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Checking Some Wellesley Index Attributions by Empirical ‘Internal Evidence’: The Case of Blackie and Burton

Author(s): Alexis Antonia | Ellen Jordan

Journal: Authorship
ISSN 2034-4643

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: attribution | Wellesley Index | Victorian | Periodicals | Burrows Method | Alexis | Antonia | Ellen | Jordan

Since its inception, the Wellesley Index has been a great resource for scholars wanting to know the identity of the numerous anonymous contributors to the nineteenth-century periodicals. However, when all the available external evidence was exhausted Wellesley attributors began to rely on internal evidence, and some of these attributions are now being queried as unduly speculative. This is the case with the attribution of certain articles in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine to John Stuart Blackie and John Hill Burton, two Scottish contributors in the 1830s and 40s, where the evidence is, as Eileen Curran noted in The Curran Index, often ‘tenuous.’ Developments in computational stylistics over the last thirty years now offer statistical techniques for testing such doubtful attributions. Use of the Burrows Method, based on an author’s relative usage or non-usage of common function words, allows the researcher to isolate an author’s distinctive stylistic traits and to use these to compare his known articles with others of more doubtful provenance and to make informed judgments about the likelihood of his authorship of these. These methods were used to test the authorship of eight articles attributed to Blackie and eight attributed to Burton. The use of function words in the doubtful articles was compared to that in six articles reliably attributed to Blackie and ten reliably attributed to Burton and then to that by contemporaries also writing for other major periodicals. It was found that only four of the Blackie articles tested and two of those by Burton appear to have been correctly attributed in the Wellesley Index.
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