Monthly Archives: February 2006

Item of the Day: Noah Webster’s The Prompter (1796)

Full Title:

The Prompter: Or, A Commentary on Common Sayings and Subjects; Which are Full of Common Sense, The Best Sense in the World. “To see all others’ faults and feel our own.”

Printed in Philadelphia by Matthew Carey, 1796.
Number XIX

When a man is going down hill, every one gives him a kick.

This, it is said, is very natural; that is, it is very common. There are two reasons for this — First, it is much easier to kick a man down hill, than to push him up hill — Second, men love to see every body at the bottom of the hill but themselves.

Different men have different ways of climbing into ranks and office. Some bold fellows take a run and mount at two or three strides. Others of less vigour use more art — they creep along upon their bellies, catching hold of the cliffs and twigs to pull themselves up — sometimes they meet a high rock and are obliged to crawl round it — at other times they catch hold of a prominent cliff or a little twig, which gives way and back they tumble, scratching their clothes and sometimes their skin. However it is, very few will lift their neighbours — unless to get a lift themselves. Yet sometimes one of those crawlers will lend a hand to their neighbouring crawlers — affect to pull hard to raise them all a little — then getting upon their shoulders, give a leap to an eminence and leave them all in the lurch, or kick them over. The moment one begins to tumble, every one who is near hits him a kick.

But no people get so many kicks as poor debtors in failing circumstances. While a man is dong very well, that is, while his credit is good, every one helps him — the moment he is pressed for money, however honest and able he may be, he gets kicks from all quarters His friends and his reputation desert him with the loss of his purse, and he soon tumbles to the bottom of the hill.


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Filed under 1790's, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: The Laws of Harvard College (1790)

Full Title: The Laws of Harvard College. Printed in Boston by Samuel Hall, 1790.

Chap. I. — Of Admission into the College

I. Candidates for admission into Harvard College shall be examined by the President, and two, at least, of the Tutors. No one shall be admitted, unless he can translate Greek, and Latin Authors in common use, such as Tully, Virgil, and the New Testament; understands the rules of Grammar and Prosody; can write Latin correctly, and hath a good moral character. And no person shall be admitted to examination after the usual time, unless it shall appear, to the satisfaction of the President and Tutors, that such person has been necessarily prevented from offering himself in season. And, if any one be admitted after the end of the first quarter, he shall be considered as admitted to an advanced standing.

Chap. II. — On Devotional Exercises, and the Observation of the Lord’s-Day

I. All persons, of what degree soever, residing at the College, and all Undergraduates, whether dwelling in the College, or in the town, shall constantly and seasonably attend the worship of God in the chapel, morning and evening; and, if any Undergraduate come to prayers after the exercises are begun, he shall be fined one penny; and, if he shall be absent from prayers, without sufficient reason, he shall be fined two pence for every such neglect.

III. . . . Whoever shall profane the day by unnecessary business, or visiting, or walking on the Common or in the streets or fields of the town of Cambridge, or shall use any diversions, or otherwise behave himself disorderly or unbecoming the season, shall be fined not exceeding three shillings, or be admonished, degraded, suspended, or rusticated, according to the aggravation of the offence.

Chap. IV. Of Misdemeanors and Criminal Offences.

I. If any Scholar shall associate with any person of dissolute morals, or in the town of Cambridge, with one that is rusticated, or expelled, within three years after such rustication or expulsion, unless the rusticated person shall be restored within that space, he shall be fined not exceeding five shillings for the first offence …

II. If any Scholar shall go beyond the College-yard or fences, without coat, cloak, or gown, hat or other coverings allowed by the authority of the college, (unless in his lawful diversions) he shall be fined not exceeding six pence. And, if any shall presume to put on indecent apparel, he shall be punished . . . but if he wear woman’s apparel, he shall be liable to public admonition, degradation, suspension, rustication, or expulsion.

XVI. If Any Undergraduate shall presume to be an actor in, a spectator at, or any ways concerned in, any stage -plays, interludes, or theatrical entertainments, in the town of Cambridge, he shall, for the first offence be punished by a fine …

Chap. V. Miscellaneous Laws.

I. All Scholars shall shew due respect and honour to all that are in the government and instruction of the College, particularly Undergraduates shall be uncovered in the College yard, when any of the Overseers, the President, or Fellows of the Corporation, or any others concerned in the Government and instruction of the College are therein; and Bachelors of Arts shall be uncovered, when the President is there.

IX. All the Undergraduates shall be clothed in coats of blue gray, and with waistcoats and breeches of the same colour, or of a black, a nankeen, or an olive colour. The coats of the Freshmen shall have plain button-holes : The cuffs shall be without buttons. The coats of the Sophomores shall have plain button holes like those of the Freshmen; but the cuffs shall have buttons. The coats of the Juniors shall have cheap frogs to the button holes, except the button holes of the cuffs. The coats of the Seniors shall have frogs to the button holes of the cuffs. The buttons upon the coats of all the Classes shall be as near the colour of the coats as they can be procured, or of a black colour. And no Student shall appear, within the limits of the College, or town of Cambridge, in any other dress, than in the uniform, belonging to his respective Class, unless he shall have on a night gown, or such an outside garment, as may be necessary, over a coat: Except only, that the Seniors and Juniors are permitted to wear black gowns; and it is recommended that they appear in them on all public occasions: Nor shall any part of their garments be of silk ; nor shall they wear gold or silver lace, cord or edging upon their hats, waist-coasts, or any other parts of their clothing : And whosoever shall violate these regulations, shall be fined . . .

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Filed under 1790's, Culture, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Letter from Timothy Pickering to Rufus King (1798)

Full Title: [ALS] Timothy Pickering, Trenton, to Rufus King, Esq, London September 15, 1798.

[Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) was serving as John Adams’ Secretary of State when he wrote this letter in September 1798 to Adams’ minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, Rufus King. In this letter, Pickering expresses his outrage over the XYZ affair. A year earlier, Adams had attempted to normalize relations with France by dispatching Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry ( 1744-1813) to Paris to negotiate a new treaty and avoid war. Before negotiations could begin, however, French Prime Minister Charles Maurice Talleyrand demanded payment of millions of dollars in bribes. The American delegates refused to pay whereupon Talleyrand directed Marshall and Pinckney to leave the country. But he asked Gerry, who had long been known to oppose a war with France, to remain. Gerry agreed to do so believing Adams would soon empower him with the authority to continue the negotiations and that his removal would ignite an irrevocable rupture with France. When the details of the bribe became public, however, all efforts toward crafting a new treaty ended. The scandal inflamed anti-French sentiment at home and pushed America into the Quasi-War, an undeclared war with France that lasted until 1800. Pickering, a reactionary Federalist and long time adversary of Gerry, was particularly vitriolic in his public condemnation labeling Gerry a “Jacobin” and guilty of traitorous maneuverings with the French. Adams for his part, never wavered in his defense of Gerry but tired of Pickering’s extremist positions. In May 1800 Adams fired Pickering for undermining American neutrality and plotting war with France. Gerry resuscitated his political career to be twice elected Governor of Massachusetts. He also served as Vice President of the United States under James Madison.

In this original signed letter Pickering’s harshest criticisms of Gerry were written in numerical code. Sensitive letters traveling between high level government officials were typically copied several times. The sender retained a copy while dispatching the coded copy which upon receipt was deciphered and transcribed above the code.]

Dear Sir,

A gentleman has just called to form me that he can receive a letter from me for England next Monday morning. I take the occasion to note the private letters received from you, which are now before me. It is possible there may be some others not arranged in the file. Nov. 13 & Dec. 23, 1797. Jan 6, Feb 7, April 7, 9, 16, 1798. All of them accompanied with letters from General Pinckney, except those or Nov 13 and Feb 7. Their contents were communicated to the President, according to your wish expressed in your letter of Dec. 23. Your letter of Feb 7 expressed your opinion of Mr. Gerry as communicated to Gen. Pinckney, an opinion in which all the public men whom I had heard speak of Mr. G & I form my acquaintance with him, were ready to concur. But General Pinckney in a letter to his brother of April 4 says “I have made great sacrifices of my feelings to preserve union but in vain. I never met with a man 1126.10077. 641.1041.1246.1410.
1465.448.1079.710.1126.856. 1410.1338.322.28.493.128.1079.893.545. (Deciphered as “so destitute of candour and so full of deceit as Mr. Gerry”) And Mr. Marshall is of his opinion.

I received lately your letter of July 14 mentioning that Mr. Gerry remained in Paris on the 26th of June. I think it probable that he will wait till the positive recall of June 25th reaches him. Yet the instructions of March 23rd, which he rec’d May 12 & on the 13th wrote me he should duly observe, were, in their proper effect, also positive, seeing no one case described existed to warrant his stay, or to excuse his not demanding his passport and returning. His absurd & preposterous conduct, while it excites extreme regret on public account, has procured for him only indignation and contempt.

The newspapers will have informed you of the extensive calamity of the yellow fever, which has visited Philadelphia, New-York, Wilmington in Delaware, New-London, Boston, and Portsmouth New Hampshire. It is more malignant & mortal than in any former year. In Boston, Portsmouth & New London, the deaths have yet been few. In Philadelphia more than twice as numerous as in 1793, in the same period of time, altho’ the city is much more depopulated by removals now than at that time.

I am your faithful & obedient servant,

Timothy Pickering

[Written in the margin — Mr. Fenno, the printer died yesterday or this day. B. F. Bache died a few days before. Monday morning, September 17, Yesterday I was informed that Greenleaf of New York, the printer of the Argus, was also dead.]

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Filed under 1790's, Letters, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Almon’s Asylum for Fugitive Pieces (1785)

Full Title:

An Asylum for Fugitive Pieces, in Prose and Verse, Not in Any Other Collection: With Several Pieces Never Before Published.

Edited by John Almon, 1737-1805. Continuation of The Foundling Hospital for Wit [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. With contents and publisher’s advertisement. Printed in London for J. Debrett, 1785.

From “A Political Receipt-Book for the Year 1784”:

How to Make a Premier.

TAKE a man with a great quantity of that sort of words which produces the greatest effect upon the many, and the least upon the few: mis them with a large proportion of affected candour and ingenuousness, introduced in a haughty and contemptuous manner. Let there be a great abundance of falshood concealed under an apparent disinterestedness and integrity; and the two last be the most professed, when the former is most practised. Let his engagements and declarations, however solemnly made, be broken and disregarded, if he thinks he can procure afterwards a popular indemnity for illegality and deceit. He must subscribe to the doctrine of passive obedience, and to the exercise of patronage, independent of his approbation; and be careless of creating the most formidable enemies, if he can gratify hte personal revenge and hatred of those who employ him, even at the expence of public ruin and general confusion.

How to make a Secretary of State.

TAKE a man in a violent passion, or a man that never had been in one; but the first is the best. Let him be concerned in making an ignominious peace, the articles of which he could not comprehend, nor cannot explain. Let him speak loud, but yet never to be heard; and to be the kind of man for a Secretary of State, when nobody else will accept of it.

How to make a President.

TAKE a man who all his life loved office, merely for its emoluments; and when measures, which he had approved, were eventually unfortunate, let him be notorious for relinquishing his share of the responsibility of them, and be stignatized for political courage in the period of prosperity and cowardice, when there exists but the appearance of danger.

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Filed under 1780's, Culture, Legal, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Mr. Mayhew’s Discourse Concerning Submission (1750)

Full Title: A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: With some Reflections on the Resistance made to King Charles I and on the Anniversary of his Death: In which the Mysterious Doctrine of that Prince’s Saintship and Martyrdom is Unriddled: The Substance of which was Delivered in a Sermon preached in the West Meeting-House in Boston the Lord’s Day after the 30th of January, 1749/50.

Written by Jonathan Mayhew, A.M. (1720-1766), Printed n Boston by D. Fowle, 1750.
If it be said, that the apostle here uses another argument for submission to the higher powers. besides that which is taken from the usefulness of their office to civil society, when properly discharged and executed; namely, that their power is from God; that they are ordained of God; and that they are God’s ministers: And if it be said, that this argument for submission to them will hold good, although they do not exercise their power for the benefit, but for the ruin, and destruction of human society; this objection was obviated, in part, before. Rulers have no authority from God to do mischief. They are not God’s ordinance, or God’s ministers, in any other sense than as it is by his permission and providence, that they are exalted to bear rule; and as magistracy duly exercised, and authority rightly applied, in the enacting and executing good laws, — laws attempered and accommodated to the common welfare of the subjects, must be supposed to be agreeable to the will of the beneficent author and supreme Lord of the universe; whose kingdom ruleth over all: and whose tender mercies are over all his works. It is blasphemy to call tyrants and oppressors, God’s ministers. They are more properly the messengers of Satan to buffet us. No rulers are properly God’s ministers, but such as are just, ruling in the fear of God. When once magistrates act contrary to their office, and the end of their institution; when they rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare; they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God; and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen. So that whenever that argument for submission, fails, which is grounded upon the usefulness of magistracy to civil society, (as it always does when magistrates do hurt to society instead of good) the other argument, which is taken from their being the ordinance of God, must necessarily fail also; to person of a civil character being God’s minister, in the sense of the apostle, any farther than he performs God’s will, by exercising a just and reasonable authority; and ruling for the good of the subject.

. . .

If we calmly consider the nature of the thing itself, nothing can well be imagined more directly contrary to common sense, than to suppose that millions of people should be subjected to the arbitrary, precarious pleasure of one single man; (who has naturally no superiority over them in point of authority) so that their estates, and every thing that is valuable in life, and even their lives also, shall be absolutely at his disposal, if he happens to be wanton and capricious enough to demand them. What unprejudiced man can think, that God made ALL to be thus subservient to the lawless pleasure and phrenzy of ONE, so that it shall always be a sin to resist him! Nothing but the most plain and express revelation from heaven could make a sober impartial man believe such a monstrous, unaccountable doctrine, and, indeed, the thing itself, appears so shocking — so out of all proportion, that it may be questioned, whether all the miracles that ever were wrought, could make it credible, that this doctrine really came from God. At present, there is not the least syllable in scripture which gives any countenance to it. The hereditary, indefeasible, divine right of kings, and the doctrine of non-resistance, which is built upon the supposition of such a right, are altogether as fabulous and chimerical, as transubstantiation; or any of the most absurd reveries of ancient or modern visionaries. These notions are fetched neither from divine revelation, nor human reason; and if they are derived from neither of those sources, it is not much matter from whence they come, or whither they go. Only it is a pity that such doctrines should be propagated in society, to raise factions and rebellions, as we see they have, in fact, been both in the last, and in the present, REIGN.

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Filed under 1750's, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Religion, Revolution

Item of the Day: The Young Woman’s Companion (1811)

Full Title:The Young Woman’s Companion: or, Frugal Housewife. Containing the most approved methods of pickling, preserving, potting, collaring, confectionary, managing and colouring foreign wines and spirits, making English wines, compounds, &c. &c. Also the art of cookery, containing directions for dressing all kinds of butchers’ meat, poultry, game, fish, &c. &c. &c. with the complete art of carving, illustrated and made plain by engravings. Likewise instructions for marketing. With the theory of brewing a malt liquor. To which are added, directions for letter writing, drawing, painting, &c. and several valuable miscellaneous pieces.

Written by “A Very Distinguished Lady.” Contains several recipes and notes pinned into the margins by the owners. Printed by Russell and Allen in Manchester, 1811.From the Introduction. On Economy. BY A VERY DISTINGUISHED LADYECONOMY is so important a part of a woman’s character, so necessary to her happiness, and so essential to her performing properly her duties of a wife and of a mother, that it ought to have the precedence of all other accomplishments, and take its rank next to the first duties of life. It is, moreover, an art as well as a virtue — and many well-meaning persons, from ignorance, or from inconsideration, are strangely deficient in it. Indeed it is too often wholly neglected in a young woman’s education — and she is sent from her father’s house to govern a family, without the least degree of that knowledge, which should qualify her for it: this is the source of much inconvenience; for though experience and attention may supply, by degrees, the want of instruction, yet this requires time — the family, in the mean time, may get into habits, which are very difficult to alter; and, what is worse, the husband’s opinion of his wife’s incapacity may be fixed too strongly to suffer him ever to think justly of her gradual improvements. I would therefore earnestly advise you to make use of every opportunity you can find, for the laying in some store of knowledge on this subject, before you are called into practice; by observing what passes before you — by consulting prudent and experienced mistresses of families — and by entering in a book a memorandum of every new piece of intelligence you acquire: you may afterwards compare these with more mature observations, and you can make additions and corrections as you see occasion.

Economy consists of so many branches, some of which descend to such minuteness, that it is impossible for me in writing to give you particular directions. The rude outlines may be perhaps described, and I shall be happy if I can furnish you with any hint that may hereafter be usefully applied.

The first and greatest point is to lay out your general plan of living in a just proportion to your fortune and rank; if these two will not coincide, the last must certainly give way; for, if you have right principles, you cannot fail of being wretched under the sense of the injustice as well as danger of spending beyond your income, and your distress will be continually increasing. No mortifications, which you can suffer from retrenching in your appearance, can be comparable to this unhappiness. If you would enjoy the real comforts of affluence, you should lay your plan considerably within your income; not for the pleasure of amassing wealth, though where there is a growing family, it is an absolute duty to lay by something every year — but to provide for contingencies, and to have the power of indulging your choice in the disposal of the overplus — either in innocent pleasures, or to increase your funds for charity and generosity, which are in fact the true funds of pleasure. In some circumstances indeed, this would not be prudent; there are professions in which a man’s success greatly depends on his making some figure where the bare suspicion of poverty would bring on the reality. If, by marriage, you should be placed in such a situation, it will be your duty to exert all your skill in the management of your income. Yet, even in this case, I would not strain to the utmost for appearance, but would choose my models among the most prudent and moderate of my own class; and be contented with slower advancement, for the sake of security and peace of mind.

A contrary conduct is the ruin of many; and, in general the wives of men in such professions might live in a more retired and frugal manner than they do, without any ill consequences, if they did not make the scheme of advancing the success of their husbands an excuse to themselves for the indulgence of their own vanity and ambition.

Perhaps it may be said, that the settling the general scheme of expences is seldom the wife’s province, and that many men do not choose even to acquaint her with the real state of their affairs. Where this is the case, a woman can be answerable for no more than is intrusted to her. But I think it a very iill sign, for one or both of the parties, where there is such a want of openness in what equally concerns them. As I trust you will deserve the confidence of your husband, so I hope you will be allowed free consultation with him on your mutual interests: and, I believe there are few men, who would not hearken to reason on their own affairs, when they saw a wife ready and desirous to give up her share of vanities and indulgencies, and only earnest to promote the common good of the family.

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Women

Item of the Day: Letter from John Tabor Kempe to Daniel Horsmanden (1763)

Full Title: Letter from John Tabor Kempe to Daniel Horsmanden with response from Horsmanden, July 14, 1763.

[John Tabor Kempe (1735-1795) served as the last Royal Attorney General of the Colonial Province of New York in 1759 . A Loyalist, Kempe returned to England after the Revolutionary War in 1783. Daniel Horsmanden (1691-1778) was appointed Chief Justice of New York in 1763. Horsmanden’s reputation rested on his involvement in the notorious 1741 New York slave conspiracy. What is now widely viewed as a witch hunt based on the testimony of a single witness fueled by mass hysteria, Horsmanden presided over the trials of hundreds of slaves suspected of conspiracy. By the time it ended, Horsmanden had sentenced thirteen blacks to burn at the stake, seventeen to hang, and another seventy with banishment from the colony. This signed letter from Kempe to Horsmanden was written over twenty years after the conspiracy trials. The letter points to Kempe’s more sympathetic view of freed blacks as he raises concerns about their re-enslavement when forcibly taken across state lines — an early foreshadowing of the nation’s deepening sectional divisions.]


If what the Bearer hereof says is to be credited the Negro Man in whose Behalf he applies to you is certainly free and if so, he ought to be protected in his Liberty as much as a White Man — He is put on board a ship now at the watering place which will sail tomorrow, for South Carolina, where he is to be sold as a slave, from which situation he may never be able to extricate himself there for want of Proof of his Freedom.

In this view of things his case seems to me very hard nor can I think of any step to relieve him unless a warrant be obtained to bring him up again, and to bind over the persons concerned in kidnapping him, which step I conceive the nature of the case requires — The Bearer hereof will make affid. of his Freedom, and he waits on you to know whether if that be made to appear before you on oath, you think it proper to issue such warrant. — I would have waited on you myself, but am quite undressed having been very much engaged all day, and will if you require written Proof of the Negros Freedom, draw the Bearers affid. to be laid before you. I hope you will excuse the Trouble of this Letter, which I am prompted to write in commiseration of the poor Fellow and by Detestation of the cruel practice of infringing the Liberty of a poor Man because he is so unfortunate as to have a Black Face, and be Friendless and unable to assist himself.

I am
most obedient humble servant.

J.T. Kempe
July 14, 1763


Be so good as draw the affidavit & if full to the purposes, the Warrant & what is proper for me I shall readily comply with.

Your Humble Servant

Dan Horsmanden

To John Tabor Kempe, Esq
Attorney General

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Filed under 1760's, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Slavery