Monthly Archives: September 2007

Item of the Day: A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1776)

Full Title: A Bold Stroke for a Wife. A Comedy, as written by Mrs. Centlivre. Distinguishing also the Variations of the Theatre, as performed at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. Regulated from the Prompt-Book, by Permission of the Managers, by Mr. Hopkins, Prompter. Bell’s Edition. London: Printed for John Bell, near Exeter-Exchange, in the Strand, and C. Etherington, at York, MDCCLXXVI [1776].

In: Bell’s British Theatre, consisting of the most esteemed English Plays. Volume the Sixth. Being the Third Volume of Comedies. Containing –A Bold Stroke for a Wife, by Mrs. Centlivre. –The Miser, by Henry Fielding, Esq. –The Provok’d Husband, by Sir John Vanburgh, and Colley Cibber, Esq. –Love Makes a Man, by C. Cibber, Esq. –She Wou’d, and She Wou’d Not, by Colley Cibber, Esq. London: Printed for John Bell, near Exeter Exchange, in the Strand, and C. Etherington, at York, MDCCLXXVI [1776].

To his Grace PHILIP, Duke and Marquis of Wharton, &c.

My Lord,

It has ever been the custom of poets, to shelter productions of this nature under the patronage of the brightest men of their time; and ’tis observed, that the uses always met the kindest reception from persons of the greatest merit. The world will do me justice as to the choice of my patron; but will, I fear, blame my rash attempt, in daring to address your grace, and offer at a work too difficult for our ablest pens, viz. an encomium on your grace. I have no plea against such reflections, but the disadvantage of education, and the privilege of my sex.

If your grace discovers a genius so surprising in this dawn of life, what must your riper years produce! Your grace has already been distinguished in a most peculiar manner, being the first young nobleman that ever admitted into a house of peers before he reached the age of one and twenty: but your grace’s judgment and eloquence soon convinced that august assembly, that the excellent gifts of nature ought not to be confined to time. We hope the example that Ireland has set, will shortly be followed by an English house of lords, and your grace made a member of that body, to which you will be so conspicuous an ornament.

Your good sense, and real love to your country, taught your grace to persevere in the principles of your glorious ancestors, by adhering to the defender our our religion and laws; and the penetrating wisdom of your royal master saw you merited your honours e’re he conferred them. It is one of the greatest glories of a monarch to distinguish where to bestow his favours; and the world must do ours justice, by owning your grace’s titles most deservedly worn.

It is with the greatest pleasure imaginable, the friends of liberty see you pursuing the steps of your noble father: your courteous affable temper, free from pride and ostentation, makes your name adored in the country, and enables your grace to carry what point you please. The late lord Wharton will be still remembered by every lover of his country, which never felt a greater shock than what his death occasioned: their grief had been inconsolable, if heaven, out of its wonted beneficence to this favourite isle, had not transmitted all his shining qualities to you, and phoenix-like, raised up one patriot out of the ashes of another.

That your grace has a high esteem for learning, particularly appears by the large progress you made therein: and your love for the muses shews a sweetness of temper, and generous humanity, peculiar to the greatness of your soul; for such virtues reign not in the breast of every man of quality.

Defer no longer then, my lord, to charm the world with beauty of your numbers, and shew the poet, as you have done the orator; convince our unthinking Britons, by what vile arts France lost her liberty: and teach them to avoid their own misfortunes, as well as to weep over Henry IV. who (if it were possible for him to know) would forgive the bold assassin’s hand, for the honour of having his fall celebrated by your grace’s pen.

To be distinguished by persons of your grace’s character, is not only the highest ambition, but the greatest reputation to an author; and it is not the least of my vanities, to have it known to the public, I had your grace’s leave to prefix your name to this comedy.

I wish I were capable to cloathe the following scenes in such a dress as might be worthy to appear before your grace, and draw your attention as much as your grace’s admirable qualifications do that of all mankind; but the muses, like most females, are least liberal to their own sex.

All I dare say in favour of this piece, is, that the plot is entirely new, and the incidents wholly owing to my oven invention; not borrowed from our own, or translated from the works of any foreign poet; so that they have a t least the charm of novelty to recommend them. If they are so lucky, in some leisure hour, to give your grace the least diversion, they will answer the utmost ambition of,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most obedient, most devoted,

And most humble Servant, Susannah Centlivre.





To-night we come upon a bold design,

To try to please without one borrow’d line;

Our plot is new and regularly clear,

And not one single tittle from Moliere.

O’er bury’d poets we with caution tread,

And parish sextons leave to rob the dead.

For you, bright British fair, in hopes to charm ye,

We bring to-night a lover from the army;

You know the soldiers have the strangest arts,

Such a proportion of prevailing parts,

You’d think that they rid post to women’s hearts.

I wonder whence they draw their bold pretence;

We do not chuse them sure for our defence:

That plea is both impolitic and wrong,

And only suits such dames as want a tongue.

Is it their eloquence and fine address?

The softness of their language? –Nothing less.

Is it their courage, that they bravely dare

To storm the sex at once? Egad! ‘tis there,

They act by us as in the rough campaign,

Unmindful of repulses, charge again:

They mine and countermine, resolv’d to win,

And, if a breach is made, –they will come in.

You’ll think by what we have of soldiers said,

Our female wit was in the service bred:

But she is to the hardy toil a stranger,

She loves the cloth indeed, but hates the danger:

Yet to this circle of the brave and gay,

She bid one, for her good intentions say,

She hopes you’ll not reduce her to half-pay.

As for our play, ‘tis English humour all:

Then will you let our manufacture fall?

Would you the honour of our nations raise,

Keep English credit up, and English plays.




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Filed under 1770's, Great Britain, London, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Theater

Item of the Day: A Dissertation on Antient Tragedy (1766)

In: The Tragedies of Sophocles, translated from the Greek; (With A Dissertation on Antient Tragedy.) By the Rev. Thomas Francklin . . . A New Edition, carefully revised and corrected. Vol. I. London: Printed for T. Davies, in Russell-Street, Covent-Garden, 1766.




WHILST the taste, genius, and knowledge of the ancients, have been universally felt and acknowledged in every other part of polite literature, it is matter of admiration to consider, that the Greek Theatre should so long have remain’d in neglect and obscurity. In philosophy, morals, oratory, and heroic poetry, in every art and science, we look back to Greece, as the standard and model of perfection: the ruins of Athens afford, even to this day, fresh pleasure and delight; and, nothing but her stage seems to be forgotten by us. Homer, Xenophon, Demosthenes, and many other eminent Greek writers, have of late years put on an English habit, and gain’d admission even into what is call’d polite company; whilst Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, still lurk in schools and colleges; and very seldom make their appearance, at least with dirty leaves, in the libraries of the great. To what shall we attribute a judgment so capricious and so unaccountable? partly, perhaps, to the hasty severity of ignorant foes, and partly to the outrageous zeal of* mistaken friendship. The fate of Antient Tragedy hath, indeed, been singularly unfortunate: some painters have drawn too flattering a likeness of her; whilst others, have presented us with nothing but a caricature; some exalt the Greek drama, as the most perfect of all human compositions, without the least spot or blemish; whilst others affect to call it the infant state of the stage, weak, infirm and imperfect; and as such, treat it with the highest degree of negligence and contempt: exaggerated thus on the one hand by the extravagant encomiums of injudicious learning, and debased on the other by the rash censures of modern petulance, it’s real and intrinsic merit hath never been thoroughly known, or candidly enquired into: the best method however in this, as in every other disputed point, is to set aside all prejudice and authority, and determine the cause by our own reason and judgment, from a fair, full, and impartial view of it.

That the spectator may be able to form a proper and complete idea of any object presented to him, it is necessary to place him in such a situation, as that his eye may at once comprehend the whole, and every part of it; for this purpose, I have collected and ranged in order a few materials, which, in the hands of some abler writer, may possibly lay the foundation for a complete history of the Antient Drama; in the mean time, the following sheets confine themselves to, and pretend to no more than, a brief account of the origin and progress of the Greek Tragedy; it’s end and purport, the several parts, properties, and conduct of it; the construction, scenery, and decorations of the theatre; to which is added, a transient, but necessary view of the genius, character and situation, religion, morals and politics of the people, before whom it was represented; together with a short sketch of the lives and characters of the three great tragedians. . . .


*The remarks which are handed own to us on Antient Tragedy, have hitherto, for the most part, consisted of mere verbal criticisms, various readings, or general and trite exclamations of undistinguishing applause, made dull and phlegmatic commentators, totally void of taste and judgment; add to this, that the old tragedians have been shamefully disguised and misrepresented to the unlearned by the false medium of bad translations.



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Filed under 1760's, Ancient Greece, Drama, Greek/Roman Translations, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

Full Title: Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness. By William Godwin. First American from the Second London Edition Corrected. In Two Volumes. Vol. I. Philadelphia: Printed by Bioren and Madan. 1796.

 An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. Book I. Of the Powers of Man Considered in his Social Capacity.

Chapter II. History of Political Society.

The extent of the influence of political systems will be forcibly illustrated to us in a concise recollection of the records of political society.

It is an old observation, that the history of mankind is little else than a record of crimes. Society comes recommended to us by its tendency to supply our wants and promote our well being. If we consider that human species, as they were found previously to the existence of political society, it is difficult not to be impressed with emotions of melancholy. But, though the chief purpose of society is to defend us from want and inconvenience, it effects this purpose in a very imperfect degree. We are still liable to casualties, disease, infirmity and death. Famine destroys its thousands, pestilence its myriads. Anguish visits us under every variety of form, and day after day is spent in languor and dissatisfaction. Exquisite pleasure is a guest of very rare approach and not less than short continuance.

But, though the evils that arise to us from the structure of the material universe are neither trivial nor few, yet the history of political society sufficiently shows that man is of all other beings the most formidable enemy to man. Among the various schemes that he has formed to destroy and plague his kind, war is the most terrible. Satiated with petty mischief and the nauseous details of crimes, he rises in this instance to a project that lays nations waste, and thins the population of the world. Man directs the murderous engine against the life of his brother; he invents with indefatigable care refinements in destruction; he proceeds in the midst of gaiety and pomp to the execution of his horrid purpose: whole ranks of sensitive beings endowed with the most admirable faculties are mowed down in an instant; they perish by inches in the midst of agony and neglect, lacerated with every variety of method that can give torture to the frame.

This is indeed a tremendous scene! Are we permitted to console ourselves under the spectacle of its evils, by the rareness with which it occurs, and the forcible reasons that compel men to have recourse to this last appeal of human society? Let us consider it under each of these heads.

War has hitherto been considered as the inseparable ally of political institution. The earliest records of time are the annals of conquerors and heroes, a Bachus, a Sesostris, a Semiramis, and a Cyrus.  These princes led millions of men under their standard, and ravaged innumerable provinces. A small number only of their forces ever returned to their native homes, the rest having perished of diseases, hardships and misery. The evils they inflicted, and the mortality introduced in the countries against which their expeditions were directed, were certainly not less severe than those which their countrymen suffered.

No sooner does history become more precise, than we are presented with the four great monarchies, that is, with four successful projects, by means of bloodshed, violence, and murder, of enslaving mankind. The expeditions of Cambyses against Egypt, of Darius against the Scythians, and of Xerxes against the Greeks, seem almost to set credibility at defiance by the fatal consequences with which they were attended. The conquests of Alexander cost innumerable lives, and the immortality of Caesar is computed to have been purchased by the death of one million two hundred thousand men.

Indeed the Romans, by the long duration of their wars, and their inflexible adherence to their purpose, are to be ranked among the foremost destroyers of the human species. Their wars in Italy continued for more than four hundred years, and their contest for supremacy with the Carthaginians, two hundred. The Mithridatic war began with a massacre of one hundred and fifty thousand Romans, and in three single actions five hundred thousand men were lost by the Eastern monarch. Sylla, his ferocious conqueror, next turned his arms against his country, and the struggle between him and Marius was attended with proscriptions, butcheries, and murders that that knew no restraint from humanity or shame. The Romans, at length suffered the penalty of their iniquitous deeds; and the world was vexed for three hundred years by the irruptions of Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Huns, and innumerable hordes of barbarians.

I forbear to detail the victorious progress of Mahomet and the pious expeditions of Charlemagne. I will not enumerate the crusades against the infidels, the exploits of Aurungzebe, Gengiskan and Tamerlane, or the extensive murders of the Spaniards in the new world. Let us examine Europe, the most civilized and favoured quarter of the world, or even those countries of Europe which are thought most enlightened.

France was wasted by successive battles during a whole century, for the question of salic law, and the claim of the Plantagenets. Scarcely was this contest terminated, before the religious wars broke out, some idea of which we may form from the siege of Rochelle, where of fifteen thousand persons shut up eleven thousand perished of hunger and misery; and from the malice of Saint Bartholomew, in which the numbers assassinated were forty thousand. This quarrel was appeased by Henry the fourth, and succeeded by the thirty years war in Germany for superiority with the house of Austria, and afterwards by the military transactions of Louis the fourteenth.

In England…

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Filed under 1790's, Government, History, Liberty, Political Philosophy, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Feature’s of Mr. Jay’s Treaty (1795)

Full Title: Features of Mr. Jay’s Treaty. To which is annexed, A View of the Commerce of the United States. As it stands at present, and as it is fixed by Mr. Jay’s Treaty. Philadelphia: Printed for Mathew Carey, by Lang and Ustick, Oct. 20, 1795.




I. The origin and progress of the negociation [sic]for the Treaty, are not calculated to excite confidence.

1. THE administration of our government have, seemingly at least, manifested a policy favourable to Great Britain, and adverse to France.

2. But the house of representatives of Congress, impressed with the general ill conduct of Great Britain toward America, were adopting measures, of a mild, though retaliating nature, to obtain redress and indemnification. The injuries complained of were, principally, 1st. The detention of the western posts—2dly. The delay in compensating for the negroes carried off at the close of the war—and 3dly, The spoliations committed on our commerce. The remedies proposed, were, principally, 1st. The commercial regulations of Mr. Madison—2dly. The non-intercourse proposition of Mr. Clarke—3dly. The sequestration motion of Mr. Dayton—4thly. An embargo—and 5thly, Military preparations.

3. Every plan of the legislature was, however, suspended, or rather annihilated, by the interposition of the executive authority; and Mr. Jay, the chief Justice of the United States, was taken from his judicial feat, to negociate [sic] with Great Britain, under the influence of the prevailing sentiment of the people, for the redress of our wrongs. Query—Are not his commission and the execution of it, at variance? Is any one of our wrongs actually redressed? Is not an atonement to Great Britain, for the injuries which she pretends to have suffered, a preliminary stipulation?

4. The political dogma of Mr. Jay are well know; his predilection, in relation to France and Great Britain, has not been disguised; and even on the topic of American complaints, his reports, while in the office of secretary of foreign affairs, and his adjudications while in the office of chief justice, were not calculated to point him out as the single citizen of America, fitted for the service in which he was employed. Query—Do not personal feelings too often dictate and govern the public conduct of its ministers? But whatever may have been his personal disqualifications, they are absorbed in the more important consideration of the apparent violence committed by Mr. Jay’s appointment, on the essential principles of the constitution. That tipic, however, has already been discussed, and we may pass to the manner of negociating the treaty in England, which was at once obscure and illusory. We heard of Mr. Jay’s diplomatic honours; of the royal and ministerial courtesy which was shewn to him, and the convivial boards to which he was invited: but, no more! Mr. Jay, enveloped by a dangerous confidence in the intuitive faculties of his own mind, or the inexhaustible fund of his diplomatic information, neither possessed nor wished for external aid; while the British negociator, besides how own acquirements, entered on the points of negociation, fraught with all the auxiliary sagacity of his brother ministers, and with all the practical knowledge of the most enlightened merchants of a commercial nation. The result corresponds with that inauspicious state of things. Mr. Jay was driven from the ground of an injured, to the ground of an agressing, party; he made atonement for imaginary wrongs, before he was allowed justice for real ones; he converted the resentments of the American citizens (under the impressions of which he was avowedly sent to England) into amity and concord; and seems to have been so anxious to rivet a commercial chain about the neck of America, that he even forgot, or disregarded, a principal item of her own produce, (cotton) in order to make a sweeping sacrifice to the insatiable appetite of his maritime antagonist. But the idea of the treaty, given by Mr. Pitt in answer to Mr. Fox, who, before he had seen, applauded it as an act of liberality and justice towards America, was the first authoritative alarm to our interests and our feelings. “When the treaty is laid before the parliament (said the minister) you will best judge whether any improper concession has been made to America!”

5. The treaty being sent here for ratification, the President and the Senate pursue the mysterious plan in which it was negociated. it has been intimated, that till the meeting of the Senate, the instrument was not communicated even to the most confidential officers of the government: and the first resolution taken by the Senate, was to stop the lips and ears of its members against every possibility of giving or receiving information. Every man, like Mr. Jay, was presumed to be inspired. In the course of the discussion, however, some occurrences flashed from beneath the veil of secrecy; and it is conjectured that the whole treaty was, at one time, in jeopardy. But the rhetoric of a minister (not remarkable for the volubility of his tongue) who was brought post-haste from the country; the danger of exposing the odium and disgrace the distinguished American characters, who would be affected by a total rejection of the treaty; and the feeble, but operative, vote of a member transported from the languor and imbecility of a sick room to decide in the Senate a great national question, whose merits he had not heard discussed; triumphed over principle, argument and decorum!

6. But still the treaty remains unratified; for, unless the British government shall assent to suspend the obnoxious twelfth article, (in favour of which, however, many patriotic members declared their readiness to vote) the whole is destroyed by the terms of the ratification: and if the British government shall agree to add an article allowing the suspension, the whole must return for the reconsideration of the Senate. But the forms of mystery are still preserved by our government; and attempts to deceive the people have been made abroad upon a vain presumption, that the treaty could remain a secret, till it became obligatory as a law. . . .


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Filed under 1790's, Commerce, Early Republic, Federalists, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States

Item of the Day: The Works of Algernon Sydney (1772)

Full Title: The Works of Algernon Sydney. A New Edition. London, Printed by W. Strahan IUN. For T. Becket and Co. and T. Cadell, in the Strand; T. Davies, in Russel Street; and T. Evans, in King Street.  MDCCLXXII. 

Discourses Concerning Government

Section II

The Common Notions of Liberty are not From School Divines, but from Nature.

In the first lines of his book [Filmer’s Patriarcha] he seems to denounce war against mankind, endeavoring to overthrow the principle in which God created us, and which includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards the felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other. To this end he absurdly imputes to the school divines that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none, but such as were degenerated into beats, from whence they might prove such points as of themselves were less evident. Thus did Euclid lay down certain axioms, which none could deny that did not renounce common sense, from whence he drew the proofs of such propositions as were less obvious to the understanding. And they may with as much reason be accused of paganism, who say that the whole is greater that a part, that two halves make the whole, or that a straight line is the shortest way from point to point, as to say, that they who in politics lay such foundations, as have been taken up by schoolmen as undeniable truths, do therefore follow them, or have any regard for their authority. Though the schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: they could not but see that which all men saw, not lay more approved foundations, than, that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause; and that he doth not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself. But if he doth unjustly impute the invention of this to school divinesm he in some measure repairs his fault in saying, “this hath been fostered by all succeeding papists for good divinity; the divines of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people every where tenderly embrace it.” That is to say, all christian divines, whether reformed or unreformed do approve it, and the people every where magnify it, as the height of human felicity. But Filmer, and such as are like to him, being neither reformed nor unreformed christians, nor of the people, can have no title to christianity; and, inasmuch as they set themselves against that which is the height of human felicity, they declare themselves enemies to all that are concerned in it, that is, to all mankind.  

But, says he, “they do not remember, that the desire of liberty was the first cause of the fall of man.” And I desire it may not be forgotten, that the liberty asserted is not a licentiousness of doing what is pleasing to everyone against the command of God, but an exemption from all human laws, to which they have not given their assent. If he would make us believe there was any thing of this in Adam’s sin, he ought to have proved, that the law which he transgressed was imposed upon him by man, and, consequently, that there was a man to impose it; for it will easily appear that neither the reformed nor the unreformed divines, nor the people following them, do place the felicity of man in the exemption from the laws of God, but in the most perfect conformity to them. Our Saviour taught us “not to fear such as could kill the body, but him that could kill, and cast us into hell;” and the apostle tells us, that “we should obey God rather than man.” It has beeen ever hereupon observed, that they, who most preciously adhere to the lwas of God, are least solicitous concerning the commands of men, unless they are well grounded; and those, who most delight in the glorious liberty of the sons of God, do not only subject themselves to him, but are most regular observers of the just ordinances of man, made by the consent of such as are concerned, according to the will of God. 

The error of not observing this may perhaps deserve to be pardoned in a man that had read no books, as proceeding from ignorance; if such as are grossly ignorant can be excusedm when they take upon them to write of such matters as require the highest knowledge: but in Sir Robert it is prevarication and fraud to impute to schoolmen and purtitans that which in his first page he acknowledged to be the doctrine of all reformed and unreformed christian churches, and that he knows to have been the principle in which the Grecians, Italians, Spaniards, Gauls, Germans, and Britons, and all other generous nations ever lived, before the name of Christ was known in the world; insomuch that the base effeminate Asiatics and Africans, for being careless of their liberty, or unable to govern themselves, were by Aristotle and other wise men called “slaves by nature,” and looked upon as little different from beasts.

This which hath its root in common sense, not being overthrown by reason, he spares his pains of seeking any; but thinks it enough to render his doctrine plausible to his own party, by joining the Jesuits to Geneva, and coupling Buchanan to Doleman as both maintaining the same doctrine; though he might as well have joined the puritans with the Turks, because they all think that one and one makes two.  But whoever marks the proceedings of Filmer and his masters, as well as his disciples, will rather believe, that they have learned from Rome and the Jesuits to hate Geneva, than that Geneva and Rome can agree in any thing farther, than as they are obliged to submit to the evidence of truth; or that Geneva and Rome can concur in any design or interest that is not common to mankind.

These men allowed to “the people a liberty of deposing their princes.” This is a “desparate” opinion. “Bellarmine and Calvin look asquint at it.” But why is this a desparate opinion? If disagreements happen between king and people, why is it a more desparate opinion to think the king should be subject to the censures of the people, than the people subject to the will of the king? Did the people make the king, or the king make the people? Is the king for the people, or the people for the king? Did God create Hebrews, that Saul might reign over them? or did they, from an opinion of procuring their own good, ask a king that might judge them, and fight their battles?

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Filed under Government, Liberty, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Posted by Matthew Williams, Religion

Item of the Day: The Art of Sinking in Poetry (1751)

Full Title: Miscellanies.  The Second Volume. By D. Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Pope.  London, Printed for Charles Bathurst, and sold by T. Woodward, C. Davis, C. Hitch, R. Dosley, and W. Bowyer.  MDCCLI.

Martinus Scriblerus,

П Е Р І   В А Θ О Υ Σ:

or, Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry.

[by Alexander Pope] 


Of the true Genius for the Profound, and by what it is constituted.

AND I will venture to lay it down, as the first Maxim and Corner-stone of this our Art; that whosoever would excel therein, must studiously avoid, detest, and turn his head from all the ideas, ways, and workings of that pestilent Foe to Wit, and Destroyer of fine Figures, which is known by the name of Common Sense. His business must be to contract the true Gout de travers; and to acquire a most happy, uncommon, unaccountable Way of Thinking. 

He is to consider himself as a Grotesque Painter, whose works would be spoil’d by an imitation of nature or uniformity of design. He is to mingle bits of the most various, or discordant kinds of landscape, history, portraits, animals, and connect them with a great deal of flourishing, by head or by tail, as it shall please his imagination, and contribute to his principal end, which is to glare by strong oppositions of colours, and surprize by contrariety of images.

Serpentes avibus geminentur, trigibus agni.  HOR.

His design ought to be like a labyrinth, out of which no body can get clear by himself. And since the great Art of all Poetry is to mix Truth with Fiction, in order to join the Credible with the Surprizing; our author shall produce the Credible, by painting nature in her lowest simplicity; and the Surprizing, by contradicting common opinion. In the very Manners he will affect the Marvellous; he will draw Achilles with the patience of a Job; a prince talking like a Jack-pudding; a Maid of honour selling bargains; a footman speaking like a philosopher; and a fine gentleman like a scholar.  Whoever is conversant in modern Plays, may make a most noble collection of this kind, and at the same time, form a complete body of modern Ethics and Morality

Nothing seem’d more plain to our great authors, than that the world had long been weary of natural things. How much the contrary are form’d to please, is evident from the universal applause daily given to the admirable entertainments of Harlequins and Magicians on our stage. When an audience behold a couch turn’d into a wheelbarrow, a conjurer into an old woman, or a man’s head where his heels should be; how are they struck with transport and delight? Which can only be imputed to this cause, that each object is chang’d into that which hath been suggested to them by their own ideas before.

He ought therefore to render himself master of this happy and anti-natural way of thinking to such a degree, as to be able, on the appearance of any object, to furnish his imagination with ideas infinitely below it.  And his eyes should be like unto the wrong end of a perpective glass, by which all the objects of nature are lessen’d.

For Example; when a true genius looks upon the Sky, he immediately catches the idea of a piece of blue lute-string, or a child’s mantle.

The Skies, whose spreading volumes scarce have room,
Spun thin, and wove in nature’s finest loom,
The new-born world in their soft lap embrac’d,
And all around their starry mantle cast. *

If he looks upon a Tempest, he shall have an image of a tumbled bed, and describe a succeeding calm in this manner;

The Ocean, joy’d to see the tempest fled,
New lays his waves, and smooths his ruffled bed. **
* Prince Arthur, p. 41, 42.
** p. 14

NB. In order to do justice to these great Poets, our Citations are taken from the best, the last, and most correct Editions of their Works.  That which we use of Prince Arthur, is in duodecimo, 1714. the fourth Edition revised.

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Filed under 1750's, Common sense, Criticism, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

Item of the Day: [Peter] Porcupine’s Last Will and Testament (1797)

In: Porcupine’s Political Censor, for March 1797. Philadelphia: Published by William Cobbett, opposite Christ’s Church, Where all letter to the Publisher are desired to be addressed, post paid, [1797].


SINCE I took up the calling that I new follow, I have received about forty threatening letters; some talk of fisticuff, others of kicks, but far the greater part menace me with out-right murder. Several friends (whom by the bye I sincerely thank) have called to caution me against the lurking cut-throats; and it seems to be the persuasion of every one, that my brains are to be knocked out the first time I venture from home in the dark.

Under these terrific circumstances, it is impossible that Death should not stare me in the face: I have therefore got myself into as good a state of preparation as my sinful profession will, I am afraid, admit of; and as to my worldly affairs, I have settled them in the following Will, which I publish, in order that my dear friends, the Legatees, may, if they think themselves injured or neglected, have an opportunity of complaining before it be too late.

In the name of Fun, Amen. I Peter Porcupine, Pamphleteer and News-Monger, being (as yet) found both in body and in mind, do, this fifteenth day of April, in the Year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven, make, declare, and publish, this my Last Will and Testament, in manner, form, and substance following; to wit:

IN PRIMIS, I LEAVE to Doctor Michael Lieb, a member of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, to be by him dissected (if he knows how to do it) in presence of the Rump of the Democratic Society. In it they will find a heart that held them in abhorrence, that never palpitated at their threats, and that, to its last beat, bade them defiance. But my chief motive for making this bequest is, that my spirit may look down with contempt on their cannibal-like triumph over a breathless corps.

Item, As I make no doubt that the above said Doctor Lieb (and some other Doctors that I could mention) would like very well to skin me, I request that they, or one of them, may do it, and that the said Lieb’s father may tan my skin; after which I desire my Executors to have seven copies of my Works complete, bound in it, one copy to be presented to the five Sultans of France, one to each of their Divans, one to the governor of Pennsylvania, to citizens Maddison , Giles, and Gallatine one each, and the remaining one to the Democratic Society of Philadelphia, to be carefully preserved among their archieves [sic].

Item, To the Mayor, Aldermen and Councils of the City of Philadelphia, I bequeath all the sturdy young hucksters, who infest the market, and who to maintain their bastards, tax the honest inhabitants many thousand pounds annually. I request them to take them into their worshipful keeping; to chasten their bodies for the good of their souls; and moreover, to keep a sharp look-out after their gallants: and remind the latter of the old proverb: Touch pot, touch penny.

Item, To T —– J—–son, Philosopher, I leave a curious Norway Spider, with a hundred legs and nine pair of eyes; likewise the first black cut-throat general he can catch hold of, to be stead alive, in order to determine with more certainty the real cause of the dark colour of his skin: and should the said T—-s J—–son survive Banneker the Almanack-maker;I request he will get the brains of said Philomath carefully dissected, to satisfy the world in what respects they differ from those of a white man.

Item, To the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, I will and bequeath a correct copy of Thornton’s plan for abolishing the use of the English language; and for introducing in its stead a republican one, the representative characters of which bear a strong resemblance to pot-hooks and hangers; and for the discovery of which plan, the said society did, in the year 1793, grant to the said language maker 500 dollars premium. –It is my earnest desire, that the copy of this valuable performance, which I hereby present, may be shown to all the travelling literati, as a proof of the ingenuity of the author and of the wisdom of the society.

Item, to Doctor Benjamin Rush, I will and bequeath a copy of the Censor for January, 1797; but, upon the express condition, that he does not in any wise or guise, either at the time of my death, or six months after, pretend to speak, write or publish an eulogium on me, my calling or character, either literary, military, civil, or political.

Item, To my dear fellow labourer Noah Webster, “gentleman citizen” Esq. and News-man, I will and bequeath a prognosticating barometer of curious construction and great utility, by which, at a single glance, the said Noah will be able to discern the exact state that the public mind will be in the ensuing year, and will thereby be enabled to trim by degrees and not expose himself to detection, as he now does by his sudden lee-shore tacks. I likewise bequeath to the said “gentleman citizen,” six Spanish milled dollars, to be expended on a new plate of his portrait at the head of his spelling-book, that which graces it at present being so ugly that it scares the children from their lessons; but this legacy is to be paid him only upon condition that he leave out the title of “Squire” at the bottom of said picture, which is extremely odious in an American school-book, and must inevitably tend to corrupt the political principles of the republican babies that behold it. And I do most earnestly desire, exhort and conjure the said “Squire-news-man,” to change the title of his paper, The Minerva, for that of The Political Centaur. . . .

Peter Porcupine




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Filed under 1790's, Political Commentary, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Satire

Item of the Day: Hudibras (Grey edition, 1772)

Full Title: Hudibras, In Three Parts; Written in the Time of the Late Wars: Corrected and Amended. With large annotations and a preface by Zachary Grey, LL.D.  Adorn’d with a new Set of Cuts.  The third edition. Vol. I. London: Printed for C. Bathurst, W. Strahan, B. White, T. Davies, W. Johnston, L. Hawes and Co. T. Longman, T. Becket, E. Johnson, C. Corbett, T. Caslon, E. and C. Dilly, T. Lowndes, T. Cadell, W. Nichol, B. Tovey, S. Bladon, and R. Baldwin.  MDCCLXXII.



The Argument of

The First Canto.  Sir Hudibras his passing Worth,

The Manner how he sally’d forth;

His Arms and Equipage are shown;

His Horses Virtues, and his own.

Th’ Adventure of the Bear and Fiddle

Is sung, but breaks off in the middle. 



Canto I.  

When Civil Dudgeon first grew high,

And Men fell out they knew not why;

When hard Words, Jealousies and Fears

Set Folks together by the ears,

And made them fight like mad or drunk

For Dame Religion, as for Punk,

Whose Honesty they all durst swear for,

Tho’ not a Man of them knew wherefore:

When Gospel-Trumpeter, surrounded

With long-ear’d Rout, to Battle sounded;

And Pulpit, Drum Ecclesiastick,

Was beat with a Fist, instead of a Stick:

Then did Sir Knight abandon Dwelling,

And out he rode a Colonelling.

A Wight he was, whose very sight would

Entitle him, Mirrour of Knighthood;

That never bow’d his stubborn Knee

To any thing but Chivalry;

Nor put up Blow, but that which laid

Right Worshipful on Shoulder-blade:

Chief of Domestick Knights and Errant,

Either for Chartel, or for Warrant:

Great on the Bench, Great in the Saddle,

That cou'd as well bind o'er, as Swaddle:

Mighty he was at both of these,

And styl'd of War as well as Peace.

(So some Rats of amphibious nature,

Are either for the Land or Water.)

But here our Authors make a doubt,

Whether he were more wise or stout.

Some hold the one, and some the other,

But howsoe'er they make a pother,

The Diff'rence was so small, his Brain

Outweigh'd his Rage but half a Grain:

Which made some take him for a Tool

That knaves do work with, called a Fool.

For't has been held by many, that

As Montaigne, playing with his Cat,

Complains she thought him but and Ass,

Much more she wou'd Sir Hudibras;

(For that's the Name our valiant Knight

To all his Challenges did write.)

But they're mistaken very much,

'Tis plain enough he was not such.

We grant, altho' he had much Wit,

H'was very shy of using it;

As being loth to wear it out,

And therefore bore it not about;

Unless on Holy-days, or so,

As Men their best Apparel do.

Beside 'tis known he cou'd speak Greek

As naturally as Pigs squeek:

That Latin was no more difficile,

Than to a Blackbird 'tis to Whistle:

Being rich in both, he never scanted

His bounty unto such as wanted,

But much of either wou'd afford

To many, that had not one Word.

For Hebrew Roots, altho' they are found

To flourish most in barren Ground,

He had such plenty, as suffic'd

To make some think him circumcis'd:

He truly so he was, perhaps,

Not as a Proselyte, but for Claps.



He was in Logick a great Critick,

Profoundly skill'd in Analytick;

He cou'd distinguish, and divide

A Hair 'twixt South and South-west side;

On either which he wou'd dispute,

Confute, change Hands, and still confute;

He'd undertake to prove by force

Of Argument a Man's no Horse;

He'd prove a Buzzard is no Fowl,

And that a Lord may be an Owl;

A Calf and Alderman, a Goose a Justice,

And Rooks Committee-men and Trustees.

He'd run in Debt by disputation,

And pay with Ratiocination.

All this by Syllogism, true

In Mood and Figure, he wou'd do.

For Rhetorick, he cou'd not ope

His mouth, but out there flew a Trope:

And when he happen'd to break off

In'th'middle of his Speech, or cough,

H' had hard words ready to shew why,

And tell what Rules he did it by:

Else when with greatest Art he spoke,

You'd think he talk'd like other Folk.

For all a Rhetorician's Rules

Teach nothing but to name his Tools.

But, when he pleas'd to shew's, his Speech

In Loftiness of Sound was rich;

A Babylonish Dialect,

Which learned Pedants much affect;

It was a party-colour'd Dress

Of patch'd and py-ball'd Languages:

'Twas English cut on Greek and Latin,

Like Fustian heretofore on Sattin.

It had an odd promiscuous Tone,

As if h' had talk'd three Parts in one;

Which made some think, when he did gabble,

Th' had heard three Labourers of Babel;

Or Cerberus himself pronounce

A Leash of Languages at once.

This he as volubly would vent

As if his Stock would ne'er be spent;

And truly, to support that Charge,

He had Supplies as vast and large:

For he could coin or counterfeit

New Words, with little or no Wit;

Words so debas'd and hard, no Stone

Was hard enough to touch them on;

And when with hasty noise he spoke 'em,

The Ignorant for current took 'em;

That had the Orator, who once

Did fill his Mouth with Pebble Stones

When he harangu'd, but known his Phrase,

He would have us'd no other Ways.

In Mathematicks he was greater

Than Tycho Brahe, or Erra Pater:

For he, by Geometrick Scale,

Could take the Size of Pots of Ale;

Resolve by Sines and Tangents, straight;

If Bread or Butter wanted weight;

And wisely tell what Hour o' th' Day

The Clock does strike, by Algebra.

Beside, he was a shrewd Philosopher,

And had read ev'ry...




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Filed under 1660's, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

Item of the Day: The Life of John Ledyard (1829)

Full Title: The Life of John Ledyard, the American Traveller; comprising selections from his journals and correspondence. By Jared Sparks. Second edition. Cambridge: Published by Hilliard and Brown, 1829.



Ledyard’s journal of his voyage with Captain Cook. —Testimony in his favor by Captain Burney. —Sails for the Cape of Good Hope. —Thence to Kerguelen’s Islands and the south of New Holland. —Character of the people on Van Diemen’s Land. —Present state of the colony there. —Arrives in New Zealand. —Account of the people, their manners and peculiarities. —Remarkable contrasts exhibited in their character. —Love adventure between an English sailor and a New Zealand girl. —Omai, the Otaheitan. —Vessels depart from New Zealand, and fall in with newly discovered islands. —Affecting story of three Otaheitans found on one of them. —Arrival at the Friendly Islands. —People of Tongataboo. —Their condition, mode of living, and amusements. — Ledyard passes a night with the King. —Wrestling and other athletic exercises described. —Fireworks exhibited by Cook. —Propensity of the natives to thieving. —An instance in a chief called Feenou, and the extraordinary measures used to recover the stolen property. —Departure Tongataboo.

. . . The last expedition under Captain Cook, and the one in which our traveller was engaged, left England on the twelfth of July, 1776. It consisted of two ships, the Resolution and Discovery, the former commanded by Captain Cook, and the latter by Captain Clerke. After touching at Teneriffe, they proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope, and came to anchor in Table Bay, where they were to refit, lay in a new stock of provisions, and prepare for encountering the inconveniences and dangers of a long voyage in the great Southern Ocean, with the certainty that many months must elapse, before they could hope to arrive again in a port of civilized people.

Several days were passed here in getting all things in readiness; the men of science employed themselves in short excursions into the country; provisions were collected by the proper officers; and the sailors were busy at their daily tasks. Last of all, were taken on board various live animals, designed to be left at the islands where they did not exist, making, in connexion with those brought from England, a motley collection of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, cats, hares, rabbits, monkeys, ducks, geese, turkeys, and peacocks; thus, says our voyager, “did we resemble the Ark, and appear as though we were going as well to stock as to discover a new world. Aesop might have conversed for weeks with such a congregated multitude. The monkeys and peacocks seem to have been out of place in this assembly of sober and useful animals, and in the end they did little credit to their community. The monkeys never ceased from mischief, and the gay attire of the peacocks tempted a chief of Tongataboo to steal and carry them off.

On the first of December, Cook departed from the Cape of Good Hope, and proceeded in a southeasterly direction, intending to shape his course around the southern extremity of New Holland. After sailing twenty-five days and passing two islands, the tops of which were covered with snow, although it was midsummer in those latitudes, he came to anchor at an island, which had been recently discoverd by Kerguelen, a French navigator. A bottle was found suspended by a wire between two rocks, sealed, containing a piece of parchment, on which was written in French and Latin an account of Kerguelen’s voyage and discovery. This island was desolate, without inhabitants, trees, or shrubs. A little grass was obtained for the cattle, and a species of vegetable was found resembling a wild cabbage, but of no value. It rained profusely, streams of fresh water came down from the hills, and the empty casks were replenished. The shore was covered with seals and sea-dogs, the former of which, apparently unconscious of danger, were killed without difficulty, and they afforded a seasonable supply of oil for lamps and other purposes. Vast flocks of birds hovered around, and the penguins, so little did they understand the character of their visiters [sic] would allow themselves to be approached and knocked down with clubs. Man was an enemy, whose sanguinary prowess these tenants of the lonely island had never learnt to fear, and the simple penguin received his death blow with a composure and unconcern, that would have immortalized a stoic philosopher. The sailors were indulged in celebrating Christmas at Kerguelen’s Island; after which the ships sailed, and the next harbour to be gained was Adventure Bay, in Van Deimen’s Land, being at the southern limits of New Holland. As no discoveries were to be attempted during this run, they proceeded directly to the point of destination, at which they safely arrived within less than two months after leaving the Cape of Good Hope.

The ships being moored in this bay, called by Tasman, who discovered it, Frederic Henry’s Bay, the sailors were sent out in parties to procure wood, water, and grass, all of which existed there in great plenty. No inhabitants appeared, although columns of smoke had been seen here and there rising through the woods at some distnace, affording a sign that people were in the neighborhood. After a day or two the natives came down to the beach in small parties, men, women, and children; but they seemed the most wretched of human beings, wearing no clothes, and carrying with them nothing but a rude stick about three feet long, and sharpened at one end. Their skin was black, hair curly, and the beards of the men, as well as their hair, besmeared with a red, oily substance. They were inoffensive, neither manifesting fear, nor offering annoyance to their visiters. When bread was given them, it was thrown away without being tasted, although they were made to understand that it was to be eaten; the same they did with fish, which had been caught in the harbour; but they accepted birds, and intimated a fondness for that kind of food. When a gun was fired, they all ran off like wild deer to the woods, and were seen no more that day; but their fright was not of long duration, for they came again the next morning with as little unconcern as ever. In all respects these people appeared in the lowest stage of human advancement. “They are the only people,” says Ledyard, “who are known to go with their persons entirely naked, that have ever yet been discovered. Amidst the most stately groves of wood, they have neither weapons of defence [sic], nor any other species of instruments applicable to the various purposes of life; contiguous to the sea, they have no canoes; and exposed from the nature of the climate to the inclemency of the seasons, as well as to the annoyances of the beasts of the forest, they have no houses to retire to, but the temporary shelfter of a few pieces of old bark laid transversely over some small poles. They appear also to be inactive, indolent, and unaffected with the least curiosity.” Cook remarked, that the natives here resembled those, whom he had seen in his former voyage on the north part of New Holland, and from this and other circumstances it was inferred, that New Holland from that point northward was not divided by any strait. Subsequent discoveries overthrew this conjecture, and it has since been made know, that Van Diemen’s Land is an island separated from New Holland by a passage, or strait, nearly one hundred miles broad, and containing many small islands. It is remarkable, that no resemblance has been discovered between the language of the natives here, and that spoken by New-Hollanders.


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Filed under 1770's, Explorations, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel

Item of the Day: Bolingbroke’s Dissertation on Parties (1754)

Full Title: The Works of the Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke. Vol. II. London: Printed in the Year MDCCLIV.

A Dissertation on Parties.  Letter I.

Sir, To corrupt and to divide are the trite and wicked expedients, by which some ministers in all ages have affected to govern; but especially such as have been least capable of exerting the true arts of government.  There is however a difference to be made between these two expedients, to the advantage of the latter, and by consequence between the characters of those who put them in practice.

Every busy, ambitious child of fortune, who hath himself a corrupt heart, and becomes master of a larger purse, hath all that is necessary to employ the expedient of corruption with success.  A bribe, in the hand of the most blundering coxcomb that ever disgraced honor and wealth and power, will prevail as much as in the hand of a man of sense, and go farther too, if it weigh more.  An intriguing chamber-maid may flip a bank-note into a griping paw, as well as the most subtle daemon of hell.  H**E may govern as triumphantly by this expedient as the great knight his brother, and the great knight as BURLEIGH himself.

But every character cannot attempt the other expedient of dividing, or keeping up divisions, with equal success.  There is, indeed, no occasion for any extraordinary genius to divide; and true wisdom despises the infamous task.  But there is need of that left-handed wisdom, called cunning, and of those habits in business, called experience.  He that is corrupted, co-operates with him that corrupts.  He runs into his arms at the first beckon; or, in order sometimes to raise the price, he meets him but half way.  On the other hand, to divide, or to maintain and renew the divisions of parties in a state, a system of seduction and fraud is necessary to be carried on.  The divided are so far from being accessory to the guilt, that they would not be divided, if they were not first deceived.

From these differences, which I have observed between the two expedients, and the characters and means proper to put them in practice with success, it may be discovered perhaps why, upon former occasions, as I shall hereafter shew, the expedient of dividing prospered so much better than that of corrupting; and why, upon some later occasions, the expedient of corrupting succeeds so well in those hands, which are not, and I trust, will not be so lucky in maintaining or renewing our party divisions.   

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Filed under 1750's, Government, Political Philosophy, Politics, Posted by Matthew Williams