Edgar Allan Poe.

Works (Volume 7) online

. (page 16 of 18)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 16 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

her love, or her admiration, or her grief, or the
fragrance and warmth and appropriateness of the
little nest-like bed of lilies and roses which the fawn
devoured as it lay upon them, and could scarcely be
distinguished from them by the once happy little
damsel who went to seek her pet with an arch and
rosy smile on her face. Consider the great variety


of truthful and delicate thought in the few lines we
have quoted the wonder of the little maiden at the
fleetness of her favourite the "little silver feet"
the fawn challenging his mistress to a race with "a
pretty skipping grace," running on before, and then,
with head turned back, awaiting her approach only
to fly from it again can we not distinctly perceive
all these things. How exceedingly vigorous, too,
is the line,

"And trod as if on the four winds I"

a vigour apparent only when we keep in mind the
artless character of the speaker and the four feet of
the favourite, one for each wind. Then consider
the garden of "my own," so overgrown, entangled
with roses and lilies, as to be "a little wilderness"
the fawn loving to be there, and there "only"
the maiden seeking it "where it should lie" and
not being able to distinguish it from the flowers until
"itself would rise" the lying among the lilies "like
a bank of lilies" the loving to "fill itself with

" And its pure virgin limbs to fold
In whitest sheets of lilies cold,"

and these things being its " chief " delights and then
the pre-eminent beauty and naturalness of the
concluding lines, whose very hyperbole only renders
them more true to nature when we consider the
innocence, the artlessness, the enthusiasm, the
passionate grief, and more passionate admiration,
of the bereaved child

" Had it lived long it would have been
Lilies without roses within."



AS we can scarcely imagine a time when there
did not exist a necessity, or at least a
desire, of transmitting information from
one individual to another in such manner as to
elude general comprehension, so we may well suppose
the practice of writing in cipher to be of great
antiquity, De la Guilletiere, therefore, who, in his
"Lacedasmon Ancient and Modern," maintains that
the Spartans were the inventors of Cryptography,
is obviously in error. He speaks of the scytala as
being the origin of the art; but he should only have
cited it as one of its earliest instances, so far as our
records extend. The scy talcs were two wooden
cylinders, precisely similar in all respects. The
general of an army, in going upon any expedition,
received from the ephori one of these cylinders, while
the other remained in their possession. If either
party had occasion to communicate with the other,
a narrow strip of parchment was so wrapped around
the scytala that the edges of the skin fitted accurately
each to each. The writing was then inscribed
longitudinally, and the epistle unrolled and de
spatched. If, by mischance, the messenger was
intercepted, the letter proved unintelligible to his
captors. If he reached his destination safely,
however, the party addressed had only to involve
the second cylinder in the strip to decipher the
inscription. The transmission to our own times of
this obvious mode of cryptography is due, probably,
to the historical uses of the scytala rather than to


anything else. Similar means of secret intercom
munication must have existed almost contem
poraneously with the invention of letters.

It may be as well to remark, in passing, that in
none of the treatises on the subject of this paper
which have fallen under our cognisance have we
observed any suggestion of a method other than
those which apply alike to all ciphers for the solu
tion of the cipher by scytala. We read of instances,
indeed, in which the intercepted parchments were
deciphered; but we are not informed that this was
ever done except accidentally. Yet a solution
might be obtained with absolute certainty in this
manner. The strip of skin being intercepted, let
there be prepared a cone of great length compara
tively say six feet long and whose circumference
at base shall at least equal the length of the strip.
Let this latter be rolled upon the cone near the
base, edge to edge, as above described; then, still
keeping edge to edge, and maintaining the parch
ment close upon the cone, let it be gradually slipped
towards the. apex. In this process, some of those
words, syllables, or letters, whose connection is
intended, will be sure to come together at that point
of the cone where its diameter equals that of the
scytala upon which the cipher was written. And as
in passing up the cone to its apex, all possible
diameters are passed over, there is no chance of a
failure. The circumference of the scytala being
thus ascertained, a similar one can be made, and
the cipher applied to it.

Few persons can be made to believe that it is not
quite an easy thing to invent a method of secret
writing which shall baffle investigation. Yet it
may be roundly asserted that human ingenuity
cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity


cannot resolve. In the <ac ity with which such
writing is deciphered, however, there exist very
remarkable differences in different intellects. Often,
in the case of two individuals of acknowledged
equality as regards ordinary mental efforts, it will
be found that, while one cannot unriddle the com
monest cipher, the other will scarcely be puzzled
by the most abstruse. It may be observed generally
that in such investigations the analytic ability is
very forcibly called into action ; and, for this reason,
cryptographical solutions might with great propriety
be introduced into academies as the means of giving
tone to the most important of the powers of mind.

Were two individuals, totally unpractised in
cryptography, desirous of holding by letter a
correspondence which should be unintelligible to all
but themselves, it is most probable that they would
at once think of a peculiar alphabet, to which each
should have a key. At first it would, perhaps, be
arranged that a should stand for z, b for y, c for x, d
for w, etc., etc. ; that is to say, the order of the letters
would be reversed. Upon ^econd thoughts, this
arrangement appearing too obvious, a more complex
mode would be adopted. The first thirteen letters
might be written beneath the last thirteen, thus:

abcdefghi jklm;

and, so placed, a might stand for n and n for a, o
for b and b for o, etc., etc. This, again, having an air
of regularity which might be fathomed, the key
alphabet might be constructed absolutely at random.


a might stand for p
b " x

c " u

d " " o, etc.


The correspondents, unless convinced of their error
by the solution of their cipher, would no doubt be
willing to rest in this latter arrangement as affording
full security. But if not, they would be likely to hit
upon the plan of arbitrary marks used in place of
the usual characters. For example,

( might be employed for a



; " " d

) " e, etc.

A letter composed of such characters would have an
intricate appearance unquestionably. If still, how
ever, it did not give full satisfaction, the idea of a
perpetually shifting alphabet might be conceived,
and thus effected. Let two circular pieces of paste
board be prepared, one about half-an-inch in diame
ter less than the other. Let the centre of the smaller
be placed upon the centre of the larger, and secured
for a moment from slipping; while radii are drawn
from the common ct,. itre to the circumference of the
smaller circle, and thus extended to the circum
ference of the greater. Let there be twenty-six of
these radii, forming on each pasteboard twenty-six
spaces. In each of these spaces on the under circle
write one of the letters of the alphabet, so that the
whole alphabet be written if at random so much
the better. Do the same with the upper circle.
Now run a pin through the common centre, and let
the upper circle revolve, while the under one is held
fast. Now stop the revolution of the upper circle,
and, while both lie still, write the epistle required;
using for a that letter in the smaller circle which
tallies with a in the larger, for b that letter in the
smaller circle which tallies with 6 in the larger,


etc., etc. In order that an epistle thus written may
be read by the person for whom it is intended, it is
only necessary that he should have in his possession
circles constructed as those just described, and that
he should know any two of the characters (one in the
under and one in the upper circle) which were in
juxtaposition when his correspondent wrote the
cipher. Upon this latter point he is informed by
looking at the two initial letters of the document
which serve as a key. Thus, if he sees a m at the
beginning, he concludes that, by turning his circles
so as to put these characters in conjunction, he will
arrive at the alphabet employed.

At a cursory glance, these various modes of con
structing a cipher seem to have about them an air of
inscrutable secrecy. It appears almost an impossi
bility to unriddle what has been put together by so
complex a method. And to some persons the
difficulty might be great; but to others to those
skilled in deciphering such enigmas are very
simple indeed. The reader should bear in mmd that
the basis of the whole art of solution, as far as
regards these matters, is found in the general
principles of the formation of language itself, and
thus is altogether independent of the particular laws
which govern any cipher, or the construction of its
key. The difficulty of reading a cryptographical
puzzle is by no means always in accordance with the
labour or ingenuity with which it has been con
structed. The sole use of the key, indeed, is for those
CM fait to the cipher; in its perusal by a third party,
no reference is had to it at all. The lock of the
secret is picked. In the different methods of cryp
tography specified above, it will be observed that
there is a gradually increasing complexity. But this
complexity is only in shadow. It has no substance


whatever. It appertains merely to the formation,
and has no bearing upon the solution of the cipher.
The last mode mentioned is not in the least degree
more difficult to be deciphered than the first
whatever may be the difficulty of either.

In the discussion of an analogous subject, in one
of the weekly papers of this city, about eighteen
months ago, the writer of this article had occasion
to speak of the application of a rigorous method in
all forms of thought of its advantages of the
extension of its use even to what is considered the
operation of pure fancy and thus, subsequently of
the solution of cipher. He even ventured to assert
that no cipher, of the character above specified,
could be sent to the address of the paper, which he
would not be able to resolve. This challenge
excited, most unexpectedly, a very lively interest
among the numerous readers of the journal. Letters
were poured in upon the editor from all parts of the
country; and many of the writers of these epistles
were so convinced of the impenetrability of their
mysteries as to be at great pains to draw him into
wagers on the subject. At the same time, they
were not always scrupulous about sticking to the
point. The cryptographs w r ere, in numerous in
stances, altogether beyond the limits defined in the
beginning. Foreign languages were employed.
Words and sentences were run together without
interval. Several alphabets were used in the same
cipher. One gentleman, but moderately endowed
with conscientiousness, inditing us a puzzle composed
of pot-hooks and hangers to which the wildest ty
pography of the office could afford nothing similar.
went even so far as to jumble together no less than
. distinct alphabets, without intervals between
the letters, or between the lines. Many of the


cryptographs were dated in Philadelphia, and several
of those which urged the subject of a bet were
written by gentlemen of this city. Out of, perhaps,
one hundred ciphers altogether received, there was
only one which we did not immediately succeed in
resolving. This one we demonstrated to be an
imposition that is to say, we fully proved it a
jargon of random characters, having no meaning
whatever. In respect to the epistle of the seven
alphabets, we had the pleasure of completely non
plussing its inditer by a prompt and satisfactory

The weekly paper mentioned was, for a period of
some months, greatly occupied with the hieroglyphic
and cabalistic-looking solutions of the cryptographs
sent us from all quarters. Yet with the exception
of the writers of the ciphers, we do not believe that
any individuals could have been found among the
readers of the journal who regarded the matter
in any other light than in that of a desperate humbug.
We mean to say that no one really believed in the
authenticity of the answers. One party averred
that the mysterious figures were only inserted to
give a queer air to the paper, for the purpose of
attracting attention. Another thought it more
probable that we not only solved the ciphers, but put
them together ourselves for solution. This having
been the state of affairs at the period when it was
thought expedient to decline further dealings in
necromancy, the writer of this article avails himself
of the present opportunity to maintain the truth
of the journal in question to repel the charges of
rigmarole by which it was assailed and to declare
in his own name, that the ciphers were all written
in good faith, and solved in the same spirit.

A very common and somewhat too obvious mode


of secret correspondence is the following. A card is
interspersed, at irregular intervals with oblong
spaces, about the length of ordinary words of three
syllables in a bourgeois type. Another card is
made exactly coinciding. One is in possession of
each party. When a letter is to be written, the
key-card is placed upon the paper and words con
veying the true meaning inscribed in the spaces. The
card is then removed and the banks filled up, so as
to make out a signification different from the real
one. When the person addressed receives the cipher,
he has merely to apply to it his own card, when the
superfluous words are concealed, and the significant
ones alone appear. The chief objection to this
cryptograph is the difficulty of so filling the blanks
as not to give a forced appearance to the sentences.
Differences also in the handwriting between the
words written in the spaces, and those inscribed
upon removal of the card, will always be detected
by a close observer.

A pack of cards is some^ mes made the vehicle of a
cipher in this manner. The parties determine, in
the first place, upon certain arrangements of the pack.
For example ; it is agreed that, when a writing is to be
commenced, a natural sequence of the spots shall be
made; with spades at top, hearts next, diamonds
next, and clubs last. This order being obtained,
the writer proceeds to inscribe upon the top card
the first letter of his epistle, upon the next the
second, upon the next the third, and so on until the
pack is exhausted, when, of course, he will have
written fifty- two letters. He now shuffles the pack
according to a preconcerted plan. For example:
he takes three cards from the bottom and places them
at top, then one from top, placing it at bottom, and
so on, for a given number of times. This done, he


again inscribes fifty-two characters as before, pro
ceeding thus until his epistle is written. The pack
being received by the correspondent, he has only to
place the cards in the order agreed upon for com
mencement, to read, letter by letter, the first fifty-
two characters as intended. He has then only to
shuffle in the manner prearranged for the second
perusal, to decipher the series of the next fifty-two
letters and so on to the end. The objection to this
cryptograph lies in the nature of the missive. A
pack of cards, sent from one party to another would
scarcely fail to excite suspicion, and it cannot be
doubted that it is far better to secure ciphers from
being considered as such than to waste time in
attempts at rendering them scrutiny-proof when
intercepted. Experience shows that the most cun
ningly constructed cryptograph, if suspected, can
and will be unriddled.

An unusually secure mode of secret intercom
munication might be thus devised. Let the parties
each furnish themselves with a copy of the same
edition of a book the rarer the edition the better
as also the rarer the book. In the cryptograph,
numbers are used altogether, and these numbera
refer to the locality of letters in the volume. For
example a cipher is received commencing, 121-6-8.
The party adressed refers to page 121, and looks at
the sixth letter from the left of the page in the eighth
line from the top. Whatever letter he there finds is
the initial letter of the epistle and so on. This
method is very secure; yet it is possible to decipher
any cryptograph written by its means and it is
greatly objectionable otherwise, on account of the
time necessarily required for its solution, even with
the key- volume.

It is not to be supposed that Cryptography, as a


serious thing, as the means of imparting important
information, has gone out of use at the present day.
It is still commonly practised in diplomacy; and
there are individuals, even now, holding office in
the eye of various foreign governments, whose real
business is that of deciphering. We have already
said that a peculiar mental action is called into play
in the solution of cryptographical problems, at least
in those of the higher order. Good cryptographists
are rare indeed; and thus their services, although
seldom required, are necessarily well requited.

An instance of the modern employment of writing
in cipher is mentioned in a work lately published by
Messieurs Lea and Blanchard of this city* "Sketches
of Conspicuous Living Characters of France."
In a notice of Berryer, it is said that a letter being
addressed by the Duchess de Berri to the Legitimists
of Paris, to inform them of her arrival, it was
accompanied by a long note in cipher, the key of
which she had forgotten to give. " The penetrating
mind of Berryer," says the biographer, "soon
discovered it. It was this phrase substituted for the
twenty-four letters of the alphabet Le gouvernement

The assertion that Berryer "soon discovered the
key-phrase," merely proves that the writer of these
memoirs is entirely innocent of cryptographical
knowledge. Monsieur B. no doubt ascertained the
key-phrase; but it was merely to satisfy his curiosity,
after the riddle had been read. He made no use of the
key in deciphering. The lock was picked.

In our notice of the book in question (published
in the April number of this magazine) f we alluded
to this subject thus

*Philadelphia Ed.
f Graham s Ed.


" The phrase Le gouvernement provisoire 1 is French,
and the note in cipher was addressed to Frenchmen.
The difficulty of deciphering may well be supposed
much greater, had the key been in a foreign tongue;
yet any one who will take the trouble may address us
a note, in the same manner as here proposed, and the
key-phrase may be either in French, Italian, Spanish,
German, Latin, or Greek, (or in any of the dialects
of these languages), and we pledge ourselves for the
solution of the riddle."

This challenge has elicited but a single response,
which is embraced in the following letter. The only
quarrel we have with the epist 1 e, is that its writer
has declined giving us his name in full. We beg that
he will take an early opportunity of doing this, and
thus relieve us of the chance of that suspicion which
was attached to the cryptography of the weekly
journal above mentioned the suspicion of inditing
ciphers to ourselves. The postmark of the letter is
Stonington, Conn.

S , CT., APRIL 21, 1841.

To the Editor of Graham s Magazine.

SIR In the April number of your magazine, while review
ing the translation by Mr. Walsh of "Sketches of Con
spicuous Living Characters of France," you invite your
readers to address you a note in cipher, " the key-phrase
to which may be either in French, Italian, Spanish, German,
Latin or Greek," and pledge yourself for its solution.
My attention being called, by your remarks, to this species
of cipher-writing, I composed for my own amusement the
following exercises, in the first part of which the key-phrase
is in English in the second in Latin. As I did not see
(by the number for May) that any of your correspondents
had availed himself of your offer, I take the liberty to send
the enclosed, on which, if you shouldj think it worth your
while, you can exercise your ingenuity.

I am, yours respectfully,

S. D. L.


No. i.

Cauhiif and f td sdftirf ithot tacd wdde rdchfdr tiu
fuaefshffheo fdoudf hetiusafhie tuis ied herhchriai fi
aeiftdu wn sdaef it iuhfheo hiidohwid fi aen deodsf
ths tiu itis hf iaf iuhoheaiin rdff hedr; aer ftd auf it
ftif fdoudfin oissiehoafheo hefdiihodeod taf wdde
odeduaiin fdusdr ounsfiouastn. Saen fsdohdf it
fdoudf iuhfheo idud weiie fi ftd aeohdeff; fisdfhsdf
a fiacdf tdar iaf ftacdr aer ftd ouiie iuhffde isie ihft
fisd herdihwid oiiiiuheo tiihr, atfdu ithot ftd tahu
wdheo sdushffdr fi ouii aoahe, hetiusafhie oiiir wd
fuaefshffdr ihft ihffid raeodu ftaf rhfoicdun iiiir defid
iefhi ftd aswiiafmn dshffid fatdin udaotdr hff
rdffheafhie. Ounsfiouastn tiidcdu siud suisduin
dswuaodf ftifd sirdf it iuhfheo ithot aud uderdudr
idohwid iein wn sdaef it fisd desiaeafiun wdn ithot
sawdf weiie ftd udai fhoehthoafhie it ftd ohstduf
dssiindr fi hff siffdffiu.

No. 2.

Ofoiioiiaso ortsiii sov eodisoioe afduiostifoi ft iftvi
si tri oistoiv oiniafetsorit ifeov rsri afotiiiiv ridiiot
irio rivvio eovit atrotfetsoria aioriti iitri tf oitovin
tri aetifei ioreitit sov usttoi oioittstifo dfti afdooitior
trso ifeov tri dfit otftfeov softriedi ft oistoiv orio-
fiforiti suitteii viireiiitifoi ft tri iarfoisiti iiti trir uet
otiiiotiv uitfti rid io tri eoviieeiiiv rfasueostr ft rii
dftrit tfoeei.

In the solution of the first of these ciphers we had
little more than ordinary trouble. The second
proved to be exceedingly difficult, and it was only
by calling every faculty into play that we could
read it at all. The first runs thus :

" Various are the methods which have been devised
tor transmitting secret information from one in-



dividual to another by means of writing, illegible
to any except him for whom it was originally
destined ; and the art of thus secretly communicating
intelligence has been generally termed cryptography.
Many species of secret writing were known to the
ancients. Sometimes a slave s head was shaved and
the crown written upon with some indelible colouring
fluid; after which the hair being permitted to grow
again, information could be transmitted with little
danger that discovery would ensue until the am
bulatory epistle safely reached its destination.
Cryptography, however pure, properly embraces
those modes of writing which are rendered legible only
by means of some explanatory key which makes
known the real signification of the ciphers employed
to its possessor."

The key-phrase of this cryptograph is "A word
tc the wise is sufficient."

The. second is thus translated

"Nonsensical phrases and unmeaning combina
tions of words, as the learned lexicographer would
have confessed himself, when hidden under crypto
graphic ciphers, serve to perpdex the curious enquirer,
and baffle penetration more completely than would
the most profound apothegms of learned philosophers.
Abstruse disquisitions of the scholiasts were they
but presented before him in the undisguised vocabu
lary of his mother tongue"

The last sentence here (as will be seen) is broken
off short. The spelling we have strictly adhered to.
D, by mistake, has been put for / in perplex.

The key-phrase is " Suaviter in modo, fortiter in

In the ordinary cryptograph, as will be seen in
reference to most of those we have specified above,
the artificial alphabet agreed upon by the corre-



spondents is employed, letter for letter in place oi: the
usual or natural one. For example two parties
wish to communicate secretly. It is arranged

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 16 of 18)