Gamaliel Bradford.

The writer; a series of original essays, moral and amusing online

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Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordThe writer; a series of original essays, moral and amusing → online text (page 1 of 10)
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RusseH & Gardner, Printers.

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Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
May it please your Excellency :

This little book is desirous of being received into
your library — It professes to be a friend to religion
and virtue, and it can no where be so sure of meet-
ing these companions, as in the place of your Excel-
lency's retirement.

With great respect and esteem,

I am your Excellency's
Most humble servant,



The following' essays were written weekly, and publish-
ed in the Boston Spectator, during the period, or a part of
the period of the late war. In those times of political dis-
tress, there was scarcely a subject which did not mix more
or less with politics. These papers were an attempt at per-
fect neutralitj*, and an endeavor to beguile and quiet the
mind, almost continually harrassed by party spirit and party

Why they are now collected together, and obtruded upon
the public again, the Author has no very good reason to
offer — It will perhaps, be said, that it is with the foolish de-
sire of making a book — To this then he will plead guilty,
and throw himself upon the mercy of the court; only obser-
ving in excuse, that if he has added nothing to the stores of
wit or learning, he has at least endeavored to discountenance
vice, and to promote the cause of virtue and religion.


No. I....SATURDAY, MAY 14, 1814.

WE have often been told by authors, and par-
ticularly by writers of periodical essays, that at their
first setting out, they were at a loss to determine upon
a proper or significant title to give to their lucubrations.
I have had no difficulty upon this subject — but without
hesitating at all in the matter, readily fixed upon that
which is here placed at the head of my first number.
And as I propose coming abroad, in the character of a
writer, I shall begin my present literary enterprize by
giving some account of myself, and presenting my
readers with a few touches of my own biography.

I am an odd sort of a fellow, and have many whims ;
but my most obstinate propensity is a desire for wri-
ting. If there is really such a disease in the catalogue
of human infirmities, as the cacoethes scribendi, I cer-
tainly am afflicted with it to an incurable degree. If I
were to say it was born with me, all the disciples of
the venerable Locke would be about my ears, and
prove, by dint of logic, that as there are no innate
ideas, there could be, in the mind of an infant, no
predispositions. That the mind of a new born child,
if, by the way, they would allow him any mind at all,
was a mere blank, with no more impression than a
sheet of white paper — &c. As I am a peaceable man,
and have no powers nor inclination for disputing, I
shall pass these gentlemen, with lowly reverence, and
^ive some account of myself from my birth, or, as my
triend Tristram Shandy has done, a little before it,


and let them settle the matter of predisposition, or
original bias from nature, among themselves.

A few weeks before I was born, my mother, (I have
been told) to her great mortification and disappoint-
ment, dreamed, that instead of presenting her husband
at the time expected, with a fine boy, she was deliver-
ed of a feather. The dream was told as usual, and the
gossips of the day immediately began to look for in-
terpretations — Some said the child would be a soldier,
and wear a feather in his cap — some thought I should
be an upholsterer; and some, who, however, out of
tenderness to my parents, said but little about it, se-
cretly believed that the dream foretold, as plainly as a
dream could do, that I should be a light and trifling cha-
racter. Notwithstanding the wisdom and deep research
denoted in these several interpretations, they were all
wrong; and I have ever myself believed, that the fea-
ther in my mama's dream, was from a goose's wing;
that in fact it was nothing less than a quill, and that
it obviously foretold my future character, as a writer.
When I first hit upon this interpretation, I was so im-
pressed with the truth of it, and so proud of my own
ingenuity in discovering it, that I -flew to a learned
friend and laid the whole matter before him, with a
full and flattering expectation that he would give me
as much credit for my ingenuity, as I had given to
myself. But upon my mentioning the goose's wing, he
turned all my pride to mortification, by saying he be-
lieved the dream meant I was to be a goose, and my
coming to him upon such an errand was full completion
of the prophesy. Although this unexpected reproof
was sufficient to induce me to keep my opinion, in fu-
ture, to myself, it did not alter it; and the circumstan-
ces I am about to relate, will, I think, bring many of
my readers over to the same faith.

My ruling passion is writing, and it was manifested
even in my earliest infancy — I was never known to tare
a piece of white paper, (although I have destroyed so
much since) but whenever it came in my way, would
trace my little fingers over it, with the strangest imi-


fation to forming characters and figures ; and if my la-
ther happened to come into the nursery with a pen in his
hand, I was sure to throw away my bells and coral to
grasp at that. These were only tricks of infancy. As I
grew up, and was sent to school, my character still
proceeded to develope itself — my childish sports were
learning to write ; at home or, abroad, at school or in
the street, I always had a pen in my hand ; and have
frequently spoiled my brealkfast, by daubing the ink
over my bread and butter. As I increased in years,
this inclination increased with them, and there was no
writing going on, in which I did not endeavor to have
a hand. I wrote several epitaphs for country church
yards, and have furnished the weather in an almanack
ibr above forty years. In this last species of writing,
I have succeeded wonderfully — the best criticks hav-
ing allowed that I have very judiciously attended to the
two great unities of time and place, in the distribution
of my snow storms ; and that I know how to rise with
the March winds, and fall gently with the showers of
April. 1 can also predict the first appearance of blos-
soms in very flowery language. 1 have sometimes
terrified my readers, in these annual publications, by
the boisterous words in which I have told them "to
expect the equinoxial storm;" and have raised some
pleasing anticipations in the minds of several fair
country lasses, by predicting, at the next harvest and
husking, an unusual supply of red ears. I have like-
wise written several political pieces with credit, and
many of the patriotic effusions of '75 were supplied
from my pen ; insomuch that I have myself thought
that the revolution was as much indebted to my wri-
tings, as to Tom Paine and Common Sense. But this
portion of my labors I consider now lost to the world,
as I have forgotten the names of the publications in
which they appeared, (and presume every body has
forgotten them also) and have no hope they will ever
be brought before the public again by a second edition.
The truth is, I am always writing ; and the town would
be more frequently amused and entertained with my


ideas, if the sapient editors of our newspapers were not
such critical judges of style, taste, and belles-lettres,
as to reject any communications that are not offered
by the right person.

Although I have this unconquerable disposition for
writing, I never run into those kind of literary vaga-
ries which we are told infected the wits of a former
age. I never undertook to write verses in the shape of
a heart, altar, or true love knot ; nor have I attempted
with Puttenham, to erect a temple of words, whose
columns should be worked off by syllables to proper
proportions of the Corinthian order. My propensity
leads me to write straight forward, and I expect immor-
tality as an author, more from the number and extent
of my writings, than from the shape of them.

With this view of my character and disposition, I
offer myself to the Spectator; and with the encourage-
ment and approbation of the proprietor of this paper,
shall undertake to furnish it with occasional essays,
under the title of "The Writer." If there should
be any desire in the public to know something more of
the person and condition of the Writer, these may be
more fully disclosed hereafter. In the mean time, for
their immediate gratification, and particularly out of
respect to the female part of my readers, I hereby
make known, that I am a man of the common size,
airy gait, strong and healthy, and wear no whiskers. A
bachelor, of a middle age — that is to say, verging to-
wards three score ; somewhat addicted to bowing ; very
fond of female company, and although not married
myself, a great advocate for, and promoter of matri-
mony in others, and a very successful maker of match-
es ; so that, should the young ladies of this metropolis
engage me in their service, apply to me for advice, and
conform a little to some general rules, which I may
from time to time prescribe, I have no doubt of seeing
by far the largest number of them in the list of wives
and mothers, before they are out of their teens.

I will also apprize my readers, that I am a great
traveller, and am particularly acquainted with the fe-


male fashions of all countries, from the elegant nudity
of the Paris belle, to the modest Turkish lady, who
suffers nothing but the tip end of her nose to go un-

As to my political sentiments, I shall keep them to
myself, and endeavor to steer a middle course between
the two great parties, which now divide our country.
I am particularly inclined to this, as some of our great
men are prone to change, and therefore, by a magnan-
imous moderation, I may continue in their favor, al-
though they should not continue their former opinions.

No. II.. ..SATURDAY, MAY 21, 1814.

Ix my first number, I gave some account of my
birth and character; in the present, I shall make the
public acquainted with my opinions and manner of
thinking. My readers will then perceive whether
what I said of myself in the beginning will apply to
me or not, viz. that I am an odd sort of a fellow.

That my opinions are odd, very odd indeed, will
readily be granted by all the fashionable, polite, and
genteel part of this metropolis, when I tell them I am
obstinate in maintaining that honesty is a greater
moral virtue than riches, and consequently that virtu-
ous poverty ought, in a christian country, to receive
more countenance and complacency, than splendid
vice; that no man is honest who contracts debts by
living so much above his income, as not to be able to
pay them ; that there is more merit in feeding by se-
cret charity the poor, than in feasting ostentatiously
the rich; that modesty is the prettiest ornament to a
female face, and in the end will always have more
admirers, of taste and sentiment, than forward imper-
tinence, or the haughty assuming airs of a fashionable
beauty; that not only modesty, but even learning, is an


accomplishment in a lady, and Cowper, Milton, and
Cicero, better authors to improve a female mind, than
Tom Jones, Roderick Random, or the Mysteries of

I believe also, contrary to the belief of most of my
gay neighbors, that there is more good instruction to
be obtained at church, than in a play house ; and that,
in point of morals, and the improvement of religious
affections, more is to be gained by attending divine
service, than seeing the representation of any drama-
tic performance whatever ; all the fine arguments which
have been adduced to the contrary notwithstanding.

I have even been so bold as to asssert, that gaming,
intemperance, and profanity, are not, strictly speak-
ing, gentlemanly vices ; but are often found among the
low and vulgar; and therefore, every man who aspires
to character and polite life, should be ashamed of them ;
and although I once received a challenge for incau-
tiously letting slip such a sentiment, and came near
having a pistol argument for my temerity, yet I never
should approve of these vices, even in a man who had
fought twenty duels to defend them.

These are a few of what, when I am disposed to be
humorous, I call my moral eccentricities. I have also
some physical ones, for I always eat when I am hun-
gry, and drink if I thirst, and never look at the town
clock to know if I have an appetite, nor wait for the
bells to ring to judge whether it is a proper time to
break my fasts.

I have moreover some strange notions respecting
the natural world, believing it full as rational that
God should have created all worlds by the word
of his power, as to account for their existence by
supposing that they sprung spontaneously from mat-
ter, (before matter was created,) or were exploded,
one after another, by volcanick eruptions.* That our
Great Pacific Ocean was formed by the moon's ha-
ving been shot out of this watery bed, appears to me

* See Darwin and others.


about as rational, as that the melting of the polar ice
causes that wonderful phenomenon, the regular ebb
and flowing of the tides, and I ingenuously confess
that I do not believe a word of either.

If the public will bear with these oddities, and my
readers encourage me to write, by even making them-
selves merry with my old fashion, and singular opin-
ions, I shall continue to amuse or lecture, flatter or
reproach them, as my several humors may happen to

No. III.... SATURDAY, MAY 28, 1814.

As I am a man of leisure myself, and find a great
many of my acquaintance and townsmen who appear
to have equally nothing to do, I commonly join these
my fellow laborers, and whether they lounge about the
Exchange floor, or reel round the principal corners in
Cornhill, am seen with them in these their usual places
of employ. When the general court is in session, we
have more business in hand, and very industriously
crowd the lobbies, that we may bear testimony to the
spirit and eloquence of this representative body. Thus
it may be said we have promoted laziness to a science,
and, by a sort of community of interests, a mutual
support of each other's burdens, and that countenance
and confidence which number gives to each individual,
we have nearly cleared ourselves of that disgrace
which, in notable times, used to attach to habits of
idleness. But here I wish it to be distinctly under-
stood, that although I join in the daily employment of
this fraternity of gentlemen, I solemnly protest that I
am never with them when they assemble round the
gaming table at night. This, they say, is one of my
oddities, and so it passes off; and I am received
amongst them in the morning, with as much good



humor, as though I had wasted the whole night in
winning their money.

The life of a lounger, whatever may be the opinion
of the public regarding it, is very full of incidents ;
and there is no set of men who have so little time to
spare as those who have nothing to do. The morning
is spent, that part of it at least which is not consumed
in bed, with an equal and judicious distribution of the
busy moments, to sipping your coft'ee, poring over the
daily papers, and variously puffing, twisting and ma-
noeuvring a cigar. And in each of these operations,
however ordinary and harmless to common men, the
lounger finds a deep interest and cause of excitement.
The coffee is too hot or too cold, badly roasted or bad-
ly fried. The papers are barren, dull and insipid — no
battle has been fought, no murders committed, no mail
robberies; not a stage has been overturned, no steam
boat burst, nor powder mill exploded ; there is abso-
lutely no broken limbs, no scalded passengers, nor
mangled carcases to afford amusing conversation for
the whole day. To one who has not the stir of busi-
ness to occupy his mind, here is negative cause suffi-
cient to work it up to tragedy. The street is the next
scene ; we run up as far as the Old South, and down
to the Exchange, and in such an eventful tour we have
as many adventures to record as some who have made
the tour of Europe. We have seen Buonaparte in a
picture shop, and although not introduced to him as
Marchands Americain, yet can converse as fluently
upon his books, air and costume, as though we had ac-
tually been presented at his levee. But our principal
business is to see and make our remarks upon what-
ever is passing. The peaceable citizens of the town,
male and female, are thus by a sort of arbitrary man-
damus, or billet de cachet, arrested, and have to pass
the ordeal of our scrutiny without the privilege, allow-
ed in all free communities, of speaking in their own
defence. As may be expected from such arbitrary pro-
ceedings, and on exparte evidence, the innocent some-
times sutler with the guilty. We have pronounced a


man to be worth an hundred thousand, who in less than
a week proved himself innocent of the charge by clo-
sing his doors and paying only twenty cents upon a
dollar. Whilst another, set down by us as worth no-
thing, very soon made it appear that he had enough to
set up his carriage and pair in despite of our opinions.
This manner of passing our time is certainly very
amusing to us, but whether it affords any pleasure to the
active part of the community, is another question : it
is very pleasant to see what is passing in the streets,
and to make our remarks on the character, dress, or
gait of the passengers ; but it may not be equally agree-
able to a stranger who visits the town, or to ladies who
daily frequent the shops on their necessary concerns,
to support the steady stare of an idle group, who are
always at their posts. It is true, that, amongst our
fraternity, it is the general opinion, that, with respect
to the ladies, there is many a pretty female who flaunts
along these frequented walks, on purpose "to be seen
of men." I declare, however, that I never gave any
heed to the scandal, but on the contrary, have used
many good arguments to prove the accusation false;
and have often plead the propriety of retiring from
these haunts, and to sacrifice the pleasure we enjoy,
rather than give pain to others. But I am sorry to say,
that instead of convincing these gentlemen that they
are wrong, I only convince them that I am an odd
fellow, and have strange notions. I am, however, de-
termined to withdraw from these lounging; resorts mv-
self, and hereby promise, if the ladies will read my
papers, I will stare at them no more.

No. IV....SATURDAY, JUNE 4, 1814.

It is very common for people of one class in so-
ciety to make themselves merry with the fashions of


another: thus the present race of beaux, with their
round toed shoes and cropped hair, are extremely
witty upon any gentleman, who appears before them in
the costume of their grandfathers ; and who, obstinate-
ly attached to the customs of his jovial years, ventures
abroad with pointed shoes, and a bag wig, or a long
queue to his hair.

Female fashions, either from being more important,
or more prolific of objects, have been considered fair
game ever since the time of Addison and Steele, and
the success with which these celebrated essayists at-
tacked the fashionable follies of their day, has induced
almost every periodical writer, since, to sport in the
same field. Although I am a strict observer of the
female world, and the first to take notice of the most
trifling alteration in their dress or ornaments, yet I
never view these occasional changes as matters of
mere caprice or evanescent fancy, but rather as con-
nected by cause or effect, with other great events,
which are often taking place in the natural or politi-
cal world. Perhaps some persons may be disposed to
laugh at this idea, and consider it as another of my
oddities, yet I have the happiness to say, that I am
not entirely alone in this opinion. I have an old and
valuable friend, whom I shall call Dr. Reverie, to
whom I am indebted for this original thought, and who
carries it to greater perfection, and refines upon it
with much more ingenuity of reasoning and acuteness
of argument, than I could ever do myself. I lately
spent a very pleasant evening with the old gentleman,
when the conversation happening to turn upon this
subject, he brought forward his favorite hypothesis,
and discoursed from it as learnedly, and with as much,
apparent conviction of its truth and reality, as Berke-
ly and Hume, Descartes or Malebranche ever did of

I shall endeavor to give some of his observations as
near as I can recollect them, and confine myself as
much as possible to his own language, that my readers
may justly appreciate the character and learning of
my venerable friend.


"One of the most extraordinary fashions," said he,
"that ever prevailed among the females of this or any
other country, was that of wearing those enormous
cushions on their heads. These false and preposterous
ornaments were undoubtedly produced by the war for
our independence, as they regularly increased with
the difficulties of those times, and disappeared with
the rest of our troubles after the peace of 1783.

"Another very remarkable article, in the female
dress, was the hooped petticoat; these have had their
ups and downs in the world, having appeared in
France just before the murder of Henry the Fourth,
by Ravaillac, and subsided during the next reign;
revived in England under the great Duke of Marlbo-
rough, whose Duchess then led the fashions of the
court: and, as it is well known that she ruled the
Queen, and the Queen ruled the realm, it may be said,
emphatically, that the nation wereHJien under petti*
coat government. The last time they prevailed in
this country, was about the revival of commerce, after
the peace ; and although our navigation did not thrive
so much at that particular period, as afterwards, yet an
increasing trade, if not a very profitable one, was car-
ried on under the hooped petticoat. Pockets totally
disappeared during the heat of the French revolution,
and were succeeded by a foreign race of usurpers,
which, though submitted to by a sort of imperious ne-
cessity, have never been admitted to so close and
friendly a connection as the old favorites, but have
been kept at arm's-length ever since. Naked arms
brought contagion into this country; for 'tis a fact,
that yellow fever never left the West Indies till our
ladies adopted the practice of the warm climates, by
going with their arms bare ; and I verily believe, that
this unseasonable and calamitous fashion, swept oft*
more of the citizens of the United States, than were
ever destroyed by gunpowder. Patches were generally
worn the year the sun was totally eclipsed, and Span-
ish mantles came in and went out with the first em-
bargo. As to the more transitory form of the bonnet,


the color of the ribbons, or the manner of putting them
on, these are smaller events ; and, as they vary about
as often, they may reasonably be attached to the wind
and weather, or the usual changes of the atmosphere,
for their operative causes.

"These few instances,'* continued the Dr. "are
sufficient, I think, to convince any reasonable man,
that fashions and politics, and I may add philosophy
and physics, are all connected by some secret chain,
and go hand and hand together."

Here the old gentleman ceased, and as he found no
one to enter the lists to oppose him, he looked as
though he was conscious he had won the whole com-
pany to his system. But, whether they were ready to
subscribe to his theory or not, I am sure they were all
amused with the warmth and ingenuity with which he
supported it.

No. V....SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 1814.

It is said, I believe of the Athenians, or of the
Lacedemonians, that they used to intoxicate their
slaves, and then expose them as ridiculous objects to
their children, and as examples to deter them from the
odious vice of drunkenness. As I believe this a better
way than argument, I shall follow up the idea of these
Grecian sages, and present my fellow citizens the por-
trait of a drunkard, with a view to excite their detes-
tation and abhorrence of that degrading and ruinous


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Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordThe writer; a series of original essays, moral and amusing → online text (page 1 of 10)