to me on the occasion of the “Inauguration of Dr. John J. ‘Ski’ Sygielski” as president of Lord Fairfax Community College on September 10, 2004.

I have just opened the padded, scotch-taped envelope.

Wow! I have my work cut out for me! On top is a copy of my 2014 order for 8 handwritten documents totaling 45 pages! The longest document is 18 pages.

Unfortunately—for me—the first document is a one-pager, in such small penmanship that even my best magnifying glass won’t do. This document must wait.

The second document—and, no, I will not go through all 8 documents today!—the second document is, in fact, a group of  5 letters in a hand not much larger than the first. What intrigues me is that the letters are written by William Wishart, a Scottish minister and educator who would have been a contemporary with Alexander Gordon. I’ve perused the letters quickly. One dated September 22, 1741, mentions “instantly delivered; that no time be lost nor hazard run of Mr. Gordon’s going off.” (I love the phrase “no time be lost nor hazard run” so much so that I will make a point of using it soon and very soon!) I believe the comment is made in the context of Alexander’s Gordon’s intended removal to South Carolina. I need to check the dates.  The other letters mention Alexander Gordon, but I see no immediate linchpin.

The next “packet”: two more letters. They are not by Gordon, but they do mention him and his request for “more money.”

Feel the pauses? I am … reading, ever so slowly! Research is heavy lifting!

What I am looking at now are two letters from “Britanicus” (William Stukeley, antiquarian best known, perhaps, for his investigations of Stonehenge) to “Galgacus” (clearly Alexander Gordon, since the envelope is addressed to him.) Stukely and Gordon were lifelong friends. These letters are long, and therefore, they will be a long read. But they are fraught with potential, especially in terms of possible comparable language in the Humourist essays.

Another is “Memorial in Behalf of Alexander Gordon.” Again, a long document—a long read—oozing with potential.

Several more letters to Gordon. Interesting, but I doubt they contain my linchpin!

This next one is more than interesting! It’s about Gordon and discusses his performance as a teacher of drawing and Italian as well as his anticipated departure for South Carolina.

And still another letter discusses Gordon’s “bookselling busyness” and notes that he “now teaches” Italian and drawing and “has a good many scholars.” It also comments that he spends hours drawing “Egyptian Antiquitys”. These are great tie-ins to the Humourist essays!

I have a lot in this envelope to read—and digest—and it will take considerable time in the weeks ahead.

For now, suffice it to say that I place my greatest hope in the letters from Stukeley to Gordon, “Britanicus to Galgacus.”

And if I might have another drum roll—oh, dear: I never had a first one! Well, I shall pretend! Wow! Drum roll, please! Goodness! That was really nearly deafening! Tone it down a little!

Great! Thank you!

I have just opened the second envelope, the one from England, measuring 6 x 3/4 inches and weighing a nearly weightless 1.16 ounce. (Will it prove that good things come in small packages?) It is, as I suspected, a CD. It’s enclosed in a paper CD holder, with “Best Copy Available” written at the bottom.

Could you feel my heart sink? I’m wondering, “How readable will this handwritten document be?”

Into the PC it goes!

Wow! and Wow!! and Wow!!! It’s far more readable than I thought, all 121 pages of it.

Pay dirt.

Here’s part of the title page:

An Essay

toward illustrating

The History, Chronology, & Mythology

of the

Ancient Egyptians

From the Earliest Ages on record, till the dissolution

of their Empire near

the times of Alexander.

by Alexander Gordon, M.A. Secretary to

the Society for the Encouragement of Learning

& the Antiquaries of London

You bet! Pay dirt!

The connection to the Humourist essays and my identification of Alexander Gordon as their author is now incontrovertible. Even so, I will continue to explore this unpublished history of the ancient Egyptians, confident that it will yield still more nuggets.

So there you have it, research unfolding live before your eyes! I have opened both envelopes, and I have shared their contents with you in broad brush strokes.

How do I feel? (Thank you for asking!)

Exhausted! (I’ve been at this for at least 8 hours today!)

Exhilarated! (I’ve found as much as I had hoped to find, perhaps more.)

Engaged! (I’ll be about the business of reading and digesting these documents for a good while.)

Wired! Precisely! I am wired!

I’ll be back next week and for weeks and weeks thereafter…with more! But soon and very soon—with no time lost and no hazard run—I shall find a publisher, being ever so mindful of how many times William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury suffered rejection before being published and being ever so mindful of Emily Dickinson’s admonition that “Publication — is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man —“.

In the meantime, measure me with comment!

4 thoughts on “The Envelopes, Please!

  1. Wow! Holy Cow! I couldn’t wait for WordPress to notify me of your latest post; I came looking. And I find that the envelopes have been opened and you are pleased with the results. Thank goodness. I was sure there would be something worth your attention, and yes! Wonderful things!

    Speaking of Egypt and its ancient antiquities, I’m sure you have read the news that a large mysterious “void” has been discovered within the Great Pyramid of Giza. Mr. Gordon would have been so interested!

  2. I want to be sure “that no time be lost nor hazard run of” your being a tad hasty, good professor. It remains to be shown the actual connection, something beyond a dead man’s casual interest in the pyramids. We just don’t know, just yet. And we have been waiting. For years.
    I will wait for the echo and ricochet of solid proof, words mirroring years and distance. Something beyond sister Arlene’s antique letter opener, which did, in fact, add to the gravity of that splendid moment, but alas, not truly connected. We will have to wait and see.
    So. I will finally take to my bed. I am worn out from the wait. So far.
    But going to bed hungry? ‘Twas always my punishment. And now? The excitement and anticipation of the morrow. Pure joy. And dreams.

    • I have lost no time nor have I hazard run! (Isn’t that a great phrase? I love it! And, now, you have given me an opportunity to use it once more since I fell in love with it yesterday! Thank you!)

      The evidence cannot be refuted. Colonial Charleston was so cosmopolitan and its citizenry so erudite that indeed any one person might have had an interest in pyramids. But it was ONLY Alexander Gordon who had not a “casual interest in” but rather an in-depth knowledge of pyramids, Egyptology, mummies, the ancients, literature, drawing, painting, theater, drama, and Italian. And it was ONLY Alexander Gordon who could have known about and written about all of those topics while at the same time providing contemporary insider information about the workings of South Carolina’s General Assembly because he was the ONLY Clerk of His Majesty’s Council when the essays were published! All of these are intricately intertwined, beautifully connected, and teasingly reflected in Gordon’s heretofore pseudonymous Humourist essays.

      Refreshed by your dreams, you will start a brand new day, this day. May you be invigorated and, more, may your unbelief be lessened by this sage advice: “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” It will be worth your while!

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