Treasures from My Files

Posted By on March 19, 2015

CharlotteArmstrongSome years ago I read, in one of the earliest issues of the Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter, a curious article reporting on a purported cryptographic solution to Ben Jonson’s well known first folio epigram, written to accompany the 1623 First Folio Droeshout engraving of “Shakespeare.” Over the years I remembered being impressed by the article, which I probably first read around 2003, but was never able to relocate it until today when I finally got serious about the search.

I must say those old SOS newsletters are pack full of the most incredible gems — and this, I think, is one of them.

There is no better way to tell this story than through what traditional scholars call “documentary” evidence. So here is your document:

SOS-Armstrongcipher Click on the image for a readable version.

See why I wanted you to see the original? This document is the stuff of legend. A four hundred year old mystery that has absorbed a number of the best minds of several generations. Many doubts, many clues, nothing that seems certain.

Enter, Charlotte Armstrong, Edgar-award-winning American mystery writer, who embeds the solution to one of Ben Jonson’s first folio cryptograms in a 1969 novel that goes under the unlikely name of Seven Seats from the Moon. Looks like a smoking gun to me.

Let’s review the circumstances.

Seven Seats is the last work of a prolific and extremely successful writer with a reputation for thinking too-far-outside-the-box, the 64-year-old author dies in the year of publication. Her hint gets brief notice in a tiny organization’s newsletter (distribution 50?!!), but after that is ignored or neglected even by those to whom it might have the greatest interest. 46 years later that story appears on the net, like a Nightingale released from a dungeon.

Hmmmm…conspiracy? Something like that. The secret handshake takes more time though. 😉

In case you were wondering, that’s page 13 (handwritten and photocopied in the original reproduction!) of the Winter 1972-73 issue of The Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter, edited (and largely written) by Richard C. Horne.

Ms. Armstrong’s book, Seven Seats from the Moon, is still available on Amazon. Hall of fame Amazon reviewer Kevin Killian writes that

Charlotte Armstrong’s penultimate novel is a good thriller somewhat bogged down by her latter-day propensity to go all wise and Norn like on us. Only a few years earlier she had turned out THE BALLOON MAN, one of her absolute finest books and maybe the best novel, genre of otherwise, to be written about the whole LSD experience.

Sherry Reynard’s inadvertent LSD “trip” really did expand her mind, and Armstrong’s painstaking, imaginative reconstruction of what she saw there might be her best and most sustained piece of writing, and yet one can only regret what happened in the subsequent novels, where all of the characters in all of the books seem to be speaking out of some deep cavern of wisdom, in cryptic, gnomic sentences and fragments…

Uhu. Meet Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969), gnomic novelist and Oxfordian.

PS – In this blog post, I have treated Ms. Armstrong’s discovery as a fait accompli. I’m quite aware that many may object. I can only reply that, to me, the method of this solution is highly plausible. As always, I welcome any and all polite comments. If you can’t be polite, please don’t post. If you can, please do. Thanks.

About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


3 Responses to “Treasures from My Files”

  1. Clay Buerkle says:

    Roger, I just saw this:
    Greetings, I’m interested in reprinting your essay in a forthcoming volume on the folio, containing a selection of some of the best Oxfordian and anti-Stratfordian commentary on it.

    Yes, feel free to how you wish.

  2. Mark says:

    True or not, it works — and there’s something to be said for that.
    (Creating a cypher where none exists is more difficult than it looks. A few years ago, with time on my hands, and feeling characteristically puckish and spoofy, I searched through the sonnets and found that the words “mark,” “wood,” and “ward” each appeared but once — so I sought to reverse engineer some numerological way to unite them in an attempt to show that I really wrote the sonnets. After several hours of counting words, letters, lines, etc. and playing with simple and obscure formulae, I gave up.)

  3. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hi Clay and Mark. Clay, thanks, will do and I will keep you posted.

    Mark, yes, it does work. And very elegantly too, I might add. This is the kind of elegance one looks for to distinguish the truly intentional cipher from the gobbledy-gook of the Baconians. Someone needs to do a Friedman compliancy test on it. I am not saying that the Friedmans are the last word on such matters, but I think their tests for excluding the spurious from the real cipher are definitely highly useful and based on sound principle. My hunch is that they could not exclude this based on their criteria, but I have not reviewed the matter closely to be sure.

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