Alexander Gordon: Favoured by British Royalty

Time to dig in to those musty old papers! — Dr. Christopher Coutts, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs (Lord Fairfax Community College)

When my college president, Dr. Cheryl Thompson-Stacy, emailed our Lord Fairfax Community College family on April 30, 2012, that I had been selected as a VCCS Chancellor’s Professor (2012-2014), one of my colleagues and staunch supporters who knew all about my project emailed me immediately, “Time to dig in to those musty old papers!”

Yes, indeed!  That is exactly what I have been doing for the last year or so, and, now that I have identified Alexander Gordon as the author of The Humourist essays, I’m digging even deeper into historical documents.  As I shared with you in my September 5 post:

Right now, I am feeling compelled to write the South Carolina chapter of Alexander Gordon’s life. So, for now, I plan to return to the South Carolina Gazette to discover everything that I can about Gordon from his arrival in South Carolina until his death in 1754.  I need to write this chapter in his life.  No, I must do so—if not me, who? And I shall do so.

The task will not be an easy one since I will have to read the South Carolina Gazette on microfilm, but, I am blessed to be able to do so!

Please, join me here, as I share with you the highlights of Alexander Gordon’s life in Colonial South Carolina! 

Since that post, I have been working diligently to discover and piece together the details of Alexander Gordon’s life from the time that he arrived in South Carolina until his death in 1754.  I have only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but I am eager to start sharing my findings with you all.

As it turns out, I continue to dig into old newspapers but they are not musty at all.  In fact, they are digital!  How wonderful, technology!  Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away.”  Today she might well write, “There is no frigate like the Internet / To take us lands away.”  How true!

So, for right now, I’m being 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.  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 received “at home” as they started their journey to the New World.

I’ve found a lot!  But where do I begin? And what shall I share?

I am tempted to begin with September 11, 1739, when “his Majesty’s Royal Commission passed the Great Seal, appointing James Glen, Esq., to be Governor and Commander in and Over his Majesty’s Province of South-Carolina in America” (Stamford Mercury, September 13, 1739).

But I think not.

Instead I am tempted to begin with December 19, 1743, when the news broke that Glen had arrived finally in South Carolina:

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 wharfs. 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 taking the usual Cloths, 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 (South Carolina Gazette).

Again, however, I think not.

Okay.  I’ve got it.  I’ll start with Glen’s first speech to the General Assembly, carrying the newspaper headline:

The SPEECH of his Excellency JAMES GLEN, Esq; Captain General, Governor, and Commander in Chief, in and over the Province of South-Carolina, delivered to our Houses of Assembly, on Wednesday the eleventh Day of January, 1743-4, in the Council-Chamber.

Once again, though, I think not.  The speech is too long to serve my purposes right now, and, more important, our principal player here—Alexander Gordon—played a behind-the scenes role as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.

So I won’t begin with any of the above temptations, important as they are.  I will save those nuggets for a later post.

What I will begin with, then, is the very first notice of Alexander Gordon that I have been able to find in my journey through the “musty,” digitized versions of newspapers published in Scotland and England.

It appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on December 24, 1724:

This Day are Published,

Proposals, for Printing by Subscription, ITINERARIUM SEPTENTRIONALE: or, A Journey over the greatest Part of the Kingdom of Scotland, and most northerly Parts of England; in One Volume, Folio, divided into three Parts:  The First to contain an Account and Description of all the Monuments of Roman Antiquity, that have been found, and are to be seen in the North Parts of the Island. The 2nd, A Description of the most remarkable Monuments of Pictish and Danish Antiquity; together with the other valuable Curiosities of Art that are in Scotland. The 3rd, An Account of all the Curiosities of fine Taste that have been brought from Italy and elsewhere, to be seen in the Collections of the Curious in that Part of the Island. By ALEXANDER GORDON, Citizen of Aberdeen.  Subscriptions are taken in at John’s and the Exchange Coffee-houses, Edinburgh.

I am intrigued because the description of the book in the newspaper proposal is brand new to me and different from the book’s 1726 actual title page:

Itinerarium Septentrionale: or, a Journey Thro’ most of the COUNTIES of SCOTLAND, and Those in the NORTH OF ENGLAND.


PART I.  Containing an Account of all the MONUMENTS of ROMAN ANTIQUITY found and collected in that Journey and exhibited in order to illustrate the Roman History in those Parts of Britain, from the first Invasion by Julius Caesar, till Julius Agricola’s March into Caledonia, in the Reign of Vespasian.  And thence more fully to their last abandoning the Island, in the Reign of Theodosius Junior. With a particular Description of the ROMAN WALLS in Cumberland, Northumberland, AND Scotland.  Then different Stations, Watch-Towers, Turrets, Exploratory Castles, Height, Breadth, and all their other Dimensions; taken by an actual Geometrical Survey from Sea to Sea with all the Altars and Inscriptions found on them.  As also a View of the several Places of Encampment, made by the Romans, their Castles, Military Ways, etc.

PART II. An Account of the DANISH INVASIONS on SCOTLAND, and of the Monuments erected there, on the different Defeats of that People. With other curious REMAINS of ANTIQUITY, Never before communicated to the Publick.

What’s missing on the published book’s title page is the 3rd part announced in the proposal:  “An Account of all the Curiosities of fine Taste that have been brought from Italy and elsewhere, to be seen in the Collections of the Curious in that Part of the Island.”

That it didn’t appear in the published book is neither here nor there in terms of the work that I am doing with Alexander Gordon and his Humourist essays.  What made me sit up and take notice were the words Curious and Taste. In the Humourist essays, Gordon uses the word Curious twice and the word Taste or Tastes seven times.  Sometimes the words are used together and sometimes, even, in the context of discussing art! This certainly helps strength my identification of Gordon as the author of the Humourist essays.

But let me hasten back to those musty, digitized newspapers and my early findings there!

To my joy, I discovered that when Itinerarium Septentrionale was published in 1726, Alexander Gordon received Royal attention:

Edinburgh, August 22.  Several persons of Distinction, etc. are gone hence to meet their Graces the Duke and Dutchess of Athol, who are expected in Town this Night.

We hear that Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Book entitul’d Itinerarium Septentrionale, had the Honour to present their Royal Highnesses with his Book, and was very graciously received; and for his future Encouragement, were please to subscribe to his Proposals for the Maps he designs to publish of the Roman Walls in Britain.  That Gentleman is shortly expected in Scotland, to illustrate a Project which will greatly redound to the Advantage of Trade and Navigation in Britain (Caledonian Mercury, August 22, 1726).

And three years later when Gordon published his History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, he received even greater Royal attention:

Monday last Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Itinerarium Septentrionale, presented his new History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, to the King and Queen, was very graciously received, and had the Honour to kiss their Majesties Hands; and on Tuesday he presented the said book to the Prince, and had the Honour to kiss his R. Highness’s Hands also (Caledonian Mercury, March 27, 1729).

How truly wonderful that Gordon’s early—and, let me hasten to add, important—scholarly works were of such high caliber and of such historical significance that British Royalty took notice and favoured him.

A Reciprocated Challenge Fulfilled! Alexander Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness” Is Finished!

“When I saw the ‘ unfinished poem’ listed on The Wired Researcher website, I wanted it finished. Maybe it is just the poet in me, but I thought that such a work of art deserved to be concluded. I never thought that I would complete it. I had never done anything quite like it before: I couldn’t complete it. I extended the idea to Dr. Kendrick, but he reciprocated the challenge and offered it to me! Well, I couldn’t back down now—it was my idea after all.” — Timothy J. VanCuren

Last week, I announced that “Curious” had completed The Humourist’s “The Temple of Happiness”; that I had seen the finished poem; that I was impressed; and that you would see the finished poem soon, here!

Well, today is the day—for all the world to see!  “Curious”—who posed the initial challenge that I should finish the poem, and, ever so wisely, I returned the challenge to him!—has agreed to come forth, neither as “Curious” nor as “The Humourist, Jr.” but rather, and—I think, wisely—under his real name:  Timothy J. VanCuren!

Currently, Tim is enrolled in the General Studies degree program at Lord Fairfax Community College, and he plans to transfer to George Mason University where he will pursue a degree in Criminology with a possible minor in English.

I have been in touch with Tim since he posted his “challenge” here.  Before sharing with you his finished version of Alexander’s Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness,” you might find it interesting—and amusing—to see some of our email exchanges.

I sent Tim the following email on August 21:


I don’t want this day to end without telling you how stunned I am that you seem to have such misgivings about your “completed” version of Alexander Gordon’s poem “The Temple of Happiness.”

You have done a masterful job! You really have. You captured the spirit of what he began in his poem, and I think you brought it to a more than successful conclusion.

That being said, after we talked today, I re-read your version of the poem—with an eye towards your concerns, and I agree: you do have a few “rough” lines; you have a few word choices that I’m not sure would have been in the vocabulary then—and I’ll check those out in the OED; and, at times, I felt as if I was reading Wheatley or Freneau. I need to ponder those thoughts. The wonderful aspect of this partial poem is that Gordon would not have had access to Wheatley or Freneau, as you have had. His was a FRESH American view on happiness, preceding their views..

You need to ponder: to what extent were YOU influenced by Wheatley and Freneau, even if subconsciously. Follow? Just ponder. Gordon’s take on happiness would have been, generally speaking–or not!–different because he was earlier. So, think about that!

Again, what you have written is MASTERFUL! (I wish that I could have written it! I could not have!) It really is! Celebrate your talents!

Professor Kendrick

Subsequently, Tim and I chatted in my office several times.  On September 3, I sent him this email:


I am laughing—and I know you will appreciate it: when we spoke several weeks ago in my office and I mentioned several rough spots, I truly had credited YOU with passages that The Humourist himself had written! And on Friday, when I mentioned that YOU had possibly used some words that might not have been around when The Humourist wrote his poem, I had in mind some words from The Humourist’s part of the poem!

This translates to: what you wrote is so much like what The Humourist wrote that the lines blurred in my mind! Please note that I inserted a line break just now so that I could tell who wrote what!

Professor Kendrick

Tim responded quickly:

Hello Professor,

Indeed, I am very amused (I just laughed aloud in the student lounge) at your comments! And yes, I am also very pleased. Thank you so extremely much for your feedback!


I remain amused that I—the expert—lost the distinction between that which Alexander Gordon had written initially and that which Timothy J. VanCuren finished subsequently!  I can think of no higher tribute to Tim’s poetic talents!

Even so, I asked Tim to write a short essay explaining how he went about the task of finishing Alexander Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness,” and I am pleased to share his essay with you here:

“A Humorous Ending”

Writing in the style of a poet is not exactly unchartered ground for me. Previously, I have written poems in the style of Billy Collins, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickenson, among others. Each of them was challenging, but mostly fun because they each had a unique sense of adventure. I had the distinct pleasure of delving into the minds of some of the greatest writers the world has ever seen! I had the opportunity to “see” their works in ways that most other people had not seen them. It was not, however, a “copycat” gig that I was undertaking. All of the poems I wrote “in the style of” were just that – in their style. The poem stories themselves were completely original. I used the renowned poets as inspiration. Also, I was starting with fresh, new ideas that I could take wherever I wanted.

When I saw the “1 unfinished poem” listed on The Wired Researcher website, I wanted it finished. Maybe it is just the poet in me, but I thought that such a work of art deserved to be concluded. I never thought that I would complete it. I had never done anything quite like it before, I couldn’t complete it. I extended the idea to Dr. Kendrick, but he reciprocated the challenge and offered it to me! Well I couldn’t back down now, it was my idea after all.

It would turn out to be the hardest project I’ve accepted.

Having read the writings of The Humorist, I tried to “get inside his head” and see what he was thinking. It didn’t turn out so well, but I did gain a good amount of knowledge about the persona of the writer. I read the poem what must have been about 20 times before I could even start to think about where the story would go next. It was so incredibly hard to attempt to imagine what was going to happen with Virtue and Vice. After all, The Humorist (Alexander Gordon) had a specific intention in mind when he wrote this story, and it was up to me to finish what he started. With all of this pressure, I’m afraid it may be a little disappointing as to how I finished it – I wrote. And wrote.

That’s all I did. There really wasn’t much planning. I just started, and let the story finish itself. I don’t take credit for the story because, as I see it, I didn’t create it. Gordon created a living piece of literature that was simply waiting for someone to let it finish growing. I couldn’t allow myself to alter the story or do anything that would be untrue to the original intent. When I wrote it (well, when the story wrote itself), I did so in plain, modern-day writing. Before I knew it, I had a finished story on my hands. I didn’t even really understand how I got there, I just — got there.

The next challenge was to re-create the form, the style, and the feel of the writing. I took the story that I had already written and translated it into the old writing. I did this by taking a line from the original poem and changing the words to fit the new story that I had written. I tried to squeeze together the old and the new, hoping that the old would overtake the new, thus leaving a smooth transition in the poem.

I tried to edit it some, but after every attempt I made to change it, I ended up reverting to what it already was just one hour before. I just couldn’t satisfy myself with any changes I made, with the exception of one or two things. When I was done, I put it out to certain people for feedback, and then continued to adjust the minor things.

There. It’s done.

It all happened so smoothly and rapidly. I had finally finished what was the hardest project I’d ever accepted. It felt like I had been pushed under water, struggled to reach the surface, intensely using every muscle I had, thrusting upward, thrusting… and when I finally reached the surface I was told only one second had elapsed since I went under.

I am proud to present to you the finished poem, written by The Humorist. I can only hope it does justice to its author. If it does, then my goal is fulfilled.

And now, the moment that we have all been waiting for:  Timothy J. VanCuren’s finished version of Alexander Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness.” 


An allegorical POEM.

When now no more the summer’s scorching sun,
Beats with fierce rays upon the parched earth,
But bounteous autumn with refreshing showers
Revives each herb and beautifies the lawns;
Then, spent with labour, I retir’d, to rest
My wearied limbs, upon the flow’ry bank
Of a small rivulet, that murmuring ran,
While many a shining pebble roll’d along,
And serv’d to lull uneasy care to rest.
Lost in wild thought, contemplating I lay
On mortal man’s unsettled state on earth;
How every one does Happiness pursue,
How every one, or most at least, fall short
Of this their general aim; because, instead
Of searching for it in fair Virtue‘s path,
They’re idly turn’d aside, by every gust
Of ruling passion, to that delusive road,
Where subtil Vice does promise them content;
Sometimes assuming virtue’s lovely look,
And sometimes boldly throwing off the mask,
Which, tho’ its first appearance startle us,
By custom grown familiar, gives delight.
Thus musing, gentle sleep upon me stole,
And lock’d my senses in his droony cave.
My roving fancy, then quite unconfin’d,
Sprung to the stars, or sunk into the deep;
Flew o’er this ball our earth, and all things view’d
In air, on land, or on the chrystal main:
Saw weathy cities near their lofty tow’rs,
While waving forests grace the verdant greens,
And the huge mountain tops rise to the clouds:
Then pass’d from these, unto that liquid plain,
Where failing ships and wat’ry monsters sport,
Amongst the still more monstrous tumbling waves,
That threaten ev’n th’ affflicted globe itself,
And would involve it in the former chaos,
If not restrain’d by Pow’r Omnipotent.
A prospect such as this, was giv’n to him
Who’s fabled to have had that winged steed,
Sprung from the blood of slain Medusa‘s snakes;
Who then attempting heav’n’s blest wall to scale
Was by thund’rer justly thrown to earth,
His native clime, with all his golden views.
Thus, rapt on thought’s aërial wings I fly;
When lo! a vast extended plain appears,
Where all mankind, by Jove‘s decree conven’d,
With admiration captivates my sense.
Not more in number to the wondering swain
Do heav’n’s refulgent ornaments appear,
When now at eve he stalks along the green,
And throws his eyes, admiring, to the stars.
Rack’d with suspence, each throbbing breast expects
The dread commands of an eternal God,
While awful silence reigns thro’out the whole;
Then straight a venerable lovely figure comes,
By men term’d innate Reason, but in heav’n
He’s called the Dictates of th‘ Almighty Pow’r;
who thus declar’d unto th’ expecting crowd,
Why Jove this vast assemblage had ordain’d.
Ye sons of men, in still attention wait
‘Till I your being’s end and aim unfold.
Altho’ to the pale victor death you stoop,
Think not he can annihilate the mind;
You’re made immortal pleasure to enjoy,
Along with Gods eternally to live,
To whom tho’ still aspiring, still remov’d
Because the distance infinitely great
‘Twixt them and you. This day unto that temple
Where Happiness in splendor still resides,
And on the good all goodness does confer,
With me as guide, by Jove‘s decree, you go;
And if observant of my rules you walk,
Th’ expected port you shall with ease attain:
But if, allured by deceiving Vice,
Rejecting Virtue‘s salutary rules,
You scorn my precepts, and your reason yield
To those officious off’rers we shall meet
That promise you a pleasant nearer way;
Instead of Happiness, so much desir’d
You’ll find but disappointments, crosses, pains,
And all the mis’ries incident to man.
He ceas’d to speak, but did not to invite,
As soft persuasion sat upon his brow
His arguments with melting looks t’ enforce,
If mean would deign observance of his call.
But yet, who could refrain from tears? when told
That much the greater part of them fell off
From God’s Vice-gerent, foolishly seduc’d
To hateful Vice‘s part, by promise vain,
Of gaining Happiness, a surer way
Than by the thorny path of rigid Virtue.
For ev’ry fierce contending passion strives,
By specious Shews of Happiness prepar’d,
The inward call of Reason to evade.

Tempt’d by prowling Virtue man leaps.
Once giv’n the greas’d reigns of Vice,
The monotonous temptation twists to air.
Riding this carriage nam’d Vice causes
A pass of slipp’d grandeur by forsak’n Virtue.
Altho’ distant was Reason’s presence, remaining
Innate was his voice. He spoke, pleading,
With his subtly booming voice, reminding.

Ye sons of men, in quick arrogance run
From the Heav’nly sent symbol of Wisdom.
For Wisdom is the spouse of Reason,
And it is only from the mine of guilt whence
Emerges reconsideration, then reconciliation.
Together, Reason and Wisdom birth Virtue.
You have hastily sent away Virtue from your door
And invit’d Vice from afar.
You failed to heed my words.
In favour of disappointments and mis’ries incident to man,
You disregarded happiness so desir’d. You now can only
Attempt to attain satisfaction with that scowling companion Vice,
Though his bleak ways will Shew Empty.

He ceas’d to speak, but not to glow’r. Thro’ his
Face was the grain of mercy, held back as
The shores defie th’ rolling waters, rushing toward hope.
Mercy was present and actual, yet reserv’d and hesitant.
The gates of regained righteousness were bulging
As Virtue spoke these words. Vice crept toward the gates
And fought so that the gates should remain to themselves.
The time had pass’d, too soon for Vice, too slow for Virtue.
By the pleadings of those sons of men, forgiveness ran
Free as the springs of life. The wonder of a new frontier
Could not possibly surpass that of Reason and Wisdom,
Vice and Virtue. Vice strode away with sunk’n head.

The awareness of a flow’ry bank and shining pebbles
Rolling return’d to my consciousness. The contemplation
Of battles interior t’ each man left to mull with th’ next.
I still lie in a flow’ry bed, but now I see Virtue across fro’
Me. He smiles, congratulating me for my youngest
Yet most fruitful revelation. Happiness is near to
Each man, for it rests with’n his temple, gold’n, each
Unique to the man retaining it. It is plac’d there
As a reward by Virtue himself, honour’d.

Can YOU tell where Gordon leaves off and where VanCuren begins?   If you can, you’re better at this than I am!

So, go ahead:  check yourself by going back to Gordon’s unfinished poem published here on March 19, 2013

For right now, though, join hands with melet’s celebrate Tim’s poetic flight! Bravo, Tim! Bravo!

Reflections. Ramblings. A Challenge Soon to Be Fulfilled.

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.  […] No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”  —Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes”


Immediately after my August 8 speaking engagement at the Charleston Library Society—where I solved Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery by identifying Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council, as the author of The Humourist essays that had appeared pseudonymously in the South Carolina Gazette during 1753-1754—one of my faithful followers emailed me, “Have you come down from your Cloud Nine yet?”  As you might imagine, I responded with, “Not quite:  I’m always on one cloud or another!”  And I am.

In that sense—and in keeping with The Humourist himself—I, too, am an aerial spirit!

Truly, even now, I am still on Cloud Nine.  Being able to solve this major literary mystery is a highlight—perhaps the highlight—of my long and fruitful journey as a researcher.

Even so, my work with The Humourist—Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council (how wonderful–no, how utterly thrilling–to say “Alexander Gordon”)—is not finished!  I have a lot of work that remains to be done.  Rest assured:  my Blog will continue!


Just how my Blog will continue remains to be seen!  Just as Robert Frost believed that a poem should ride along on its own melting, I believe that research should move along in like fashion:  on its own melting.

I’m still thinking about some of the wonderful questions asked by the audience when I did my “Big Reveal” on August 8:

  • “When he came to South Carolina, did he bring his wife?”
  • “You mentioned that he had a son and a daughter, what happened to them?”
  • “Have you been able to locate any of his descendants?”
  • “Was he involved in Charleston’s theatrical performances?”

I couldn’t really answer those questions, simply because I do not know—yet.

How ironic that I know a lot about Alexander Gordon’s life in Scotland, England, and Italy—where he was a well-known and respected historian and performer—and yet I know so relatively little about his life in South Carolina—nearly two decades—where he held a prominent position:  Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.

Right now, I am feeling compelled to write the South Carolina chapter of Alexander Gordon’s life. So, for now, I plan to return to the South Carolina Gazette to discover everything that I can about Gordon from his arrival in South Carolina until his death in 1754.  I need to write this chapter in his life.  No, I must do so—if not me, who? And I  shall do so.

The task will not be an easy one since I will have to read the South Carolina Gazette on microfilm, but, I am blessed to be able to do so!

Please, join me here, as I share with you the highlights of Alexander Gordon’s life in Colonial South Carolina!  That will be the beginning of my ramblings!  Thereafter my research will “ride along on its own melting”!

A Challenge Soon to Be Fulfilled

Do you remember my Controlled Revelation 13?

Well, of course you do!  And if you follow Comments that my readers make, no doubt you will remember the one from Curious:

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

And I am sure that you will remember my reply:

Interesting though the task might be, it must be taken on by someone more poetically gifted than I.  I am flattered, Curious, but I confess:  my poetic flights are no better than the “Dragon of Wantley”!

(The poem, by the way, is The Humourist’s “The Temple of Happiness:  An Allegorical Poem.”)

It is my great pleasure to announce that … Continue reading

Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery Is Solved!

Candidly, the name in the obituary meant nothing to me in and of itself.  However, I knew that I had to explore it to see whether that person might have been The Humourist. Luckily for me, I hit pay dirt.  All of the clues—all the patterns—that I had found in the essays lined up perfectly with everything that I was to find out about the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon.

Solving Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery

A Presentation at The Charleston Library Society

Charleston, SC

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Thank you for such a warm welcome.  You make me feel quite at home. I want to extend my deepest thanks to the Society’s “Special Events and Programs” Committee for inviting me here as well as for their impressive publicity promoting my work on The Humourist.  Actually, I was blown away earlier this week when I went to the Society’s web site and saw:  “Join us for Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery!”  Thank you!

I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be with you this evening.  I’m thrilled for two reasons.

First, libraries and librarians hold a special place in my heart.  Before I became a professor of English at Lord Fairfax Community College in Virginia, I worked for twenty five years at The Library of Congress where I fell in love with books, where I fell in love with research, and where I fell in love with life-long learning.    And simply because we are all gathered together this evening, I know that libraries, librarians, and lifelong learning are important to you as well.

Here’s the second reason why I’m thrilled to be with you.  For me, this is a homecoming of sorts.  My work on The Humourist—your very own Humourist, your very own writer, living right here in Colonial Charleston—actually  began right here in The Charleston Library Society in 1973—forty years ago—when I was a doctoral student at The University of South Carolina, taking a Colonial American Literature class with Professor Calhoun Winton.  I remember the details well.  I was reading Leo LeMay’s Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Southern Literature, and in it he noted that The Humourist essays were of such high caliber that someone needed to edit them, publish them, and identify the author.

I was intrigued and challenged.  The essays appeared originally in the South Carolina Gazette.  Only one complete run of the newspaper exists, and it’s housed right here in the Charleston Library Society.

So for an entire semester, I traveled here from Columbia on weekends where inside these walls I read and studied The Humourist essays and came to agree with LeMay:  these were some of the best Colonial American essays that I had ever read.

However, I didn’t do anything further with Professor Lemay’s challenge, except to file it away in my mental storehouse of “one-day, some-day” ideas to be tackled further down the road when the time was right.  Instead I went on to edit the letters of New England writer, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and to publish them as The Infant Sphinx:  Collected Letters of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.  Instead I went on to pursue a fabulous career at The Library of Congress.

Now, four decades later, I discovered to my surprise—and, candidly, to my joy—that no one else has accepted Professor Lemay’s challenge.  The Humourist essays that he lauded have remained unedited, unpublished, and the author unidentified.

Now, four decades later, as a 2012-2014 Chancellor’s Professor in the Virginia Community College System, I have the opportunity—a second chance, if you will—to be the student who takes Professor Lemay’s idea and runs with it. I have the opportunity to be the student who brings these essays to full light.  I have the opportunity to be the student who sees to it that these essays take their rightful place in the American literary canon.  And I have the opportunity to be the student who solves the mystery:  Who wrote those essays?

That why I’m here tonight:  to share with you what I have been doing with these essays during the last year, and—based on a preponderance of textual clues in the essays—to announce for the first time ever the author—the man who up until tonight has been Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery.

My goal is a simple one:  make these essays available not only to students, professors, and scholars but also to the reading public at large.

Last fall, I launched a blog titled “The Wired Researcher,” and in it I have shared with students, faculty, and everyone who is interested my personal research experiences—“live,” from start to finish:  my work, my methods, my discoveries, my challenges and frustrations, and my joys.

Let me share with you the general flavor and background of The Humourist essays.

If you open up November 26, 1753, issue of The South Carolina Gazette—and you can, right here in this Library—you will notice the first of many essays to be published in that newspaper under the title, “The Humourist.”  With the note, “From my chambers in the air,” the essay begins:

It is necessary to premise that I am a Man of a peculiar odd Way of Thinking, and I shall consequently make myself very merry at the Particularities of other People. Thus much for Preface. 

The Humourist will never pester the World with incoherency or unnatural Occurrences, under the specious Pretence of painting true Life or copying after Nature.  Thus much for Self-Praise.

Then, after providing a fast-paced, informed, and comprehensive overview of literary tastes ranging all the way back to “past times” and all the way up to the new  literary genre of his day, the novel— which, by the way, he calls “Novel writing without Reason, and Lies without Meaning”—he ends his first essay with:

The utmost Aim of my Compositions shall be directed to please; and if I now and then chance to tour uncommon Heights, the World must understand that I am improving the Method of Writing, and that my Habitation is in the Air.

I am an aerial Spirit; and as an inducement to the World to Read my Paper, they may shortly expect a Present of my Picture, which, like the Statue of Mercury in the Fable, shall be thrown into the Bargain.

As we continue to read the weekly Gazette through December 1753 and through January, February, March, and April of 1754, we uncover a total of 17 essays, 7 letters that The Humourist wrote to himself using various other pseudonymns, 3 poems, 2 advertisements, and 2 related items—all by “The Humourist.”  Finally, on April 9, 1754, we come to his “Retirement Notice”.  Let me read the opening sentence:

The Humourist is become an Invalid, and as he loves Retirement must quit the foolish busy World, and please his vacant Hours with the secret Satisfaction of having intentionally displeased no one.

I’ll come back to this “Retirement Notice” later in my talk.  For now, suffice it to say that the essays which began so mysteriously ended thus strangely and inexplicably.  The retirement notice was the last contribution by “The Humourist.”

As a professor of American Literature, I can tell you—and, for now, you’ll have to take my word for it until you read the The Humourist’s essays in my blog:  at this point in America’s development—1753/1754—we simply don’t have essays of this caliber, even in New England, and we certainly don’t have true essays of this caliber from this time period in the South.  The Humourist is a new voice, a fresh voice who deserves to be read widely, who deserves to be celebrated widely, and who deserves to be anthologized widely so that future generations are mindful of the important contributions that he made.

The work that I have been doing with The Humourist essays has offered several challenges.  The first challenge relates to editing and annotating a collection of essays that exists in the only surviving copy of the South Carolina Gazette housed here in the Charleston Library Society.  Fortunately, and with Rob Salvo’s help—and before him, with the help of Carol Butler here at the Society—I have completed that task, and I have made a preliminary version of the essays available in my blog, The Wired Researcher.  Formal publication will follow in a year or two.

The second challenge relates to conducting the authorship study—the challenge of solving this literary whodunit mystery!  I’ve done so, in large part, simply by 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’m doing:  paying attention to details—cataloging them, if you will, and cross referencing them to establish patterns.

For the last few months, I have shared my “close readings” with my blog audience in a weekly post called “Controlled Revelation.”  Clearly I had to control how much I divulged about the author in any given week because I didn’t want my readers to solve the literary mystery prematurely!

So, week by week, I’ve analyzed the essays and revealed—in a controlled manner—what I have found.  Let me share with you some of the highlights of those clues—the patterns—that have surfaced.  Again, keep in mind that these are simply highlights.  You can read the full discussion in my blog.

Here are some broad patterns.

The Humourist  knows the classics including:  Aristotle, Virgil, Horace, Longinus, Quintilian, Dionysius, Plutarch.

The Humourist knows history and talks about:  Tacitus, Trajan, Pope Adrian VI, and Borgia.  One of his most frequently used words is Ancients. (His reference to Borgia is important.  Later on you will see why.)

The Humourist knows literature and quotes from:  Shakespeare, Milton, Spencer, Samuel Butler, James Thompson, Edward Young, Samuel Garth, Fielding.

The Humourist knows poetry, evidenced not only by his extensive poetic references  but also by his own poetic flights.  He wrote three poems, “Song by The Humourist,” “The Rising Beauty,” and his unfinished allegorical poem “Happiness.”

The Humourist knows drama:  Shakespeare.  Bayes Rehearsal. He talks about the records of drama.  And, equally important, he shows himself knowledgeable of theatrical language.   (Remember “theatrical language.”  You’ll see why later on.)

The Humourist knows painting, drawing, and engraving:  This is a really important clue, so I want to focus on it a little more fully.  You will recall that even in his first essay he comments:  “as an inducement to the World to Read my Paper, they may shortly expect a Present of my Picture.”  In one of his later essays, he writes a letter to himself under the pseudonym, Proteus Maggot, and he encloses a “catalog of several paintings and drawings.”   The offerings, of course are fictitious, but they show The Humourist’s knowledge of painting and drawing and engraving:

  • An antique whole Length of Signior Adam. Notice his use of the Italian word Signior.  Later on you will see why it is important.
  • Several half Lengths of Nimrod, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Nero, Borgia, Lewis 14th, Charles 12th.  Again, keep in mind his reference to Borgia.  Later on you will see why it is important.
  • Above 500 grotesque Pieces (several in Chinese Taste) of which the Humourist Family are generally great Connoisseurs:  Many of these are Drawings and Etchings, and give great Light into Antiquity, and a Display of the unaccountable Humours of the Ancients.
  • Half-finished Pieces of Miscellaeous Matters not yet arranged in Order, among which are, the Flight of the Long-Bay, Impregnable Fortresses constructed of Sana and Oyster-Shell, a Church half-finished, Plantations deserted, a View of Georgia, Acts of Assembly made into Kites, etc.  (Note well his reference to Acts of Assembly.)

In addition to his in-depth knowledge of painting and drawing, The Humourist knows about Egyptian mummies:  In one of his essays, he writes a letter to himself under the pseudonym Peter Hemp.   In the letter Peter Hemp makes a most interesting  comment about Green Tar, who, he maintains “boasts of preserving the most antient Egyptian Mummies down to the Present Time.”  I am intrigued that The Humourist would mention something as esoteric as the preservation of Egyptian mummies.  We’ll come back to it.

And, as might be expected, The Humourist knows, loves, and promotes Colonial Charleston and Colonial South Carolina and makes several references to the General Assembly, almost as if he had insider information about the Assembly’s undertakings.  Later on you will understand why his references to the General Assembly are important.

In terms of loving Charleston, in his January 1, 1754, essay exploring New Year’s customs and traditions, he writes:

It is evident, that the Ancients looked upon those Customs as promotive of the social Duties, and as so many Obligations of the Performance of them.  I am sorry to say, that modern Elegance is endeavouring to suppress these noble Emanations, but I am far more grieved to own, that such Virtues are incompatible with modern Graces.

It is with Sincerity I offer my Thoughts on this Subject, tho’ far more unnecessary in this Place (than in my others) where so noble a Generosity, joined with an hospitable Dignity, prevails.

In another essay he discloses the general location of where he lived in Charleston, observing that he is a “Man of Penetration, and can, with surprising Discernment, see a Church by Day-Light.”  In fact, The Humourist had a home on what is now Meeting Street and indeed he would have been able to see St. Michael’s Church.

Also, the essays show The Humourist to be a promoter of South Carolina.  He recognized the challenges facing the Colony of South Carolina in terms of industry, trade, manufacturing, and social issues, and he addressed them.

Writing under the pseudonym of as Alice Wish-For’t, the Humourist makes a strong plea for giving preference to commodities produced in South Carolina:

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


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

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

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

Writing under the pseudonym of Pine Green-Tar, The Humourist promotes green tar:

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

Writing under the pseudonym of Peter Hemp, the Humourist proposes that Indigo, Pot-Ash, Green Tar, and Hemp can live in one house along with Rice.

Finally, writing under the pseudonym of Urbanicus, The Humourist discusses:

  • Building a lighthouse with cannons on Cumming’s Island, for defense;
  • Building a pest-house for dealing with individuals infected with Small Pox;
  • Purchasing fire engines at the expense of the parishes of St. Philip and St. Michael to prevent future devastation by fire;
  • Tightening controls on the number of retailers licensed to sell liquor and on baking and the weight of bread;
  • Reviewing the qualifications of constables; (Remember that word—constables.  You’ll hear it later in my talk.)
  • Reminding plantation owners of the requirement to have one white person for every ten Negroes;
  • Building a jail of sufficient quality;
  • Walling in the White-Point section of Charleston to prevent hurricane damage; and, finally,
  • Building a bridge over Ashley-River. 

Of the proposed bridge, Urbanicus notes—if such a bridge is to be built, “to be sure there must be an Act passed for it. It would really be a good Thing:  And, if you, Mr. Humourist, are in the A—-y, we, and Thousands of others, hope you’ll befriend such a Bill.”  In terms of the word “A—-y,” The Humourist is using a convention standard that writers often use:  omitting letters from a word to suggest that they dare not use the word itself but providing enough letters that everyone would understand.  Thus, that part of the sentence becomes:  “if you … are in the Assembly, we and Thousands of others, hope you’ll befriend such a Bill.” Again, remember the General Assembly.

So, I’ve shared with you highlights—and they are just that:  highlights—of the clues that I found in the essays, and I have shared brief selections from the essays.

Now, let’s return to the Humourist’s final publication in the South Carolina Gazette, his Retirement Notice that I mentioned earlier in my talk.  It appeared on April 9, 1754.  It’s short, so I’ll read it all of it:

The HUMOURIST is become an Invalid, and as he loves Retirement must quit the foolish busy World, and please his vacant Hours with the secret Satisfaction of having intentionally displeased no one.  He thanks the Publick for having generously construed these Papers; but, for some private Reasons, is under a Necessity of declaring, that he will 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 was floored—no, flabbergasted—to see these wonderful Colonial American essays end so abruptly.  And what was I to make of this retirement notice?  Was it true?  Had The Humourist become an invalid, really?

As I pondered those questions, I recalled 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 one of our tasks often 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 there in one of them.”

So, it was from that research perspective that I kept exploring the South Carolina Gazette.  Two feet to the left and two feet to the right, if you will.  I re-read the entire newspaper for 1753 and 1754, up to The Humourist’s Final Notice.  Then I decided to keep reading.  “What if, “ I asked myself, “what if he really had become an invalid?  What if he died?  Maybe the Gazette would carry an obituary.”  I knew that was a long shot because based on my exploration of the Gazette for this period, obituaries did not appear that often.

At any rate, I followed my hunch, and I kept reading!  It paid off.  Four months after The Humourist’s “Retirement Notice,” The Gazette ran an obituary that made me sit up and take notice:

On Monday last died, of a Mortification, occasioned by the cutting of a Corn, the ingenious

I’ll stop reading the obituary at this point—even now, I want to control the revelation of The Humourist’s identity—I’ll save his name until the very end!

Keep in mind that mortification is a medical term that means gangrene.  Mortification occasioned by the cutting of a corn.  So, indeed, The Humourist had become an invalid when he posted his Retirement Notice.  And even though his departure from the New World was not a glorious one, whoever wrote his obituary notice knew that he was Ingenious.  Yes, indeed.  We see that trait in all his essays!

Candidly, the name in the obituary meant nothing to me in and of itself.  However, I knew that I had to explore it to see whether that person might have been The Humourist.

Luckily for me, I hit pay dirt.  All of the clues—all the patterns—that I had found in the essays lined up perfectly with everything that I was to find out about the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon.

Obviously, some of the individual clues that I discovered in The Humourist essays might point us to any number of learned and sophisticated people living here in Colonial Charleston.

But when all the clues in the essays—including the esoteric ones—point to one person—and to one person only—it provides rather irrefutable evidence that we have found our author.

Let’s do a crosswalk comparison.

The ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon was born around 1692, presumably in Aberdeen, Scotland.  He earned his master of arts’ degree at Aberdeen University, and was proficient in classical and modern languages and had a talent for music and fine art.  It appears that after leaving Aberdeen University, the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon taught languages, music, and possibly drawing in Aberdeen and may have been a traveling tutor in France, Germany, and Italy.  Remember:  the Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of the classics, of languages, of literature, and of drawing and painting.  Remember, too, his reference to Adam using the Italian term “Signior.”

Subsequently, and for a good number of years he achieved considerable distinction as an operatic tenor.  From 1716-1719, he made operatic appearances in Italy.   He returned to England in 1719 where a benefit concert for him was held at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.  He continued to be involved in opera and the theater, though with less and less frequency, until 1741. During this period he wrote what appears to be his only play:  Lupone, or the Inquisitor:  A Comedy, published in 1731.  Remember:  the Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of the theater and of drama.

Aside from being involved in theater, the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled became interested in antiquarian studies and decided to investigate the Roman antiquities of Scotland and northern England.  His antiquarian explorations occupied his focus between 1723-24.  In 1725, he was elected to the Society of Antiquaries and to the Society of Roman Knights.  In the next year he published his Itinerarium Septentrionale:  or, A Journey thro’ Most of the Counties of Scotland, and those in England.  In two Parts.  The Whole Illustrated with Sixty-Six Copperplates.  The work is considered to be a “record of great contemporary importance and some lasting value.”  He continued his antiquarian studies concentrating on “Roman sites of the lowlands,” on the Agricolan advance, and on the Antoine Wall.  In the latter exploration, he was accompanied by James Glen, who was provost of Linlithgow and also an antiquarian.  In 1729, he published The Lives of Pope Alexander VI, and His Son Caesar Borgia.  (Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia were Italian.)   In 1730, appeared his published A Compleat History of the Antient Amphitheatres, More Particularly Regarding the Architecture of these Buildings, and in Particular that of Verona.  And in 1733, he translated The Book of Common Prayer into ItalianRemember:  the Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of history and “the antients,” and the essays make specific reference to Borgia.

Also, do you remember when I mentioned that The Humourist essays show knowledge of Egyptian mummies?   

Well, the person whose obituary I had stumbled upon published two essays related to Egyptian mummies.  The first in 1737 titled An Essay towards Explaining the Antient Hieroglyphical Figures, on the Coffin of the Ancient Mummy Belonging to Captain William Lethieullier. The second, also in 1737: An Essay towards Explaining the Antient Hieroglyphical Figures on the Egyptian Mummy in the Museum of Doctor Mead, Physician in Ordinary to His MajestyThe person whose obituary I had stumbled upon also served for a short time as secretary to the Egyptian Club.

Finally, in 1741 the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon left the Old World and came to the New World as secretary to his old friend James Glen who was now the new Governor of South Carolina.  From then until his death in 1754, the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon served—here in Charleston—as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.

Let me pause here to make a brief observation about Colonial South Carolina at this point in its history.  The “legislature was established consisting of two houses. The upper house was designated [as] His Majesty’s Council and consisted of 12 persons, who served unlimited terms, appointed by the King. The Council worked directly with the royal governor and further served as the highest judicial court. The Commons House of Assembly, elected by colonists, was the lower house. The two houses—jointly—were called, like their British counterpart, the ‘Parliament.’ The Parliament and the royal governor, when referred to as a singular entity, constituted what was known as the General Assembly.” [emphasis supplied.]

Remember:  The Humourist essays mention the General Assembly three times.  Remember, especially his comment, “If you, Mr. Humourist are in the Assembly.” 

Additionally, the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon served for a while as Registrar of the province and as Constable—a justice of the peace.  (Remember:  The Humourist mentions “constables” in his essays.) He prospered here. He owned land in Charles Town itself as well as in Ansonborough, profitably developed for houses. He became a member of the St. Andrew’s Society and “associated with the leading professional men of the province.” Finally, he wrote about colonial South Carolina, and in a description that he sent to the Royal Society he spoke of “its admirable fertility, and wonderful produce of unnumerable curious and useful things—the vine, wine, sesamum, oil for soap, cotton, mulberry, silkworms […] hemp, flax, potash, etc. etc.  But after all this profusion of nature’s bounty, the inhabitants … made no profit or improvement in any one article for commerce, employing themselves wholly in the culture of rice.” Remember: in his essays, he specifically advances the notion of buying  Carolina  products instead of importing foreign commodities , and on several occasions he makes the point that hemp and potash and indigo can live in the same house with rice and suggests such a proposal be taken to the General Assembly.

Finally, the Last Will and Testament of the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon contains several bequests along with a directive that reinforce my identification of the author of The Humourist essays.

These bequests deal specifically with paintings and drawings.

I give, devise, and bequeath unto the Honourable Hector Berrenger De Beaufain, Esq, his picture, portraiture, or effigies by me [ …] painted, drawn and represented as aforesaid.

I give, devise, and bequeath unto the Reverend Mr. Heywood, his picture, portraiture, or effigies by me [ … ] painted, drawn, and represented as aforesaid.

I give, devise, and bequeath unto my son Alexander Gordon, my own picture, together with all and singular the paintings, views, and other representations by me […] painted, drawn and represented.

Remember:  the Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of drawing and painting.

Finally, the directive in The Last Will and Testament deals with an unpublished manuscript about Egyptians.

It is my express will and desire, and I do hereby order and direct, that my said son shall, as conveniently as may be, cause to be printed and published my book now remaining in manuscript and titled, “A Critical Essay towards the Illustrating the History and Chronology of the Egyptians and other most Ancient Nations, from the Earliest Ages on Record till the Times  of Alexander the Great.”

Remember:  the Humourist essays show extensive knowledge of history and “the antients,” including a reference to Egyptian mummies.

I think that it is abundantly clear:  all of the clues—all the patterns—that I found in the essays line up perfectly with everything that I found out about the ingenious person whose obituary I had stumbled upon.

Now, to wrap up my presentation and to reveal—for the first time ever—The Humourist’s identity, let me return to the ingenious person’s obituary that I stumbled upon in the South Carolina Gazette for August 29, 1754.  This time I will include the name his name:

“On Monday last died, of a Mortification, occasioned by the cutting of a Corn, the ingenious Continue reading

Reminder: This Evening at 6PM I Will Reveal The Humourist’s Identity!

Don’t forget:  I will reveal The Humourist’s identity this evening, August 8, 6PM, at The Charleston Library Society where I will be the guest speaker.

I had hoped to provide a pre-recorded version of my presentation, but the audio file is too large!  So, I will provide you, instead, with my draft comments.  Be forewarned, however:  if you do not read it all from start to finish you will miss key points that allowed me to solve the mystery! 

So join me this evening in spirit!  6PM!  I’m counting on it!

This Week: I Will Reveal The Humourist’s Identity!

Don’t forget:  I will reveal The Humourist’s identity this coming Thursday, August 8, 6PM, at The Charleston Library Society where I will be the guest speaker. 

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

The program is free and open to the public.  I’d love to see some of you there for this important revelation!  The Charleston Library Society is promoting my talk as “Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery”!

If you cannot join us, rest assured that I will provide coverage right here, orchestrated in a way that will allow you to find out The Humourist’s identity at the same time that I am disclosing it to those attending my live presentation:  6PM, Thursday, August 8.

Controlled Revelation #13: The Humourist as a Musical Virtuoso! Plus, A Curious Challenge!

This week, as we explore The Humourist’s essay of March 5, 1754, we see him once again as a master of sarcasm as he continues—and, thankfully, finishes—his mock literary analysis of the dreadful combat between Moore of Moore Hall and the Dragon of Wantley.  You might want to re-read the ballad:  “The Dragon of Wantley.”

As I noted last week, as a classicist The Humourist knew that the poem was not great literature and that it was hardly worthy of the nearly 700 words that he devoted to it initially.  Even so, he resumes his task on March 5, 1754, devotes his entire essay to his ongoing mock analysis, and does so with such exquisite sarcasm that what is ridiculous already becomes even more so.

I am intrigued.  Why would The Humourist be so interested in this nonsensical 1685 ballad?  To answer my question, I decided to do some quick research just to see how popular the poem was during The Humourist’s lifetime.  I am surprised by my findings!  The poem was wildly popular not only as a satirical ballad but also as a burlesque opera!

Here’s what Nick Adams has to say about “The Dragon of Wantley”:

The publication history of the ballad itself is intriguing. It was first published in 1685, although there is an undated edition presumed to be earlier (though possibly dating to earlier in 1685), and there are ten subsequent editions before its appearance in a mid-eighteenth century anthology, Thomas Percy’s Relics of Ancient Poetry of 1767. By this time, the reference to Rotherham is removed and the text is bowdlerised; so excising the local colour along with the rude bits. This is a lot of editions. Moreover, the ballad is included in published edition of Henry Carey’s The Dragon of Wantley (1737). This is perhaps the most improbable manifestation of them all. It is a burlesque opera, satirising the operatic conventions of the time, but tellingly also attacking the taxation policies of the Whig government of the time, led by Robert Walpole. Some of Carey’s burlesques are appealing, but it is pretty hard to say this of The Dragon of Wantley. Nevertheless, it was hugely successful, running for 69 performances (more even than The Beggar’s Opera, the big stage hit of the time). The play was similarly popular in printed form.

“The Dragon of Wantley” as a burlesque opera!  Well, of course!  Burlesque opera!  As a musical virtuoso, The Humourist would have been more than interested in this ballad!

Oh my goodness!  I think I just dropped a major clue!

I am aware, fully, that there is absolutely nothing in this essay—or, for that matter, in any of The Humourist’s essays—that points in the direction of The Humourist being a musical virtuoso!  However, I know enough about his life that I can make that statement!  You’ll find out all the details on August 8.

So let’s move on quickly, lest I reveal more than I should right now!  Let’s move on quickly to that which I can reveal:  the Curious Challenge of this week’s post! Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I am confident that you will notice two things missing from the title of today’s post.  First, it doesn’t include the word Controlled.  Second, it is not numbered!

Here’s why:  I’m simply providing a revelation that even Wired-Researchers need vacations, and I’m away on one!  Or, as one of my esteemed friends (also a lover of language) would say, “I’m away on vay-kay.”  Here’s her take on the word:

I mostly deplore the ‘evolution’ of the English language, because it’s going the wrong way.  Down and ignorant and sloppy and ugly.  It’s the ‘ugly’ that really depresses me.

But every now and then a phrase or word pops up that takes my fancy and I like to use it.  ‘Vay-kay’ is one.  It is so funny to say it out loud.

It is funny to say it aloud, and I must say that I hear it from time to time.  It has made its way to various Urban dictionaries, but, thankfully, it has not made its way to our beloved Oxford English Dictionary!

In case you’re wondering where my “vay-kay” has taken me, I’m in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, located in Southwest Virginia.

If you’re into biking, then the 34 mile Virginia Creeper Trail connecting Damascus and Abingdon must be on your list of things to do.

If you’re into hiking, then the trek to the top of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the Virginia with a summit elevation of 5,729 feet, is a must-do.

Or, if you want some less strenuous hiking, explore Grayson Highlands.  You can’t go wrong.

Next week, I’ll be back with a Controlled Revelation!  In the meantime, I’m on vay-kay.

Controlled Revelation #11: The Humourist’s Reputation Preceded Him to Colonial South Carolina

“It is the office of justice to injure no man; of propriety, to offend none.”  —Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), De Officiis, Book I:20

As  noted elsewhere, The Humourist was a man of considerable distinction in his own country, and, for that matter, he was well known throughout much of Europe.  So extensive was his reputation that he received rather frequent front-page coverage in numerous eighteenth century newspapers.  Obviously, when The Humourist arrived in Colonial South Carolina, his reputation preceded him.

He was a known authority—expert, if you will—in at least one area of study, and he was a master in several other areas.  Generally well respected, it seems, nonetheless, that he came to learn first hand (and, perhaps, the harsh way) the bitter reality behind Benjamin Franklin’s pithy saying, Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never mended well.”

In the “Old World,” many people saw him as someone whose ambitions often exceeded his grasp; as someone who took on many projects without seeing them all to successful completion; as someone who dabbled in many occupations so that he could earn enough money to keep creditors at bay; and as someone who was not always honest. Others saw him as fickle, mercurial, anti-Catholic, and overly zealous of his nationality.

These “cracks” in his reputation were not known to the public at large and, to be certain, they were never of such alarm or magnitude that they made it to the press.  Still, the cracks were there—in journals, diaries, and letters:  the sorts of documents to which The Humourist would not have been privy.  Generally, they were comments make by others about him, behind his back.  In that sense, I am reminded of what American novelist and newspaper/magazine editor would say many years later, What people say behind your back is your standing in the community.”

In the “New World,” it appears that The Humourist fared better.  Occupationally, he seems to have settled down to one or two positions, and he seems to have prospered.  He acquired land in Charleston, erected homes quite profitably, and participated in small groups focused on belles lettres. When he died, the inventory of his extensive estate suggests that he had enjoyed full success as a transplanted European.  Of his reputation, one word from his obituary is notable:  ingenious. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word thusly, “Having high intellectual capacity; able, talented, possessed of genius.”  If The Humourist had not quite managed to repair his reputation in the New World—and it is possible that it may have never been sullied on these shores to begin with—he, at least, established and maintained his reputation as a man of keen intellecual abilities.

It is clear, however, as we examine The Humourist’s essay of February 19, 1754—the focus of this week’s Controlled Revelation—that he knew all about gaining and losing a reputation.  It is clear that The Humourist knew the various types of people who “whisper away their Neighbour’s Reputation.”  It is equally clear that he held in contempt  those who eat away at and sully the reputation of others.  He held in contempt those “unsocial brutes” who undermine the influence of others.   

In one part of the essay, I suspect that he is reflecting on his younger years in the “Old World” when his own reputation was attacked by “mean and sordid” detractors, intent on “dissect[ing] characters, and devour[ing] good Names: 

There are a Kind of Detractors, tho’ last mentioned, not least in the Cause of Evil, who being mean and sordid, will condescend to collect a Catalogue of Stories, to humour a Patron and tickle a Friend.  Such Men as these, do almost come up to a literal Sense of what the Psalmist spoke in a figurative, (and eat up People for Bread;3) dissect characters, and devour good Names, for the monstrous Entertainment of a servile Master.

How shocking is it, to think, that such unwarrantable Favour should be shewn these People, who make no Allowances for Actions which frequently arise from sudden Passions, or are the unhappy Attendants of some Constitutions, or are the Errors of a hasty Judgment, and now are form’d into Crimes, and charged as the highest , when Good-Nature and good Sense must certainly have overlook’d them.

Of all The Humourist’s essays, his essay of February 19, 1754, is one of my favorites.  It contains truths which, if followed, help make us honorable and noble human beings and, of equal importance, help us to be cautious and circumspect before we speak (or write) words that harm someone’s reputation.

Of all The Humourist essays, his essay of February 19, 1754, provides the fewest clues in terms of his identity  At the same time, this week’s Controlled Revelation is itself riddled with clues aplenty!