- Historic Sites
The Notorious Affair Of Mrs. Reynolds
February 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 2
—The letters address themselves in a “remarkable manner … going beyond the range of mere coincidence … to the specific details of the adverse testimony”—for example, the amount of blackmail money demanded.
Professor Boyd devotes considerable attention to the texts of the alleged letters themselves: … Mrs. Reynolds was capable of good grammatical construction and her spelling was generally correct. But one of her peculiarities was that she misspelled simple words while handling more difficult ones with ease. She had no trouble with tortured, happiness, disappointment, anguish, … consolation, existence, complaining , and adieu . But words of one or two syllables gave her much difficulty. She usually but not invariably wrote se for see , rite for write , mutch for much , moast for most , pilliow for pillow , and so on. …
… Like his wife, Reynolds had difficulty with simple words, spelling fue for few , booth for both , and shush for such . But he could handle polysyllabic words without difficulty, such as distraction, imprudent, disagreeable , and calculation , in addition to a number of such words that she also employed. … Like her also, he had the peculiarity of being able to spell some words in unusual ways and at the same time—often in the same letter— to give its correct form. … sprinkled as these words are rather sparingly through long passages of generally well wrought sentences framed with a due regard for conventional idiom and with the overwhelming majority of the words being in correct form, these idiosyncratic spellings can only be regarded as incredibly naive inventions.
Thus on every score, even in the absence of the original letters of James and Maria Reynolds, the conclusion is obvious. Mrs. Reynolds’ charge that the letters were forged cannot be supported by objective proof. … [But they] exhibit in their texts, in their substantive incongruities, and in their conflict with verifiable evidence overwhelming proofs of their own insufficiency. They are the palpably contrived documents of a brilliant and daring man who, writing under much stress in the two or three days available to him in 1792, tried to imitate what he conceived to be the style of less literate persons. The result was inexpert to the point of naivete, but its character is beyond doubt. The purported letters of James and Maria Reynolds … cannot be accepted as genuine.
In his summation Dr. Boyd expresses the belief as a Jeflersonian that the clash between Hamilton and Jefferson represented “two fundamentally opposed and irreconcilable ways of looking at government. … both in principle and in practice, Hamilton took his guidance from the old order, Jefferson from the new.” Hamiltonians disagree violently with that view, and they will no doubt address themselves to finding the loopholes in Dr. Boyd’s case, the possibilities for rebuttal, and the answers to questions obviously still unanswered. But Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians alike should agree with his reason for reopening an issue long considered settled and closed: ”… history, long after the passions and polemics of the time have been quieted, requires that any barrier be probed, whatever the cost, when persons have been defamed or truth injured or questions not asked.”
In any case, an intriguing story that has always been called the Hamilton-Reynolds Affair is now doubly intriguing under the new name it must carry: the HamiltonReynolds Mystery.