British papers have been reporting details of a literary hoax. The characters involved aren't that well known (at least to me), but the punchline is kind of amusing.
Two years ago A.N. Wilson, biographer of poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, found a love letter written by the poet. Or, at least, he thought he had. Turns out the letter must have been deliberately planted to embarrass him because a journalist found a coded message inside of it. The Guardian reports
The telltale sign that the letter is a joke is that the capital letters at the start of each sentence spell out "A N Wilson is a shit". A journalist drew the biographer's attention to the coded message last week, and after rereading the letter he admitted that it was a hoax. "Of course I saw the funny side - I laughed about it a lot when I found out," Wilson told the Guardian yesterday. "It is quite childish of somebody and I have absolutely no interest in who wrote it."
Here's the love letter, with the code highlighted:
I loved yesterday. All day, I've thought of nothing else. No other love I've had means so much. Was it just an aberration on your part, or will you meet me at Mrs Holmes's again - say on Saturday? I won't be able to sleep until I have your answer.
Love has given me a miss for so long, and now this miracle has happened. Sex is a part of it, of course, but I have a Romaunt of the Rose feeling about it too. On Saturday we could have lunch at Fortt's, then go back to Mrs H's. Never mind if you can't make it then. I am free on Sunday too or Sunday week. Signal me tomorrow as to whether and when you can come.
Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the Army are v funny. He's somebody I'd like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters funnier than his books. Tinkerty-tonk, my darling. I pray I'll hear from you tomorrow. If I don't I'll visit your office in a fake beard.
All love, JB
I guess the odds of the message being there accidentally aren't very good.
This hoax falls into the category of jokes made at the expense of academics. The most famous example of this was the 1725 case of the Lying Stones of Dr. Beringer
, in which Johann Beringer thought he had found some remarkable fossils on a local mountain, until he discovered that one of the supposed fossils had his name inscribed on it. The 17th-century scholar Athanasius Kircher
was also the victim of a few jokes like this. One time he labored for days over a strange message he thought might be in Chinese, only to realize that the message was simply a latin phrase, written in reverse, that said "Do not seek vain things, or waste time on unprofitable trifles."