Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near
And yonder before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress” (1681)
People are always asking me questions, and, quite often, the questions relate to my research.
“Are you still working on your Humourist essays?”
“Have you discovered another [Humourist] mystery to tantalize your audience?”
And just a day or so ago, the same good friend who is always tantalized by mysteries—mine, hers, and others’—quipped in an email:
“Do you know what happens to professors who get too caught up in their mysteries?”
She even shared her response— well, for the sake of accuracy, I must say that she shared a response—and I will share it with you anon.
Finally, comes the cruelest question of all that I get asked:
“So, tell, me: when exactly DO you plan to finish your Humourist project and move on to something else?”
I am always glad to answer the questions that are tossed my way—including the cruel ones—and I shall do so right here for the world at large!
Yes, I am still working on my Humourist essays! I am not working on the essays constantly, of course. It is with this project as it is with all research: it lingers, hidden away in the hidden recesses of the mind. From time to time, it enjoys a rebirth, crying and screaming, demanding that I pay attention to a new idea or a new possibility and that I lay either—or both or something or anything—gently down to rest.
As to the second question, I have NOT found any additional Humourist mysteries to tantalize my audience since I announced that Our Illustrious Alexander Gordon Now Joins the Ranks Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville! Discovering that Gordon (like Hawthorne and Melville) had once worked in a Customs House is pretty tantalizing in and of itself! No? I suppose, however, that in the scheme of this research project, my Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery Is Solved is more tantalizing, and in the overall scheme of things, perhaps it’s as tantalizing as it’s going to get!
Now for that third question about what happens to professors who get too caught up in their mysteries. Well, of course I know what happens: they solve the mysteries, just as I have done! Right? Well, apparently not always. My good friend who posed the question for me to consider went on to share an article about John Kidd, at one time “the greatest James Joyce scholar alive.” Kidd became so caught up in solving the mysteries in Joyce’s Ulysses that he lost his directorship of the James Joyce Research Center, became jobless, “haunted Marsh Plaza at the center of Boston University,” and ultimately disappeared! It’s a fascinating article about a fascinating professor, a fascinating novelist and a fascinating novel! After you finish reading my post—and mind you: not until you have finished—you might want to read The Strange Case of the Missing Joyce Scholar. It’s a long article, well worth the read, but you will need (or want) to brew yourself a full pot of coffee!
As my good friend knows, I have not disappeared, I am not missing, and I am not jobless. I can only presume that she shared the article with me as an ever-so-subtle caution filled with her ever-so-gleeful, twinkle-eyed, virtual humor! Thank you so much, Bonnie!
The fact of the matter is that I like (for whatever reason) being in Joyce’s good company. I am not certain that I have ever fared so well except perhaps when I was an undergraduate and somehow found myself distinguished as the young student on campus who—all year long—always carried an umbrella! I have no earthly idea what prompted me to do so since it certainly did not rain that much in northern West Virginia. Be that as it may—and it may be nothing more than my feeble recollection—I carried an umbrella around with me often enough that my English Department Chair called me “Lord Chamberlain!”
When she first called me Lord Chamberlain, I had no idea who he was, so I made haste to the library to check the card catalog—yes, when I was an undergraduate, libraries still had card catalogs—to see what I could discover. I discovered just what I was looking for: photos! Lord Neville Chamberlain looked so dapper and so handsome as a young man that I did not mind at all being his transitory namesake, so to speak. Years later when I could conduct research at home or anywhere or everywhere via the Internet, I checked the good Lord out again, discovering this time the political backstory behind his umbrella. And after Bonnie catapulted me— if not mysteriously then certainly miraculously—from James Joyce to Lord Neville Chamberlain, I checked out Chamberlain again and found a delightful BBC radio episode, Prime Ministers’ Props. After you finish reading my post—and mind you: not until you have finished—you might want to check it out, too!
(Let me add here—since one more digression will do no greater harm than that already done—that it was this very same Department Chair who, in response to a question that I wearily asked one day in class—“Please, Dr. Callison, can’t you give us some uplifting stories to read instead of all these depressing ones that you have assigned?”—came back with—to my chagrin and to my classmates’ euphoria—“Yes, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm: let me see what I can do.” I knew nothing about Rebecca or her farm, but I knew that I did not like being called “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” (After all, I was Lord Chamberlain and had my campus reputation to maintain!) So, once again, I made haste to the library to discover the extent of the insult! And, dear reader, if you do not know about Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, perhaps you should make haste to Google and make the discovery on your own, that is after you finish reading my post—and mind you: not until you have finished!)
See how easy it was for me to fool around with my answers to those first three questions? Can you not tell that I did so willingly, cheerfully, and even playfully? Three yesses are in order! In fact, I had great fun!
However, I cannot make the same claims about that fourth question. It’s downright cruel, and it sticks in my craw: exactly when DO you plan to finish your Humourist project and move on to something else. And I can safely say that I am so safe in saying that it sticks in my craw that I will say it again: it sticks in my craw! I say it without hesitation and without fear of offending any of my followers because I am the culprit—I am the one—who perpetually asks that question of myself! (I suspect that many of my readers have wondered the same thing but have been too polite to ask! Thank you very much!)
Truthfully, the time has come that I must finish! I don’t have world enough and time. Who does? Right?
And, to be certain, I have committed no crime. Right?
“Wrong!” exclaims a virtual voice! “Have you forgotten your many months of controlled revelations? You were ever so coy in them, and, one might say, just as guilty of a crime as Andrew Marvell’s mistress!”
Coy? Me, coy? Well, perhaps I was slightly coy in those Controlled Revelations wherein—week by week, as I am sure my readers will recall—I revisited the Humourist essays that I had made available already, in toto, and analyzed the clues therein that led me to identify Alexander Gordon as our beloved Humourist. I suppose that I was shy and modest and firtatious in my attempt to allure my readers and keep them reading! See for yourself. Go back and revisit! Here’s the debut coquettish post that prompted someone to call me coy: Controlled Revelation #1: Classicist. Bibliophile. Historian. Lover of Literature. Painter. Re-read it to see whether the charge that has been levied virtually holds any virtual water whatsoever! Who knows: you might need to re-read all of the controlled posts up to and including the last one—Controlled Revelation #13: The Humourist as Musical Virtuoso! Plus, a Curious Challenge! (Yes, I was coy! And I enjoyed every blissful moment!)
Bliss aside, I have come to the realization that I am finished with my Humourist research, so to speak, and I must wrap things up and move on to other things.
First of all, I have fulfilled my initial goal which was to make the previously unavailable Humourist essays available to the world! I did just that! I’ve just looked at my site’s stats to see the extent of the traffic since launching the blog. The numbers are staggering, especially for such an esoteric topic: Visitors: 2,818; Views: 5,823.
Even more staggering, perhaps, is the array of countries contributing to the traffic: Argentina, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States.
Clearly, the world at large is more familiar with The Humourist today than ever before, even when the essays were first published in the South Carolina Gazette!
Moreover, at the end of the day (as well as at the beginning), I confess that I am a New Critic in terms of my approach to literature. I am one who can be perfectly happy examining a “work of literature as an aesthetic object independent of historical context and as a unified whole that reflect[s] the unified sensibility of the artist.” Other schools of literary theory abound as well—and you might want to read about them after you finish reading my post—and mind you: not until you have finished. A good place for you to start might be Literary Theory. For me, though, if I must choose from among the various theories, I choose to be what I have chosen to be: a New Critic. The literary work itself is all that matters!
Second, I have fulfilled my secondary goal as well: solving the more-than-two-hundred-years-old literary mystery surrounding the identify of The Humourist. I am convinced that I have found everything that can be found to confirm that Alexander Gordon, Clerk of His Majesty’s Council, is indeed our Humourist, thereby solving what is perhaps the biggest mystery in the annals of American literature.
At this point, then, other scholars—those living and those still to come—must either accept my findings or prove me wrong! It’s that simple. I rest my case. I am willing to put my research out there for public view—as I have done already—and I welcome full and close public scrutiny.
To be certain, what I have shared and continue to share in this blog constitutes publication, but what I have in mind now is a formal publication, available in print and digital format.
And so my search for a publisher begins! (Who knows: perhaps one will read today’s post and contact me. I would welcome such a query, of course, and I would be glad to pay the virtual postage.)
In the meantime, however, I will be up and doing! In fact, I am in the process of developing a formal book proposal, thus the driving force behind today’s post! Obviously, I will customize the proposal to meet the specific requirements of several publishers whom I will approach with this publication opportunity. Generally, however, the proposal will include:
- Introductory Discussion, emphasizing the importance of adding the Humourist essays to the formal Colonial American literary canon (as noted by scholars before me) and stressing the fact that the scholarly gap will continue to exist until the essays are published in book form. The discussion will also note that the essays bring Southern perspectives and insights to a literary genre that until now has been deemed the exclusive domain, essentially, of Colonial New England.
- Deeper Background Discussion of the essays and of Alexander Gordon as their author.
- Chapter Breakdowns of the proposed book, including highlights of my research identifying Gordon as the author along with a list of the essays, giving a one to two sentence synopsis of each essay.
- Timeline to Complete the book in accordance with press requirements.
- Marketing Strategy.
- Conclusion reiterating the importance of filling the current gap in Colonial American Literature.
Now that I have put my intent to find a publisher in writing, it is a reality, and I must fulfill it! The awesome power of writing never ceases to leave me in awe: now I must go forth with the book proposal simply because the words written here compel me to do so and propel me forward!
Clearly, then, I have begun to wrap things up with my Humourist work.
My blog, needless to say, will continue! I am as wired now as I was when I first started. Actually, I think that I am even more wired!
I have at least three other significant and important projects waiting in the wings. And I do hope that I will have world enough and time to complete them because that’s about how much time that I will need.
“What are those projects?” someone just asked?
Oh, do not dare to ask that question! Well, ask away if you will—and, indeed, you have dared to do so already—but I dare say that you should not expect an answer just now.
I am mindful of Robert Frost’s caution to Sydney Cox in a 1937 letter:
Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.
What I will do, however, is this: I will share my new projects here, one by one as they come into being.
And as I wrap up my Humourist work and morph into this brand new world of new projects and new research, periodically I will share other things with you as well, including (for example) essays in the style of NPR’s This I Believe. As you may know, NPR no longer accepts new essays on their website. But that has not stopped me from continuing to write a goodly number of “This I Believe” essays, so my blog may very well give me an outlet for them! We shall see.
Times wingèd chariot may be hurrying near as we search for a world that can provide us with world enough and time, and, indeed, deserts of vast eternity may lie yonder before us. But, for now, ideas call us—today, this day, this very day—as dawn unfolds, revealing a whole world of marvelous possibilities.