Had We but World Enough and Time

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 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. 

“What remains?”


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.


Our Illustrious Alexander Gordon Now Joins the Ranks of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville!

We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?
Do we know any better where we are,
And how it stands between the night tonight
And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?
How different from the way it ever stood?
—Robert Frost, “The Star-Splitter”

I have been looking and looking at the contents of the two envelopes that I finally mustered up enough courage to open last week!

I hoped to find a word.

I hoped to find a phrase.

I hoped to find an allusion.

I hoped to find something—anything—known to be by Alexander Gordon that matches precisely something—anything—in The Humourist essays that I have attributed to him.

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. I laid out the evidence 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.

Since last week I have spent my research hours—yes, I do allocate blocks of time for research—looking at the documents in those two envelopes. I have NOT even begun to finish the task. Historical documents are not easily read. I have been skimming and scanning, in much the same way that researchers always skim and scan.

I confess that so far I have not found any exact words or phrases in these documents that line up precisely with anything in The Humourist essays. (Allusions, perhaps.) I have found excellent supporting evidence and excellent additional information about Gordon, and I will get to that anon.  It’s simply that I have not found the sought-after exact match. Yet. I’m still looking.

I further confess that I am reminded of Brad McLaughlin, the hugger-mugger farmer in Robert Frost’s poem “The Star-Splitter.” Having failed at farming, Brad burned his house down, took the insurance proceeds, and bought himself a telescope “To satisfy a lifelong curiosity / About our place among the infinities.”

So, out of a house and out of a farm, Brad turned to another occupation so that he would have the leisure of stargazing! Occasionally a neighbor joined him:

Bradford and I had out the telescope.
We spread our two legs as it spread its three,
Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,
And standing at our leisure till the day broke,

Said some of the best things we ever said.

The two of them spent a lot of time looking! But by the end of the poem, the speaker—presumably Brad’s neighbor—confesses:

We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?
Do we know any better where we are,
And how it stands between the night tonight
And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?

How different from the way it ever stood?

I—and you, too, dear follower— have looked and looked and looked,  but where am I with my Alexander Gordon research! Do I know any more now that I did in 2013 when I identified him as the author of the Humourist essays?

Probably not, at least in terms of having discovered additional evidence to seal my already tight claim.

But I have found information that makes my knowledge of Alexander Gordon more rich and more robust.

Since last week, I have been looking at the two letters from “Chindonax Britanicus” (William Stukeley, antiquarian best known, perhaps, for his investigations of Stonehenge) to “Galgacus” (Alexander Gordon. Stukeley and Gordon were lifelong friends. And, indeed, it was Stukeley who, in his diary entry of May 28, 1758, credited  Alexander Gordon for a detailed account of the natural history of South Carolina that  had been read at the Royal Society that same day.  However, Stukeley was mistaken, as I discovered! The true author was the naturalist Alexander Garden, also of South Carolina. (See my A Correction to Alexander Gordon’s Canon, 256 Years after a Mistake Was Made!)

Be that as it may, the two letters that I have been looking at are intriguing to say the least. In the September 25, 1723, letter, Stukeley alludes to the fact that Gordon might have been on the “brink” of marriage:

Methinks I see the foundation of Chateaugordon a laying while Signior walks gravely among the workmen–measuring out the length of the gallery, disposing of the drawings, the basso relievos & the likes into the proper pannels.

Stukeley continues with:

Or perhaps his leading Lady spouse by the arm and drawing a ground line for a fountain, a shady walk, an alcove where he is to sit in a summer evening with Horace, Milton, Tasso & the like. I suppose there is to be a fine vista to some Grampian Mountain, Roman Camp, etc., & here the descendants of the Gordonian Race are to be depicted round the dining room like olive branchyes.

The above passages–short excerpts from the letter–are revealing because Stukeley knew Gordon’s interests: Italy, architecture, drawings, vistas, and writers such as Horace, Milton, and Tasso. These interests appear as well throughout The Humourist essays as well.

In the next letter to Gordon, dated November 30, 1723, Stukeley continues to talk about marriage, seemingly in an effort to dissuade Gordon from taking the leap, noting that marriage is not for everyone and that many who had “cast the dice” wished otherwise! Nonetheless, he says to Gordon:

May your spouse arise from the nuptial bed more lovely than the July sunbeams when they play upon the tops of the Caledonian mountains […]

Earlier in the letter, Stukeley also thanks Gordon for his drawings:

I commend you prodigiously for the pains you have taken in searching out & measuring & drawing such an immeasurable parcel of Antiquitys as you give me an account of.

Drawings of antiquities, as I am confident you will recall, play an important role in The Humourist essays.

And, even earlier in the letter, Stukeley makes a special-jewel comment:

Mr. Kirkel gives his service to you & wishes much he had your drawing of Raphael to make a print from.

While I knew that Gordon was an accomplished artist, I did not know until now about his drawing of Raphael. So that knowledge—allusion—may be helpful. I am reminded of a passage from The Humourist essay of December 24, 1753, in which he, too, speaks of Raphael:

If a sign-painter can imagine himself possessed of the finger of a Raphael, that his portraits are surprizing, his pencil bold and animating, and that his figures swell on the canvas and quicken into life, permit him to hug the blest idea, no one suffers for it, no one receives an injury;

While in the midst of looking at the letters, I ventured off into some more general research on Alexander Gordon. Remember: only in an ideal world does research move along smoothly and methodically from points A to B to C to D to Z!  In the real world, research—like writing—is recursive. We often find ourselves at what we believe to be the end of the task when we find ourselves circling back to an earlier point.

And I am glad that I circled back, trying to find out more about Alexander Gordon and William Stukeley. In doing so, I landed upon Iain Gordon Brown’s meticulously researched and well-documented article “Chyndonax to Galgacus: New Letters of William Stukeley to Alexander Gordon,” published in 1987 to commemorate the tercentenary of Stukeley’s birth. Brown includes the two letters that I have discussed briefly as well as a third one. His introduction to the letters is invaluable, especially for some new and detailed information about Alexander Gordon.

I knew—at least I think that I knew (and I may have mentioned it in an earlier post)—that Alexander Gordon had worked in a Custom House in Scotland. Brown’s article, however, provides Gordon’s own views of his “other” occupation. In a letter to his friend and benefactor Sir John Clerk, Gordon writes:

As to the Custome House, I confess if the question was putt to me sincerely, if these matteres sute exactly with my genious and taste, I could not so far hipocrese as not to confess that the keeping talies of Norwegian barrell skews on a bitt of stick or paper, and the retaining the nice number of hemp matts and Almagnia whistles in one’s head, is not the very noblest exercise that a rational creatour may be employd in these so precious hours. ‘Tis a sad thing not to have been born to few riggs … I am observant of Caesar’s due even to the methematicall division of pickled herring. The town is astonished to see one whom they thought un huomo di [Piazza] so far metamorphosed as all at once to drop into salmond barrels, matts of flax, ganging firkins, etc.

Who would have guessed? Alexander Gordon now joins the ranks of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, two other American writers who worked in a Custom House!

Therein lies one of the joys of research: sometimes—without even looking—we land on the unexpected!

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?

Continue reading

Ricocheting Around Inside My Blog!

I love words. In fact, I’m a word enthusiast. No, actually, I’m a word aficionado. I like the way words look, the way they sound, and the way they require me to rearrange and reposition my tongue and lips and teeth! I like the “mouth feel.”

I love euphonious words, especially: supine, scissors, fantabulous, panacea, disambiguate, luscious, discombobulate, scintilla, tremulous, orbicular, woebegone, sonorous, ethereal, pop, holler, britches, entwine, hullabaloo, phantasmagorical, serendipity, slew, velvety, liminal, dusk, ever, and even meniscus.

I love euphonious phrases, too: thread the needle, rev the engine, a touch ticklish, doplar sonar, sweet and sour, bad’s the best, or one of my own creation–recalled from a dream that I once dreamt–blue-pigeon-feather happy.

However, all of my favorite melodious phrases and words pale in comparison to the phrase considered by many linguists (who study phonaesthetics and know all about the properties of sound) to be the most beautiful word in the English language: cellar door! I was flabbergasted when I made that discovery, but matters of sound are so momentous and so weighty that lengthy debates surround them. For example, many people attribute the coinage of cellar door to fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien who used it in his 1955 speech “English and Welsh.” But as American lexicographer Grant Barrett established in his February 11, 2010, New York Times article aptly titled, “Cellar Door,” we must give credit to Shakespearean scholar Cyrus Lauron Hooper who used cellar door in his 1903 novel Gee-Boy.

Sometimes one of these little beauties gets stuck inside my head and manifests a fierce determination not to go away. For example, the melodious word ricochet has been bouncing around in there for an epoch at least—perhaps even longer—and it’s not alone. It’s flourishing there as part of an entire phrase—an entire stanza, actually—from “The Lanyard,” a poem by Billy Collins, former United States Poet Laureate:

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

Mind you: I don’t mind the fact that the stanza from the poem and the word ricochet won’t go away. I love poetry just as much as I love melodious words and phrases. And who doesn’t love Billy Collins?

And it’s easy to understand why this particular stanza from Billy Collins’ poem would linger in my mind. Like the speaker in his poem—presumably Collins himself—I, too, have been ricocheting slowly off the walls of my home library, moving from my cluttered desk with my personal computer (where I carry out my home-style professorial responsibilities) to my even more cluttered farm table with my considerably smaller tablet (where I fulfill whatever it is that I achieve when I write—whatever writing is—and where I first began this blog on November 26, 2012.

And continuing to compare myself to the speaker in Collins’ “The Lanyard” so that I might perhaps stop the word ricochet from ricocheting around in my head, I, too, am moving from my professorial computer to my writerly tablet, from stacks of papers on the former to stacks of books and two envelopes on the latter.

And it is on the two envelopes that my eyes fall even as I type this post. It is on the two envelopes that my eyes have been falling for several years. And it is on the two envelopes that my eyes will forever fall until I muster courage to open them.

My blog followers will perhaps remember those two envelopes, first mentioned in my December 31, 2014, post:

I have in my possession copies of critical Alexander Gordon manuscripts obtained from libraries in Scotland and England. Although I have had the packages for several months, I have not opened them yet because I know that the contents will take my Humourist research to new heights, and I have had neither time nor nerve to make the journey.

However, January 2015 will place me exactly where I need to be in terms of time and nerve to open the packages, review the manuscripts, and share my findings with you, right here in this blog.

So, there! Now you know! Those two envelopes are still on my desk waiting to be opened. I cannot claim that I have not had time, for I have had time aplenty. And I cannot claim that I have not had nerve to open the envelopes because I remain confident that the contents will take my Humourist research to new heights and higher ground.

In reality, I have no more time now than before, and I have no more nerve now than before. But what I do have now is the knowledge that now is the right time to write. Simply put, I have created the space, and I have allowed myself to enter. (Thank you, Natalie Goldberg, for reminding me:

…we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice (Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within).

So I am ricocheting slowly off the walls of my library for three reasons and three reasons only.

Ricochet Reason One. I have been away from my blog for so long that the resulting space is galatic, a perfect home for the word ricochet. And as I type, I cannot help but wonder: Is it really the word ricochet that is bouncing off vacuum space? Or is it really guilt? Perhaps both, but, now—on this momentary reflection—I suspect the latter. And that’s perfectly fine because my guilt makes me perfectly American, or, as Ezra Pound said about Robert Frost, “vurry Amur’k’n” (Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters, edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young).

Just by writing what I have written here, I have given rest to reason one. What a blessed relief.

Ricochet Reason Two. I cannot help but wonder about my followers—my blog followers. At one point, they numbered well over 100, and the blog had more than 5,000 visits from people in exactly 100 countries. Not bad for a blog dedicated to the challenges of research, specifically—for now, at least—to the challenge of identifying the author of a group of noteworthy and heretofore pseudonymous Colonial American essays.

Are any of the faithful still with me? I wonder.

And if I post, will they read what I have to say? Will anyone? And if no one reads, will I have written anything at all, really?

It is very much the same as the proverbial old question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” 

Philosophers have long argued that sound, colour, taste, smell and touch are all secondary qualities which exist only in our minds. We have no basis for our common-sense assumption that these secondary qualities reflect or represent reality as it really is. So, if we interpret the word ‘sound’ to mean a human experience rather than a physical phenomenon, then when there is nobody around there is a sense in which the falling tree makes no sound at all. […] Without a measuring device to record it, there is a sense in which the recognisable properties of quantum particles such as electrons do not exist, just as the falling tree makes no sound at all. (Jim Baggett, Quantum Theory: If a Tree Falls in the Forest …).

Followers, be my measure. If you are out there, measure me with comment.

And if you are not yet following, follow. (I am reminded of the Iowa corn farmer in Field of Dreams and the voice that he heard telling him to build a baseball diamond, “If you build it, he will come.” The farmer built it, and they came. Perhaps in my rebuilding, my followers will come. If you do, measure me with your comments, too.)

Just by writing what I have written here, I have given rest to reason two as well. Again, what a blessed relief.

Ricochet Reason Three. Of the two envelopes waiting to be opened—those two parcels that will take my Humourist research to new heights—which shall I open first? The one from Scotland measuring 14 x 10/16 inches and weighing a hefty 17.21 ounces? (Is bigger better?) Or the one from England, measuring 6 x 3/4 inches and weighing a nearly weightless 1.16 ounce? (Do good things really come in small packages?)

To give rest to reason three—and be thrice blessed—I must open both envelopes. 

Perhaps what I face is like picking petals off a daisy: “I love him. I love him not.” However, in this instance, both envelopes are equally good and the last petal will be an affirmation.

Or, maybe, a more apt comparison would be to Frank Stockton’s famous American short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” published in The Century magazine in November 1882. In the story, a young man must choose between two doors. Behind one, a beautiful lady. Behind the other, an awful, relentless tiger.

Stockton leaves his readers with an open ending:

And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,—the lady, or the tiger?

For me, both doors—both envelopes, if you will—are equally good and both will be auspicious and bodacious.

Unlike Stockton, however, I will be straightforward and honest. I will let you know what I find not only in the first envelope but also in the second. In fact, I will chronicle each and every detail as I open the envelopes and as I discover the joys that await me.

This I promise: in next week’s post, I will write all, right here.

Three Special Shout-Outs!

 “True friends are the ones who never leave your heart, even if they leave your life for a while. Even after years apart, you pick up with them right where you left off.”

It occurs to me, on this last day of 2014, that blogs are like true friends:  you can pick right up with them where you left off. Thus, I have absolutely no doubt at all in my mind that you—dear Reader—will recall my last post on June 30: “A Correction to Alexander Gordon’s Canon, 256 Years after a Mistake Was Made.”  How could you not recall the juicy research conundrum that I faced?  It is not often that a scholar has the opportunity to set the record straight so many years after the fact!  But with my own dogged persistence and with the gracious help of Fiona Keates (Archivist, Modern Records, The Royal Society), I did just that.  So what if the document I had considered “the ace up my sleeve” in my present research turned out to have been written not by MY Alexander Gordon but rather by Dr. Alexander Garden, a well-known Scottish physician, botanist, and zoologist who came to South Carolina in 1752 where he collected flora and fauna and sent them to Carolus Linnaeus—the father of modern taxonomy. I was joyed to be able to set the record straight.  Doing so makes research all the more fun and all the more memorable!

In fact, I was so excited by my discovery—so excited by my opportunity to set the record straight—that even though the post was dated June 30, 2014, I totally forgot that the date marked the official end of my 2012-2014 Virginia Community College System’s Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professorship!  (The professorship appointment ran from the start of fiscal 2012 to the end of fiscal 2014.)

I remembered, of course, the very next day, but I decided that even though the “official” professorship was over, nothing at all could keep me from being a “Virtual Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professor,” virtually forever—and so I shall continue to be—just as nothing at all could keep my blog from continuing, virtually forever—and, so, it, too, shall continue to be!

Wait—just wait—until you read my next few posts.  I have in my possession copies of critical Alexander Gordon manuscripts obtained from libraries in Scotland and England.  Although I have had the packages for several months, I have not opened them yet because I know that the contents will take my Humourist research to new heights, and I have had neither time nor nerve to make the journey.

However, January 2015 will place me exactly where I need to be in terms of time and nerve to open the packages, review the manuscripts, and share my findings with you, right here in this blog.

But I digress. If I had realized that June 30 marked the official end of my 2012-2014 Virginia Community College System’s Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professorship, I would have given three special shout-outs!   And so I will seize today, this last day of 2014, as the perfect opportunity to do so. Continue reading

A Correction to Alexander Gordon’s Canon, 256 Years after a Mistake Was Made!

28May1758. At the Royal Society. A long letter from my old friend Alexander Gordon, secretary to Governor Glyn, in S. Carolina, giving some account of the natural history of that country, its admirable fertility and wonderful produce of innumerable curious and useful things–the vine, wine, sesamum, oil for soap, cotton, mulberry, silkworms, cochinel, opuntium a yellow dye, hemp, flax, potash, etc., etc. But after all this profusion of nature’s bounty, the inhabitants, through stupidity or laziness, made no profit or improvement in any one article for commerce, employing themselves wholly in the culture of rice. Nor will they admit of any machinery for the easy working of that commodoity, but depend wholly on the labor of their slaves whom they use in the [most] cruel and barbarous manner, far beyond the worst treatment of our carmen to their horses. —William Stukeley, Diary, vol. xvii, 4.

Fortunately for me, I have always enjoyed learning, and, with equal good fortune, I have always been blessed to have studied under remarkable educators (all the way from the coal fields of Southern West Virginia to the graduate halls of the University of South Carolina).  Perhaps with even greater good fortune, I remember each and every one of my educators—I truly do—because each one of them left an indelible mark on me in ways that far transcend what they actually taught me in their classes.

As I thought about and planned for this post, one of my educators came back to me quite unexpectedly.  I was surprised because I have not had contact with him since I was a doctoral student at the University of South Carolina (USC).  Even so, I enjoyed Professor Joel Myerson’s classes immensely.  When I had the honor of studying under him, he was building his reputation as a scholar in several areas:  nineteenth century American Literature, Transcendentalism, and textual and bibliographical studies.  (Today he is Professor Emeritus, Carolina Distinguished Professor of American Literature, and his reputation is secure:  “Four of his books have been designated by Choice as an ‘Outstanding Academic Book’ of the year. He has received both the Distinguished Service Award and the Lyman H. Butterfield award for contributions to the field of documentary editing from the Association for Documentary Editing. The Philological Association of the Carolinas has designated him its ‘Honoree in English’ and held a special session in his honor; and he has been elected to membership in the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society” (University of South Carolina, English Language & Literature).

What came back to me unexpectedly, however, was a question that I asked Professor Myerson in the fall of 1974 when I was a student in his course, “American Literature: 1830-1865.” One of the reading selections mentioned “life everlasting.”  When we started discussing the selection in class, I raised my hand and asked, “Professor Myerson, what exactly IS life everlasting?”  I wanted to see whether he would give me a botanical answer or a spiritual answer.  (Let me hasten to add that I knew the plant “life everlasting” because I was quite familiar with Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s short story “Life Everlastin.” In that story, “life everlasting” figured prominently in both the botanical and the spiritual sense. And, as the youngest child of a fundamentalist preacher/mother, I knew fully well the spiritual ramifications of “life everlasting.”) At any rate, I wanted to see how Professor Myerson would field my question.  I was not too surprised that he explored the question from both angles.

What did surprise me, however, was this.  A month of two later, I walked into class, and Professor Myerson gifted me with an offprint of one of his scholarly articles that had just been published.  On the cover, he had written:  “Brent, this is life everlasting.”

“Of course,” I thought to myself, “the published word lives on forever and forever and forever and echoes through the ages.”

From that point forward, I looked at “the published word” from a new perspective and with a heightened respect.

And so it was a few weeks ago that I had a research experience with “the published word.” It has echoed through the ages.  Although written by an incredibly respectable and scholarly eighteenth century figure, it is the source of misinformation which has led subsequent scholars—including me—to credit Alexander Gordon with an article that, indeed, as I have now established, he did not write.  My goal, in this post, is to set the record straight and to have, if you will, a minor “life everlasting” of my own, albeit, for now, a virtual one.  (I wonder: is virtual longer than print? Time will tell.)

Let me put this most recent research experience into proper context.

Even though my close reading of The Humourist essays allowed me to identify Alexander Gordon (1692?-1754), Clerk of His Majesty’s Council, as the author of the essays, it was my intention to do a stylometric analysis of The Humourist essays and compare the results with a stylometric analysis of one or more works known to have been written by Alexander Gordon.  As we have seen, Gordon had authored enough works that I had a good number from which to choose.  My concern, however, was that his published works—other than his play Lupone, or, The Inquisitor (1723)—focused so heavily on antiquarian studies that a stylometric comparison might not be valid, especially since those works—including Lupone—were published well before 1741 when Gordon left the Old World and came to Colonial Charleston.

But I had an ace up my sleeve, or so I thought. In doing my research on Alexander Gordon, I remembered reading somewhere that he had sent an elaborate description of the natural history of South Carolina to the Royal Society.  Although it was never published, it had been read at one of the Society’s meetings.

And, so, I started sifting through my voluminous notes to find the details.  I found the details in more than one source, but the one that I came across first was the entry for “Alexander Gordon” that appeared in The Dictionary of National Biography, edited by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee:

To the Royal Society he sent an elaborate description of the natural history of South Carolina, which was not read until 25 May 1758.

I felt confident that the manuscript would provide me with just what I needed to conduct the stylometric comparison.

Toward that end, I sent the following email to the Royal Society on June 5, 2014:

Greetings from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia!

As a 2012-2014 Virginia Community College System’s Chancellor Professor, I am conducting an extensive research project related to the well-known Scottish antiquarian Alexander Gordon (ca. 1692-1754) who, in 1741 left the Old World and came to South Carolina (as Secretary to Governor James Glen and as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.)

In my research, I have found repeated references to a manuscript by Alexander Gordon, presumably in your Archives.  (I have searched your online database, but I have not found the manuscript.)  Here’s the full text of the statement that I keep finding:

“To the Royal Society he sent an elaborate description of the natural history of South Carolina which was not read until 25 May 1758. Nor was it published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’”

This manuscript plays a vital role in the research that I am doing.  I wonder whether you could check to see whether you indeed have such a manuscript?  If you do, would it be possible to obtain a photocopy and what would the photocopy fee be?

Thanks so much for any help that you might be able to provide!

The next day I received the following reply from Fiona Keates (Archivist), Modern Records:

Dear Professor Kendrick,

Thank you for your email. Sometimes manuscripts (particularly if they were not printed) were recorded in the minutes of the relevant meeting, rather than retaining the whole manuscript. Having checked the minutes for the meeting 25 May 1758, I think some confusion may have arisen between Alexander Gordon and Alexander Garden.

Here is the introductory extract to the communication:

 ‘a letter from Dr Alexander Garden of South Carolina to Mr Henry Baker FRS dated at Charlestown 5th April 1756’

As you can see the letter dates from after the death of Alexander Gordon. There were no other papers read to the Society relating to South Carolina at that meeting and I’m afraid I can find no mention in our archives of any paper relating to South Carolina being sent in by Alexander Gordon.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Kind Regards,

I was flabbergasted.  This simply could not be the case.  Too many sources had credited MY Alexander Gordon as the author of this natural history.

(Before sharing my reply to Fiona, let me note here that Dr. Alexander Garden, 1730-1791, was a well-known Scottish physician, botanist, and zoologist.  He came to South Carolina in 1752 where a distant relative, also Alexander Garden, served as a minister in Charleston.  Garden, the naturalist, collected flora and fauna and sent them to Carolus Linnaeus, known as the father of modern taxonomy.)

Immediately, I sent the following reply:

Good morning, Fiona, and thanks so much for your prompt reply.

I am chuckling to myself.  Here’s why!  As I have been doing my research on Alexander Gordon–especially working with manuscript materials–I have had to be ever so careful not to misread “Garden” as “Gordon”.  (For a few years, both men lived in Charleston, S.C. at the same time!)

Be that as it may, since previous scholars for well over a hundred years now have credited MY Alexander Gordon with the manuscript sent to the Royal Society, I’d like to set the record straight.

Toward that end, could you provide me with a copy of the full Garden communication?  Cost?

Again, thanks so much.  Your response is not what I had hoped for, yet, in many ways, it adds an exciting dimension to the work that I am doing.


I completed the necessary forms to obtain copies of the manuscript, paid the requisite fee, and, on June 9, Fiona sent me the digital images! (Don’t you just love librarians?  I do! Fiona:  you are my new best friend!)

I was on pins and needles while the files downloaded.  I had never doubted what Fiona had told me already, but, I wanted to see—to read—with my own eyes.

The file opened.  I saw.  I read. With my own eyes. It was abundantly clear:  the name, without doubt, was Garden—Dr. Alexander Garden.  Below is a transcript of the relevant text from the Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Original vol. 24, pages 153-55:

[Page] 153

An abstract of a Letter from Dr. Alexander Garden of South Carolina to Mr. Henry Baker F.R.S. dated at Charlestown 5th April 1756 communicated by Mr. Baker, was read.

This letter contains an account of such of the production of the province of South Carolina which are likely to be of Service both to them and Great Britain.

[Page] 154

1st. Vines, of which there are in that Province, many Species which by a Small cultivation might be made to deposit their crude natures and tastes.

2. Sesamum which grows luxuriously there, and produces an exceeding good oyl that makes excellent Soap.

3. Gossipium grows extremely well & produces a fine Cotton, but no more is planted than what Serves to employ Some old Superannuated Negro Women.

4. Mulberry Trees and Silk worms are the amusement of Some Curious people, & there is the greater reason to encourage the propagating them there as the mulberry Trees in that province want nothing but Sticking into the Ground at a proper Season, to make them grow luxuriously & in four years time, they bear leaves Sufficiently to Spare many for the nourishment of the Silk worms.

5. Cochineal might be raised there in great plenty if the people knew the method of killing the Insect, so as to preserve the dye. The plant opuntia grows there wild in great plenty. Last summer Dr. Garden found one of those plants all over covered with Cochineal insects, all quite turgid with blood or dye.  But he could not kill them without loosing or discoloring the Juice.

[Page] 155

6. Hemp and Flax grows well there, especially Hemp, and the raising larger quantities might be of Service to that Province as well as to Great Britain.

7. Potash might there be there made with great Success.  Some have already tried and made good, of the kind.

He Says there are ten or Twelve more articles, which would certainly Succeed well, of which he mentions but one, which is like the Indigo plant, but grown taller and larger, with long pods and flat Seeds. It produces a most beautiful yellow dye.

Dr. Garden likewise mentions the great want they Stand in, in that province of mechanical machines to facilitate labour.

Thanks were ordered to Mr. Baker for this communication.

After I had viewed the images, I fired off another email to Fiona:

Dear, Fiona.

I am back, and I trust that I’ll not try your patience!

I have been transcribing the digital images that you sent me. I’ve been chuckling that someone misread “Gordon” for “Garden” especially since the manuscript is clear and easy to read. But I have also been somewhat concerned that this entry is dated 5April1756, while my source had indicated 25May1758.

I pride myself in taking precise and copious research notes, so I have spent the last hour or so re-tracing my steps to see when mention was first made of a Gordon manuscript being read before the Royal Society on 25May1758.

Indeed I have found it. It appears in William Stukeley’s Family Memoirs (vol. 3, 476):

“28May1758. At the Royal Society. A long letter from my old friend Alexander Gordon, secretary to Governor Glyn, in S. Carolina, giving some account of the natural history of that country, its admirable fertility and wonderful produce of innumerable curious and useful things–the vine, wine, sesamum, oil for soap, cotton, mulberry, silkworms, cochinel, opuntium a yellow dye, hemp, flax, potash, etc., etc. But after all this profusion of nature’s bounty, the inhabitants, through stupidity or laziness, made no profit or improvement in any one article for commerce, employing themselves wholly in the culture of rice. Nor will they admit of any machinery for the easy working of that commodoity, but depend wholly on the labor of their slaves whom they use in the [most] cruel and barbarous manner, far beyond the worst treatment of our carmen to their horses–Diary, vol. xvii, 4.”

The fact that he identifies Gordon as Secretary to Governor Glen establishes that he did not have Dr. Garden in mind. Let me add, as well, that this 28May1758 entry falls into proper sequence with Stukeley’s other entries.

So I am convinced that the above is NOT the same as the Garden letter that you located.

As I am sure you can appreciate, the Gordon letter that Stukeley references is critical to my work on Alexander Gordon, especially since I am focusing on his life in Carolina.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I am perplexed, and, again, I will be most grateful for whatever you can do to help me!


Before sharing Fiona’s reply, let me provide some brief information about William Stukeley (1687-1765), an English physician, antiquary, and Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1720, he published An Account of a Roman Temple, noting, with surprise, that Scotsmen took little interest in the monuments and artefacts around them.  That statement inspired Alexander Gordon to become the Scotsman who would explore the Roman antiquities of Scotland. Both Stukeley and Gordon were members of the Society of Antiquaries (Gordon succeeded Stukeley as secretary to the Society in 1735) and both Stukeley and Gordon were members of the Society of Roman Knights.  Their friendship spanned decades. (As an aside, it is worth noting that Stukeley played a key role in the archaeological explorations of Stonehenge and Avebury. In 1740, he published Stonehenge: A Temple Restored to the British Druids He was also a friend of Isaac Newton, and in 1752 published Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life.)

But to return to my Alexander Gordon/Alexander Garden research conundrum.  The next day, June 10, Fiona wrote:

Dear Brent,

Oh dear, I am at a bit of a loss with this one, and have been double checking various catalogues and archives. Just to let you know, although the letter (from Garden!) is indeed dated 5 April 1756, it was read at a meeting of the Royal Society on the 25 May 1758 – I did not send photographs of all the pages in the minutes, only the “Garden” pages, so apologies for the misunderstanding. So if the date you are looking for, is the date it was communicated to the Society, then this letter does fit into that timeline.

If Gordon’s letter was also read at this meeting of the Society, I would expect there to be a record of that even if there wasn’t a whole transcript of the letter and it is not mentioned in the minutes. I’ve also checked the draft minutes, but Garden rather than Gordon has been used throughout this meeting and having looked at the original extract sent in to the Society, again Garden and never Gordon is used.

I don’t think we can be of any more help unfortunately, we certainly don’t have a record of any other letters sent in by Alexander Gordon from Carolina which could account for the confusion. Given that many of the details of Stukeley’s account, other than the name do seem to fit the letter from Garden, I will leave it to you to decide where the mistake has been made – either in the Society’s accounts or Stukeley’s – but if you do find any more clues do feel free to pass them on for us to check.

Has that helped at all? Hopefully it hasn’t made it any worse!


I replied to Fiona the same day:

Good morning, Fiona!

What a delicious research conundrum! Oh, my!

I am glad to know that the letter was actually read on 15 May 1758, as stated in Stukeley’s Memoirs. The fact that the letter was written to Henry Baker, a naturalist and member of the Royal Society, and that Dr. Garden was also a naturalist and a member of the Royal Society, would certainly point toward Garden.

However, I am just stupefied as to how Stukeley–who was a lifelong friend of Gordon’s (they had traveled together often on antiquarian expeditions) could have made such a mistake, especially since he refers to him as “his old friend, Secretary to Governor Glyn”. (The passage in his memoir is extracted from his diary, so it would have been written at the time rather that after the fact.)

Obviously, if the letter is indeed dated 1756, it could not have been Gordon because he died in August 1754.

In 1758, Stukeley would have been 71 years old. Perhaps he had a hearing problem and simply heard Gordon rather than Garden!

Oh, my! I will continue my “explorations,” and if I find anything relevant, I’ll get back to you. For what it’s worth, you might enjoy knowing what I discovered this morning: the gardenia was named after Dr. Alexander Garden! Exquisite!

Again, thanks for all your help!


P.S. I’m sharing my ongoing “Alexander Gordon” research in my blog, thewiredresearcher.com Would you mind if I share part/all of our exchanges? I think it be a perfect example of the joys and the frustrations of research and I know that my followers would be delighted.

Fiona replied immediately:

Hi Brent,

You might well be right, Stukeley’s hearing could’ve been responsible for this mistake, and when discussing with a colleague we did speculate if that could be the cause of this confusion. Though as you say, odd to make such a mistake when discussing an old friend.

You are welcome to share on your blog, I’ll try to remember to have a look myself, as it has definitely grabbed my interest!

Good luck with the rest of your research,


Indeed:  “odd to make such a mistake when discussing an old friend.”

And, yet, that’s exactly what an “old friend” did.  He made a mistake.  And what he captured in his diary has echoed through the ages—”ricocheted,” in this instance, might be a better word choice than “echoed.”

How sad that William Stukeley did not know that his “old friend” had died four years earlier than the 15May1758 meeting at the Royal Society that he attended and listened to an abstract of a letter from Dr. Alexander Garden of South Carolina to Mr. Henry Baker F.R.S. dated at Charlestown 5th April 1756.

If he had known of his “old friend’s” death, he would not have recorded Alexander Gordon in his diary, when, clearly, the abstract of the letter that was read that evening was from Dr. Alexander Garden.

Even more sad is the fact that the entire text of Dr. Alexander Garden’s natural history of South Carolina exists only as an abstract. How wonderful it would be if the full version of his letter to the Royal Society were to be found. Who knows! Perhaps, one day, it will be!

For now, it is enough to simply set the record straight:  it was the naturalist Dr. Alexander Garden—not MY Alexander Gordon, the author of the Humourist essays—who wrote the “natural history of South Carolina” and sent it off to the Royal Society.

For now, it is enough to simply celebrate what Joel Myerson—my esteemed graduate school professor—told me:  “[Publication] is life everlasting.”

For now, it is enough to remember that even published sources can be in err!  Who would have believed that an “old friend,” would have heard “Alexander Gordon” instead of “Alexander Garden,” especially since his “old friend” had been dead for four years.

For now, it is enough to remember:  always go back to the original source.  How happy I am that I tracked down the original document in the Royal Society. (And let me add here a special thanks to Fiona Keates for helping me correct Alexander Gordon’s canon, even in this small way, 256 years after William Stukeley made a mistake!)

And, yet, what William Stukeley heard and recorded in his diary is what he heard and recorded in his diary.  It was published eventually, achieving “life everlasting.” And from that point forward his error has been perpetuated over and over and over again.

This, obviously, is a bittersweet moment for me.  The document that I considered “the ace up my sleeve” turns out to have been written by Dr. Alexander Garden, not  MY Alexander Gordon, the antiquarian.

Even so, how sweet it is to set the record straight once and for all, 256 years after the mistake was made.

When it comes to the challenges, discoveries, and joys of research, it just doesn’t get any better than this!



Listening to My Followers!

“Hopefully, the totality of the work that I have done over the last two years will serve as reminders to students and to faculty that learning—at any age and at any point in an individual’s professional development—can bring joy and fulfillment.” Brent L. Kendrick

My post “The Wire Researcher and Alexander Gordon: Live Streaming from New Horizons!” has put me in touch with a number of international followers as well as a few followers here at home who indicated that they had challenges with the audio file and that they would like to read the transcript of my presentation. (Hindsight, of course, reminds me that audio files should be accompanied by transcripts whenever possible.)

At any rate, I make a point of listening to my followers, and I am more than glad to provide in today’s post a transcript of my portion of the panel presentation that was live-streamed from New Horizons. Continue reading

The Wired Researcher and Alexander Gordon: Live Streaming from New Horizons!

Hopefully “Live Streaming” and “New Horizons” in the title of today’s post made you sit up and take notice!

Live Streaming.  New Horizons.  Resplendent, both, with possibilities!  So here’s the scoop.

I’m headed off to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) “2014 VCCS New Horizons Conference” being held this week at historic Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center (Roanoke, Virginia.)

On Friday, April 11, 9AM, I’ll join Charlie Evans (Professor of History, NVCC) and Patrick Reed (Associate Professor of History, NVCC) for a panel presentation titled “Achieving Teaching Excellence through the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professor’s Program.”  (The three of us were Chancellor’s Professors for 2012-2014.)

In our session we will share what we did for our respective projects and how the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professor’s Program has helped us achieve teaching excellence.

If you want to join the three of us “live,” you can. VCCS New Horizons 2014 is Live Streaming! This year, ten sessions are being broadcast live.

So, just do it!  Join us this Friday, April 11, 9AM!

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Alexander Gordon (Clerk of His Majesty’s Council) and James Glen (Royal Governor of South Carolina) Arrive in the New World!

“Always remember to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right.  Those books will be in the same classification scheme, and we might find our answer in one of them.” —Sally Hambrick, Library of Congress

You may recall that when I was guest speaker at The Charleston Library Society on August 8, 2013, I called my presentation “Solving Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery.”  The title said it all:  I was there to share my work on the pseudonymous “Humourist” essays that had appeared initially in The South Carolina Gazette (1753-1754, now published and made available here, in my Blog, for the first time since then) and to announce the author—the man– who up until then had been Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery.

I confess:  I was thrilled to disclose that I had solved Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery—that I had discovered the author of these important and unique American essays: Colonial Charlestonian, Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.

Aside from the joy of solving the mystery, I noted in the presentation two other joys that I believe all researchers share.

The first joy relates to something that I have done throughout this authorship study:  giving the essays what is called a “close-reading.”  This is an ancient method, going all the way back to Roman literary critic Quintilian.  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 language and all of its details!  That’s what I’ve been doing all along the way:  paying attention to details—cataloging them, if you will, and cross referencing them to establish patterns.

The second joy relates to a lesson taught me by Sally Hambrick—librarian, mentor, friend—when I first started working at the Library of Congress.  Sally and I were both editors of The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints, and our task sometimes involved trying to establish authorship for works that appeared under titles only or that appeared under pseudonyms.  Our research often took us into the library stacks.  When we found the book that we were looking for, Sally would look at me and say, “Always remember to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right.  Those books will be in the same classification scheme, and we might find our answer in one of them.”  We looked, and, without fail, we found answers!

It was from that research perspective that I kept exploring The South Carolina Gazette—beyond April 9, 1754, when The Humourist announced that he would never more (either under this or any other Title, or on any Pretence, or on any Occasion whatsoever) enter the Lists of Authorism in this Province.”  I kept looking two feet to the left and two feet to the right, if you will.

It was through that process of looking—of exploring—that I discovered an obituary that made me sit up and take notice.  It was through that process of exploring—of believing that if I kept looking I would find something—that I hit pay dirt.  All of the clues—all the patterns—that I had found in “The Humourist” essays lined up perfectly with everything that I was to find out about the ingenious Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council,  whose obituary I had stumbled upon.

I have continued my research on Alexander Gordon, and I have continued to focus on those two approaches:  giving all of the background sources that I am exploring a “close reading” and looking two feet to the left and two feet to the right when conducting my research.

I have been transported (via the Internet) past place and past time, using digitized versions of The South Carolina Gazette as well as digitized versions of some eighteenth century newspapers published in Scotland and England.  As I noted last fall, I’m pursuing the Scotland/England angle because as I started to find information in The South Carolina Gazette about Alexander Gordon and his patron, James Glen (Governor of South Carolina, 1738-1756), I started wondering what kind of press coverage the two of them might have received “at home” as they started their journey to the New World.

We saw part of the press coverage in my posts “Alexander Gordon: Favoured by British Royalty” and in “Alexander Gordon: Sheltered in High Places.”

Today, I will share highlights of the press coverage that I have uncovered in those “musty old newspapers” as Alexander Gordon and James Glen made their way to the New World—to Colonial Charleston, South Carolina. (Their journeys are intertwined, obviously, since Gordon served as Secretary to Governor Glen and since Gordon served as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council during most of the time that Glen served as Governor.)

Let me hasten to add, at this point, that my literary study of “The Humourist” essays and of Alexander Gordon does not require me to go this slow, tedious research route at all.  To be certain I could get Governor Glen and Alexander Gordon to America ever so quickly simply by relying on official documents, simply by relying on what is known already, simply by relying on facts.

I could share with you, for example, the fact that James Glen was appointed Royal Governor of South Carolina in 1738, but he negotiated the terms of the appointment for the next five years and did not arrive in Charleston until 1743.

Or, I could share with you the fact that on June 13, 1740, Alexander Gordon was appointed to be John Hammerton’s deputy “to hold, execute and exercise the office of Clerk of his Majesty’s honorable Council in the said Province of So. Carolina, and, in my place and stead to be present at all Meetings of the Governor and Council of the said Province, when met in Council and of the said Council when met in General Assembly, & to keep exact Registers or Journals of all their Proceedings, Acts & Orders.”

To be certain, those facts are important ones, but they are not nearly as interesting as the information—and, indeed, sometimes misinformation—that I discovered in my ramblings through the musty old newspapers of the period!

The September 16, 1738 Newcastle Courant, for example, announced—somewhat erroneously—Governor Glen’s appointment:

We hear that his Majesty has been pleased to appoint Capt. Alexander Glynn, a native of North Britain, to be Governor of South Carolina, in the Room of Col. Samuel Horsey, deceased.

News traveled slowly to the colonies, and it was not until April 26, 1739, that The South Carolina Gazette announced the new governor, including the incorrect first name and the misspelled last name!

Charles-Town, April 12

By Capt. John Gerald who arrived here this Week from London, we hear, that on or about the Twenty-fifth Day of December last, Capt. Alexander Glynn kissed his Majesty’s Hand on his being appointed Governour of this Province in the Room of the late Coll. Samuel Horsey deceased.

Several weeks later—May 12, 1739The South Carolina Gazette ran a correction:  “In a late Article relating to a new Governor we inserted my Mistake Capt. Alex Glynn for James Glen Esq; which Error the Reader is desired to correct.”

In the meantime, Alexander Gordon was beginning to enter the picture and the press in terms of his own appointment.  Interestingly enough, the press included some misinformation in its announcement as well by placing Gordon in North Carolina rather than in South Carolina:

Mr. Gordon has resigned the Place of Secretary to the Society for Encouragement of Learning, he being appointed one of his Majesty’s Council in North Carolina. ‘Tis thought he will be succeeded by Dr. Mortimer, F.R.S. etc.  (Caledonian Mercury, March 13, 1739)

(With an annual salary of £50, Gordon had been appointed secretary to the Society in 1736.  The Society’s goal was to work for and support authors who were finding difficulties with book publishers in getting their books published.)

The next mention of Gordon appears in the February 12, 1741Caledonian Mercury, where his name appears in a list of those who learned shorthand under the direction of Thomas Cumming from London:

Thomas Cumming from London, at the Hand and Pen, opposite the Cross, Southside of the Street, Edinburgh, Continues to teach the excellent and useful Art of Stenography, in the most easy and expeditious Method; by which any who tolerably write Long-hand may be taught to take down from the Speaker’s Mouth any Sermon, Lecture, Speech, Trial, etc.

We whose Names are under written having been taught by Mr. Cumming in his New Method of Short Hand, Do in Justice to him, Attest That his Method may be learned in the Time he advertiseth and that by an ordinary Capacity, viz. in one Week at the rate of two Hours every Day. And that it is also our Opinion, they may, by a little Practice, arrive at a great Perfection in the Science.

Lord Napier.
Charles Hope-Weir of Craigiehall.
James Geddes of Kirkurd, Advocate.
William Kirkpatrick, One of the Principal Clerks of Session.
Robert Pringle, Advocate.
James Home, Writer to the Signet.
John Sinclair, Writer in Edinburgh.
James Armour junior, Student in Physick in the College of Edinburgh.
Robert Clark, Son to John Clark, M.D.
Hobel Smith junior.
Alex Fairlie of Fairlie.
Alex. Gordon, Writer in Edinburgh.
John Erskine of Balgouny junior, Advocate.
John Erskine, Baillie of Alloa.
James Erskine, Sone to the King’s Advocate.
Capt. Thomas Hillary.

Obviously, by learning shorthand, Gordon felt that he was readying himself to serve as Secretary to Governor Glen and to serve as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.

Public notice of Gordon’s appointment to serve as Secretary to Governor Glen came on  July 1, 1741.  Under “Preferments,” The Scots Magazine listed, “Mr. Gordon, Secretary to James Glen., Esq; Governor of South Carolina.”

The South Carolina Gazette picked up on the news in a Supplement to its November 7, 1741, paper:

London, July 28.  Mr. Gordon is appointed Secretary to James Glenn [sic], Esq; Governor of South-Carolina.

As of this post, I have not been able to determine the exact date that Alexander Gordon arrived in Charleston.

Some accounts suggest that Alexander Gordon and James Glen set sail to the New World together, but that cannot be the case, since, as we will see, Governor Glen did not arrive in South Carolina until December 1743.

Gordon, on the other hand, had established residence in Charleston at least as early as 1742 and was serving as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.  On March 20, 1742, The South Carolina Gazette printed a notice authorized by Gordon as Clerk of the Council:

Notice is hereby given that a new Magazine is to be built in the same Manner, but one 5th larger than the present Magazine near St. Philip’s Church.  Any Person or Persons who are willing to undertake the same are desired to give in their Proposals to the Clerk of his Majesty’s Council, on or before the first Tuesday in April next.

Alexander Gordon, C.C.

N.B. I shall receive Proposals at my House next Door to Mr. Alexander Smith’s the Upper End of Tradd street.

Throughout the remainder of 1742, various Council documents appear in The South Carolina Gazette certified by Alex. Gordon, Clerk of Council.

Eventually, Alexander Gordon’s patron—the new Royal Governor of South Carolina—reached Charleston on December 17, 1743.  As soon as the ship came to anchor, Gordon—along with the Master in Chancery—were the first sent on board “to wait on his Excellency, and to shew him a proper Place of Landing”:

Charles-Town, Dec, 19.

Last Saturday arrived here in the Tartar Man of War commanded by Captain Ward, his Excellency James Glen, Esq; Captain General, Governor and Commander in Chief of this Province, and Vice-Admiral of the same.  Upon a Signal of Five Guns being discharged at Fort-Johnson, the Charles-Town Regiment was drawn up under Arms upon the Bay, extending in Two Lines facing one another from the Council-Chamber to Gibbs’s Wharff.  His Excellency in passing by Fort-Johnson, was saluted by the Guns of that Fort; and when the Ship came before the Town, by the Guns also at Granville’s, Craven’s, and Broughton’s Batteries.  As soon as she came to an Anchor, the Clerk of the Council and Master in Chancery having been first sent on board, to wait on his Excellency, and to shew him a proper Place of Landing, she was afterwards received at the Landing, by the Honourable Edmond Atkin and Charles Pinckney, Esqrs. as Members of his Majesty’s Hon. Council who conducted his Excellency through the two Lines of [one word illegible] to the Council-Chamber, to his Honour the Lieutenant Governor attended by the Rest of the Members of Council then on the Spot; His Excellency having there produced his Majesty’s said Commission, he was conducted by them, the Sword of State being carried before, and attended by the Honourable the Commons House, and many Officers and other Gentlemen of Distinction, to Granville’s Bastion, where the same was published in due Form, which was followed by three Whirras, a Discharge of the Cannon at the Bastions, and a general Volley of the Regiment.  Then his Excellency, attended by all the Gentlemen present, marched back in like Manner, to the Council-Chamber, being saluted as he passed by all the Officers of the Regiment.  And having there qualified himself to act by talking the usual Oaths, and the Regiment being drawn up as before in Broad-street, his Excellency attended again in the same Manner walked to Mr. Shepheard’s Tavern, where a handsome Entertainment was provided for him, and a numerous Company concluded the Day with Joy, the House being handsomely illuminated.

As for me, my day has concluded with joy as well for having taken the time to ramble through those musty old newspapers, for having taken the time to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right, and for believing—no, for knowing— that in so doing I will find answers!