Parson Weems’ Tales:
Biography, Historical Fiction, or Fake News?
Mason Locke Weems (1759 – 1825) was a writer, book store owner, book agent, and Episcopalian minister (or parson). Born in Maryland, he and his family lived in Dumfries, Virginia when he began traveling extensively to preach and sell books. He is most famous for writing the first biography of George Washington, The Life of Washington (1800). It was Parson Weems who wrote the story about a youthful George Washington chopping down a cherry tree – a story that everyone now delights in pronouncing a myth and a fiction. But what if the story is true?
“The evidence that the story is true is equal to the evidence that it is false,” says Philip Levy in an online interview (Mount Vernon.org).
Dr. Emorest Fogloft theorizes that, under certain unusual conditions, the act of writing a story causes it to happen retroactively. He believes that Parson Weems may have tapped into an energy that created those conditions. Fogloft also suggests that Montague Summers and Michael Sadleir somehow generated the “horrid mystery” novels listed in Jane Austin’s Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey (1818), even though the novels were all published before Summers and Sadleir were born. The protagonist of Northanger Abbey, a fan of mystery and horror fiction, is given seven Gothic novels, which Austin names by title and author. Most readers and scholars assumed that the seven titles listed were not real books. Montague Summers and Michael Sadlier researched the matter and discovered that the books existed.
Fogloft dismisses all scientific evidence that indicates writing a book can make the book appear years earlier. He argues that, “Most critics of my work are too quick to bring up the impossibility of time travel. Quantum physics suggests that time travel requires passing through a cosmic “tunnel” known as a wormhole. Wormholes would collapse almost as soon as they form, allowing only tiny particles to pass through them. The law of relativity suggests you must reach the speed of light to travel in time. I know these things. But these hindrances do not apply to my theory. For one thing, the raw materials are already in the past. By raw materials, I mean paper and ink and printing presses. They need not travel through a wormhole at all. Only words, or the image of words – and remember, image is light – or even the mental energy of thinking, the microscopic synapses in the brain…but this is neither the time nor the place to elaborate. Time-resolved crystallography may be involved.”
We can be sure that Levy was not endorsing Professor Fogloft’s theory when he wrote, coincidentally, that “George Allan England was half right when he claimed that time and retelling had made it so the Cherry Tree “crystallized” into fact. It might not be fact, but its retellings and their effect on the landscape had crystallized the old tree into history.”
Levy, Philip. Where the Cherry Tree Grew. St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
Mount Vernon.org. “Where the Cherry Tree Grew: An Interview with Phillip Levy.” Mount Vernon.org. https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/facts/where-the-cherry-tree-grew-an-interview-with-phillip-levy/. Accessed 19 June 2019.