Dedicated followers of this blog will recall a post dated one year ago to the day in which I wrote of a 166-year-old literary mystery relating to Edgar Allan Poe. In an 1841 issue of Graham’s Magazine, under the pseudonym of W.B. Tyler, Poe published two ciphers and challenged readers to decrypt them. The ciphers remained unsolved until 1992, when the first was decrypted by a University of Illinois professor to reveal a line from Cato, a 1713 Joseph Addison play. Eight years later, a Toronto software engineer cracked the second cipher, and its solution is the paragraph below, whose author, source, and context were heretofore completely unknown:
It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious langour of universal nature, are laden the various and mingled perfumes of the rose and the jessamine, the woodbine and its wildflower. They slowly wafted their fragrant offering to the open window where sat the lovers. The ardent sun shoot fell upon her blushing face and its gentle beauty was more like the creation of romance or the fair inspiration of a dream than the actual reality on earth. Tenderly her lover gazed upon her as the clusterous ringlets were edged (?) by amorous and sportive zephyrs and when he perceived (?) the rude intrusion of the sunlight he sprang to draw the curtain but softly she stayed him. “No, no, dear Charles,” she softly said, “much rather you’ld I have a little sun than no air at all.”
My challenge to you lay in identifying the source of the paragraph, and perhaps its significance to Poe. One of my more dedicated readers—Hrad Kuzyk, a Detroit-based mechanical engineer who is also, and only incidentally, my older brother—appears to have added another piece to the puzzle. Over soup and potato chips across from the New York Public Library last month, he pointed out to me that the paragraph above bears strong resemblance to a passage that appeared in the September 1840 issue of the Sporting Review, a London periodical dedicated to “Rural Sports in all their Varieties.” Published a full year before the W.B. Tyler letter was printed and written anonymously, it reads:
It was a warm but delightful day. The beautiful Helen was seated at an open window. The impassioned sun shone full upon her face, while the amorous zephyrs wantonly played among her clustering ringlets. Charles Augustas, her devoted and favourite lover, gallantly offered to close the blinds. "No, no, dear Charles," she languishingly responded, "I’d rather have a little sun than no air at all."
But even with this additional piece, the puzzle remains: Assuming Poe’s second cipher derives from the Sporting Review paragraph, what accounts for the differences between the two texts? How is the second cipher’s solution related to the first? And who killed Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library? I am entirely confident my brother will solve this last mystery. But perhaps another reader can help to answer the other questions, solving a mystery now growing 167 years old?