Secret Writing 02

Graham's Magazine, October, 1841, 19:192  

On the tenth of August, a letter addressed to us by some gentleman who had assumed the nom de guerre of Timotheus Whackemwell, was received at this office, from Baltimore. It enclosed a cipher, and says, “if you succeed with it I will set you down as perfect in the art.” Thinking that in the chirography we recognized the hand of our friend, Mr. J. N. McJilton, of Baltimore, we addressed him by return of mail, with the solution desired. Mr. McJilton, it appears, however, was not the correspondent. The solution ran thus —

“This specimen of secret writing is sent you for explanation. If you succeed in divining its meaning, I will believe that you are some kin to Old Nick.”

Mr. Whackemwell, whoever or whatever he is, will acknowledge this reading to be correct.

The cypher submitted through Mr. F. W. Thomas, by Dr. Frailey, of Washington, and decyphered by us, also in return of mail, as stated in our August number, has not yet been read by any of our innumerable readers. We now append its solution, together with the whole of that letter of the Doctor's, of which we gave only a portion in the August number.


In one of those peripatetic circumrotations I obviated a rustic whom I subjected to catechetical interrogation respecting the nosocomical characteristics of the edifice to which I was approximate. With a volubility uncongealed by the frigorific powers of villatic bashfulness, he ejaculated a voluminous replication from the universal tenor of whose contents I deduce the subsequent amalgamation of heterogeneous facts. Without dubiety incipient pretension is apt to terminate in final vulgarity, as parturient mountains have been fabulated to produce muscupular abortions. The institution the subject of my remarks, has not been without cause the theme of the ephemeral columns of quotidian journalism, and enthusiastic encomiations in conversational intercourse.

The key to this cipher is as follows — But find this out and I give it up.

The appended letter, however, from Dr. Frailey, will show the means used by him to embarrass the reading. Arbitrary characters were made to stand for whole words. When we take this circumstance into consideration, with other facts mentioned in the letter, and regard also the nonsensical character of the phraseology employed, we shall be the better enabled to appreciate the extreme difficulty of the puzzle.


WASHINGTON, July 6, 1841.

Dear Sir,

It gives me pleasure to state, that the reading by Mr. Poe, of the cryptograph which I gave you a few days since for transmission to him, is correct.

I am the more astonished at this, since for various words of two, three and four letters, a distinct character was used for each in order to prevent the discovery of some of those words, by their frequent repetition in a cryptograph of any length and applying them to other words. I also used a distinct character for the terminations tion and sion, and substituted in every word where it was possible, some of the characters above alluded to. Where the same word of two of those letters occurred frequently, the letters of the key phrase and the characters were alternately used, to increase the difficulty.

As ever, yours, &c.


To F. W. THOMAS, Esq.