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

Alexander Gordon: Sheltered in High Places

“When Persons of high Dignity patronize Learning, it demonstrates a Greatness of Soul, no less advantageous to their own Characters, than beneficial to the Sciences which are blest with their enlivening and extensive Influence:  For Knowledge and Virtue are so inseparable, that whatever promotes the one, must necessarily produce the other.” —Alexander Gordon.

I noted in my last post 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).

I noted, too, that 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).

I shared those ephemera because they were among the early notices that I found of Alexander Gordon as I made my way through the “musty,” digitized versions of newspapers published in Scotland and England in an effort to chronicle Gordon’s journey from the Old World to the New World where he would serve as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council and where he would write “The Humourist” essays that appeared in the South Carolina Gazette.

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 Royalty took notice and favoured him.  Even so, I never intended for him to dawdle—even Royally—for so many months before I continued my account of his journey.

But it has not been for naught.  It has given me the opportunity to explore Gordon’s  writings more fully.  In doing so, I became impressed by the dedications that he included in his publications.  They explain, in part, why Royalty favoured him—and why, apparently, he was favoured in other high places— and, they make for generally “good” reading since they far outdistance superficial and formulaic dedications, thereby providing more glimpses of Alexander Gordon than can be found in “The Humourist” essays alone.

I have gathered all the dedications, and they shall serve as the basis of today’s post!  (We shall finish Gordon’s journey to South Carolina another day!)

Let’s start with his 1726 Itinerarium Septentrionale, dedicated to Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, 2nd Duke of Dover, and Vice Admiral of Scotland (1698-1778):

To His Grace


Duke of

Queensberry and Dover, etc.

My Lord,

As the Monuments of Antiquity, exhibited in the following Sheets, are chiefly intended to illustrate the Roman Actions in Scotland, and, of consequence the Achievements of its Ancient Inhabitants, Your Grace will here perceive, from uncontested Authorities, how great the Struggle has been, in the One for Conquest, the Other, for Liberty to their Country.

This being the general Scope of the present Essay, there is none to whom I can so naturally have recourse for Protection, and Countenance, as Your Grace, whose illustrious Ancestors have, for Ages, been so eminent in defending and establishing their Nation’s Honor and Liberty, and certain it is, the Name of Douglas, is too highly exalted in the Annals of Europe, to bring this in Doubt. What pleasure must I then receive, in finding Patronage from one who Possesses, as by Hereditary Right, the many shining Qualities of his renowned Forefathers: All which, joyn’d with a condescending Goodness, Humanity, Knowledge, and Sweetness of Temper, finish the Character of one truly Noble.

Long have I wish’d for an Opportunity to evidence my Gratitude, to your Grace, for many Favours, already received, both at Home and Abroad and, indeed, the small Tribute, I now offer, has its greatest Merit in proceeding from a grateful Heart.  I can never sufficiently express the Sense I have of your generous Encouragement, shewn me at my first Entrance on this Work, for when many were multiplying Difficulties, and starting discouraging Objections against me, You, my Lord, was far from crushing me in the Attempt, not thinking it just to condemn my Work, till it was seen and examin’d.  If, then, any Shadow of Merit be found therein, I shall most willingly acknowledge, that its Success is, in a great measure, owing to Your Grace, and some other learned and generous Patrons.  With Pleasure, therefore, I lay it at Your Feet, and reckon all the Pains and Trouble I have taken therein, well rewarded, in having, hereby, an Opportunity of declaring to the World, That, with most profound Deference, I am,

May it please Your Grace,

Your Grace’s most Obedient,

and most Obliged, humble Servant

Alexander Gordon.

Three years later (1729) he published his The Lives of Pope Alexander VI and His Son Caesar Borgia, and it was dedicated to James Graham, 4th Marquis and 1st Duke of Montrose (1682-1742):

To His Grace


Duke of Montrose

My Lord,

As an Acknowledgment for the many Instances of Favour, with which Your Grace has been pleased to honour me, I beg Leave in all Humility to shelter the following History under Your Grace’s Protection.

But if I had no peculiar Motives of Gratitude, a Work of this Kind should naturally be Addressed to One who is accurately acquainted with the great and active Scenes of Human Life:  And as it is Mine, that just Penetration should be accompanied with all the Indulgence of Candor and Humanity, In Your Grace these shining Qualities go Hand in Hand; they naturally support and adorn each other.

If what I have written deserves any Degree of Favour from the Publick, it will not give me so much Satisfaction from any View of Interest or Reputation, as for having an Opportunity of declaring to the World that am, with sincerest Veneration,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most Obliged, and

Most Faithful Servant,

Alexander Gordon

In 1730, Gordon’s translation was published:  The Compleat History of the Ancient Amphitheatres. More Peculiarly Regarding The Architecture of those Buildings, and in Particular that of Verona. By the Marquis Scipio Maffei. Made English from the Italian Original by Alexander Gordon, A.M., Adorned with Sculptures. (It is interesting to note, here, that Francesco Scipione, marquis di Maffei [1675-1755] was a well-known Italian Dramatist, archaeologist, and scholar.)  Gordon dedicated his translation to Sir George Bowes (1701-1760), a member of the English Parliament and the founder of the Grand Alliance of coal owners, established to control the London coal trade:


George Bows

Of Streatleham-Castle, Esq;

If a Descent from an Illustrious Race of Patriots, such as Camden is Witness that your Predecessors have been; if the Possession of a Plentiful Fortune, of a Numerous and Powerful Friendship, and of a General Esteem, were sufficient to render a Man happy; there are very few that would have a greater Share of Felicity than your self: But you are sensible, Sir, that the best Judges of Human Nature would not esteem you such, notwithstanding these Advantages, did you not possess the Nobler Endowments of the Mind.  These are the Qualities that improve the Gentleman, a mere amiable Character, into that of the highest Utility, the Patriot: ‘Tis by these alone that Honours, Riches, and Interest become useful, and conduce not only to the Happiness of the Possessor, but to that of Mankind in general; ’tis by these, that a Man not only dispenses Good in his own Time, but entails a lasting and improveable Felicity on After-Ages.

The Advantage of your Patronage to this Piece, might here be a sufficient Reason for a Dedication, had I not been affected with a much stronger Motive, the Desire I have of declaring to the World how much I am indebted to your Bounty.  I am sensible that this Performance is a very small Return for the Favours I’ve received; and yet I should think my Labour very well bestowed, could I deserve the least Part of that Approbation you will give the Learned Author of the Original.  I have this at least in my favour, that ’tis much more difficult to translate than to compose.

That you may long live, and continue to be the Patron of Learning and Virtue, and the Happiness of such as are honoured with your Friendship, is the sincere Wish of,


Your most Humble and

most Obliged Servant,

Alexander Gordon.

When Gordon’s one and only comedy Lupone: or, the Inquisitor was published in 1732, he dedicated it to Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon (ca. 1720-1752) who was eleven years old at the time.  (Yes, like you, I am intrigued by the shared surname, but, at this point, I cannot connect our Alexander Gordon with the illustrious House of Gordon.)  Lupone is a Dominican Friar and chief Inquisitor, and the play takes place in Naples.

To His Grace


Duke of Gordon.

My Lord,

The Sincere Regard for Truth, of which your Grace has given the World such early Examples, renders you the proper Patron of every Attempt that tends to the Exposing those whose Employment is to promote the most pernicious Error that ever deluded Mankind.

The wicked Priest, supported by an ignorant and superstitious Multitude, is a Character of such terrible Importance to Publick Happiness and Liberty, that its horrid Consequences can never be too often represented to the People.

This, being the subject of the present Piece, has made me presume to implore your Grace’s Patronage, believing that the Design, rather than the Performance, may be my Excuse.  I am, with the utmost Respect,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most obedient

humble Servant,

Alex. Gordon.

Also in 1732, he published his Additions and Corrections, by Way of Supplement, to the Itinerarium Septentrionale, dedicating it to James Macrae (1677-1744), Scottish seaman, administrator, and Governor of Fort St. George from 1725-1730).  (Fort St. George was the first English fortress in India.)

To the Honourable

James Makrae, Esq.

Late Governor of Fort St. George.


The many Favours I have received from you, when I was honour’d with your Acquaintance Abroad, and the Continuance of them at Home, oblige me to take the first Opportunity of declaring to the World, how much I am indebted to your Friendship.

The Remains of Antiquity I am describing, are such as illustrate the History of the noblest and most successful Resistance of any to the Violence of the Usurping Romans, their Description may therefore be worthy of your Acceptance, more, indeed, from the Dignity of the Subject treated, than the Manner of describing them.  The Bravery of our Heroic Ancestors against those whom Tacitus calls Raptores Orbis, The Plunderers of the World, has too near a Remembrance to your own, not to affect you, since the same Man who defended the Cassandra with so much Resolution, against Pyrates of a still worse Nature, must with equal Courage have defended his Country, had he lived in those Days.

Accept therefore these Papers, not as any Retribution for the many Favours received, but as a sincere Acknowledgment of a grateful Heart.  I am,


Your most humble, and

most obliged Servant, 

Alex. Gordon.

Gordon returned to his Italian interests in 1733 with a publication that fascinates and perplexes me because it is a revised and corrected translation of The Book of Common Prayer from English to Italian!  It is titled Il libro Delle Preghiere Publiche ed Administrazione de’ Sacramenti, ed Altri Riti e Cerimonie delIa Chiesa, Secondo ruso della Chiesa Anglicana; Insieme col Saltero over i Salmi Di David, Come hanno da esser recitati nelle Chiese.  E la forma e modo di fare, ordinare e consacrare Vescovi, Presbiteri e Diaconi: Questa nuova Impressione revista e corretta per Alessandro Gordon, A.M. 

The story behind the Italian version of The Book of Common Prayer is intriguing.  According to The Book of Common Prayer Among the Nations of the World, Chapter XII, Italian Translations, the first translation was begun by William Bedell (Bishop of Kilmore and Armagh) who had an “expressed desire to win over the people of Venice to Protestanism.”  The Bishop died in 1642, but it was not until 1685 that Edward Browne (Clare Hall, Cambridge) edited the translation for publication.

How Alexander Gordon became involved in the revised 1733 edition shows his entrepreneurial spirit:  he saw the translation as an educational tool for teaching Italian!  Stefano Villani’s “Italian Translations of the Book of Common Prayer enlightens and is worthy of extensive quotation:

A new edition of Brown’s text was then published in 1733 by the Scot Alexander Gordon. … Gordon in his ‘Letter to the readers’ of the Libro delle Preghiere Publiche, after having retold the story of the first edition of 1685 (basing himself on Brown’s old introduction), explains the reasons that led him to publish ‘this new edition’. First of all it was impossible to find copies of the edition of 1685. …secondly it presented several spelling errors and some lexical inaccuracy; and thirdly several prayers and other things relevant to the rites and ceremonies of 1685 were no longer in use. At the end of his letter to the reader, Gordon gives another reason that convinced him of the necessity for this translation. Gordon writes that ‘the Italian language being greatly estimated by the English nobility and by other persons of value and knowledge’ (‘essendo la lingua italiana grandemente stimata appresso lanobilità inglese ed altre persone di merito e sapere’), there were ‘many’ who required a translation of the Anglican liturgy ‘in that sweetest language’ (‘inquella dolcissima lingua’) so that ‘reading it often’ they ‘could improve their knowledge of that language’ (‘leggendola spesso, potessero avanzar nellaconoscenza della detta lingua’).

Since the liturgy was known by heart by every member of the Church of England, everyone who wanted to study Italian could read the translation in that language of the Book of Common Prayer, with the great advantage of being able to grasp the meaning of phrases without a dictionary.  At a time when the practice of completing the intellectual formation of young British nobles and writers with the Grand Tour in Italy was already common, to propose an edition of the Libro delle Preghiere Publiche as a sort of educational aid for teaching the Italian language, could open a very large market, and demonstrates, once again, the ingenuity of this whimsical scholar [emphasis supplied].

 Gordon’s translation contained not only his “Letter to the Readers” but also, as we have come to expect, a dedication.  It is in Italian, and begins, “Al Reverendissimo ed Illustrissimo Padre in Dio, Edwardo Chandler.”  Edward Chandler (1668?-1750) was Bishop of Litchfield from 1717 to 1730 and, then, Bishop of Durham from 1730 on.

In 1737, he dedicated his An Essay towards Explaining the Hieroglyphical Figures on the Coffin of the Ancient Mummy belonging to Capt. William Lethieullier to Sir Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1728 until 1761.   The National Trust observes that “he held the post for 33 years in five successive parliaments and was known as the Great Speaker.”

To the

Right Honourable

Arthur Onslow, Esq;

Speaker of the Hon House of Commons, etc.


When Persons of high Dignity patronize Learning, it demonstrates a Greatness of Soul, no less advantageous to their own Characters, than beneficial to the Sciences which are blest with their enlivening and extensive Influence:  For Knowledge and Virtue are so inseparable, that whatever promotes the one, must necessarily produce the other.  Yet such is the unhappy Effect of a too indulgent Education, that many Persons who by their high Rank and native Genius might have been useful Ornaments to Mankind, suffer themselves to be wholly captivated by the lost Delusions of Sense, which generally make too successful a Court to Persons of ample Fortunes and distinguish’d Birth, and know nothing of the genuine Pleasure that follows the delightful and self-rewarding Pursuits of an intelligent Mind.

‘Tis not therefore surprising, That Literature and the Sciences, should apply themselves to Personages who stand forth as illustrious Exceptions to this too general a Depravity.  Nor is it to be wonder’d at, that among the most Eminent of the Learned, even Persons of meaner Abilities, (attracted by the Sunshine which diffuses it self over the whole World of Science, from the Countenance of the Truly Great) should be ambitious to mingle their humbler Offerings.

Hence, Sir, arises the Liberty I take of presuming to shelter the following Essay under YOUR Name, not induced by the Worth of the Performance, but the Nature of the Subject.

That You May long live the Mecænas of this Age, and continue to do Honour to the exalted Station to which Your own Merit has raised You, is the sincere Wish, of,


Your most Humble, and

Most Obedient Servant

AlexR Gordon.

Also in 1737, he dedicated his An Essay towards Explaining the Ancient Hieroglyphical Figures, on the Egyptian Mummy, in the Museum of Doctor Mead, Physician in Ordinary to His Majesty to Richard Mead.  As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, Mead was “a leading 18th-century British physician who contributed to the study of preventive medicine. A graduate of the University of Padua (M.D., 1695) and of Oxford (M.D., 1707) and a staff member of St. Thomas’ Hospital and Medical School, London (1703–15), Mead attended some of the foremost personalities of the day, including King George I, Queen Anne, King George II, the British prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Isaac Newton, and the poet Alexander Pope.”


Doctor Mead.


The many Obligations you have conferr’d upon me, make me lay hold of the least Opportunity to render you the humble Acknowledgments of a grateful Heart: And indeed, besides this superior Inducement, I could not, with equal Propriety, have recourse to any other Patronage for the following Essay, that owes its Being to your noble Museum; which, among many other invaluable Treasures of Antiquity and Erudition, contains the curious Monument of the antient Egyptians, that is the Subject thereof.

The easy Access to this inestimable Repository, which you so generously afford to every one who is inquisitive after Knowledge, and the chearful Assistance you are so ready to lend to whatever tends to the Promotion of Learning, and the polite Arts, have justly intitul’d you to the Esteem of Mankind.  Which that you may continue long to enjoy, is the Wish of all those who have the Honour to be known to you, among whom no one can join with greater Fervour than,


Your most humble and

most obliged Servant,

Alexander Gordon.

And so it was that for this eleven-year chapter of his life (1726-1737), our Alexander Gordon—our illustrious antiquarian and true Renaissance man—found himself favoured again and again as he repeatedly paid tribute to and solicited “shelter” from friends in high places.

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