Monthly Archives: January 2007

Item of the Day: A Voyage to California by Mons. Chappe D’Auteroche (1778)

Full Title:  A VOYAGE to CALIFORNIA, to Observe the Transit of Venus. By Mons. Chappe D’Auteroche. With an Historical Description of the Author’s Route Through Mexico, and the Natural History of that Province.  Also, a VOYAGE to Newfoundland and Sallee, to make experiments on Mr. LeRoy’s Time Keepers. By Monsieur De Cassini.  London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, In the Poultry, MDCCLXXVIII.

 I set out from Paris September 18, 1768, for Havre de Grace, where I was to embark.  I was attended by a servant, and by three other persons, who had engaged to go along with me to California, and to share the labours and dangers of so long a voyage.  Mr. Pauly, the King’s Engineer and Geographer, from whose talents I expected great assistance, was to second me in my astronomical and geographical operations:  Mr. Noel, a pupil of the Academy of Painting, was intended for our draughtsman, to take draughts of sea coasts, plants, animals, and whatever we might meet with that was curious:  Lastly, Mr. Dubois, a watchmaker, was intrusted with the care of preserving my instruments, and repairing the little mischiefs they too often sustain in such long voyages.

Whoever considers that prodigious extent of a passage of several thousand leagues, such as I was going to undertake; and reflects that one unlucky moment, the least intervening cloud, might in one day defeat all our hopes, and render fruitless so much toil and expence, will not wonder at my taking these precautions, to draw other advantages from this voyage: that in case we should be so unfortunate as to fail in our main purpose, we might in some measure make amends to the learned world for this loss.  Astronomy, geography, physic, and natural history, were the objects I proposed.  If the apparatus and materials requisite for that purpose were both cumbersome and costly, I was fully repaid by the pleasing hopes of improving my voyage to more purposes than one.

I arrived at havre de Grace on the 21st of September, and found the ship Le Nouveau Mercure, commanded by Captain Le Clerc, ready to sail for Cadiz.  I embarked the 27th with my company and instruments, and we set sail the next day.  We had a very rough passage; a hard gale that we met with north of Cape Finisterre, left the sea very tempestuous for near a week after.  The winds were almost always contrary, so that we were one and twenty days going from Havre to Cadiz, which is commonly done in half the time.

We arrived at Cadiz October 17.  The Spanish fleet which was to convey us to Vera Cruz, had already been in the road a whole month, and seemed ready to sail.  This gave me joy at first, little knowing how distant that departure was, which to me seemed so near; still less did I foresee the difficulties I was to encounter, joined with the tediousness of a delay, which a thousand times made me despair of getting in time to California.

The very moment I landed, I hastened to wait on the governor of Cadiz, the intendant of the navy, and the Marquis de Tilly, general of the fleet. These gentlemen received me with the greatest civility.  Mr. de Tilly having signified to me the orders of his court, by which he was enjoined to take me on board this fleet, with only a watchmaker and a draughtsman, I was in the utmost astonishment to find that no mention was made of Mr. Pauly, my second.  I represented to M. de Tilly that this omission, falling just upon the very man I could least spare, must be merely owing to a mistake:  he was very sensible it was so, and assured me that on his part I should meet with no difficulty in the affair.  But unfortunately, the embarking of the passengers was not wholly in his power; it principally concerned the Marquis de Real Theforo, president of the Contractation, and to him we were to apply.  Then it was that I met with fresh obstacles.

In the orders of the court, communicated by the intendant to the president of the contraction, no mention was made but of me.  the latter consequently, far from allowing Mr. Pauly to attend me, would make out no order but for myself alone, and only one instrument.

. . .

This fresh order from court soon changed the face of affairs.  At last I saw the wished-for moment that had so long deluded my hopes.  A vessel with only twelve hands, was fitted out in a trice.  I was still more expeditious in removing my instruments that were on board the Commodore ship.  The frailty of the vessel I was going to venture in, and on which account some people endeavoured to intimidate me, was in my eyes but one merit the more. Judging of her swiftness by her lightness, I preferred her to the finest ship of the line.  At length we set sail, and at that instant I felt a transport of joy, which was not to be equalled till I landed in California.

I shall not trouble the reader with the journal of our passage from Cadiz to Vera Cruz, as it offers nothing but what is common to all long voyages.  Every kind of weather, calms, storms, winds, sometimes fair, sometimes contrary; such is in few words the history of most voyages; and as to ours, we may add, a continual tossing of our little nut-shell, which was so very light as to be the sport of the smallest wave.

I spent the whole time of our voyage in making physical and astronomical experiments and observations; such as, comparing the height of the different thermometers, some plunged into the sea at different depths, others in open air; I ascertained the declination and inclination of the magnetic needle in different latitudes; lastly, I made several observations relative to the distance of the moon from the stars.  I will not conceal the difficulties I met with when I endeavoured to make use of the megameter for these observations.  I tried several times to use this instrument, and never could succeed but once, when the ship was quite steady; at that time, I got the moon full in the lens, which I never could when the sea was in motion.  Perhaps this was for want of practice; however, I was obliged to have recourse to the octant, which I employed with much more ease and success.  I attempted in vain to observe Jupiter’s satellites with the new telescope proposed to the academy by Abbe Rochon.  Indeed the field of this telescope was rather too small; I saw Jupiter plain enough, but could not see the satellites.

All these trials suggested to me that it will be a hard matter to succeed in inventing instruments of easy use at sea, if they rest upon nothing more than the hand of the observer.  One remark more I shall make on the determination of longitudes by distances of the moon from the stars.  The tedious calculations which this method requires, with the accuracy and attention requisite in the observation itself, make it doubtful to me whether it will ever be fit for the use of trading vessels.  It must be confessed, it requires no small degree of resolution, even in persons best acquainted with these studies, to add to the fatigues of the sea, those of a nice observation, and of the tedious calculations consequent upon it.  This convinces me that the use of time-keepers, from its extreme ease, will be found to be of more general service in the navy; it requires no instruments but what seamen are accustomed to; no nicety is wanted in the observation; lastly the calculation is short and easy; a most important advantage this, in many cases, and particularly at sea.

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Filed under 1770's, California, Natural Science, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Travel

Item of the Day: Poems of Catullus (1795)

Full Title:

The Poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, in English Verse: with the Latin text revised, and classical notes. Prefixed are engravings of Catullus, and his friend Cornelius Nepos: In two volumes. Printed in London for J. Johnson at St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1795.

From the Preface (by the anonymous translator):

In the selection of my Latin text, I have chiefly followed the older readings of Catullus; as best conveying, in my opinion, the author’s real meaning.

With regard to the notes, they are for the most part my own; at the same time, I do not scruple to confess that I have availed myself of every intelligence the researches of his several commentators could possibly afford.

Those indecencies occurring so frequently in our poet, which I have constantly preserved in the original, and ventured in some way to translate, may be thought to require apology; for I have given the whole of Catullus without reserve. The chaste reader might think them best omitted; but the inquisitive scholar might wish to be acquainted even with the ribaldry, and broad lampoon of Roman times.

When an ancient classic is translated, and explained, the work may be considered as forming a link in the chain of history: history should not be falsified, we ought therefore to translate him somewhat fairly; and when he gives us the manners of his own day, however disgusting to our sensations, and repugnant to our natures they may oftentimes prove, we must not in translation suppress, or even too much gloss them over, through a fastidious regard to delicacy. I have endeavoured throughout the work to convey our poet’s meaning in its fullest extent, without overstepping the modesty of language.

To Lesbia’s Sparrow. II.

Dear sparrow! the pride of my maid,
With whom she in sport often plays;
Whom oft, on her snowy breast laid,
She toys with a thousand fond ways;

To whom, as you woo that blest seat,
The tip of her finger she’ll move;
Well pleas’d thy sharp bites to create,
The bites of sweet passion and love:

For thus, when alone, does my fair
Gay scenes of new pleasure devise;
The sooth of her bosom the care,
Thus cool her fierce heats as they rise:

O, my sparrow, could I but with thee,
Like her, my solicitudes ease!
As grateful most sure it would be,
As much my poor heart would it please;

As pleas’d the swift Virgin of yore
The apple of gold, that untied
Her zone, which so long time she wore;
And made her, unwilling, a bride.

II. However differently writers may have conjectured, in determining the merit of this, and the following little poem; yet are they all agreed, in the highest commendation of their wit, and beauty. Politianus, Turnebus, and others, affect, that a libidinous vein of pleasantry is conveyed, through the several passages of each; but for my part, I confess, that I by no means see any positive grounds for such an assertion; and where a composition, without some manifest injury to the text, will bear a good and commendable sense; it is the safest way, I am sure it is the most candid, to give it, as in the present instance, such interpretation.

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Filed under 1790's, Greek/Roman Translations, Poetry, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Peter Porcupine’s Letter to Noah Webster — Conclusion (1797)


 Here I should close, but there are two or three passages more in your Address, which so strongly invite attention, that your vanity might, perhaps, take the alarm again, were they to pass totally unnoticed; and, after having tasted so severely of the effects of your wrath, it is not to be wondered at, if I feel no inclination to brave it a second time.

You are so good as to inform me, “that you once voluntarily bore arms to defend Independence; that, in pursuance of the same principles, you first proposed publickly the plan of a National Constitution; that, persevering in the same principles, you assailed the monster faction, the moment it appeared in the insidious form of popular clubs; and that, from that moment to this present writing, you have never ceased to expose the artifices of the French agents to lay this country at the feet of France.”

How all this got into a letter written about an English flag, I can’t for my soul conceive.  However, ’tis news, and as such I am, in common with the rest of the trade, obliged to you for it.

I have read the history of the American war over and over again, but I do not recollect ever having seen the name of Noah Webster in it.   That you were not very famous is therefore certain, and it is more than probable that you were looked upon as mere food for powder, a situation that, whatever might be the cause you were made use of in, is nothing at all to boast of.

Your being the “first who publickly proposed a National Constitution,” is a curious anecdote enough; and I cannot say but I am glad it is come to light, as it will tend to quash, or at least to moderate, the exhorbitant pretensions of that unconscionable dog Tom Paine, who puts in an absolute claim to the whole credit of the invention.  Tom does, indeed, confess, that he was anticipated by one writer on the subject, who insisted, that thirteens staves, without a hoop, would never make a barrel; and if you can make it out, as I have not the least doubt you can, that you were the real legitimate author of this shrewd and learned observation, Tom must give way to you, or, at least, you must be permitted to come in with him for a share of the honour.

Thus you see I do not dispute your pretension to military or constitution making fame, but as to your boldness in “assailing the monster FACTION; as to your perseverance and success in exposing the artifices of the French;” these I do dispute, and not openly dispute, but positively deny.  You have, indeed, as far as you have found it prudent to go, latterly espoused the cause of order, and consequently that of the government; but, to do this with effect, you should have begun long enough before you did, and should have assumed a tone that never has been heard from the Minerva.  At first you were a warm partizan of insurrection; you were among the abusers, the calumniators, of Burke, and the eulogists of Paine.  At this epocha you were bold, because you acted with the crowd.  When Genet’s insolence awakened the suspicions of the people here, then you began to veer, to shuffle and to trim; and, from that time to the present moment you have been playing that double handed game, which, however profitable you may contrive to make it, entitles you to the character of a Vicar of Bray.  If my worthy patron, Bradford, is to be believed, your old friend, and partner in the language trade, Doctor Franklin, was six weeks in Congress, before any one could divine whether he was a Whig or Tory; and I have frequently been at a loss to guess, such a compound is your politics, whether I ought to class you among the Federalists or Democrats. If these words have any meaning, as applied to you, you are a Democrat in principle, and a Federalist for convenience.

 Not content with a malignant misrepresentation of my motives and the meaning of my words, you must insult me with your advice.  You tell me that I do not proceed in the right way to preserve my popularity, and caution me against publishing what is “disrespectful to the opinions of Americans;” and thus you discover a servility of mind, that would be disgraceful even in a mendicant.  when you form a jugment (sic) of me, Master Webster, and of what is likely to produce a change in my conduct, be so good as not to consult your own heart, for it will assuredly deceive you.  Popularity may be your God, as indeed, it evidently is: so is it not mine.  Small is the sacrifice that I would make at its shrine.  A volume of the best of praise is not, with me, worth its weight in bread and cheese; and as to the stupid plaudits of a partial and prejudiced throng, I should think that they covered me with infamy instead of honour.

 According to your notions of the liberty of the press, a man must not publish a word against la Fayette, though it be extracted from some other writer; because, forsooth, “it is extremely disrespectful to the opinions of Americans!”  In other words, nothing must appear in a news-paper that does not perfectly chime in with the prevalent prejudice, however preposterous that prejudice may be, or however dangerous its tendency; and thus the press, in place of a censor, is to be a parasite, to the public; instead of being a terror to evil doers, it is to be the pander of folly and of vice.

That this has, for a long time, been the character of the American Press, as far as relates to news-papers, is but too true.  Every one seems to have been upon the watch to find out the humour of the public, and to accommodate his sentiments and even his news accordingly: hence it is that we have seen hundreds of eulogiums upon Robespierre and Marat, and have been seriously told that the French gained a victory over Lord Howe on the 1st of June, 1794.  The motto of the Philadelphia Gazette, “THE PUBLIC WILL OUR GUIDE,”  would suit the whole of you, with a very few exceptions. The people are not told what is their interest, but what it is their wish, or rather the wish of the multitude to hear.  If any one dares to speak what he thinks, to publish what he conceives to be useful, if it happens to be contrary to the vulgar prejudice, he is told that he is disrespectful to the opinions of Americans.

According to the cant of the day, the people of a state, not governed by a monarch, is called the sovereign.  For my part, I never hear talk of a sovereign people, of a society every individual of which is liable to the grasp of a catch-pole; I never do or can hear talk of such a sovereign without laughing.  But, as such you look upon the people.  Well then, to have an idea of your own servility, tell me what you would say of a news-printer in England, who should censure another for publishing sentiments extremely disrespectful to the opinions of the king?  Would you not call him a slave, a poor rampant spaniel-like sycophant?  and, where is the difference, I would be glad to know, between crawling to a sovereign with one head and a sovereign with many? — No, Webster, your insinuations that I treat the people of America, or rather their opinions, with disrespect, will never deter me from following the bent of my own inclination.  In my publications, I hope, I shall always be guided by truth: how few I may please, or how many I may displease, is to me a matter of very little moment.  I entertain, I trust, a due respect for the real people of this country, and a grateful sense of the liberal encouragement I have received from them; but neither this respect nor this gratitude will ever lead me so far as to flatter, what I look upon as a foible or a prejudice.   I have no pretensions to patriotism, and as to disinterestedness, it is nonsense to talk of it; but, though gain be one principle object of my labors, I scorn to pursue it buy the base means of trimming and truckling.  No, Webster, the public will is not my guide:  when my readers become so unreasonable as to require a suppression of every sentiment that does not account with their own, I will quite the trade of a news-monger, hire a garret, write Carmagnole ballads for the diversion of the sovereign people, and elegies on the departed liberty of the press.

You conclude by declaring your resolution to annoy me “by all those decent and legal means that distinguish the gentleman and the citizen.” This I highly approve of, and on my part, I solemnly promise to oppose your annoyance by all those decent and legal means that distinguish the Porcupine; that is by pricking you every where and in every way that I can come at you. — After this candid declaration, you will undoubtedly look upon me as

Your most humble

and obedient servant,


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Filed under 1790's, France, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Koran translated by George Sale (1734)

Full Title: The Koran, Commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English immediately from the Original Arabic; with Explanatory Notes, Taken from the most appoved Commentators. To which is prefixed A Preliminary Discourse. By George Sale, Gent. London: Printed by C. Ackers in St. John’s-Street, for J. Wilcox at Virgil’s Head overagainst the New Church in the Strand, MDCCXXXIV.



I imagine it almost needless either to make an apology for publishing the following Translation, or to go about to prove it a work of use as well as curiosity. They must have a mean opinion of the Christian Religion, or be but ill grounded therein, who can apprehend any danger from so manifest a forgery: and if the religious and civil Institutions of foreign nations are worth our knowldege, those of Mohammed, the lawgiver of the Arabians, and founder of an empire which in less than a century spread itself over a greater part of the world than the Romans were ever masters of, must needs be so; whether we consider their extensive obtaining, or our frequent intercourse with those who are governed thereby. I shall not here enquire into the reasons why the law of Mohammed has met with so unexampled a reception in the world, (for they are greatly deceived who imagine it to have been propagated by the sword alone,) or by what means it came to be embraced by nations which never felt the force of the Mohammedan arms, and even by those which stripped the Arabians of their conquests, and put an end to the sovereignty and very being of their Khalifs: yet it seems as if there was something more than what is vulgarly imagined, in a religion which has made so surprising a progress. But whatever use an impartial version of the Koran may be of in other respects, it is absolutley necessary to undeceive those who, from the ignorant or unfair translations which have appeared, have entertained too favourable an opinion of the original, and also to enable us effectually to expose the imposture; none of those who have hitherto undertaken that province, not excepting Dr. Prideaux himself, having succeeded to the satisfaction of the judicious, for want of being compleat masters of the controversy. The writers of the Romish communion, in particular, are so far from having done any service in their refutations of Mohammedism, that by endeavouring to defend their idolatry and other superstitions, they have contributed to the encrease of that aversion which the Mohammedans in general have to the Christian Religion, and given them great advantages in the dispute. The Protestants alone are able to attack the Koran with success; and for them, I trust, Providence has reserved the glory of its overthrow. In the mean time, if I might presume to lay down rules to be observed by those who attempt the conversion of the Mohammedans, they should be the same which the learned and worthy bishop Kidder has prescribed for the conversion of the Jews, and which may, mutatis mutandis, be equally applied to the former, notwithstanding the despicable opinion that writer, for want of being better acquainted with them, entertained of those people, judging them scarce fit to be argued with. The first of these rules is, To avoid compulsion; which though it be not in our power to employ at present, I hope will not be made use of when it is. The second is, To avoid teaching doctrines against common sense; the Mohammedans not being such fools (whatever we may think of them) as to be gained over this case. The worshipping of images, and the doctrine of transubstantiation are great stumbling blocks to the Mohammedans, and the church which teacheth them is very unfit to bring those people over. The third is, To avoid weak arguments: for the Mohammedans are not to be converted with these, or hard words. We must use them with humanity, and dispute against them with arguments that are proper and cogent. It is certain that many Christians, who have written against them, have been very defective this way: many have used arguments that have no force, and advanced propositons that are void of truth. This method is so far from convincing that it rather serves to harden them. The Mohammedans will be apt to conclude we have little to say, when we urge them with arguemts that are trifling or untrue. We do but lose ground when we do this; and instead of gaining them, we expose ourselves and our cause also. We must not give them ill words neither; but must avoid all reproachful language, all that is sarcastical and biting: this never did good rom pulpit or press. The softest words will make the deepest impression; and if we think it a fault in them to give ill language, we cannot be excused when we imitate them. The fourth rule is, Not to quit any article of the Christian faith to gain the Mohammedans.  It is a fond conceit of the Socinians, that we shall upon their principles be most like to prevail upon the Mohammedans: it is not true in matter of fact. We must not give up any article to gain them: but then the church of Rome ought to part with many practices and some doctrines. We are not to design to gain the Mohammedans over to a system of dogma, but to the ancient and primitive faith. I believe no body will deny but that the rules here laid down are just: the latter part of the third, which alone my design has given me occasion to practice, I think so reasonable, that I have not, in speaking of Mohammed or his Koran, allowed myself use those oppobrious appellations, and unmannerly espressions, which seem to be the strongest argumemts of several who have written against them. On the contrary, I have thought myself obliged to treat both with common decency, and even to approve such particulars as seemed to me to deserve approbation: for how criminal soever Mohammed may have been in imposing a false religion on mankind, the praises due to his real virtues ought not to be denied; nor can I do othewise than applaud the condour of the pious and learned Spanhemius, who, tho’ he owned him to have been a wicked impostor, yet acknowledged him to have been richly furnished with natural endowments, beautiful in his person, of subtle wit, agreeable behavior, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to every one, fortitude against his enemies, and above all a high reverence for the name of God; severe against the perjured, adulterers, murtherers, slandereres, prodigals, covetous, false witnesses, &c. a great preacher of patience, charity, mercy, beneficence, gratitude, honouring of parents and superiors, and frequent celebvrator of the divine praises. . . .

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Filed under 1730's, Islam, Koran, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Religion

Item of the Day: Peter Porcupine’s Reply to Noah Webster Continued (1797)

Full Title:  Porcupine’s Political Censor for March, 1797

But, you do not stop at suspicions.  You seem to have foreseen that your readers would require something more than mere surmise, and you were determined to furnish it.  When a man is once got into mischief, he does not stick at trifles.  “this suspicion,” say you, “has been greatly encreased by the manner in which Peter’s Gazette has been conducted.”  Now, who, upon reading this, would not imagine, that my Gazette had discovered a departure from the principles which I had before professed, a spirit hostile to the government of this country, or at least unfriendly to it.  Who would imagine that you, or any other man who wishes to preserve the least pretensions to candour, would have ventured to accuse another of enmity to the government upon a foundation slighter than this?  Yet you can produce no such thing.  After having turned and rummaged my poor gazette over and over again, pryed into every paragraph, and weighed each single expression, all you can collect to “increase” your suspicion, is, my “retailing abuse against la Fayette,” and my publishing whole columns, “filled with apologies for the old government of France!” as if the sentiments of a man, respecting la Fayette and the French monarchy, formed a criterion whereby to estimate his attachment to the Constitution and Independence of the United States!  Futile indeed must be the charge, that has no other support than such round-about kind of evidence as this.

I certainly might pass over with silent contempt, what, if strictly true, goes not an inch towards justifying your malignant insinuation; but, as you have been mean enough to take shelter under the popular, the “vulgar prejudice,” that prevails in favour of la Fayette and against monarchical governments, I shall take one step out of my way, in order to convince the public, that I shall never decline a combat with Noah Webster, though backed with the misplaced partiality of millions.

What you are pleased to term “retailing abuse against la Fayette,” and, in another place, “vilifying the defenders of American Independence,” all this put together, is, the publishing of a speech of Mr. Burke, on the motion brought forward in the British Parliament, for the purpose of prevailing on the king to interceded for la Fayette’s release.  This speech was published in my Gazette, of the 7th March; and so far from its being an abusive, vilifying harrangue, though it is one of those pieces of oratory, that will for ages be an ornament to the proceedings of the British Commons, it is not more remarkable for its eloquence than for its truth.

You, indeed, tell us, that la Fayette’s being “in fault, is doubtful, or not admitted:” — and in this short sentence, you have given a more complete specimen of the equivoque than is to be found in Boileau’s famous poem on the subject. In the first place, we know not whether you express the opinion of others, or your own:  next, if you are understood as expressing your own opinion, you declare the question doubtful, you do not admit the fault, and yet you do not venture to declare your friend innocent:  lastly, should some warm partizan, whether royalist or republican, call you to account for hesitating on the subject, still you have a shift left; for you do not say, or even hint, whether it be la Fayette’s crimes against the king, or those against the assembly, that you doubt of. — It was in the wars, I presume, that you learnt this precaution, of always securing a safe retreat.

To one who so carefully disguises his sentiments, it is next to impossible to make a satisfactory reply:  however, supposing you to doubt of la Fayette’s fault with respect to his sovereign, I would ask you, where you have lived for these ten years last past?  To hear you start doubts on this subject, one would imagine you had dwelt in a dormitory or a hermitage; that  you had been absorbed in heavenly mediation; that your vessel (as the puritans call it) had been a reservoir of godliness, in place of being what, alas! it is, a mere channel for news.

To enter into a minute examination of la Fayette’s conduct, during his short-lived career in the French revolution, would be giving an importance to his character which it does not deserve.  It is true that he always was an underworker, like many others; and therefore, is not to be reckoned among the miscreant Mirabeaus, Condorcets, &c. whose puppet he was; but, he nevertheless comes in for a considerable share of that censure which is due to a combination of ambitious men, determined to build their own fame and greatness on the ruins of a mighty empire, without remorse for the miseries it must produce. One fact, when the merits of la Fayette are to be tried, ought never to be forgotten:  it was his revolutionary brain that conceived the French Rights of Man, of which no more need to said, than that they are the very text from which Tom Paine has ever since been preaching the duty of holy insurrection.

I would willingly believe that gratitude for the services which la Fayette rendered America, has now called forth your compassion for his sufferings, and your resentment against my paper, or rather against me.  I would willingly trace your asperity back to this amiable source; but your past conduct tells me that I should attempt it in vain.  How could you be grateful to la Fayette alone? Has no other friend to the American revolution lain on the damp floor of a dungeon?  Never did you, (with shame be it spoken, Webster) never did you utter a word of compassion for the unfortunate friendless Louis XVI.  when this same La Fayette was leading him in triumph from prison to prison.  Never did you talk of cruel treatment, when the Queen of France was dragged in slow procession to Paris, while the myrmidons of this same la Fayette carried the ghastly heads of her murdered guards before her.  No; you rejoiced at all this; and yet, I believe, no one will have the impudence to pretend, that la Fayette’s services to this country, were a millionth part so great as those of poor Louis and his consort. — Nay, you saw the head of this fallen prince roll from the scaffold; you saw his family cut off one by one; you saw his innocent child lingering in a dungeon, robbed of sleep, terrified four times an hour with orders to prepare for death, and at last you saw his bloated and livid corpse stretched in a dungcart. — On all of this you looked with a philosophic eye.  Not a tear escaped you; not a groan, not a sign, was heard from the tender-hearted Minerva, who now tells us that “la Fayette’s sufferings call for the sympathy of all mankind.”

No, Sir, nor did you ever feel anything worthy the name of compassion for la Fayette himself, or you would have expressed your abhorrence of the cruel and savage measures adopted against him and his family by the pretended republicans of France. That was the time for your gratitude and friendship to have shown itself.  You, who “once voluntarily bore arms to defend independence, and who now with determined zeal and firmness openly declares war against the man who dares vilify the defenders of it,” among whom you count la Fayette; you, sir, should have stood forth against the then popular Convention, who had fixed a price on the head of your friend; who had, by law, authorized the citizens to shoot him, or knock his brains out, like a dog; nay, had imposed it on them as a duty.  Then was the time for the blue-eyed Maid to grasp her javelin and shelter the injured hero beneath her ample shield.  As she neglected to do this; as she shrank from the encounter with popular fury; as she tamely yielded to the vulgar prejudice that then prevailed in favour of every act of the mock legislators of France, however, cruel and infamous, she will not receive but little applause, from men of sense, for her censure of the Emperor of Germany, whose title alone, she well knows, will, with the gross of her readers, be a sufficient apology for any departure from decency and truth.

No, Sir: it is too clear, that a desire to ingratiate yourself with the deceived part of the public, together with that of injuring me, led you to bring forward the stalking horse la Fayette, and not any friendship, gratitude, or compassion that you entertained for him.  This your manner of proceeding incontestibly proves.  First, you pretend to suspect my enmity to the independence of America; then you artfully produce my publication of Mr. Burke’s censure of la Fayette, as a proof of that enmity, leaving your readers to draw the natural conclusion, that I had “retailed abuse” against him, merely for his having fought in the cause of Independence. — Never did envy and revenge suggest a baser insinuation, or one, the falsehood of which was more easy to detect.

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Filed under 1790's, France, Great Britain, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Peter Porcupine’s Reply to Noah Webster (1797)

Full Title:  Porcupine’s Political Censor for March 1797


To Mr. Noah Webster of New-York.


Some days ago I promised you an answer to your Address (or whatever else you may please to call it) of the 21st of March.  It luckily matters little how this answer begins.  Aware I suppose of the uncouth manners of the man you were about to assail,  you kindly contrived that the rudeness of your attack should furnish an ample apology for his want of politeness.

Your Address treats of your important self, of me, and of the proposed alliance between the United States and Great Britain.  This alliance is a subject of two (sic) much consequence to be blended with an enquiry into your and my character, principles, and conduct, I shall therefore reserve it for a separate letter; not losing, however, the present opportunity of declaring, that your reasoning, instead of convincing me that I was mistaken, has strengthened, as far as anything in itself contradictory can strengthen, the opinion which gave so much offence to your wisdom.

You set out with telling the public, that, “in a late paper, we inserted sentiment of this kind, that the putting up in the Coffee House, a card, on which was painted the English flag, was  low pitiful business, equalled only by the meanness of putting up a French flag, and that it is servile to be bandied about between the flags of different foreign nations.  We ought to united under our own flag and learn to be a nation.”

You then complain of my having quoted the passage “with disapprobation,” which was the application of the words vulgar prejudice, was, it seems a stretch of presumption which your pride could not forgive.

 I must confess, that, to venture to quote “with disapprobation” the oracular precepts flowing from the lips of the high priest of Minerva, was rather bold; but (and with due submission be it spoken) it was not so much your advice as your partiality, your versatility, that I disapproved of.   You have uttered such cartloads of sentiments, that it is absolutely impossible you should recollect one half of them; and as, in politics particularly, you are led by no fixed, no polar-star principle, it is as impossible that you should ever be consistent long together.  Your saying that the putting up of an English flag “was a low pitiful business,” sounds well; but did you say this when the French Flag was put up?  No; you called that neither low nor pitiful; it was even honoured with your applause, as far as a man, who looks upon himself as the exclusive possessor of all that is praise-worthy, can applaud the actions of others.  The hoisting of the French flag was attended with feasting and noise, little inferior to what we have witnessed at the celebration of the murder of the Swiss Guards: yet it escaped your censure:  it was suffered to hang very peaceably , and to receive the adoration of the devout sans-culottes of New-York:  folly was permitted to revel at the foot, as it were, of the shrine of wisdom, for the space of three whole years, without receiving either chastisement or rebuke.   But, behold the difference!  The moment a representation of the British flag appears, though painted on a bit of paper only, and intended merely to produce a little sport, you cast off your lethargic forbearance.  Your patriotism, that patriotism which slept like a dormouse, while the French flag was not only hanging up in the Coffee-Room, but was borne about your streets to elections and town-meetings; that drowsy patriotism, which seemed scarcely to perceive a banner of two yards square, though it brushed it its very nose, became all alive, took fire in a moment, upon sight of a British flag in miniature.

You do, indeed, now talk about the “meanness of putting up a French flag;” but when do you find courage to do this?  At the moment the people around you are got tired and ashamed of their bauble.  Far were you from calling it a meanness, and so far from it that your voice was one of the most sonorous in the ridiculous and disgraceful hue-and-cry, raised against those who pulled it down, in the month of May, 1795. — On that occasion you very patrioticly (sic) observed that “it was hoped that the flags of the sister republics would have remained undisturbed by the enemies of our peace;” and then, on you go to express your abhorrence of the conduct of the sacrilegious wretches whose impious hands had removed them.  And, recollect, that you took special care not to utter a syllable against the savages, who attempted to murder a British Officer, to avenge “the mighty wrong.”  To intrude your precepts, therefore, at this time; to strut and hector over the poor fallen Tricolor, and to call on your readers to “unite under their own flag, and learn to be a nation,” entitles you to but very little praise.  Your advice comes too late. The patient was a state of convalescence, before you ventured to prescribe:  French privateers, jails, whips, and irons, had effectually removed the malady of the public, while you stood stumbling its pulse.  Had the same stupid admiration of the French, that prevailed, and that you participated in, for several years; had this admiration and its concomitant partiality still existed, you would never have dared (with all your heroism) to call the hoisting of their flag “a low pitiful business:” you would prudently have left that to a writer of less caution and more sincerity, reserving to yourself the agreeable task of endeavouring to disfigure his motives and blast his fame.

And, was it then such a heinous offence to quote a writer of your stamp “with disapprobation,” or apply to him the charge of vulgar prejudice?  It would be curious to hear, on what it is that you ground your right of exemption from all censure and criticism.  Besides, to say that a man has adopted a vulgar prejudice, is calculated to give offence to no one but an illiterate booby, who does not know the meaning of the words, or a captious, inflated self-0sufficient pedant.  Yet it is this phrase, and this alone, that has provoked you to seek retaliation, and retaliation, too, of the most base and malicious species. –“We contest (say you, after declaring that I am unable to cope with you) “We contest Peter’s principles.  It was strongly suspected many months ago, that his principles are not very friendly to the independence of America, and still less so to the form of our government.”

The grammatical inaccuracy of this last sentence, though fallen from the pen of a language-maker, it would be foreign to my purpose to remark on:  it is the slander it conveys, that it is my duty to expose.–“It was strongly suspected.”  this is the true gossiping, calumniating style.  All verbal assassins speak in the passive voice, that, what they cannot prove, they may at last throw on public report.  If you had said, “I suspected many months ago,” though it would have led to a detection, you would have acted more like a man; and this might have been expected too, in a volunteer of your “determined zeal and firmness.”

However, as you are very fond of the pompous plural number and passive voice, perhaps, it is but fair to suppose, that you mean to intimate, that you suspected my principles many months ago; and, if this was really the case, pray how came you to recommend my pamphlets to the perusal of your readers, as the best antedote to the anarchical principles of the enemies of the government?  How many months ago was it that your penetration made the grand discovery?  When I proposed publishing a paper, which was no more than about six weeks anterior to the date of your Address, you told the public in an exulting manner, that I should “prove a terrible scourge to the patriots,” meaning Bache, Greenleaf, and all the antifederal crew.  Six weeks ‘Squire Webster, is not many months.  If you suspected my enmity to the government, and to the independence of America, you were a very great hypocrite, if not something of a traitor, to applaud my undertaking; and, if on the other hand, you had no such suspicion, and have now feigned it merely for the purpose of revenging what your haughtiness has construed into an affront, I leave the public to determine what name you are worthy of.

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Filed under 1790's, France, Great Britain, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Taylor’s Life of Christ (1796)

Full Title:

The Life of our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ: With consideration and discourses upon the conception, nativity, circumcision, baptism, temptation, preaching, miracles, passion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Including several unanswerable arguments obvious to the meanest capacity, in defence of the divinity of our holy redeemer, and the truth of the Christian religion. Likewise, the lives, acts and deaths of the holy evangelists and apostles, as recorded by the primitive fathers, and ancient writers of unquestionable veracity. By J. Taylor. Greenfield, Mass: Thomas Dickman, 1796.

To the Reader:

The whole duty of man is to fear God, and keep his commandments, and the principal design of his creation is, That he may glorify God upon earth, and by the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ may enjoy eternal happiness in the presence of God in the world to come, wherein is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore. To attain this everlasting inheritance, it is absolutely necessary to acquaint ourselves with God, and our blessed Saviour, and to be fully persuaded of the truth of the divinity of Jesus, and of the certainty of his being the Messiah, promised to the patriarchs and apostles some thousands of years before; who, in the fulness of time, made his appearance for the salvation of all that sincerely believe in him, and walk in obedience to his holy precepts and doctrines. This small tract is designed for the purposes aforenamed, that all true Christians may know in whom they have believed. For which many undeniable arguments and considerations are advanced, which may be comprehended by the meanest understanding, and may put to silence such abandoned wretches as deny the Lord that bought them; who being resolved to continue in a course of prophaneness and irreligion, endeavour to harden their consciences, and persuade themselves, that there is no God, nor future state of punishment, because they desire it may be so. I have also added the lives of the holy Evangelists and Apostles, with their martyrdom for preaching and publishing the good tidings of salvation to the barbarous nations with such mighty success, that thousands were converted, and afterwards suffered death for the profession of the gospel, and asserting the truth and certainty of the Christian religion, against all its opposers: These things are written for our instruction, and may so fortify us, that it may not be in the power of those deceivers who are abroad in the world, to weaken our faith and confidence in the mercy of God, and the merits of our blessed Saviour, that we shall at last attain everlasting life and happiness.

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Filed under 1790's, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Religion