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 Revelation #3: Numerous Confirmations and a New Research Discovery/Challenge that Has Me Reeling!

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;”

 Thus far we have seen the Humourist playing many parts:

  • Classicist
  • Bibliophile
  • Historian
  • Lover of Literature
  • Painter
  • Science Aficionado

This week, as we give his essay of December 24, 1753, a close reading, we will discover numerous confirmations that he played those parts well, but we will also discover a new research challenge that, quite frankly, has me reeling on my own research stage!

Let’s start with the confirmations that I have discovered this week.  We’ll save the new discovery/challenge for the end of this post, thereby allowing it to become the grand finale.

We have major confirmations, of course, that the Humourist is a lover of literature.  Interestingly enough, however, his literary selections and references begin to show a genre preference:  drama.  This week, for example, we find him quoting from Shakespeare’s “Prologue” to Henry the V: “Into a thousand parts divide one man, / And make imaginary puissance.”  Further, he makes reference to the “Abel Drugger”—a character in Ben Jonson’s comedy The Alchemist, first performed in 1610.

Equally important, notice his theatrical language:  “no man considers himself as ordained to act a part only; we are all universal players”.   It continues—with some significance that may point us in the direction of the Humourist’s general age—when he writes:  “after having run thro’ the several stages of life, am happy enough to find my finances in tolerable order.”

“Having run thro’ the several stages of life.” Candidly I have read this essay many, many times, and it was not until yesterday when I re-read it once more that those words caught my attention.  Several stages of life.  Of course!  Coming as it does in an essay with a Shakespearean quote as the headnote, the Humourist is referring to Shakespeare’s seven stages of life proclaimed by Jacques in As You Like It (2. 7. 139-167):

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Again, what we have is a confirmation that the Humourist is knowledgeable of drama.  More, though, we have a means of determining, with some accuracy, the Humourist’s age.  He says that he has run through the several stages of life and that he is happy to find his finances in tolerable order.  Clearly, he is past the fourth stage of life—the soldier stage—focused on seeking the “bubble reputation.”  The Humourist has achieved that already.  He seems to be in the fifth stage of life—the justice stage—focused on comfort and wise sayings and playing the part well.  This is the stage of life generally achieved in our fifties.  I feel fairly confident in saying that the Humourist is in his mid- to late fifties.

As might be expected, this week’s essay confirms that the Humourist was a lover of poetry:  “The pleasure is as great / In being cheated, as to cheat.” The quote is from Hudibras, Part II, Canto III by English satirical poet Samuel Butler (1612-1680). The full quotation reads: “Doubtless the pleasure is as great / Of being cheated as to cheat; / As lookers-on feel most delight, / That least perceive a jugler’s slight; / And still the less they understand, / The more th’ admire his slight of hand.”

Also, the essay establishes the Humourist to be a Poet, as evidenced by his “Song,” the first of several original poetic flights that he would take.

The Humourist continues to bring the art of Painting and Drawing into his essays:  “If a sign-painter can imagine himself possessed of the finger of a Raphael, that his portraits are surprising, his pencil bold and animating, and that his figures swell on the canvas and quicken into life, permit him to hug the blest idea.”

Further, in his “Advertisement” promising to publish the anatomy of human heads, he indicates that the work will be “illustrated with near a million of worthy personages, as engrav’d by the best masters.”  This new angle—engraving—intrigues me and will be set aside for further rumination.

Thus have I shared “gleanings” from my close reading of the Humourist’s December 24, 1753, essay—gleanings that confirm that which we knew already and at the same time sharpen the focus of what we know about the Humourist:  he’s a lover of literature, yes, but he is knowledgeable of the theater, and he is a poet.  He’s a painter, perhaps, but he knows how to draw and he may be familiar with engraving.  Finally, he shares with us the fact that he has run through the several stages of life and has his finances in order, thereby establishing (with some accuracy, I believe) that the Humourist is in his mid- to late fifties.

I have yet to share, however, the new research discovery/challenge that has me reeling! Continue reading

Controlled Revelation #2: Science Aficianado.

“I’m really impressed with your ‘close reading’ of The Humourist so far.  […] You’ve always talked about ‘close reading’ in class, but I didn’t know you could get as close as you have to The Humourist, even to the point of checking how closely his quotations matched the original!  I never would have thought of doing that.”   Emails from a Faithful Student

Absolutely:  when you give a literary text a close reading, you get closer and closer to the author, but in order to do so, you must pay attention to every word, to every detail.

My own love affair with “close reading” began when I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina during the 1970s.  I was part of an editorial team working on a critical edition of the works of American writer Frank Norris.  As literary works are printed and reprinted, numerous errors−sometimes substantive, sometimes accidental−are introduced into the text.  When establishing a critical edition, the goal is to reconstruct the text that is closest to the author’s approved version.  Doing so is not an easy process.

It requires comparing multiple editions of the same work and tracking all the variants.  We used a device called The Hinman Collator:

Shakespear scholar Charlton Hinman developed the Hinman Collator, a mechanical device for the visual comparison of different copies of the same printed text. By 1978, when the last machine was manufactured, around fifty-nine had been acquired by libraries, academic departments, research institutes, government agencies, and a handful of pharmaceutical companies. Though built for the study of printed texts and used primarily for the creation of critical editions of literary authors, the Hinman Collator was also employed in other projects where the close comparison of apparently identical images is required: from the study of illustrations to the examination of watermarks to the detection of forged banknotes. 

I remember spending hour after hour examining various editions of Frank Norris’ novels and dutifully recording the details of the variants that I discovered.  I was about to say that sadly enough I do not remember any of the variants at all.  And I do not.

However, no sadness surrounds my lack of recall.  Instead I am surrounded by great joy because it was during those countless hours of mechanically collating multiple Frank Norris texts that I  came to realize that every word matters.  Every word matters.  Every word.

It was during those countless hours of mechanically collating multiple texts that I fell in love with close reading.  Fell in love.  Close reading.

My hope is that my Faithful Student will continue to be impressed as I continue to share my close reading of The Humourist.

You will recall that my close reading of the Humourist’s November 26, 1753, essay led me to characterize him as a Classicist, Bibliophile, Historian, Lover of Literature, and Painter.

This week I will focus on his essay of December 10, 1753, to see what my close reading discloses.

He continues to show that he is a Lover of Literature by using a quote from James Thompson as his headnote.  Born in 1700, Thompson was an English poet and author of The Seasons.  In addition, the Humourist quotes Edward Young (1683-1765), British poet and dramatist, known especially for his The Revenge: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1721).  Once again, The Humourist quotes these writers verbatim all the way down to the correct poetic line endings.  Clearly, he is not quoting from memory:  he has the literary texts in front of him.  In addition to Thompson and Young, he continues to quote from his old friend Horace, and he quotes from Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), a Dutch scholar and poet.

Also, the Humourist shows his familiarity with classic rhetoricians and literary critics.  He mentions Longinus, a Greek rhetorician and literary critic whose “On the Sublime” is a treatise on aesthetics and literary criticism and is generally considered to rank second in importance to Aristotle’s Poetics.  Also, he cites Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100), a Roman rhetorician known for his 12-volume Institutio Oratoria (Institutes of Oratory). 

It seems clear that whoever wrote the Humourist essays was a Classicist and a Lover of Literature.  As we move ahead, we will look for more clues to strengthen that assertion.

But what about the Humourist as Historian?  Indeed, in this essay he mentions “the tower of Babel” and he refers to “the ancients.”  Note as well that the Humourist uses the language−uses the words−that historians use:  “Search the records of old time”, “look into the annals of the present”, and “materials from […] ruins”.  When combined with last week’s clues, they provide additional evidence that the Humourist is an Historian.

Along similar lines−using language that is appropriate to a specific occupational field−you will recall from last week that he promised to provide a “Picture.”  Although he does not fulfill his promise, this week he expands the vocabulary:  “Copy of my countenance”, “painter”, and “sketch”.  I am especially intrigued by “sketch.”  I have known artists who could paint but not draw, and I have known artists who could draw but not paint.  The Humourist’s language suggests that he could paint and draw.  I am intrigued.

And how interesting that the Humourist says of himself:  “As to my private character, that falls more immediately within the sphere of the historian than the painter.”

I am intrigued even more, though, by a new clue that emerges this week.  The Humourist seems to have an interest in science.  Indirectly, he references Isaac Newton (English physicist and mathematician) when he writes “a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.”  Later in the essay, he shows an even more interest in science when he mentions efforts to “find out the quadrature of a circle, and the creeks and sounds of the north east and north west passages.”  Finally, in the advertisement that follows the essay, he refers to “the occult sciences”, “palmistry and physiognomy”, and “the twelve signs in the zodiac”.

Classicist, Bibliophile, Historian, Lover of Literature, and Painter.  All those have been confirmed and strengthened by this week’s close reading.

Now, we can add:  Science aficionado.

Controlled Revelation #1: Classicist. Bibliophile. Historian. Lover of Literature. Painter.

“And how shall I begin?”

—T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

You will recall that last week I announced my intent to explore the Humourist’s identity, clue by clue, week by week, starting with his first essay published in the South Carolina Gazette on November 26, 1753.

Fortunately, the notes that I made to myself when I first read that essay have not gotten cold, and, indeed, I can still recall what I had in mind when I jotted them down.

I was intrigued by how the Humourist began.  Think about it for a minute.  Whenever you write anything, your options know no boundaries.  And the question always becomes, “And how shall I begin?” 

The Humourist began with making a choice about his pseudonym:  The Humourist.  How interesting.  The Oxford English Dictionary provides three definitions of the word humourist, also spelled humorist: (1) “A person subject to ‘humours’ or fancies; a fantastical or whimsical person; a faddist” (2) “A facetious or comical person, a wag; a humorous talker, actor, or writer; in mod. use esp. one skilled in the literary or artistic expression of humour.” (3) “One given to humouring or indulging.”

Based on this first essay, it seems to me that the Humourist anchors himself to the first meaning:  “a person subject to ‘humours’ or fancies; a fantastical or whimsical person; a faddist.”

Indeed, in the head note to his first essay, we find:  “From my chambers in the Air, Nov. 26.”  I’m still pondering that comment.  Obviously, it could be metaphorical, or, if you will, fantastical.  Could it also be literal?  Is the Humourist observing his world from an upstairs chamber in his Charleston home?  I wonder.  If so, where did he live?  What did he see when he looked out the windows?

So, the Humourist begins with his pseudonym selection, moves on to his “chambers” quote, and then–of all the writers in the entire world–chooses a quote from Horace:  “Quocunque volunt mentem auditoris agunto” (“And raise men’s passions to what heights they will”).  The quote is from Ars Poetica.  But why Horace?  Why that particular quote? Is this simply one more indication that the Humourist sees himself as fantastical?

I am intrigued by those beginnings.  At one point, I thought that the Humourist had taken Horace’s quote from Joseph Addison’s Spectator essay 420 (July 2, 1712), often heralded as the beginning of modern literary aesthetics.  Now I have changed my mind.  It seems far more likely that he was relying on a Latin edition of Horace’s Ars Poetica.

Aside from quoting Horace in his first essay, the Humourist quotes Milton:

—Chief Mastery to dissect,
With long and tedious Havoc, fabled Knights
In Battle feign’d.
—Or to describe Races and Games;
Or tilting Furniture, emblazon’d Shields,
Impresses quaint, Caparisons and Steeds;
Bases and tinsel Trappings, gorgeous Knights
At Jouse and Tournament; then marshall’d Feasts
Serv’d up in Halls with Sewers and Seneschals.

Later in the essay, he quotes Milton again:

—Of Love and amorous Delight;

Both quotes are from Paradise Lost. What intrigues me, though, is not so much that the Humourist is quoting Milton, but rather that he is quoting him with 100% accuracy!   Clearly, then, the Humourist had two books in front of him when he wrote his first essay:  (1) Horace’s Ars Poetica (or, possibly an edition of Addison’s collected Spectator Papers), and (2) Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Clearly, then, the Humourist was a lover of books!  I wonder about the other books that he owned.  Did he have a library?  How many volumes were in it?  Did he have connections to the world of booksellers?

But back to beginnings.  The Humourist begins the third paragraph of his first essay with “If we make a Retrospect into past Times.”  Past times.  When combined with his reference to Horace, it would seem that the Humourist is interested in history.  That claim is confirmed by his sweeping historical summary of the “Tastes of Mankind in the former Ages,” beginning with the days of monkish ignorance and continuing all the way to the “reigning one of these Days, Novel writing without Reason, and Lies without Meaning.”  It’s further confirmed by his references to Queen Elizabeth I, James I, and the Restoration. I’m going out on a limb here, but I am sensing that the Humourist is as rooted in history as he is in books.

Without a doubt, he’s also rooted in literature.  In his first essay he mentions Horace and Milton as well as Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney.  He was a lover of literature!

Finally, I am intrigued by his promise to provide his readers with a “Picture” of himself.  Might this suggest an interest in painting or in drawing?

I think the Humourist’s first essay of November 26, 1753, gives us a solid beginning:

  • the Humourist as a classicist
  • the Humourist as a lover of books
  • the Humourist as an historian
  • the Humourist as a lover of literature
  • the Humourist as a painter

So here I sit at my desk, using my computer and the Internet to create today’s post.  I am mindful of all the mistakes that I have made in the process and of how easy it has been for me to find my errors and correct them.  The Humourist, on the other hand, would not have had such tools.  He would have used a quill pen and ink to prepare his manuscript in longhand.  I wonder about his mistakes and his corrections.  I wonder about how many times it took him to create a “fair copy” ready to hand over to the editor of The South Carolina Gazette for his November 26, 1753, literary debut as a South Carolina author.

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