MOre on Don Foster
Donald Wayne Foster Explained
Donald Wayne Foster (born 1950) is a professor of English at Vassar College in New York. He is known for his work dealing with various issues of Shakespearean authorship through textual analysis. He has also applied these techniques in attempting to uncover mysterious authors of some high-profile contemporary texts. As several of these were in the context of criminal investigations, Foster was sometimes labeled a "forensic linguist". He has been inactive in this arena, however, since Condé Nast settled a defamation lawsuit brought against one of his publications for an undisclosed sum in 2007.
Shakespearean scholarship
Foster first achieved notice for addressing the mystery of the dedication of Shakespeare's sonnets. In the edition published by Thomas Thorpe, a dedication appears to "Mr. W.H." as the "onlie begetter" of the sonnets, and the identity of W.H. has aroused much speculation over the years. While in graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Foster formulated a theory that it was a typographical error. Though not the first to articulate the possibility, his article appeared in the Publication of the Modern Language Association in 1987, after he joined the Vassar faculty. Foster argued that the initials were meant to read either "W.S." or "W.SH." for Shakespeare himself, the dedication presumably having been written by Thorpe. Foster pointed to Shakespeare's initials being similarly abbreviated in other documents, as well as contemporaneous publications that misspelled authors' initials in the error-filled manuscripts of the time.
While pursuing his research into these initials, Foster came across another work that led him to believe he had identified a previously unknown Shakespeare piece. This was a 1612 poem, A Funerall Elegye in memory of the late Vertuous Maister William Peeter, and would have been the first new Shakespeare identification in over a century. Thorpe, the publisher of the sonnets, had registered this work with the London Stationers, giving the author's initials as "W.S.".
Relying on the internal evidence of the text, Foster argued that Shakespeare could be the author and submitted a manuscript about the Elegy to Oxford University Press, but two experts recommended against publication on the grounds that such evidence was insufficient to establish authorship. Foster was not given their names, following normal practice for peer review, although he later related that he was able to identify the reviewers based on the language of their reports. The book was published instead by the University of Delaware Press in 1989.
Initially Foster did not claim that his identification was definitive, but in 1995 another Shakespeare scholar, Richard Abrams of the University of Southern Maine, published an article strengthening Foster's claims of the Elegys Shakespearean authorship. Foster then claimed publicly that the Elegy "belongs hereafter with Shakespeare's poems and plays" and gained international media attention. He supported his identification with computer analysis based on a database he called SHAXICON, used to compare the poem's word choice with that of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The Elegy was subsequently included in some editions of Shakespeare's complete works, though with qualifications, and it was never considered to be of great quality.
After considerable debate, Foster's theory was eventually rejected by other Shakespeare scholars. In 2002, Gilles Monsarrat, a translator of Shakespeare into French, published an article arguing that the poem's true author was John Ford, a younger writer whose works Monsarrat had also edited. Foster conceded that Monsarrat had the better case in a post on the SHAKSPER listserv, saying, "No one who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes deserves to be called a scholar." Foster said he had not previously analyzed Ford's works closely enough and had erroneously dismissed him as a possibility.[1]
Literary analysis in contemporary cases
Meanwhile, the publicity surrounding Foster's analytical skills led to him being called upon to track down the authors of various anonymous and pseudonymous texts. Using a mixture of traditional scholarship and computers to perform textual comparisons, Foster looked for unique and unusual usage patterns. Computer-based statistical techniques for textual analysis had been used by historians before Foster, most notably with the Federalist Papers. As Foster has pointed out, however, such methods are not definitive: "The notion has been perpetuated that there's a computer program that can identify authorship, and there isn't".[2]
In 1996, Foster was one of the people who helped reveal Joe Klein as the author of the "anonymous" bestseller Primary Colors. Foster named Klein in an article for New York magazine, following the lead of a former Clinton speechwriter, David Kusnet, who had fingered Klein in the Baltimore Sun a few weeks earlier. Klein objected, partly because the theories cited similarities between the book and Klein's writings on racial issues, and he disliked the way his attitude was being characterized. The matter subsided after additional revelations forced Klein to acknowledge that he wrote the book.
In some instances, Foster has raised arguments challenging whether the person traditionally identified as the author of a text was correct. He has pointed to an obscure Beat writer, Tom Hawkins, as the author of the Wanda Tinasky letters, which some had previously speculated to be the work of Thomas Pynchon. Foster also joined a long-running effort by descendants of Henry Livingston Jr. to show that their ancestor, and not Clement Clarke Moore, wrote the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.[3]
Foster provided his account of sleuthing out these and other identifications in his book Author Unknown (including the Shakespeare-Elegy connection, which he still supported at the time). The chapters on Shakespeare and Klein were praised as particularly lively, although the rest of the book was considered less substantial. One reviewer suggested that he spent too much time on the personal character of the writers he analyzed, such as Klein's alleged "issues" with blacks and women, or Moore's support for slavery. The reviewer still found Foster's arguments about authorship, based on the textual analysis of their writing styles, convincing.
Assistance to criminal investigations
On several occasions, Foster has participated in criminal cases that required literary analysis. He was brought into the case of Theodore Kaczynski to compare the "Unabomber manifesto" with other examples of Kaczynski's writing. Originally approached by defense attorneys, hoping that he might rebut an FBI analysis and the identification of the writing by Kaczynski's brother, Foster ultimately concluded that the evidence of authorship was even stronger than the FBI was claiming.[4]
Ramsey murder case
In 1997, Foster became involved in the investigation of JonBenét Ramsey's murder, a case in which a ransom note played a significant role.
Several books describe his involvement.
In 2000, Detective Steve Thomas wrote a book. He wrote:[5]
First paragraph of chapter 27:
  • "I finally heard the magic words while seated in the book-lined office of Don Foster, an Elizabethan scholar and professor at Vassar College in upstate New York, who just happened to be a hell of a linguistic detective. 'Steve,' said Foster, 'I believe I am going to conclude the ransom note was the work of a single individual: Patsy Ramsey.'"
On page 281 Thomas described Foster's presentation to the Boulder authorities in March 1998:
  • "'In my opinion, it is not possible that any individual except Patsy Ramsey wrote the ransom note,' he told a special briefing in Boulder, adding that she had been unassisted in writing it. With his sterling academic reputation and a track record of 152-0 in deciphering anonymous writings, this should have been a thunderbolt of evidence, but the DA's office, without telling us, had already discredited and discarded the professor. His coming to Boulder was a big waste of time."
On page 284, after outlining Foster's "case", Thomas discusses "a package from an Internet junkie named Susan Bennett...". He wrote that Foster had incorrectly thought that Jameson was John Andrew - - but he did NOT include the FACT that Foster also said Jameson/John Andrew was the killer.At the bottom of page 284, Thomas lamented,
  • "...Foster was consigned to the DA's junk pile. Losing him was a devastating blow."
From page 331:
  • "...Don Foster... telephoned... DA's office had just dismissed him.... informed him he was through doing this kind of work... Citing his Internet comments to Jameson when he knew nothing about the case, they declared that his later conclusions, when he knew everything, were unreliable.
...he would be open to impeachment... 'He's cooked here,' said one detective. It was a ridiculous attack on the man's sterling reputation."
From a book by FBI profiler John Douglas, also written in 2000:
  • "In 1998, Foster announced he had determined that Patsy Ramsey had written the ransom note, which sounded pretty compelling coming from such an established expert, and (Detective) Steve Thomas has written that he placed great weight on Foster's analysis. But then it came out that in the Spring of 1997, he had written to Patsy Ramsey at the Charlevoix, Michigan house to offer his condolences, encouragement and the statement, "I know you are innocent - know it, absolutely and unequivocally. I will stake my personal reputation on it.""
And from a book written by Andrew Hodges:
From Chapter 8 -
  • "Based on his comparison of Patsy's handwriting with the ransom note, Foster told Hunter that Patsy Ramsey had written the letter. But Foster, as it turned out, had badly compromised himself as an expert witness when, early in the case, he had spontaneously written to Patsy to tell her that his initial opinion was that she was innocent. Not long after that, Foster had also staked his reputation that an internet personality by the name of Jameson was really John Andrew (John Ramsey's son), and that he felt John Andrew was behind the murder. These two factors came to light later after Foster had changed his mind and decided Patsy had written the note. But by then, the damage was done, essentially rendering useless Foster's 100 page report on the ransom note."
Anthrax case
Foster returned to advise the FBI during the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. He later wrote an article for Vanity Fair about his investigation of Steven Hatfill, a virologist who had been labeled a "person of interest" by Attorney General John Ashcroft. In an October 2003 article for Vanity Fair, Foster tried to match up Hatfill's travels with the postmarks on the anthrax letters, and analyzed old interviews and an unpublished novel by Hatfill about a bioterrorist attack on the United States. Hatfill was identified as a possible culprit. The Reader's Digest published a condensed version of the article in December 2003. The perpetrator of the anthrax attacks turned out to be another government bio-weapons scientist.
Hatfill subsequently sued Donald Foster, Condé Nast Publications, Vassar College, and The Reader's Digest Association, seeking $10 million in damages, claiming defamation.[6] The case was settled by Condé Nast in 2007 for an undisclosed amount.[7] Foster ceased any public discussion of the case.
  • Elegy by W.S.: A Study in Attribution (1989).

  • Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (2000).
Further reading References
  1. Foster's message conceding Monsarrat's case

  2. New York Times, November 19, 1997, by Terry Pristin, "From Sonnets to Ransom Notes; Shakespeare Sleuth Helps Police in Literary Detection

  3. Personal account by a Livingston descendant regarding the authorship of A Visit from St. Nicholas

  4. Pristin, Terry. "From Sonnets to Ransom Notes; Shakespeare Sleuth Helps Police in Literary Detection", The New York Times, 19 November 1997.

  5. Book: Thomas, Steve. JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation . November 15, 2000 . St. Martin's Griffin . 978-1250054791.

  6. Web site: Hatfill strikes back in anthrax case. 2016-03-05.

  7. Web site: Hatfill Settles $10M Libel Lawsuit . Josh . Gerstein. JOSH GERSTEIN . The New York Sun. February 27, 2007 . 2019-04-02.
External links
Chapter 1 of Donald Foster's [i]Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous[/i].
Foster was sometimes labeled a "forensic linguist". He has been inactive in this arena, however, since Condé Nast settled a defamation lawsuit brought against one of his publications for an undisclosed sum in 2007.
Donald Foster's current address is 111 Mid Hill Rd, Greentown, PA, 18426
Professor uncovers national mysteries
Abby Loomis Assistant Features Editor
Don Foster: Professor of English and FBI Caseworker
He doesn't disappear into phone booths and emerge in a tight spandex suit, but Don Foster is one English professor with quite an intriguing douDle life. When not teaching students about Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, or Renaissance era writers, Foster spends much of his time working side by side with the FBI, using his literary scholar skills to unmask anonymous letter-writers. He has worked on approximately 25 FBI cases in the past six years, and some of the most famous include the unabomber case, the Centennial Park bombing (in which he was successful in shifting the suspicion from the innocent Richard Jewell to Eric Randall Rudolph, whose
"I thought I'd be done with it, but then along came the unabomber and it started all over again."
case is pending), and discovering the anonymous author of White House expose Primary Colors. Foster's most recent headline—making project has been his role in the anthrax investigation. In a detailed article in October's Vanity Fair, Foster describes how clues in the investigation have led him to American bio-scientist Steven Hatliff, who, Foster conjectures, may have sent out the anthrax in an effort to alert the nation to the dangers of biological warfare while simultaneously bringing respect to his profession. Although many of the details of the case remain shrouded in secrecy, Foster was able to speak about some of the challenges he has faced in both the anthrax investigation and his double life. Abby Loomis: Okay, let's just point out first of all that you are a Vassar English professor working for the FBI. How did you get to this point in your second career as a literary scholar? Don Foster: When I was a graduate student at the University of California, I found a long, dreary funeral elegy with the initials W.S., and it was on Shakespeare's stationary. I wrote my dissertation on that [a work that later became the published book Elegy by W.S.], and the evidence wasn't conclusive. Six or seven years later, many Shakespearean scholars came to believe it was by Shakespeare. The newspaper got a hold of it and it was front page news, and the elegy was added to Shakespearean collection. AL: And then the FBI began to ask for your help in identifying unsigned documents? DF: That same week Primary Colors by Anonymous came out and I was persuaded to give it a try. I identified it as newswriter Joe Klein. A helicopter came and picked me up at Vassar that day, and then Klein denied it. AL: How did that feel? DF: It was a bad moment. The Shakespeareans were looking at the elegy right then. It was a tense time. AL: Did you second-guess yourself? DF: [Klein] worked for CBS and Newsweek and they both published stories saying that he didn't write it. I wondered if he perhaps had a collaborator, and I tried to figure out someway he could have had a hand in it. It became clear that after four months he was ready to give up the anonymous schtick. I was kind of relieved. There was a huge flurry of calls from press people; I was so weary of media folk, I didn't return any calls. I thought I'd be done with it, and then along came unabomber and it started all over again. AL: And now you've written an 11-page article in Vanity Fair about your most recent case—what made you want to re-enter the media storm and publish your story? DF: I was approached by GQ at first and then passed on to Vanity Fair. I believe in the public's right to know and I believe in the necessity of
keeping investigative information confidential. In this case, the investigation wasn't moving forward and I felt publishing an article might help lead to an arrest. Also, in the case of Dr. Asaad [an innocent man anonymously accused of planting anthrax] it bothers me that here's this ArabAmerican targeted with anonymous libel and the
person who wrote the letter is being protected. It really disrupted his life. The way he was treated by the government was really unfair. I wanted to help him out, and make sure that his incident was investigated as well. I felt strongly about that. AL: In your article, you described how you began to suspect an American bioscientist of the mailings. What was the reaction to your somewhat "non- patriotic" investigation? DF: I only communicated with the FBI about it, but there was a lot of resistance to the idea that it could be a military scientist. AL: Also in the article, you wrote about hitting numerous roadblocks from the FBI and task force that you were working with. Do you think you became more cynical towards
our government as you encountered more and more obstacles within the investigation? DF: It was disturbing for me to see the way in which the investigative attention was misplaced. The military kept trying to get the FBI interested in the idea that this stuff came from Iraq. This investigation went a lot more slowly than normal FBI investigations do. But really, an investigation with the FBI depends on what task force is running it. I helped with an organized crime case in Boston and the task force did a great job getting papers together. This task force [for the anthrax case] let a lot of things take a back
seat for a long time. AL: You detailed a lot of amazing connections that you made in order to lead you in the right direction of your investigation. What about all the inevitable dead ends? DF: Well, the first name I gave to the FBI as someone who looked interesting was this man who worked with the Bartel Corporation and was arrested for threatening to kill people with anthrax. AL: Sounds pretty promising to me! DF: Turns out the guy was no longer in good health. He was actually a serious alcoholic. AL: So when you look at your six years working with the FBI, what do you feel proud of accomplishing, beyond the obvious nabbing of bad guys? DF: The thing I have been pushing for with the FBI is finally going to happen, which is creating an archive for threatening letters. It would then be possible to narrow down the search. You never really know what's going to be useful when looking at a text. A certain amount of information can be gleaned from something as short as the New Jersey anthrax letters. AL: So, any investigations in the future? DF: What I'd like to do is get past distractions. I need to make sure my students have my undivided attention. I've been a big help to the FBI, and I feel like it's a good time to turn the work over to others and return more fully to literary studies. This isn't just a Don Foster thing. There are quite a lot of capable scholars who can help
"I believe in the public's right to know and I believe in the necessity of keeping investigative information confidential."
out when questions like this arise. My wife doesn't want me to write a book about anthrax. I've had a number of literary works on the back burner that I want to get back to. AL: How does your family feel about their dad being whisked off in helicopters and working for the FBI? DF: They've all found it interesting, they've met interesting people. They've been supportive, and the College has too. Now I'm looking forward to returning to the relative anonymity of Shakespearean studies. What's most important to me is teaching.
Evan Casper-Eutterman / Ihe Miscellany News
Professor of English Don Foster splits his time between Vassar, family, and aiding the FBI using his language skills.

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