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Item of the Day: Swift’s Rules for Servants (1753)

Full Title:  Miscellanies.  By Dr. Swift.  The Eleventh Volume.  London:  Printed for C. Hitch, C. Davis, C. Bathurst, R. Dodsley, and W. Bowyer.  MDCCLIII.

RULES that concern All Servants in general.

 When your Master or Lady calls a Servant by Name, if that Servant be not in the Way, none of you are to answer, for then there will be no end of your Drudgery:  And Masters themselves allow, that, if a Servant comes when he is called, it is sufficient.

When you have done a Fault, be always pert and insolent, and behave yourself as if you were the injured Person; this will immediately put your Master or Lady off their Mettle.

If you see your Master wronged by any of your Fellow-Servants, be sure to conceal it, for fear of being called a Tell-tale:  However there is one Exception, in case of a favourite Servant, who is justly hated by the whole Family; who therefore are bound in Prudence to lay all the Faults you can upon the Favourite.

The Cook, the Butler, the Groom, the Market-man, and every other Servant who is concerned in the Expences of the Family, should act as if his Master’s whole Estate ought to be applied to that Servant’s particular Business.  For instance, if the Cook computes his Master’s Estate to be a Thousand Pounds a Year will afford Meat enough, and therefore he need not be sparing; the Butler makes the same Judgment, so may the Groom and the Coachman, and thus every Branch of Expence will be filled to your Master’s Honour.

When you are chid before Company (which with Submission to our Masters and Ladies is an unmannerly Practice) it often happens that some Stranger will have the Good-nature to drop a Word in your Excuse; in such a Case, you will have a good Title to Justify yourself, and may rightly conclude, that, whenever he chides you afterwards on other occasions, he may be in the wrong; in which opinion you will be the better confirmed by stating the Case to your Fellow-servants in your own Way, who will certainly decide in your Favour:  therefore, as I have said before, whenever you are chidden, complain as if you were injured.

It often happens, that Servants sent on Messages are apt to stay out somewhat longer than the Message requires, perhaps, two, four, six, or eight Hours, or some such Trifle, for the Temptation to be sure was great, and Flesh and Blood cannot always resist:  When you return, the Master storms, the Lady scolds; stripping, cudgelling, and turning off, is the Word.  But here you ought to be provided with a Set of Excuses, enough to serve on all occasions:  For instance, your Uncle came Fourscore Miles to Town this Morning, on purpose to see you, and goes back by Break of Day To-morrow:  A Brother-servant, that borrowed Money of you when he was out of Place, was running away to Ireland:  You were taking Leave of an old Fellow-Servant, who was shipping for Barbados:  Your Father sent a Cow to you to sell, and you could not get a Chapman till Nine at Night:  You were taking leave of a dear Cousin, who is to be hanged next Saturday:  You wrencht your Foot against a Stone, and were forced to stay three Hours in a Shop, before you could Stir a Step:  Some Nastiness was thrown on you out of a Garret-Window, and you were ashamed to come Home before you were cleaned, and the Smell went off:  You were pressed for the Sea-service, and carried before a Justice of Peace, who kept you three Hours before he examined you, and you got off with much a-do:  A Bailiff by mistake seized you for a Debtor, and kept you the whole Evening in a Spunging-house:  You were told your Master had gone to a Tavern, and came to some Mischance, and your Grief was so great that you enquired for his Honour in a hundred Taverns between Pall-mall and Temple-bar.

Take all Tradesmen Parts against your Master, and when you are sent to buy any Thing, never offer to cheapen it, but generously pay the full Demand.  This is highly to your Master’s Honour ; and may be some Shillings in your Pocket; and you are to consider, if your Master hath paid too much, he can better afford the Loss than a poor Tradesman.

Never submit to stir a Finger in any Business but that for which you were particularly hired.  For Example, if the Groom be drunk, or absent, and the Butler be ordered to shut the Stable Door, the Answer is ready, An please your Honour, I don’t understand Horses:  If a Corner of the Hanging wants a single Nail to flatten it, and the Footman be directed to tack it up, he may say, he doth not understand that sort of Work, but his Honour may send for the Upholsterer.

Masters and Ladies are usually quarrelling with the Servants for not shutting the Doors after them:  But neither Masters nor Ladies consider, that those Doors mus be open before they can be shut, and that the Labour is double to open and shut the Doors; therefore the best, and shortest, and easiest Way is to do neither.  But if you are so often teized to shut the Door, that you cannot easily forget it, then give the Door such a Clap as you go out, as will shake the whole Room, and make every Thing rattle in it, to put your Master and Lady in Mind that you observe their Directions.

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Filed under 1750's, Culture, Jonathan Swift, Manners, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Satire

Item of the Day: The Adventurer (1770)

Full Title:  The ADVENTURER. By John Hawkesworth. Volume the Fourth.  New Edition.  London:  Printed for W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, etc.  MDCCLXX.

Tuesday, November 27, 1753.

The evils inseparably annexed to the present condition of man, are so numerous and afflictive, that it has been, from age to age, the task of some to bewail, and of others to solace them;  and he, therefore, will be in danger of seeming a common enemy, who shall attempt to depreciate the few pleasures and felicities which nature has allowed us.

Yet I will confess, that I have sometimes employed my thoughts in examining the pretensions that are made to happiness, by the splendid and envied conditions of life; and have not thought the hour unprofitably spent, when I have detected the imposture of counterfeit advantages, and found disquiet lurking under false appearances of gaiety and greatness.

It is asserted by a tragic poet, that “est miser nemo nisi comparatus,” “no man is miserable but as he is compared with others happier than himself:” this position is not strictly and philosophically true.  He might have said, with rigorous propriety, that no man is happy but as he is compared with the miserable; for such is the state of this world, that we find in it absolute misery, but happiness only comparative; we may incur as much pain as we can possibly endure, though we can never obtain as much happiness as we might possibly enjoy.

Yet it is certain likewise, that many of our miseries are merely comparative:  we are often made unhappy, not by the presence of any real evil, but by the absence of some fictitious good, of something which is not required by any real want of nature, which has not in itself any power of gratification, and which neither reason nor fancy would have prompted us to wish, did we not see it in the possession of others.

For a mind diseased with vain longings after unattainable advantages, no medicine can be prescribed, but an impartial enquiry into the real worth of that which is so ardently desired.  It is well known, how much the mind, as well as the eye, is deceived by distance; and, perhaps, it will be found, that of many imagined blessings it may be doubted, whether he that wants or possesses them has more reason to be satisfied with his lot.

The dignity of high birth and long extraction, no man, to whom nature has denied it, can confer upon himself; and, therefore, it deserves to be considered, whether the want of that which can never be gained, may not easily be endured.  It is true, that if we consider the triumph and delight with which most of those recount their ancestors who have ancestors to recount, and the artifices by which some who have risen to unexpected fortune endeavour to insert themselves into an honourable stem, we shall be inclined to fancy that wisdom or virtue may be had by inheritance, or that all the excellencies of a line of progenitors are accumulated on their descendant.  Reason, indeed, will soon inform us, that our estimation of birth is arbitrary and capricious, and that dead ancestors can have no influence but upon imagination:  let it then be examined, whether one dream may not operate in the place of another; whether he that owes nothing to fore-fathers, may not receive equal pleasure from the consciousness of owing all to himself; whether he may not, with a little meditation, find it more honourable to found than to continue a family, and to gain dignity than transmit it; whether, if he receives no dignity from the virtues of his family, he does not likewise escape the danger of being disgraced by their crimes; and whether he that brings a new name into the world, has not the convenience of playing the game of life without a stake, an opportunity of winning much though he has nothing to lose.

There is another opinion concerning happiness, which approaches much more nearly to universality, but which may, perhaps, with equal reason be disputed.  The pretensions to ancestral honours many of the sons of earth easily see to be ill-grounded; but all agree to celebrate the advantage of  hereditary riches, and to consider those as the minions of fortune, who are wealthy from their cradles, whose estate is “res non parta labore sed relicta;” “the acquisition of another, not of themselves; ” and whom a father’s industry has dispensed from a laborious attention to arts and commerce, and left at liberty to dispose of life as fancy shall direct them.

If every man were wise and virtuous, capable to discern the best use of time, and resolute to practice it; it might be granted, I think, without hesitation, that total liberty would be a blessing; and that it would be desirable to be left at large to the exercise of religious and social duties, without the interruption of importunate avocations.

But since felicity is relative, and that which is the means of happiness to one man may be to another the cause of misery, we are to consider, what state is best adapted to human nature in its present degeneracy and frailty.  And, surely, to far the greater number it is highly expedient, that they should by some settled scheme of duties be rescued from the tyranny of caprice, that they should be driven on by necessity through the paths of life with their attention confined to a stated task, that they may be less at leisure to deviate into mischief at the call of folly.

When we observe the lives of those whom an ample inheritance has let loose to their own direction, what do we discover that can excite our energy?  Their time seems not to pass with much applause from others, or satisfaction to themselves:  many squander their exuberance of fortune in luxury and debauchery, and have no other use of money than to inflame their passions, and riot in a wider range of licentiousness; others, less criminal indeed, but surely, not much to be praised, lie down to sleep, and rise up to trifle, are employed every morning in finding expedients to rid themselves of the day, chase pleasure through all the places of public resort, fly from London to Bath and from Bath to London, without any other reason for changing place, but that they go in quest of company as idle and as vagrant as themselves, always endeavouring to raise some new desire that they may have something to pursue, to rekindle some hope which they know will be disappointed, changing one amusement for another which a few months will make equally insipid, or sinking into languor and disease for want of something to actuate their bodies or exhilarate their minds.

Whoever has frequented those places, where idlers assemble to escape from solitude, knows that this is generally the state of the wealthy; and from this state it is no great hardship to be debarred.  No man can be happy in total idleness:  he that should be condemned to lie torpid and motionless, “would fly for recreation,” says South, “to the mines and the gallies,” and it is well, when nature or fortune find employment for those, who would not have known how to procure it for themselves.

He, whose mind is engaged by the acquision or improvement of a fortune, not only escapes the insipidity of indifference, and the tediousness of inactivity, but gains enjoyments wholly unknown to those, who live lazily on the toil of others; for life affords no higher pleasure, than that of surmounting difficulties, passing from one step of success to another, forming new wishes, and seeing them gratified.  He that labours in any great or laudable undertaking, has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy; he is always moving to a certain end, and when he has attained it, an end more distant invites him to a new pursuit.

It does not, indeed, always happen, that diligence is fortunate; the wisest schemes are broken by unexpected accidents; the most constant perseverance sometimes toils through life without a recompense:  but labour, though unsuccessful, is more eligible than idleness:  he that prosecutes a lawful purpose by lawful means, acts always with the approbation of his own reason; he is animated through the course of his endeavours by an expectation which, though not certain, he knows to be just; and is at last comforted in his disappointment, by the consciousness that he has not failed by his own fault.

That kind of life is most happy which affords us most opportunities of gaining our own esteem; and what can any man infer in his own favour from a condition to which, however prosperous, he contributed nothing, and which the vilest and weakest of the species would have obtained by the same right, had he happened to be the son of the same father.

To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next, is to strive, and deserve to conquer:  but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; and if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to insensibility.

Thus it appears that the satirist advised right, when he directed us to resign ourselves to the hands of Heaven, and to leave to superior power the determination of our lot:
Intrust thy fortune to the pow’rs above:

Leave them to manage for thee, and to grant

What their unerring wisdom sees thee want.

In goodness as in greatness they excel:

Ah! that we lov’d ourselves but half so well.


What state of life admits most happiness, is uncertain; but that uncertainty ought to repress the petulance of comparison, and silence the murmurs of discontent.

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Filed under 1750's, Culture, England, Enlightenment, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Horace Walpole on the Death and Funeral of George II from Walpole’s Private Correspondence (1760)

Full Title:  Private Correspondence of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. Now First Collected.  In Four Volumes.  vol. II. 1756-1764.  London:  Printed for Rodwell and Martin, Bond-Street; and Colburn and Co., Conduit-Street. 1820.


Arlington-street, October 26, 1760.

My Dear Lord,

I beg your pardon for so long a silence in the late reign; I knew nothing worth telling you; and the great event of this morning you will certainly hear before it comes to you by so sober and regular a personage as the postman.  The few circumstances known yet are, that the king went well to-bed last night; rose well at six this morning; went to the water-closet a little after seven; had a fit, fell against a bureau, and gashed his right temple:  the valet-de-chambre heard a noise and a groan, and ran in:  the king tried to speak, but died instantly.  I should hope this would draw you southward:  such scenes are worth looking at, even by people who regard them with such indifference as your lordship or I.  I say no more, for what will mix in a letter with the death of a king!

I am my lady’s and your lordship’s most faithful servant.

To George Montagu, Esq.

Arlington-street, November 13, 1760.

. . . Do you know, I had the curiosity to go to the burying t’other night; I had never seen a royal funeral; nay, I walked as a rag of quality, which I found would be, and so it was, the easiest way of seeing it.  It is absolutely a noble sight.  The prince’s chamber, hung with purple, and a quantity of silver lamps, the coffin under a canopy of purple velvet, and six vast chandeliers of silver on high stands, had a very good effect.  The ambassador from Tripoli and his son were carried to see that chamber.  The procession, through a line of foot-guards, every seventh man bearing a torch, the horse-guards lining the outside, their officers with drawn sabres and crape sashes on horseback, the drums muffled, the fifes, bells tolling, and minute guns, — all this was very solemn.  But the charm was the entrance of the abbey, where we were received by the dean and chapter in rich robes, the choir and almsmen bearing torches; the whole abbey so illuminated, that one saw it to greater advantage than by day; the tombs, long aisles, and fretted roof, all appearing distinctly, and with the happiest chiara scuro.  There wanted nothing but incense, and little chapels here and there, with priests saying mass for the repose of the defunct; yet one could not complain of its not being catholic enough.  I had been in dread of being coupled with some boy of ten years old; but the heralds were not very accurate, and I walked with George Grenville, taller and older, to keep me in countenance.  When we came to the chapel of Henry the seventh, all solemnity and decorum ceased; no order was observed, people sat or stood where they could or would; the yeomen of the guard were crying out for help, oppressed by the immense weight of the coffin; the bishop read sadly, and blundered in the prayers; the fine chapter, Man that is born of a woman, was chaunted, not read; and the anthem, besides being immeasurably tedious, would have served as well for a nuptial.  The real serious part was the figure of the duke of Cumberland, heightened by a thousand melancholy circumstances.  He had a dark brown adonis, and a cloak of black cloth, with a train of five yards.  Attending the funeral of a father could not be pleasant:  his leg extremely bad, yet forced to stand upon it near two hours; his face bloated and distorted with his late paralytic stroke, which has affected too one of his eyes, and placed over the mouth of the vault, into which, in all probability, he must himself so soon descend; think how unpleasant a situation!  He bore it all with a firm and unaffected countenance.  This grave scene was fully contrasted by the burlesque duke of Newcastle.  He fell into a fit of crying the moment he came into the chapel, and flung himself back in a stall, the archbishop hovering over him with a smelling-bottle; but in two minutes his curiosity got the better of his hypocrisy, and he ran about the chapel with his glass to spy who was or was not there, spying with one hand, and mopping his eyes with the other.  Then returned the fear of catching cold; and the duke of Cumberland, who was sinking with heat, felt himself weighed down, and turning round, found it was the duke of Newcastle standing upon his train, to avoid the chill of the marble.  It was very theatric to look down into the vault, where the coffin lay, attended by mourners with lights.  Clavering, the groom of the bed-chamber, refused to sit up with the body, and was dismissed by the king’s order.

I have nothing more to tell you, but a trifle, a very trifle.  The king of Prussia has totally defeated marshal Daun.  This, which would have been prodigious news a month ago, is nothing today; it only takes it turn among the questions, “Who is to be groom of the bed-chamber? what is sir T. Robinson to have?”  I have been to Leicester-fields today; the crowd was immoderate; I don’t believe it will continue so.  Good night.

Yours ever.

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Filed under 1760's, England, George II, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1768)

Full Title:  Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania; To the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.  Boston:  Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, Northside of King-Street. MDCCLXVIII.



My dear Countrymen,

I am a Farmer, settled after a variety of fortunes, near the banks, of the river Delaware, in the province of Pennsylvania.  I received a liberal education, and have been engaged in the busy scenes of life:  But am no convinced, that a man may be as happy without bustle, as with it.  My farm is small, my servants are few, and good; I have a little money at interest; I wish for no more:  my employment in my own affairs is easy; and with a contented grateful mind, I am compleating the number of days allotted to be my divine goodness.

Being master of my time, I spend a good deal of it in a library, which I think the most valuable part of my small estate; and being acquainted with two or three gentlemen of abilities and learning, who honour me with their friendship, I believe I have acquired a greater share of knowledge in history, and the laws and constitution of my country, than is generally attained by men of my class, many of them not being so fortunate as I have been in the opportunities of getting information.

From infancy I was taught to love humanity and liberty.  Inquiry and experience have since confirmed my reverence for the lessons then given me, by convincing me more fully of their truth and excellence.  Benevolence towards mankind excites wishes for their welfare, and such wishes endear the means of fulfilling them.  Those can be found in liberty alone, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man, on every occasion, to the utmost of his power:  as a charitable but poor person does not withhold his mite, because he cannot relieve all the distresses of the miserable, so let not any honest man suppress his sentiments concerning freedom, however small their influence is likely to be.  Perhaps he may “…touch some wheel” that will have an effect greater than he expects.

These being my sentiments, I am encouraged to offer to you, my countrymen, my thoughts on some late transactions, that in my opinion are of the utmost importance to you.  Conscious of my defects, I have waited some time, in expectation of seeing the subject treated by persons much better qualified for the talk; but being therein disappointed, and apprehensive that longer delays will be injurious.  I venture at length to request the attention of the public, praying only for one thing, — that is, that these lines may be read with the same zeal for the happiness of British America, with which they were wrote.

With a good deal of surprise I have observed, that little notice has been taken of an act of parliament, as injurious in its principle to the liberties of these colonies, as the STAMP-ACT was: I mean the act for suspending the legislation of New-York.

The assembly of that government complied with a former act of parliament, requiring certain provisions to be made for the troops in America, in every particular, I think, except the articles of salt, pepper, and vinegar.  In my opinion they acted imprudently, considering all the circumstances in not complying so far, as would have given satisfaction, as several colonies did:  but my dislike of their conduct in that instance, has not blinded me so much, that I cannot plainly perceive, that they have been punished in a manner pernicious to American freedom, and justly alarming to all the colonies.

If the BRITISH PARLIAMENT has a legal authority to order, that we shall furnish a single article for the troops here, and to compel obedience to that order; they have the same right to order us to supply those troops with arms, cloaths, and every necessary, and to compel obedience to that order also; in short, to lay any burdens they please upon us.  What is this but taxing us at a certain sum, and leaving to us only the manner of raising it?  How is this mode more tolerable than the STAMP ACT?  Would that act have appeared more pleasing to Americans, if being ordered thereby to raise the sum total of the taxes, the mighty privilege had been left to them, of saying how much should be paid for an instrument of writing on paper, and how much for another on parchment?

An act of parliament commanding us to do a certain thing, if it has any validity, is a tax upon us for the expence that accrues in complying with it, and for this reason, I believe, every colony on the continent, that chose to give a mark of their respect for Great-Britain, in complying  with the act relating to the troops, cautiously avoided the mention of that act, lest their conduct should be attributed to its supposed obligation.

The matter being thus stated, the assembly of New-York either had, or had not a right to refuse submission to that act.  If they had, and I imagine no American will say they had not, then the parliament had no right to compel them to execute it. — If they had not that right, they had no right to punish them for not executing it; and therefore had no right to suspend their legislation, which is a punishment.  In fact, if the people of New-York cannot be legally taxed by their own representatives, they cannot be legally deprived of the privileges of making laws, only for insisting on that exclusive privilege of taxation.  If they may be legally deprived in such a case of the privilege of making laws, why may they not, with equal reason, be deprived of every other privilege?  Or why may not every colony be treated in the same manner, when any of them shall dare to deny their assent to any impositions that shall be directed?  On what signifies the repeal of the STAMP-ACT, if these colonies are to lose their other privileges, by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?

There is one consideration arising from this suspicion, which is not generally attended to, but shews it’s importance very clearly.  It was not necessary that this suspension should be caused by an act of parliament.  The crown might have restrained the governor of New-York, even from calling the assembly together, by its prerogative in the royal governments.  This step, I suppose, would have been taken, if the conduct of the assembly of New-York, had been regarded as an act of disobedience to the crown alone:  but it is regarded as an act of “disobedience to the authority of the British Legislature.”  This gives the suspension a consequence vastly more affecting.  It is a parliamentary assertion of the supreme authority of the British legislature over these colonies in the part of taxation; and is intended to compel New-York unto a submission to that authority.  It seems therefore to me as much a violation of the liberty of the people of that province, and consequently of all these colonies , as if the parliament had sent a number of regiments to be quartered upon them till they should comply.  For it is evident, that the suspension is meant as a compulsion; and the method of compelling is totally indifferent.  It is indeed probable, that the sight of red coats, and the beating of drums would have been most alarming, because people are generally more influenced by their eyes and ears than by their reason:  But whoever seriously considers the matter, must perceive, that a dreadful stroke is aimed at the liberty of these colonies:  For the cause of one is the cause of all.  If the parliament may lawfully deprive New-York of any of its rights, it may deprive any, or all the other colonies of their rights; and nothing can possibly so much encourage such attempts, as a mutual inattention to the interest of each other.  To divide, and thus to destroy, is the first political maxim in attacking those who are powerful by their union.  He certainly is not a wise man, who folds his arms and reposeth himself at home, seeing with unconcern the flames that have invaded his neighbour’s house, without any endeavours to extinguish them.  When Mr. Hampden’s ship money cause, for three shillings and four-pence, was tried, all the people of England, with anxious expectation, interested themselves in the important decision; and when the slightest point touching the freedom of a single colony is agitated, I earnestly wish, that all the rest may with equal ardour support their sister.  Very much may be said on this subject, but I hope, more at present is unnecessary.

With concern I have observed that two assemblies of this province have sat and adjourned, without taking any notice of this act.  It may perhaps be asked, what would have been proper for them to do?  I am by no means fond of inflammatory measures.  I detest them. — I should be sorry that any thing should be done which might justly displease our sovereign or our mother-country.  But a firm, modest exertion of a free spirit, should never be wanting on public occasions.  It appears to me, that it would have been sufficient for the assembly, to have ordered our agents to represent to the King’s ministers, their sense of the suspending act, and to pray for its repeal.  Thus we should have borne our testimony against it; and might therefore reasonably expect that on a like occasion, we might receive the same assistance from the other colonies.

Concordia res parve crescunt.  Small things grow great by concord.”

                                                                                A FARMER.


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Filed under 1760's, American Revolution, Political Commentary, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: The Works of Alexander Pope (1770)

Full Title:  The Works of Alexander Pope Esq. In Nine Volumes, Complete.  With His Last Corrections, Additions, And Improvements:  together With the Commentary and Notes of his Editor.  London:  Printed for C. Bathhurst, W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, R. Baldwin, W. Johnston, T. Caslon, T. Longman, B. Law,  Johnson and Davenport, T. Davies, T. Cadell, and W. and J. Richardson.  MDCCLXX.

P R E F A C E.

I am inclined to think that both the writers of books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations.  The first seem to fancy the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate.   Methinks, as on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the rest; so on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment.  Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.

Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man:  and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon Poems.  A Critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point:  and can it then be wondered at, if the Poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error?  For as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments.

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed;  Poetry and Criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.

Yet sure, on the whole, a bad Author deserves better usage than a bad Critic:  for a Writer’s endeavour, for the most part, is to please his Readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a critic’s is to put them out of humour; a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.

I think  a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad Poets.  What we call a Genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself, from a strong inclination:  and if his genius be ever so great, he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken.  The only method he has is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others:  now if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule.  I wish we had the humanity to reflect that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands.  We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in persisting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances.  Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or insincere; and the rest of the world in general is too well-bred to shock them with a truth, which generally their booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have have spent too much of their time to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents; and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to them.  For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world; and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.

On the other hand, a good Poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous.  If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumstances:  for, from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty.  If he has not very good sense (and indeed there are twenty men of wit, for one man of sense) his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a Coxcomb: if he has, he will consequently have so much diffidence as to not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise; since, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it.  Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it:  and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good, as ill-will does him harm.  Then there is a third class of people, who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or suspect him:  a hundred honest Gentlemen will dread him as a Wit, and a hundred innocent women as a Satirist.  In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it.  There are indeed some advantages accruing from a Genius to Poetry, and they are all I can think of:  the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.

I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration.  The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present spirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake.  I would wish people would believe, what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about Fame than I durst declare till this occasion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore:  since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the reader in their favour.  I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these Trifles by Prefaces, byassed by recommendation, dazzled with the names of great Patrons, wheedled with fine reasons and pretences, or troubled with excuses.   I confess it was want of consideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published because I was told, I might please such as it was a credit to please.  To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleased with them at last.  But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so:  for they have always fallen short not only of what I read of others, but even of my own ideas of Poetry.


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Filed under 1770's, Criticism, Poetry, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: A Discourse Delivered on The Day of General Election (1809)

Full Title:  A Discourse, Delivered Before the Lieutenant-Governor, The Council, and the Two Houses Composing the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, May 31, 1809. Being the Day of General Election. By David Osgood, D.D.

. . .  No arts however vile, no intrigues however base and wicked, are scrupled or declined by unprincipled men when circumstances are such as to give them any hope of success.  For the honors and emoluments of office, their thirst is insatiable, and they hurry on to their attainment per fas & nefas.  Though in themselves, weak and worthless, and, from their want of abilities or from their want of integrity, totally incompetent to the duties of a high station; yet, these are the men whose souls are devoured by ambition, in whom it reigns predominant.  They are always aspiring to the chief dignities, always on the watch to burst the doors of public confidence and thrust themselves forward to the chair of State; while, on the other part, the truly wise and good are too modest and diffident thus to obtrude themselves upon the notice of the public.  Instead of placing their happiness in the exercise of dominion over others, they are content with the due government of themselves, and prize the ease and freedom of private life.  It is with no small reluctance, that such men are drawn from their beloved retirement.  The olive tree, the fig tree, the vine, and every good and useful tree, are afraid to turn aside from that course of beneficence allotted them by nature and the author of nature.  Aware of the responsibility annexed to a high station, they dread its snares and temptations.  Doubting of their own capacity to serve the Publick in the best manner, they dread lest by some mistake in their administration, the peace, safety or prosperity of the State should be endangered.  They therefore wish to decline a province to which they fear their talents are not equal.  Nothing but a conviction of duty, of a call in providence will enable them to surmount these scruples.  On the other part, unprincipled men have no difficulties of this kind.  The bramble, whose very nature unfits it to be useful in any place or condition, boldly comes forward, self-assured and self-confident, to be made the head of the whole vegetative creation. . . .

In free governments, during the excitements and tumultuous scenes of popular election while the partisans of rival candidates are discussing the merits and exerting their in behalf of their respective favorites; unpleasant things are unavoidable.  But no truth in the bible is more certain than this, that great and good minds, upright and enlightened statesmen, possessed of a true patriotism, will retain no remembrance of these irritations afterward.  Placed at the helm, from that moment they will cease to know, and from every wish to know, who voted for or against them.  It will be their most studious concern throughout their administration, to show themselves alike blind to, and ignorant of, all parties; bearing an equal relation to, and an equal affection for, each individual and each class and description of the people; entertaining no other thought or design but by an equal, universal, most strenuous and impartial beneficence, to dissolve and melt down into one common mass, all party distinctions.  The will consider themselves as sustaining the representative sovereignty of the country for the good of the whole and of every part; and in the execution of their high office, will regard nothing but the general weal, peace, and prosperity. . . .

Legislators of the commonwealth, as the representatives of the people, chosen and deputed to make their laws, guard their liberties and take care of their concerns; it is natural to suppose that men thus selected and for such purposes, rank among the wisest and most upright of the community.  We have seen however, that a free people, on some occasions, confide these trust to hands unworthy of them.  They are in special danger of committing this folly at a time when the spirits of party is prevalent.  Under the influence of this spirit, the electors consider, not the talents and virtues of good rulers; but whether the candidates to be the bone and flesh of their party — having capacity and zeal to serve its interests.  Their inquiry is, whether he be a brother of the faction to which themselves are attached.  Thus circumstanced, the most violent partisan often obtains the vote.  Could we suppose a legislative assembly, composed of such characters, thus chosen and coming together with such views and dispositions; what would they be but a copse of brambles, the best of them a brier, the most upright sharper than a thorn hedge?

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Filed under 1800's, Early Republic, Federalists, Massachusetts, Political Commentary, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin and William Strahan (1775)

Full Title:  The Works of Benjamin Franklin; Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in any Former Edition, and Many Letters Official and Private Not Hitherto Published; With Notes and A Life of the Author. By Jared Sparks.  Volume VIII. Boston:  Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1839.


Comprising Letters Private and Official, From the Beginning of the American Revolution to

The End of the Author’s Mission to France. 1775-1785.


Philadelphia, 5 July, 1775.

Mr. Strahan,

You are a member of Parliament, and one of that majority, which has doomed my country to destruction.  You have begun to burn our towns, and murder our people.  Look upon your hands, they are stained with the blood of your relations!  You and I were long friends; you are now my enemy, and I am yours,




Passey, Augt, 19th. 1784

Dear Friend

I received your kind Letter of Apl. 17. You will have the goodness to place my delay in answering to the Account of Indisposition and Business, and excuse it. I have now that letter before me; and my Grandson whom you may formerly remember a little Scholar of Mr. Elphinson’s, purposing to set out in a day or two on a visit to his Father in London, I set down to scribble a little to you, first recommending him as a worthy young Man to your Civilities and Counsels.

You press me much to come to England; I am not without strong Inducements to do so; the Fund of Knowledge you promise to communicate to me is an Addition to them, and no small one. At present it is impracticable. But when my Grandson returns, come with him. We will then talk the matter over, and perhaps you may take me back with you. I have a Bed at your service, and will try to make your Residence, while you can stay with us, as agreeable to You if possible, as I am sure it will be to me.

You do not “approve the Annihilation of profitable Places, for you do not see why a Statesman who does his Business well, should not be paid for his Labour as well as any other Workman.” Agreed. But why more than any other Workman? The less the Salary the greater the Honor. In so great a Nation there are many rich enough to afford giving their time to the Public, And there are, I make no doubt many wise and able Men who would take as much Pleasure in governing for nothing as they do in playing Chess for nothing. It would be one of the noblest of Amusements. That this Opinion is not Chimerical the Country I now live in affords a Proof, its whole Civil and Criminal Law Administration being done for nothing, or in some Sense for less than nothing, since the Members of its Judiciary Parliaments buy their Places, and do not make more than three per Cent, for their Money, by their Fees and Emoluments, while the legal Interest is Five: so that in Fact they give two per Cent, to be allow’d to govern, and all their time and trouble into the Bargain. Thus Profit,one Motive for desiring Place, being abolish’d, there remains only Ambition; and that being in some degree ballanced by Loss,you may easily concieve that there will not be very violent Factions and Contentions for such Places; nor much of the Mischief to the Country that attends your Factions, which have often occasioned Wars, and overloaded you with Debts impayable.

I allow all the Force of your Joke upon the Vagrancy of our Congress. They have a right to sit where they please, of which perhaps they have made too much Use by shifting too often—But they have two other Rights; those of sitting when they please, and as long as they please, in which methinks they have the advantage of your Parliament; for they cannot be dissolved by the Breath of a Minister, and sent packing as you were the other day, when it was your earnest desire to have remained longer together.

You “fairly acknowledge that the late War terminated quite contrary to your Expectation.” Your expectation was ill founded; for you would not believe your old Friend, who told you repeatedly that by those Measures England would lose Her Colonies, as Epictetus warn’d in vain his Master that he would break his Leg. You believ’d rather the Tales you heard of our Poltronery and Impotence of Body and Mind. Do you not remember the Story you told me of the Scotch Sergeant, who met with a Party of Forty American Soldiers, and tho’ alone disarm’d them all and brought them in Prisoners; A Story almost as Improbable as that of the Irishman, who pretended to have alone taken and brought in Five of the Enemy, by surroundingthem. And yet, my Friend, sensible and Judicious as you are, but partaking of the general Infatuation, you seemed to believe it. The Word general puts me in mind of a General, your General Clarke, who had the Folly to say in my hearing at Sir John Pringle’s, that with a Thousand British Grenadiers he would undertake to go from one end of America to the other and geld all the Males partly by force and partly by a little Coaxing. It is plain he took us for a Species of Animals very little superior to Brutes. The Parliament too believ’d the Stories of another foolish General, I forget his Name, that the Yankies never felt bold. Yankey was understood to be a sort of Yahoo, and the Parliament did not think the Petitions of such Creatures were fit to be recieved and read in so wise an Assembly. What was the consequence of this monstrous Pride and Insolence? You first send small Armies to Subdue us, believing them more than sufficient, but soon found yourselves obliged to send greater; these whenever they ventured to penetrate our Country beyond the Protection of their Ships, were either repulsed and obliged to scamper out, or were surrounded, beaten, and taken Prisoners. An American Planter who had never seen Europe, was chosen by us to Command our Troops and continu’d during the whole War. This Man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best Generals, baffled, their Heads bare of Laurels, disgraced even in the Opinion of their Employers. Your Contempt of our Understandings in Comparison with your own appeared to be not much better founded than that of our Courage, if we may judge by this Circumstance, that in whatever Court of Europe a Yankey Negociator appeared, the wise British Minister was routed put in a passion, pick’d a quarrel with your Friends, and was sent home with a Flea in his Ear. But after all my dear Friend, do not imagine that I am vain enough to ascribe our Success to any superiority in any of those Points. I am too well acquainted with all the Springs and Levers of our Machine, not to see that our human means were unequal to our undertaking, and that if it had not been for the Justice of our Cause, and the consequent Interposition of Providence in which we had Faith we must have been ruined. If I had ever before been an Atheist I should now have been convinced of the Being and Government of a Deity. It is he who abases the Proud and favors the Humble! May we never forget his Goodness to us, and may our future Conduct manifest our Gratitude.

But let us leave these serious Reflections and converse with our usual Pleasantry. I remember your observing once to me, as we sat together in the House of Commons, that no two Journeymen Printers within your Knowledge had met with such Success in the World as our selves. You were then at the head of your Profession, and soon afterward became a Member of that Parliament. I was an Agent for a few Provinces and now act for them all. But we have risen by different Modes. I as a Republican Printer, always lik’d a Form well plaind down; being averse to those overbearing Letters that hold their Heads so high as to hinder their Neighbours from appearing. You as a Monarchist chose to work upon Crown Paper, and found it profitable; while I work’d upon Pro-patria (often indeed call’d Fools-Cap) with no less advantage. Both our Heapes hold out very well, and we seem likely to make a pretty good days Work of it. With regard to Public Affairs, (to continue in the same stile) it seems to me that the Compositors in your Chapel do not cast off their Copy well, nor perfectly understand Imposing, their Forms too are continually pester’d by the Outs, and Doubles, that are not easy to be corrected. And I think they were wrong in laying aside some Faces, and particularly certain Head-pieces, that would have been both useful and ornamental. But, Courage! The Business may still flourish with good Management; and the Master become as rich as any of the Company.

By the way, the rapid Growth and extension of the English language in America, must become greatly Advantageous to the Booksellers, and holders of Copy Rights in England. A vast audience is assembling there for English Authors, ancient, present and future, our People doubling every twenty Years; and this will demand large, and of course profitable, Impressions of your most valuable Books. I would therefore If I possessed such rights, entail them, if such a thing be practicable, upon my Posterity; for their Worth will be continually Augmenting. This may look a little like Advice, and yet I have drank no Madeira these Ten Months. The Subject however leads me to another thought, which is, that you do wrong to discourage the Emigration of Englishmen to America. In my piece on Population, I have proved, I think, that Emigration does not diminish but multiplies a Nation. You will not have fewer at home for those that go Abroad, And as every Man who comes among us, and takes up a piece of Land, becomes a Citizen, and by our Constitution has a Voice in Elections and a share in the Government of the Country, why should you be against acquiring by this fair Means a Repossession of it, and leave it to be taken by Foreigners of all Nations and Languages who by their Numbers may drown and stifle the English, which otherwise would probably become in the course of two Centuries the most extensive language in the World, the Spanish only excepted. It is a fact that the Irish Emigrants and their Children are now in Possession of the Government of Pensilvania, by their Majority in the Assembly, as well as of a great part of the Territory; and I remember well the first Ship that brought any of them over. I am ever, my dear Friend, Yours most Affectionately


W. Strahan, Esqr.

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Filed under 1770's, 1780's, American Revolution, England, Franklin, Letters, Posted by Rebecca Dresser