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magistrates, but because it was a miraculous event in the history of the
renowned Wouter - being the only time he was ever known to come to a
decision in the whole course of his life.


As some sleek ox, sunk in the rich repose of a clover field, dozing and
chewing the cud, will bear repeated blows before it raises itself, so
the province of Nieuw Nederlandts, having waxed fat under the drowsy
reign of the Doubter, needed cuffs and kicks to rouse it into action.
The reader will now witness the manner in which a peaceful community
advances toward a state of war; which is apt to be like the approach of
a horse to a drum, with much prancing and little progress, and too often
with the wrong end foremost.

Wilhelmus Kieft, who in 1634 ascended the gubernatorial chair (to borrow
a favorite though clumsy appellation of modern phraseologists), was of a
lofty descent, his father being inspector of windmills in the ancient
town of Saardam; and our hero, we are told, when a boy, made very
curious investigations into the nature and operations of these machines,
which was one reason why he afterward came to be so ingenious a
Governor. His name, according to the most authentic etymologists, was a
corruption of Kyver - that is to say, a _wrangler_ or _scolder_, and
expressed the characteristic of his family, which, for nearly two
centuries, have kept the windy town of Saardam in hot water and produced
more tartars and brimstones than any ten families in the place; and so
truly did he inherit this family peculiarity, that he had not been a
year in the government of the province before he was universally
denominated William the Testy. His appearance answered to his name. He
was a brisk, wiry, waspish little old gentleman, such a one as may now
and then be seen stumping about our city in a broad-skirted coat with
huge buttons, a cocked hat stuck on the back of his head, and a cane as
high as his chin. His face was broad, but his features were sharp; his
cheeks were scorched into a dusky red by two fiery little gray eyes, his
nose turned up, and the corners of his mouth turned down, pretty much
like the muzzle of an irritable pug-dog.

I have heard it observed by a profound adept in human physiology, that
if a woman waxes fat with the progress of years, her tenure of life is
somewhat precarious, but if haply she withers as she grows old, she
lives forever. Such promised to be the case with William the Testy, who
grew tough in proportion as he dried. He had withered, in fact, not
through the process of years, but through the tropical fervor of his
soul, which burnt like a vehement rush-light in his bosom, inciting him
to incessant broils and bickerings. Ancient tradition speaks much of his
learning, and of the gallant inroads he had made into the dead
languages, in which he had made captive a host of Greek nouns and Latin
verbs, and brought off rich booty in ancient saws and apothegms, which
he was wont to parade in his public harangues, as a triumphant general
of yore his _spolia opima_. Of metaphysics he knew enough to confound
all hearers and himself into the bargain. In logic he knew the whole
family of syllogisms and dilemmas, and was so proud of his skill that he
never suffered even a self-evident fact to pass unargued. It was
observed, however, that he seldom got into an argument without getting
into a perplexity, and then into a passion with his adversary for not
being convinced gratis.

He had, moreover, skirmished smartly on the frontiers of several of the
sciences, was fond of experimental philosophy, and prided himself upon
inventions of all kinds. His abode, which he had fixed at a Bowerie or
country-seat at a short distance from the city, just at what is now
called Dutch Street, soon abounded with proofs of his ingenuity: patent
smoke-jacks that required a horse to work them; Dutch ovens that roasted
meat without fire; carts that went before the horses; weathercocks that
turned against the wind; and other wrong-headed contrivances that
astonished and confounded all beholders. The house, too, was beset with
paralytic cats and dogs, the subjects of his experimental philosophy;
and the yelling and yelping of the latter unhappy victims of science,
while aiding in the pursuit of knowledge, soon gained for the place the
name of "Dog's Misery," by which it continues to be known even at the
present day.

It is in knowledge as in swimming: he who flounders and splashes on the
surface makes more noise, and attracts more attention, than the
pearl-diver who quietly dives in quest of treasures to the bottom. The
vast acquirements of the new Governor were the theme of marvel among the
simple burghers of New Amsterdam; he figured about the place as learned
a man as a Bonze at Pekin, who had mastered one-half of the Chinese
alphabet, and was unanimously pronounced a "universal genius!" ...

Thus end the authenticated chronicles of the reign of William the Testy;
for henceforth, in the troubles, perplexities and confusion of the
times, he seems to have been totally overlooked, and to have slipped
forever through the fingers of scrupulous history....

It is true that certain of the early provincial poets, of whom there
were great numbers in the Nieuw Nederlandts, taking advantage of his
mysterious exit, have fabled that, like Romulus, he was translated to
the skies, and forms a very fiery little star somewhere on the left claw
of the Crab; while others, equally fanciful, declare that he had
experienced a fate similar to that of the good King Arthur, who, we are
assured by ancient bards, was carried away to the delicious abodes of
fairy-land, where he still exists in pristine worth and vigor, and will
one day or another return to restore the gallantry, the honor and the
immaculate probity which prevailed in the glorious days of the Round

All these, however, are but pleasing fantasies, the cobweb visions of
those dreaming varlets, the poets, to which I would not have my
judicious readers attach any credibility. Neither am I disposed to
credit an ancient and rather apocryphal historian who asserts that the
ingenious Wilhelmus was annihilated by the blowing down of one of his
windmills; nor a writer of latter times, who affirms that he fell a
victim to an experiment in natural history, having the misfortune to
break his neck from a garret window of the stadthouse in attempting to
catch swallows by sprinkling salt upon their tails. Still less do I put
my faith in the tradition that he perished at sea in conveying home to
Holland a treasure of golden ore, discovered somewhere among the haunted
regions of the Catskill Mountains.

The most probable account declares that, what with the constant troubles
on his frontiers, the incessant schemings and projects going on in his
own pericranium, the memorials, petitions, remonstrances and sage pieces
of advice of respectable meetings of the sovereign people, and the
refractory disposition of his councilors, who were sure to differ from
him on every point and uniformly to be in the wrong, his mind was kept
in a furnace-heat until he became as completely burnt out as a Dutch
family pipe which has passed through three generations of hard smokers.
In this manner did he undergo a kind of animal combustion, consuming
away like a farthing rush-light; so that when grim death finally snuffed
him out there was scarce left enough of him to bury.


Peter Stuyvesant was the last, and, like the renowned Wouter Van
Twiller, the best of our ancient Dutch Governors, Wouter having
surpassed all who preceded him, and Peter, or Piet, as he was sociably
called by the old Dutch burghers, who were ever prone to familiarize
names, having never been equaled by any successor. He was in fact the
very man fitted by nature to retrieve the desperate fortunes of her
beloved province, had not the Fates, those most potent and unrelenting
of all ancient spinsters, destined them to inextricable confusion.

To say merely that he was a hero would be doing him great injustice; he
was in truth a combination of heroes; for he was of a sturdy, raw-boned
make, like Ajax Telamon, with a pair of round shoulders that Hercules
would have given his hide for (meaning his lion's hide) when he
undertook to ease old Atlas of his load. He was, moreover, as Plutarch
describes Coriolanus, not only terrible for the force of his arm, but
likewise of his voice, which sounded as though it came out of a barrel;
and, like the self-same warrior, he possessed a sovereign contempt for
the sovereign people, and an iron aspect which was enough of itself to
make the very bowels of his adversaries quake with terror and dismay.
All this martial excellency of appearance was inexpressibly heightened
by an accidental advantage, with which I am surprised that neither Homer
nor Virgil have graced any of their heroes. This was nothing less than a
wooden leg, which was the only prize he had gained in bravely fighting
the battles of his country, but of which he was so proud that he was
often heard to declare he valued it more than all his other limbs put
together: indeed, so highly did he esteem it that he had it gallantly
enchased and relieved with silver devices, which caused it to be related
in divers histories and legends that he wore a silver leg.


The very first movements of the great Peter, on taking the reins of
government, displayed his magnanimity, though they occasioned not a
little marvel and uneasiness among the people of the Manhattoes. Finding
himself constantly interrupted by the opposition, and annoyed by the
advice of his privy council, the members of which had acquired the
unreasonable habit of thinking and speaking for themselves during the
preceding reign, he determined at once to put a stop to such grievous
abominations. Scarcely, therefore, had he entered upon his authority,
than he turned out of office all the meddlesome spirits of the factious
cabinet of William the Testy; in place of whom he chose unto himself
counselors from those fat, somniferous, respectable burghers who had
flourished and slumbered under the easy reign of Walter the Doubter. All
these he caused to be furnished with abundance of fair long pipes, and
to be regaled with frequent corporation dinners, admonishing them to
smoke, and eat, and sleep for the good of the nation, while he took the
burden of government upon his own shoulders - an arrangement to which
they all gave hearty acquiescence.

Nor did he stop here, but made a hideous rout among the inventions and
expedients of his learned predecessor, rooting up his patent gallows,
where caitiff vagabonds were suspended by the waistband; demolishing his
flag-staffs and windmills, which, like mighty giants, guarded the
ramparts of New Amsterdam; pitching to the duyvel whole batteries of
Quaker guns; and, in a word, turning topsy-turvy the whole philosophic,
economic and windmill system of the immortal sage of Saardam.

The honest folks of New Amsterdam began to quake now for the fate of
their matchless champion, Antony the Trumpeter, who had acquired
prodigious favor in the eyes of the women by means of his whiskers and
his trumpet. Him did Peter the Headstrong cause to be brought into his
presence, and eying him for a moment from head to foot, with a
countenance that would have appalled anything else than a sounder of
brass - "Pr'ythee, who and what art thou?" said he.

"Sire," replied the other, in no wise dismayed, "for my name, it is
Antony Van Corlear; for my parentage, I am the son of my mother; for my
profession, I am champion and garrison of this great city of New
Amsterdam." "I doubt me much," said Peter Stuyvesant, "that thou art
some scurvy costard-monger knave. How didst thou acquire this paramount
honor and dignity?" "Marry, sir," replied the other, "like many a great
man before me, simply _by sounding my own trumpet_." "Ay, is it so?"
quoth the Governor; "why, then, let us have a relish of thy art."
Whereupon the good Antony put his instrument to his lips, and sounded a
charge with such a tremendous outset, such a delectable quaver, and such
a triumphant cadence, that it was enough to make one's heart leap out of
one's mouth only to be within a mile of it. Like as a war-worn charger,
grazing in peaceful plains, starts at a strain of martial music, pricks
up his ears, and snorts, and paws, and kindles at the noise, so did the
heroic Peter joy to hear the clangor of the trumpet; for of him might
truly be said, what was recorded of the renowned St. George of England,
"there was nothing in all the world that more rejoiced his heart than to
hear the pleasant sound of war, and see the soldiers brandish forth
their steeled weapons." Casting his eye more kindly, therefore, upon the
sturdy Van Corlear, and finding him to be a jovial varlet, shrewd in his
discourse, yet of great discretion and immeasurable wind, he straightway
conceived a vast kindness for him, and discharging him from the
troublesome duty of garrisoning, defending and alarming the city, ever
after retained him about his person as his chief favorite, confidential
envoy and trusty squire. Instead of disturbing the city with disastrous
notes, he was instructed to play so as to delight the Governor while at
his repasts, as did the minstrels of yore in the days of the glorious
chivalry - and on all public occasions to rejoice the ears of the people
with warlike melody thereby keeping alive a noble and martial spirit.


It is tropically observed by honest old Socrates, that heaven infuses
into some men at their birth a portion of intellectual gold, into others
of intellectual silver, while others are intellectually furnished with
iron and brass. Of the last class was General Van Poffenburgh; and it
would seem as if dame Nature, who will sometimes be partial, had given
him brass enough for a dozen ordinary braziers. All this he had
contrived to pass off upon William the Testy for genuine gold; and the
little Governor would sit for hours and listen to his gunpowder stories
of exploits, which left those of Tirante the White, Don Belianis of
Greece, or St. George and the Dragon quite in the background. Having
been promoted by William Kieft to the command of his whole disposable
forces, he gave importance to his station by the grandiloquence of his
bulletins, always styling himself Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of
the New Netherlands, though in sober truth these armies were nothing
more than a handful of hen-stealing, bottle-bruising ragamuffins.

In person he was not very tall, but exceedingly round; neither did his
bulk proceed from his being fat, but windy, being blown up by a
prodigious conviction of his own importance, until he resembled one of
those bags of wind given by Æolus, in an incredible fit of generosity,
to that vagabond warrior Ulysses. His windy endowments had long excited
the admiration of Antony Van Corlear, who is said to have hinted more
than once to William the Testy that in making Van Poffenburgh a general
he had spoiled an admirable trumpeter.

As it is the practice in ancient story to give the reader a description
of the arms and equipments of every noted warrior, I will bestow a word
upon the dress of this redoubtable commander. It comported with his
character, being so crossed and slashed, and embroidered with lace and
tinsel, that he seemed to have as much brass without as nature had
stored away within. He was swathed, too, in a crimson sash, of the size
and texture of a fishing-net - doubtless to keep his swelling heart from
bursting through his ribs. His face glowed with furnace-heat from
between a huge pair of well-powdered whiskers, and his valorous soul
seemed ready to bounce out of a pair of large, glassy, blinking eyes,
projecting like those of a lobster.

I swear to thee, worthy reader, if history and tradition belie not this
warrior, I would give all the money in my pocket to have seen him
accoutred _cap-á-pie_ - booted to the middle, sashed to the chin,
collared to the ears, whiskered to the teeth, crowned with an
overshadowing cocked hat, and girded with a leathern belt ten inches
broad, from which trailed a falchion, of a length that I dare not
mention. Thus equipped, he strutted about, as bitter-looking a man of
war as the far-famed More, of Morehall, when he sallied forth to slay
the dragon of Wantley. For what says the ballad?

"Had you but seen him in this dress,
How fierce he looked and how big,
You would have thought him for to be
Some Egyptian porcupig.
He frighted all - cats, dogs, and all,
Each cow, each horse, and each hog;
For fear they did flee, for they took him to be
Some strange outlandish hedgehog."

- _Knickerbocker's History of New York._

* * * * *

"A friend of mine," said a citizen, "asked me the other evening to go
and call on some friends of his who had lost the head of the family the
day previous. He had been an honest old man, a laborer with a pick and
shovel. While we were with the family an old man entered who had worked
by his side for years. Expressing his sorrow at the loss of his friend,
and glancing about the room, he observed a large floral anchor.
Scrutinizing it closely, he turned to the widow and in a low tone asked,
'Who sent the pick?'"

While Butler was delivering a speech for the Democrats in Boston during
an exciting campaign, one of his hearers cried out, "How about the
spoons, Ben?" Benjamin's good eye twinkled merrily as he replied: "Now,
don't mention that, please. I was a Republican when I stole those



Never spare the parson's wine, nor the baker's pudding.

A house without woman or firelight is like a body without soul or

Kings and bears often worry their keepers.

Light purse, heavy heart.

He's a fool that makes his doctor his heir.

Ne'er take a wife till thou hast a house (and a fire) to put her in.

To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.

He that drinks fast pays slow.

He is ill-clothed who is bare of virtue.

Beware of meat twice boil'd, and an old foe reconcil'd.

The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in
his heart.

He that is rich need not live sparingly, and he that can live sparingly
need not be rich.

He that waits upon fortune is never sure of a dinner.


PARIS, April 2, 1777.

_Sir_: The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to
give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him,
not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it
is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings
another equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they
recommend one another! As to this gentleman, I must refer you to
himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly
better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however,
to those civilities which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm,
has a right to; and I request you will do him all the favor that, on
further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the
honor to be, etc.




Mr. Dickson, a colored barber in a large New England town, was shaving
one of his customers, a respectable citizen, one morning, when a
conversation occurred between them respecting Mr. Dickson's former
connection with a colored church in that place:

"I believe you are connected with the church in Elm Street, are you not,
Mr. Dickson?" said the customer.

"No, sah, not at all."

"What! are you not a member of the African church?"

"Not dis year, sah."

"Why did you leave their communion, Mr. Dickson, if I may be permitted
to ask?"

"Well, I'll tell you, sah," said Mr. Dickson, stropping a concave razor
on the palm of his hand, "it was just like dis. I jined de church in
good fait'; I gave ten dollars toward the stated gospil de first year,
and de church people call me '_Brudder_ Dickson'; de second year my
business not so good, and I gib only _five_ dollars. That year the
people call me '_Mr._ Dickson.' Dis razor hurt you, sah?"

"No, the razor goes tolerably well."

"Well, sah, de third year I feel berry poor; had sickness in my family;
I didn't gib _noffin_' for preachin'. Well, sah, arter dat dey call me
'_dat old nigger Dickson_' - and I left 'em."



Miss Flora M'Flimsey, of Madison Square,
Has made three separate journeys to Paris,
And her father assures me, each time she was there,
That she and her friend, Mrs. Harris
(Not the lady whose name is so famous in history,
But plain Mrs. H., without romance or mystery),
Spent six consecutive weeks, without stopping,
In one continuous round of shopping -
Shopping alone, and shopping together,
At all hours of the day, and in all sorts of weather,
For all manner of things that a woman can put
On the crown of her head, or the sole of her foot,
Or wrap round her shoulders, or fit round her waist,
Or that can be sewed on, or pinned on, or laced,
Or tied on with a string, or stitched on with a bow
In front or behind, above or below;
For bonnets, mantillas, capes, collars and shawls;
Dresses for breakfasts, and dinners, and balls;
Dresses to sit in, and stand in, and walk in;
Dresses to dance in, and flirt in, and talk in;
Dresses in which to do nothing at all;
Dresses for winter, spring, summer and fall;
All of them different in color and shape,
Silk, muslin and lace, velvet, satin and crape,
Brocade and broadcloth, and other material,
Quite as expensive and much more ethereal;
In short, for all things that could ever be thought of,
Or milliner, _modiste_ or tradesman be bought of,
From ten-thousand-franc robes to twenty-sous frills;
In all quarters of Paris, and to every store,
While M'Flimsey in vain stormed, scolded and swore,
They footed the streets, and he footed the bills!

The last trip, their goods shipped by the steamer _Arago_,
Formed, M'Flimsey declares, the bulk of her cargo,
Not to mention a quantity kept from the rest,
Sufficient to fill the largest-sized chest,
Which did not appear on the ship's manifest,
But for which the ladies themselves manifested
Such particular interest, that they invested
Their own proper persons in layers and rows
Of muslins, embroideries, worked underclothes,
Gloves, handkerchiefs, scarfs, and such trifles as those;
Then, wrapped in great shawls, like Circassian beauties,
Gave _good-by_ to the ship, and _go by_ to the duties.
Her relations at home all marveled, no doubt,
Miss Flora had grown so enormously stout
For an actual belle and a possible bride;
But the miracle ceased when she turned inside out,
And the truth came to light, and the dry-goods besides,
Which, in spite of Collector and Custom-House sentry,
Had entered the port without any entry.

And yet, though scarce three months have passed since the day
This merchandise went, on twelve carts, up Broadway,
This same Miss M'Flimsey of Madison Square,
The last time we met was in utter despair,
Because she had nothing whatever to wear!

Nothing to wear! Now, as this is a true ditty,
I do not assert - this, you know, is between us -
That she's in a state of absolute nudity,
Like Powers's Greek Slave or the Medici Venus;
But I do mean to say, I have heard her declare,
When at the same moment she had on a dress
Which cost five hundred dollars, and not a cent less,
And jewelry worth ten times more, I should guess,
That she had not a thing in the wide world to wear!

I should mention just here, that out of Miss Flora's
Two hundred and fifty or sixty adorers,
I had just been selected as he who should throw all
The rest in the shade, by the gracious bestowal
On myself, after twenty or thirty rejections,
Of those fossil remains which she called her "affections,"

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Online LibraryVariousLittle Masterpieces of American Wit and Humor → online text (page 2 of 11)