“Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields.”
—from Robert Frost’s “The Figure a Poem Makes”
I love Robert Frost, and I especially love his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes.” I’ve been thinking about that essay a lot today, because I am here in Charleston, South Carolina, on a scholarly research trip. And I have conducted my work, as Frost said scholars conduct their work, “with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic”.
Projected lines of logic. Ah! Yes! As those of you who have been following my blog know, I have maintained for some time that I am 99% confident that I know the identity of The Humourist. Trust me: I do! And, as you also know, I have been giving The Humourist essays a close reading, noting the clues that allow me to explore my authorial speculations along projected lines of logic. Indeed those projected lines of logic have guided me throughout this research trip: projected lines of logic.
My hope was that if I could find the Last Will and Testament of the person whom I believe to be The Humourist it might contain specific bequests that would in one way or another connect to the esoteric content of The Humourist essays. I have reviewed the Last Will and Testament, and, indeed, it contains bequests that parallel certain specifics mentioned in the essays: specifics dealing with art and with history. It is not possible that two people living in Charleston, South Carolina, during this same timeframe could have had the very same, identical, specialized interests. I realize that “art” and “history” are not specialized. Yet, for both of these fields, The Humourist has identified specialized angles. I have revealed some of them to you already.
I will reveal no more, at this point, except to say that I now have the clincher that I’ve been looking for! Mind you: I will continue giving The Humourist essays the close reading that they warrant. And when I am done with the deed, I will reveal all. For now, I have enough to move me from 99% to 100% certainty.
More, I have found clinchers others than those in his Last Will and Testament. Today, as I read issues of The South Carolina Gazette housed in the South Carolina Library Society, I found notices of property for sale—property owned by The Humourist. The location of the property aligns perfectly with references that he makes in two of his essays! Yes! Yes!
So, as this day ends, I believe that I meet with Frost’s approbation in terms of my scholarly work: I like to think so, at least. I know that I have followed with “conscientious thoroughness […] projected lines of logic.”
And, though I am no poet, I like to think that I would have met with Frost’s approval of my “poetic” way of seeking knowledge, too. Whenever I am doing research, I approach what I am doing rather “cavalierly.” I approach “nothing deliberately.” I let what knowledge will “stick” to me “like burrs where [I] walk in the fields.” The discoveries are remarkable.
Thus—and as is my custom—when I finished my formal scholarly research today, I was reluctant to put aside The South Carolina Gazette without taking a purely “just for fun” walk through its fields.
For some reason, I did as I often saw my mother do when I was a child and she was in search of a “special message” of some sort: she closed her eyes, opened the Bible, and let her finger drop to a line of Scripture. (Now that I reflect upon it, I know the reason fully well why I used my mother’s “special message” technique: had she lived, my mother would have been one hundred and one years old today! Today is her birthday! Subconsciously, I must have had her birthday on my mind, leading me—her way—to my way of knowledge.)
So, without then knowing why—yet, now, with full understanding, and in like fashion—today I closed my eyes, opened The South Carolina Gazette, and let my finger drop wherever it might drop.
To my great joy, my finger fell on a poetic tribute to Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744). The poem appeared in The South Carolina Gazette, on June 17, 1745, as follows:
Mr. Timothy, —- Sir,
I’ve sent you a Copy of VERSES, written extemporare by a Native of this Place, on the Death of the great and celebrated ALEXANDER POPE, Esq; Please to favour them with a Place in your next Gazette, and you’ll oblige, Sir,
Your most humble Servant,
AND is POPE gone? – Then mourn ye Britons! Mourn —
Your Pride and Boast! Apollo’s darling Son.
The Muses weep for Thee, immortal Bard!
Thou’rt gone! And with Thee all their Glory’s fled.
His Soul in Rapture mounts th’ ewtherial Road ——
Enraptur’d Seraphs win him to his God;
Pleas’d, the Angelick Bands with Speed give Way,
And hail him onward to eternal Day;
The Bard begins divine Seraphick Lays,
And glads all Heaven, with his rapt’rous Praise!
Now weep, ye chosen Few! Who Pleasure take
In harmonious Numbers, sublimely great;
Now mourn for him, who had the Art to fire
The Soul to Virtue! and the Heart inspire:
Who writ, for future Blessings to Mankind,
To mend the Heart, and to inform the Mind.
Who dar’d defend the righteous Laws of God,
And boldly in the bright Paths of Virtue trod.
His dreadful Satyr! That strange piercing Dart,
Well levell’d slew, —— and slung the guilty Heart.
Who next in Genius! able to sustain
The Poetick Fire? The heavenly Flame!
Like POPE! unfold great Nature’s moral Laws,
Like him, in flaming Zeal, and pious Rage,
Scourge the base Follies of a guilty Age?
A sacred Flame! Does thro’ thy Numbers flow,
Informs the Mind, and makes the Heart to glow.
Tho; thou art gone, —— thy Works shall brightest shine,
With Men of Genius, to the End of Time.
Thy Ethics shine, with much superior Rays, ——
Like thy bright Soul! ne more immortal Blaze!
But stay my Muse! Thy languid Flame’s too faint
The dazzling Beauties of great POPE to paint!
And O great Shade! Forgive my humble Lays,
Who only shew my Weakness, when I’d praise!
No Pen, so well, can speak thy rising Fame ——
As thy own Works: That brighten into Flame.
Who can, O POPE! Thy Sacred Laurel wear?
Who can, alas, the dazzling Lustre bear!
Who can, like Thee! Lift up the Sacred Rod?
The Power’s not of Man —— ‘tis the Gift of GOD.
THIS is thy Praise, due from every Pen,
The GREATEST POET and the BEST OF MEN.
Is this not incredibly wonderful? Just think: someone in Colonial America—someone in Charleston, South Carolina—penned such a poetic tribute to Alexander Pope on the occasion of his death!
How wonderful that the poetic tribute still exists in a newspaper that has survived against all odds for all these years. Now that’s life everlasting not only for Pope but also for Philagathus! It’s also life everlasting for librarians—the unsung keepers of our vast storehouses of treasured knowledge, whether scholarly or poetic.
Discoveries. Joys. Research.
It doesn’t get any better than this!