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

Controlled Revelation #8: Glimpses into The Humourist’s Demeanor

A Relaxation of Behaviour is not amiss upon some Occasions; where it is call’d in to enliven Conversation, or when so used as neither to discompose the Mind of the Hearer or injure the Speaker; where it neither derogates from Sense or infringes on the Laws of decency; for untim’d Mirth is Ill-Nature, and Humour void of a Moral is an Argument of Weakness. —The Humourist

Today we are exploring The Humourist’s essay of January 29, 1754.  It’s one of my favorite essays because it discusses a serious topic—professional behavior.  “Our actions ought to be suited to the Nature of our Professions, and be so tempered, as that Mankind may have it in their Power to say, that we discover Courtesy at the same Time that we preserve Respect.”

Here’s what I said, in part, when I published that essay on January 29, 2013:  “the Humourist shows us the personal essay at its best. In response to an earlier post, someone speculated that the Humourist was Benjamin Franklin. Although he is not Ben Franklin, this essay is on a par with Franklin’s essays, and, it is filled with pithy observations that could pass for Franklin aphorisms.”

I stand by that assessment, and I urge you to reread the essay for the pure joy of savoring every sentence.

I also said that the essay was chock full of clues, especially as the Humourist reveals his own demeanor.

Indeed it is!

Note, for example, the comment:  “In the small Concerns of Life wherein I have been engaged I always found that a certain Degree of Gravity was the surest Step towards distinguishing Eminence of Station.”  As you will come to discover—as we work our way through these Controlled Revelations—The Humourist held many professional positions during his life: some big; others, small.  In all of them, however, those who spoke of him spoke of his gravity, his seriousness.  This will serve as substantial corroborating authorial evidence.

Further in the essay, The Humourist writes:  “Many a Man passes in the Crowd of Life for a Philosopher, because he looks one”.  So, too, The Humourist took on many professional roles in his life—and, generally, he succeeded at them—because he looked the part and played the part well.  Again, this will serve as substantial corroborating authorial evidence.

What intrigues me, though, as I write this Controlled Revelation post is the seeming casual beginning of the essay:  “Sir William Temple somewhere says, that he knew a Statesman, that had rather have said a smart Thing than done a wise one, and whose Bent of Inclination rather prompted him to set the Company in a Horse-Laugh, than the Nation rejoice.”

It is as if The Humourist knew that his readers would know that Sir William Temple (1628-1699) was a Restoration diplomat, statesman, and essayist.  It is as if The Humourist knew that his readers might even know the “somewhere” behind the paraphrase.

And, on reflection, his Charlestonian readers most likely would have been that learned and that well read.  In Building Charleston, Emma Hart observes that:

Charleston held its own in the polite discourse that filled the pages of the Gentleman’s Magazine, with men like Charles Lining receiving praise for their learned contributions to science and the arts, and engravings devoted to the fashionable architecture in the town.  […] In one such article, Charleston remained the only city whose inhabitants were described as “very genteel and polite,” a character said to stem from sophisticated urban institutions such as public libraries.  Maryland and Virginia, on the other hand, were dismissed in a few brief sentences precisely because of their lack of any significant towns. (140-41)

It’s important to keep The Humourist’s readers in mind as we examine his essays:  Charlestonians were cosmopolitan and learned.  Little wonder, then, that he ends this essay with an indirect reference to Pittacus (c. 640-568 BC), one of the Seven Sages of Greece, and a native of Mytilene:  “The Paradox of the wise Man of Mitilene, that the half is better than the whole, may bear this Application, that one half of our Abilities properly husbanded, and the other half discovered, is of more real Importance, than the whole profusely squandered.”

And have I told you—I think not—that unlike The Humourist’s Charleston readers, I have still not found where Sir William Temple says that he knew a statesman who would have rather said a smart thing than done a wise one!   I remain clueless, at the moment, but as I continue to explore Temple’s works, I am certain I will find the primary source.  I want to know precisely what he said.  I want Temple’s words.

Why do I need to find the source?  For no reason whatsoever other than to satisfy my own intellectual curiosity.  Isn’t that the essence of research?  Isn’t that the essence of lifelong learning?  I think so.

And, therein, the challenges, discoveries, and joys—of research!

Controlled Revelation #6: Words Matter

“The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.”
Samuel Butler

I confess that I love words.  Every word choice is fraught with possibilities. Whenever I teach a literature class—or, for that matter, whenever I teach any English class—I encourage my students to pay attention to a writer’s word choice.  I encourage my students to ask themselves, “Why did the writer choose that word instead of another one?  What are the consequences of that particular word choice?  What impact does that word choice have on the meaning?  What words does the writer use frequently?   Why?”

I think that you get my point:  words matter.  Pay close attention to them.

Samuel Butler makes the point ever so poignantly in the headnote to today’s post.  Can you imagine Samuel Taylor Coleridge giving his “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the title “The Old Sailor”?  Of course, not!  It would be preposterous!  It would be a different poem entirely. (So, we have Ancient instead of Old, and we have Mariner instead of Sailor.  And, while we’re pondering over the poem’s title, we also have Rime instead of Rhyme.  Selecting Rime goes far, far beyond mere metrics.)

But I digress.  What led me to ruminate so was my close reading of The Humourist’s essay of January 15, 1754.  As  I read and read and re-read that essay—just as I read and read and re-read—each of his essays, I had an epiphany of sorts.  I realized that I was mulling over—savoring, if you will—each and every word.

Some of those words captured my fancy more than others.  The single, solitary word from that essay that gained possession of me with greatest satisfaction was the word Records.   In context, the word appears “Records of Drama.”

Records.  “Anything preserving information and constituting a piece of evidence about past events; esp. an account kept in writing or some other permanent form; (also) a document, monument, etc., on which such an account is inscribed” (Oxford English Dictionary, the 4th definition of the noun).

I’m not sure why, but the phrase Records of Drama struck me as unusual, and it still does.  I started asking myself the same questions that I advise my students to ask:   “Why did the writer choose that word instead of another one?  What are the consequences of that particular word choice?  What impact does that word choice have on the meaning?  What words does the writer use frequently?   Why?”

It was in the answering of those questions that my minor epiphany came:  The Humourist uses the word Records (as a noun) with some frequency.  I could recall—though I knew not where—that he had used it in several of his essays.

So, I set about the task of re-reading—well, actually, skimming and scanning—all of the essays to see if my recollection served me well.

Indeed it did.

In his December 10, 1753, essay The Humourist comments:  “Search the records of old time.”  (Note, too, that he follows that with “and look into the annals of the present.”  RecordsAnnals.  How similar,  I need to ferret out Annals as well.)

Then in his January 1, 1754, essay we find, “These Gifts create a most happy Emulation amongst the juvenile part of Mankind, and are so many Records of Friendship for the Fathers and the Grandfathers to transmit to Posterity.”

And, as we have seen already, he uses the phrase “Records of drama”  in the essay that we are exploring today.

While I am reluctant to ascribe too great a significance to one mere word, it strikes me that The Humourist’s use of the noun Records strengthens the appellation that I gave him in my Controlled Revelation # 1.  The Humourist is a Historian.

My goodness!  One word has led me—and you—all over the place.  Note, however, that it is exactly this kind of close reading that fosters and enables greater understanding and greater appreciation of any passage.

What else did I discover as I gave The Humourist’s January 15, 1754, essay a close reading?  Aside from confirming my notion that The Humourist is a historian, it confirms as well that The Humourist is well versed in drama.   Indeed this essay stands as perhaps the earliest essay in American Literature to exalt positive impact that tragedy has on mankind.

Thus we have still another confirmation of an earlier claim:  The Humourist is a lover of literature with a preference for drama.

Finally, this essay confirms The Humourist’s interest in and knowledge of painting:  “nothing discovering that close Connexion between Poets and Painters more graphically, than the different Peinture they excel in, the one in the outward Lineaments of the Face and Body, the other in the inward Temperament of the Mind.”

Now, I going to take up the task of perusing The Humourist’s essays for the word Annals!  (As I searched for Records, I discovered something that I had not quite noticed before:  nearly every essay touches upon poetry and drama.)

I’ll share my results with you next week.  In the meantime, remember:  words matter. Pay attention to them.

Controlled Revelation #5: A Man Who Knows Humor, Who Lives Near a Church, and Who Knows Children’s Books

“Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length.”
——Robert Frost

The magic and serendipity that I witnessed last week on my research trip to Charleston, South Carolina, was of such joyful intensity that I am reminded of a Robert Frost poem, “Happiness Makes Up in Height What It Lacks in Length”:

O stormy, stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day’s perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.
I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
No shadow crossed but ours
As through its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude.

I daresay that the intensity will not come my way again for some while, and, perhaps that’s a good thing:  I’m wired enough already!

This week we’ll apply our close-reading strategy to The Humourist’s essay of January 8, 1754.   You might want to click on the link and take a moment to revisit the essay.

Actually, this is one of my favorite “essays” from the collection, if, indeed you can call letters to yourself essays.  Yet, for the first time, The Humourist shows that he can be humorous.  Consider, if you will, the fact that he has disguised his identity under the pseudonym “The Humourist.”  And then he dares come forth with a letter beginning, “The HUMOURIST to himself, Greeting:”, followed by two more letters written to himself, though signed as “TOM SPRIGHTLY” and “IGNOTUS.”

To say that he’s stretching pseudonymity is an understatement, yet I find it amusing.

I find equally entertaining—albeit rather dated for us moderns—the story that he shares about his grandfather who was “reading the Latin Motto of a Book the other Day, and with great Vehemence and Extasy cried out, Oh! ’tis a noble Thing to be well versed in Greek!”

He’s clever as well in wordplay, as one of his correspondents writes about some Trials at the Old Bailey and notes “Yesterday the above Malefactors were hang’d at ‘Tyburn.'” The Humourist then questions, “Whether the Prisoners being made up of Men and Women, the latter can, by any reasonable Arguments, be proved to be Male-factors.”

To be certain, the humor in this essay is subtle, but it’s there, nonetheless, and we have not seen it before.

I am intrigued as well by the statement at the beginning of the essay that “you are a Man of Penetration, and can, with surprising Discernment, see a Church by Day-Light.”  Until last week’s research trip, I didn’t know what to do with that comment.  Now, however, having had access to the Last Will and Testament of the person I have identified as the Humourist, I understand.  He owned property and had a home on what is now Meeting Street, and, indeed, he would have been able to see St. Michael’s Church at the corner of Meeting Street and Broad Street.

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, S.C.
(Image from

This strikes me as a rather significant clue.

Finally, a new Humourist dimension emerges in this essay.  I noted in an earlier Controlled Revelation that The Humourist was a bibliophile.  I find it interesting in this essay that he shows his knowledge of children’s literature.  He mentions “Jack the Giant-Killer,” an English fairy tale from the early eighteenth century.  Also, he mentions The Circle of the Sciences, a series of “instructional books for young boys and girls. The books were edited/published between 1744-1748 by John Newbery, considered to be the “Father of Children’s Literature.”  He was so important to the creation and marketing of children’s books that the American Library Association awards the Newbery Medal annually for the most important children’s book published in the previous year.

This week, then, we can see that The Humourist does have a sense of humor.  We can see that he lives close enough to St. Michael’s that he can see it by daylight.  And we can see that he has some knowledge of children books, including contemporary ones.

Week by week, The Humourist.’s profile (like his Aerial Mansion) is becoming “fitted up,” and before the end of summer it will be complete!

Celebrating Scholars and Poets and Librarians!

“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,

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!

Controlled Revelation #4: Live from Charleston, South Carolina

This week I’m here in Charleston, South Carolina, where I am continuing my research work on The Humourist.  For this trip, however, I decided to stay off the beaten path:  I’m out on Sullivan’s Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor.  Edgar Allan Poe spent thirteen months here at Fort Moultrie, beginning November 18, 1827, and it was here on Sullivan’s Island that he wrote his famous short story, “The Gold Bug.”

Later this morning, I’ll be visiting the South Carolina History Room, Charleston County Public Library. I want to examine some land plats from the 1750s when the Humourist was publishing his essays in the South Carolina Gazette, and I want to examine some wills from the period.  Obviously, I’m looking for the will of the person I believe to be The Humourist.  I want to see whether the will contains any information that might confirm that he is actually the writer!

I realize, of course, that it’s a long shot, but who knows!  Last week, I was chatting with one of my colleague’s about my research, and I mentioned to him that I was 99% certain who wrote the essays, but I still hoped to find a direct statement somewhere that “Mr. X” was The Humourist.  My colleague looked at me and wisely replied, “You’ll never find it because it probably doesn’t exist.”  He’s probably right, and I know that I won’t find such a statement in The Humourist’s will.  However, I might find such a statement in someone’s diary, someone’s journal, or someone’s letters.  And who knows:  I might just find it on this research trip.

I keep reminding myself, however, that identifying the author of these essays is only part of my project.  The larger and more important part is making the Humourist essays available to students, scholars, and the world at large.  I am well on my way to doing just that by making the essays available here in this blog.

You will recall that last week’s Controlled Revelation #3 left me reeling because I discovered multiple passages in the Humourist essays that were identical to passages that had appeared in a series of “Castle Building” essays that had been published in The Student under the name of Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis.  I offered up two possibilities, as follows:

“The Humourist is a plagiarist, and I have just unwittingly disclosed what may well be the first documented case of academic dishonesty in Colonial America.

“Or, shifting to a more optimistic possibility, is it possible that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same?  If that’s the case, the parallel passages are all fine and well because a writer may certainly borrow from his own work and use it in multiple publications!  More, though, if that’s the case—if Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same—I have just expanded significantly what I believed to be The Humourist’s literary canon.”

Since last week, I have discovered that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis was a pseudonym used by English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771).  Smart, not The Humourist, is the author of the “Castle Building” essays that appeared in The Student.

Therefore, I must report that Continue reading

Controlled Revelations (April 16, 2013)

At last, the day has arrived that I have promised.  At last the day has arrived that you have been waiting for.  At last, the day has arrived when I …

But wait!  Such heightened anticipation requires a drum roll!

Surely, we can do better than that.  Let’s have a real drum roll:

Much, much better!  Now, as I was saying, the day has arrived when I reveal … Continue reading

The Humourist (April 9, 1754)

Just as the Humourist appeared mysteriously in the South Carolina Gazette on November 26, 1753, he disappears mysteriously with the announcement that appears below.  (Don’t forget, however, that I will continue my blog.  Next week, on April 16, I’ll share my plan for unveiling all the authorship “clues” that I have amassed since the blog began last November 26.)

[9 April 1754]

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.

The Humourist (April 2, 1754)

[2 April 1754]


— — Facies non omnibus una,

Nec diversa tamen.  — —1

I have made an Observation in the Course of my Reading, that no Part of Poetry strikes like Descriptions; and I believe most People will agree in Opinion with me.  Descriptions are generally formed from Ideas drawn the Senses, and consequently have as great an Effect upon the Mind, as a Picture upon the Sight; but moral Discourses operate very differently, and as they act with less Vivacity, of Course they require more Reason and Consideration to determine our Judgments.

Who does not instantaneously form to himself the exact Resemblance of Nature in a lively Description of a Storm, a Battle, or a Garden?  But who can, with equal Ease, perceive the proper Beauties necessary to distinguish an Orator, a King, or a General.  These several Characters require a peculiar Turn of Sentiment and Expression, which very few People have Judgment to distinguish.

As the Propriety or Impropriety of a Description is immediately perceived, so there is a general and almost uniform Similitude in those of the same Object, drawn by different Authors.  A picture of the same Person by several Artists, may resemble each other, so that one may fix upon the Object which they intended to represent; and yet at the same Time, the Degrees of Likeness, and the various Manner of expressing it, make a very apparent and pleasing Variety.

Amongst the numerous kinds of Descriptions, I think, none have been more generally received than those of the Morning.  The Heroic Poets seem to have exercised all their Talents in varying them:  They have sported with their Imaginations almost to Extravagance.  I have collected together some few Instances which may not be unacceptable to the Reader.  The following is from Virgil, in Mr. Dryden’s Translation.2

Aurora now had left her saffron bed,

And beams of early light the heav’ns o’erspread.

The morn began from Ida to display

Her rosy cheeks, and Phospor led the day.

It will be endless and indeed unnecessary, to multiply Examples out of all the Antients, and therefore I have produced some from our modern Writers.  Both Tasso3 and Spencer4 have succeeded admirably in this Description, but superior to them all are those of Shakespeare, and the following Instance is a striking one.

Look where the morn, in russet mantle clad,

Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill.5

In another Place he has embellish’d it thus,

— — — — Look what streaks

Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east,

Night’s tapers are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.6

The two following Descriptions are quite poetical.

The glow-worm shews the mattin to be near,

And ‘gins to pale his uneffectual fire.7

— — — — — Yon grey lines

That fret the clouds, are messengers of day.8

That admirable Description in Otway’s Orphan, affords more Diversity of Images than any of the rest.

Wish’d morning’s come9

I am not so attached to the Antients, as to give them the Preference in this Part of Poetry, tho’ most People are so bigoted to their Beautie, that they will allow little or no Excellence in the modern Writers:  For my Part, I must confess, that I cannot find in any of the Antients, that Elegance of Sentiment, ort Luxuriancy of Fancy, which many modern Writers have exemplified in their beautiful Descriptions of the Morning.


1 From Ovid: “Their faces were not all alike, nor yet unlike, but such as those of sisters ought to be.”

2 From John Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.

3 Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), Italian poet.

4 Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Renaissance English Poet.

5 Hamlet, Act I, scene 1, line 166.

6 Romeo and Juliet, Act III, scene 5.

7 Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5, lines 89-90.

8 Julius Caesar, Act II, scene 1.

9 Thomas Otway (1652-1685), English dramatist. The Orphan is considered to be one of his two tragic masterpieces.

Coming in April!

April 2

  • The Humourist sings the praises of descriptive poetry and maintains that many modern writers surpass the “Antients” in their beautiful descriptions of morning.

April 9

  • The Humourist ends his essays with a brief notice declaring that he has become an invalid and will never again “enter the Lists of Authorism in this Province.”

April 16

  • The Wired Researcher shares his plan for unveiling all the authorship “clues” that he has amassed since the blog began last November 26.