Editor Westbrook and fiction writer Shackleford Dawe were old friends who had drifted apart after Dawe's financial troubles forced him to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Dawe was struggling to make a living as a writer, and Westbrook often rejected his stories for the Minerva Magazine, citing unrealistic dialogue during emotional moments as the main issue. Dawe argued that people in real life do not use dramatic language during crises, but Westbrook disagreed.
One day, Dawe proposed a test to prove his point. He suggested that they leave a fake note for his wife, Louise, claiming that he had run away with another woman. They would then hide and observe her reaction to see if she would use dramatic language or everyday speech. Westbrook reluctantly agreed to the plan, and they went to Dawe's apartment to set it up.
Upon arriving, they found a note from Louise, revealing that she had left Dawe to join a traveling opera company with Westbrook's own wife. Both men were shocked and devastated by the news. Dawe, in his grief, used dramatic language to express his anguish.
My God, why hast thou given me this cup to drink? Since she is false, then let Thy Heaven’s fairest gifts, faith and love, become the jesting by-words of traitors and fiends!
Westbrook, in contrast, used plain, everyday speech. The experiment inadvertently proved both men's theories, but at a great personal cost.