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Published May 11, 2011   

Beale Treasure Story
Could There Have Been a Revision of Beale's Letters?

  

An issue of critical importance is whether Beale's letters underwent a revision by the pamphlet's author. If such a revision was not performed, then there is no way that both the author's text and the Beale letters quoted in the pamphlet could appear to have been written by one person. And, there would be no way for the anachronistic words "stampede" and "improvised," not in common usage in 1822, to have been used in Beale's letters.
  
Really, it is just that simple. If Beale did not write original letters which subsequently underwent a revision by the pamphlet's author, then the treasure story is definitely untrue, perhaps to the extent of being a hoax (end of story). If Beale did write original letters which afterwards underwent a revision by the pamphlet's author, then the best that can be said is that the treasure story might be true; it could still be untrue for reasons other than use of anachronistic language or similarities in writing styles. For example, Beale may simply have lied from the onset.
     
The purpose of the proponent here is to show that a revision of the pamphlet was within the scope of effort of the pamphlet's author and that this author was not above making changes to the pamphlet. One purpose of the opponent is to argue that, even if the author rewrote existing letters for whatever reason, that action itself casts doubt upon the truthfulness of the total pamphlet.
  
The arguments "for" and "against" such a revision are just that, arguments; they do not constitute proof.
   
Argument against
  
Making changes to Beale's letters without informing the reader would be unethical. It would constitute a lie; it would constitute cheating. Is it preferable to have the pamphlet's author lie by modifying Beale's letters rather then lie by inventing the letters?
      
Argument for:
  
A revision of Beale's letters would be ethical, even if the reader were not informed. Changes of this sort come under the heading of poetic license: the right of the author to take the liberty to deviate from normal rules or practices, to make a writing agree in speech and give it a seamless flow (appearing to be written in "one hand"), to correct poor writing on the part of the other authors (Beale and Morriss), to add a word here and there for clarity and improvement ("stampede" and "improvised"), to shorten the text in order to make the writing fit on a whole number of printed sheets (make the pamphlet 24 or less pages) for reasons of cost. As long as the substance of the writing does not change, it is well within the purview of the pamphlet's author to make such changes. There is no reason that the pamphlet's author could not paraphrase Beale in places. There was no rule or obligation stated or implied by the pamphlet's author that Beale's letters had to be, or were quoted word-for-word.
  
Argument against
    
Statements made in Ward's pamphlet constitute a promise that the letters were actually quoted, not paraphrased, viz.
"I submit to my readers the papers upon which this narrative is founded. The first in order is the letter from Beale to Mr. Morriss, which will give the reader a clearer conception of all the facts connected with the case, and enable him to understand as fully as I myself do, the present status of the affair. The letter is as follows:"
Poetic license is not so great for providing a true and accurate account of history. An editor who was attempting to shorten a work is more apt to eliminate passages that refer to stampeding of buffalo than to modify the words used to describe it. 
 
Argument for:
    
Ward's pamphlet contains evidence that the pamphlet's author was not above making changes to the text. If one compares the actual decipherment of Beale Cipher No. 2 with the decipherment given in the pamphlet, one finds eight instances of wording differences. These differences are the result of the pamphlet's author making editing changes to the pamphlet's version of the decipherment. The grossest alteration is this: The actual decipherment contains the phrase "in exchange to save transportation and valued at thirteen thousand dollars." The pamphlet's decipherment contains the phrase "in exchange for silver to save transportation and valued at $13,000." In one case, the words "for silver" have been added. In the other, the words "thirteen thousand dollars" have been replaced by "$13,000." The changes made to the decipherment of B2 are an indication that changes were very likely made elsewhere in the text.
  
The "arguments for" were contributed by me. The "arguments against" were contributed by Kenneth Dobyns.
  
November 16, 2012: I have given additional thought to both arguments and now concede that Mr. Dobyns has the better of the arguments. The logic is this: Given that the pamphlet underwent a revision by the pamphlet's author, regardless of whether the treasure story is true or false, which is more probable: (1) the treasure story is false and the editorial changes were made by a fabricator, or (2) the treasure story is true, and the editorial changes were made by a well-intentioned author? I think the answer is this: the changes could be made by either a fabricator or by a well-intentioned author, but I would give more weight to a conclusion that the changes were made by a fabricator.  A fabricator would not hesitate to make editorial changes to the pamphlet, including Beale's letters. The well-intentional author would resist making editorial changes to the pamphlet, especially to Beale's letters. The fact that we find changes is thus more indicative that they were made by a fabricator than by a well-intentioned author. 

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