Item of the Day: The Port Folio (1801)

Full Title: The Port Folio. By Oliver Oldschool, Esq. Volume 1. No. 4. Philadelphia, Saturday, January 24th, 1801.

One of the most mischievous articles of the new-fangled creed of “Equality” is that, which teaches the unlearned and the unwise to believe themselves competent to discharge all the functions of the well-taught and the sage. In former times a diligent apprenticeship was thought at least not less necessary to form a good legislator, a good judge, or a wise politician, than to make a mender of old shoes, or a patcher of old garments. But now, while statutes and acts of assembly most cautiously provide for the education of these latter, all men are supposed to be instinctively legislators, judges and politicians. Many a worthy mechanic is spoiled by being a chairman of a town meeting, and rendered worthless to his country, his family and himself: and many a fool, whose folly might have been concealed in retirement, inflamed with a desire to imitate his superiors, like Sancho’s apple, has exposed himself to contempt and disgrace.

“Non omis fert omnia tellus,” and the variety of soils cannot exceed the variety of men’s talents. The human mind is limited in its operations, and is distracted and weakened by a variety of pursuits. Very few excel in more than one and it is an old and true adage, that “a Jack of all trades, is good at none.” The folly of Chrysippus, an old Stoic, who affected to believe that a wise man is ipso facto, “et sutor bonus, et solus formosus, et rex,” of all trades and professions, was formerly the subject of much mirth; but we have surpassed him in folly, for, now-a-days, “sutor est,” ipso facto “sapiens, et rex” and good at everything.

Whenever I observe a tradesman talking politics by noon-day at street corners, frequenting state-house meetings, wearing the tri-coloured badge of party, or putting his family upon allowance for a month, to pay for a dinner to celebrate the success of a party favourite, I infer, that while his attention is absorbed by these things, his journeymen and apprentices are idle, his customers neglected, and that he is hastening to ruin, at the rate of a galloping consumption.

It is true, that the nature of our government and the frequent recurrence of our elections (hardly affording a sufficient interval for finishing a heel-tap) require and suppose a certain degree of activity and information from every citizen. God forbid that the honest and industrious should, in these times, refuse the duty they owe to their country. But I affirm, that valuable information is not to be had from town-meetings, turbulent demagogues and beer-house politicians; these darken and obscure the judgment and set the bad passions at work. An honest man, if left to himself, will generally judge correctly in important affairs, and the activity of that citizen who is busied in his own affairs, is most beneficial to himself and to society.

“Let the Cobbler, then, stick to his last.”

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Filed under 1800's, Journal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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