Bats, Wirts, and Stout

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January 9, 2019 by libroshombre

It’s the same sad story. A certain topic, like literary pseudonyms, intrigues me, and before you know it I’m knee-deep in Bat Masterson and the Maid of Buttermere. I’d rounded up plenty of interesting pseudonymic factoids to share before lightheartedly turning for additional inspiration from that paragon of diversion, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. I found the desired quotation – Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” – but a glance at the rest of the page revealed “To Name” (“in parliamentary parlance, to ban an MP from the House of Commons by mentioning their actual name instead of referring to the Member by the name of their constituency, as is the usual custom”).

Like potato chips, one such glimmer demands more, including “name – maiden” (“maiden is used figuratively for something that is untouched or ‘virginal’ … Thus a ‘maiden castle’ or ‘maiden fortress’ is one that has never been taken”), and before I knew it there was “The Maiden of Buttermere,” AKA Mary Robinson, “the beautiful and innocent daughter of the landlord of the Fish Inn, beside Lake Buttermere, Cumbria, who in 1802 was deceived into marrying John Hatfield, an unscrupulous imposter posing as the Hon. Alexander Augustus Hope, younger brother of the Earl of Hopetoun.”

Hatfield was “a much-married confidence trickster” with a long criminal record, but he was outed by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of “Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” fame. All sorts of ballads and poems were composed about poor Mary, but she went on to marry a local farmer and have four children. Hatfield was caught and hung for forgery in 1803, and Coleridge soon developed a two-quarts-a week laudanum habit, but he wrote using his own name. Many well-known authors have written pseudonymously, which isn’t to be confused with an “allonym,” which Webster’s says is “a name that is assumed by an author but that actually belongs to another person” or “a work published under the name of a person other than the author,” like ghost writers. It’s also not a “pseudepigraph,” writing that’s falsely credited to another.

Bat Masterson’s western adventures, often written by strangers who claimed to be using Masterson’s words, straddled the allonym-pseudepigraph border. Besides his well-earned reputation as a lawman, Masterson became a noted sports journalist in New York, where he mentored Damon Runyon and others. Some claim his nickname came from being a powerful baseball batsman, or shooting bats flying from caves to develop his aim or his taming miscreants by conking them with the cane he always carried. In reality baseball was popularized after Masterson acquired his nickname, and he was a crack shot but not from shooting bats. A gunfight injury led to his carrying a cane, but he always bonked bad guys with his pistol barrel before arresting them, like Wyatt Earp taught him. The truth was that Bartholomew William Barclay Masterson simply hated the name “Bartholomew as a boy, so his family called him “Bat.”

What about Mildred Wirt Benson? She wrote 22 of the first 25 Nancy Drew mysteries (which connoisseurs consider the best) under the name Carolyn Keene, the moniker Edward Stratemyer made up as a cover for his stable of writers who cranked out Nancy Drew stories, as well as his Rover Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and Hardy Boys novels. Besides her Drew stories, Mildred Benson was a serious and widely-respected journalist for 58 years who also published over 130 books, sometimes using her real name, but often using a dozen pen-names for different formats and series.

Prolific author Rex Stout had a memorable name and eschewed pseudonyms. Once he proposed that Sherlock Holmes assistant was Miss rather than Mr. Watson and provided strong evidence. It’ll be discussed in the Osher Lifelong Learning (OLLI) class I’ll lead next February about Stout’s great detective, “Nero Wolfe, America’s Sherlock.” Being more intellectually curious makes a worthy, enjoyable, and achievable New Year resolution. OLLI classes provide an excellent means if you’re over 49, and our public library offers limitless opportunities for mind-stretching whatever your age.

As Linus Pauling wrote, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

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