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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Fairfield continues filling-in the supernatural folklore as he remembered it, growing up in Stafford, Connecticut:

    . . . memories of the old legend-life when my great-grandmother trotted me on her knee, sorceress though she was, and told me stories of ghosts and wizards, and of the goblins that lived down-cellar in the dark, and the strange voices that had been heard up-garret, while the flames in the huge fireplace crackled and laughed, and made flickering pictures on the wall, by way of illustrating her remarks—such memories as made me afraid of the dark when I was a boy, and caused me to shiver when the wind shook the garret-door of a night, come thronging from every nook in my brain, where they have drowsed so many years that I have deemed them utterly effaced. [pp. 653-55]

Fairfield’s career was not exactly a straight line. After graduating from Gettysburg College and then Hartwick Theological Seminary, he served as a Lutheran minister for two years. He also obtained a degree in veterinary medicine, experimented with improving the microscope, and published theories on a wide range of topics, from the origin of bacteria in the atmosphere to the writings and life of Edgar Allen Poe. After abandoning the pulpit for journalism, he published two books that received a great deal of attention: The Clubs of New York (1873) and Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums (1875).

But the work of the wide-ranging Fairfield was not universally praised. In A Primer of Criticism (1883), Eugene Lemoine Didier pronounced The Clubs of New York “the greatest piece of downright puffery we have ever had the misfortune to encounter.” [p. 37] Didier also wrote, “Mr. Fairfield cannot write simple, pure,—in a word, good English.”An article in the American Monthly Microscopical Journal (2:1, 1881:15) blasted Fairfield’s scientific endeavors with the following assessment: “We have read a number of articles from Mr. Fairfield’s pen, and we do not hesitate to assert that he is either woefully ignorant of science, or else a consummate humbug.” And, if such were possible, Fairfield’s interpretation of Poe was even less well-received. But, no matter how one assesses it, Fairfield’s writing style is readily identifiable. Reading the anonymous story entitled “Quick Consumption” (see entries #s 1-6) leaves little doubt that Fairfield was its author. While I have not applied stylometry to Fairfield’s texts, stylistic evidence (consisting of distinctive recurrent patterns of language preferences, such as word choices, sentence structure, syntax, punctuation, and turns of expression) reinforce the conclusion. Narrative elements also contribute. That both of these narratives— “A Century Ago in New England” and “Quick Consumption”—take place in Fairfield’s hometown, for example, seems beyond the realm of coincidence.

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