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of the well bred by discreet drafts upon the burry, homely, sententious, proverbial language of the people. Like Lord Bacon and like many other grave men among his fellow-countrymen, he found it difficult to avoid an opportunity for a jest even when the occasion was unpropitious; and he never sat below the Attic salt. When his fortune was made, he put by the pewter spoon and bowl of his apprenticeship; his biographers remind us that he kept a well stocked cellar at Passy and enjoyed the distinction of suffering from the gout. With affluence and years he acquired a "palate," and gave a little play to the long repressed tastes of an Epicurean whom early destiny had cast upon a rock-bound coast. The literary expression of his autumnal festivity is to be found in the bagatelles. The Ephemera proves that this great eighteenthcentury rationalist had a fancy. It is no relative, indeed, of that romantic spirit which pipes to the whistling winds on the enchanted greens of Shakespeare. It is rather the classic Muse of eighteenth-century art which summons the rosy Loves and Desires to sport among the courtiers and philosophers and the wasp-waisted ladies in a fête champêtre or an Embarkment for Cythera of Watteau. The tallow chandler's son who enters on the cycle of his development by cultivating thrift with Defoe, continues it by cultivating tolerance and philanthropy with Voltaire, and completes it with Lord Chesterfield by cultivating “the graces.”
Colonial Newspapers and Magazines,
HE development of the colonial press coincides with a
period often regarded as narrowly provincial in Ameri
can literature. That spirit of adventure which enlivens the early historical narratives had settled into a thrifty concern with practical affairs, combined with an exaggerated interest in fine-spun doctrinal reasoning. The echoes of Spenser and other Elizabethans to be heard in some few Puritan elegies and in Anne Bradstreet's quaint imagery, had died away. Knowledge of Europe had become so casual that the colonial newspaper often found it necessary to describe Dresden or Berlin as “a fair, large, and strong city of Germany,” and to insert other geographical notes of the simplest sort.
These limitations in the colonial point of view, however, had several striking effects on the early journalism between 1704 and 1750, or thereabouts. The reader who examines the small, ill-printed, half illegible news sheets is surprised to find them more varied in many ways, and more distinctly literary than modern journalism aims to be. The simple fact of the matter is that the dearth of news at length forced the editorial mind to become inventive and even, in some instances, creative. When we remember that European news failed entirely during the long winters; that intercolonial communication was irregular and unsystematic; that criticism of the government in political editorials meant an official inquiry followed by the forced discontinuance of the paper, if not by a trial for libel; that the public already had enough religious exhortation from the pulpit and from pamphlets on The Fatal Consequences of Unscriptural Doctrine or Twenty Considerations against Sin,-remembering these things it will not seem so extraordinary that the newspapers turned to the spectacle of the actual life about them, and, to convey it, sought their models in the world of letters so little known in the colonies.
It was James Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's older brother, who first made a news sheet something more than a garbled mass of stale items, “taken from the Gazetts and other Publick Prints of London" some six months late. Franklin, "encouraged by a number of respectable characters, who were desirous of having a paper of a different cast from those then published, ... began the publication, at his own risk, of a third newspaper, entitled The New England Courant.”. These respectable characters were known as the Hell-Fire Club; they succeeded in publishing a paper “of a different cast, which, although it shocked New England orthodoxy pretty thoroughly, nevertheless proved vastly entertaining and established a kind of literary precedent.
For instead of filling the first page of the Courant with the tedious conventionalities of governors' addresses to provincial legislatures, James Franklin's club wrote essays and satirical letters after the manner of The Spectator just ten years after the first appearance of The Spectator in London. How novel the whole method would be to New England readers may be inferred from the fact that even the Harvard library had no copies of Addison or Steele at this period. Swift, Pope, Prior, and Dryden would also have been looked for in vain. Milton himself was little known in the stronghold of Puritanism. But the printing office of James Franklin had Shakespeare, Milton, Addison, Steele, Cowley, Butler's Hudibras, and “The Tail of the Tub"? on its shelves. All these were read and used in the editor's office, but The Spectator and its kind became the actual model for the new journalism.
As a result, the very look of an ordinary first page of the Courant is like that of a Spectator page. After the more formal introductory paper on some general topic, such as zeal or
* Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America. In Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, vol. v, p. 110.
* The spelling of the Courant.
hypocrisy or honour or contentment, the facetious letters of imaginary correspondents commonly fill the remainder of the Courant's first page. Timothy Turnstone addresses flippant jibes to Justice Nicholas Clodpate in the first extant number of the Courant. Tom Pen-Shallow quickly follows, with his mischievous little postscript: "Pray inform me whether in your Province Criminals have the Privilege of a Jury.” Tom Tram writes from the moon about a certain "villainous Postmaster” he has heard rumours of. (The Courant was always perilously close to legal difficulties and had, besides, a lasting feud with the town postmaster.) Ichabod Henroost complains of a gadding wife. Abigail Afterwit would like to know when the editor of the rival paper, the Gazette, “intends to have done printing the Carolina Addresses to their Governour, and give his Readers Something in the Room of them, that will be more entertaining.” Homespun Jack deplores the fashions in general, and small waists in particular. Some of these papers represent native wit, with only a general approach to the model; others are little more than paraphrases of The Spectator. And sometimes a Spectator paper is inserted bodily, with no attempt at paraphrase whatever.
Benjamin Franklin, a mere boy at this time, contributed to the Courant the first fruits of his days and nights with Addison. The fourteen little essays from Silence Dogood to the editor are among the most readable and charming of Franklin's early imitations, clearly following The Spectator, yet at rather long range and with considerable adaptation to the New England environment. Silence rambles on amiably enough except for occasional slurs on the New England clergy, in regard to whom the Courant was always bitter, and often scurrilous. For the Hell-Fire Club never grasped the inner secret of Mr. Spectator, his urbane, imperturbable, impersonal kindliness of manner. Instead, they vented their hatred of dogmatism and intolerance in personalities so insolent as to become in themselves intolerant. Entertaining, however, the Courant is, from first to last, and full of a genuine humour and a shrewd satiric truth to life.
Offensive as the Courant certainly was to New England orthodoxy, its literary method was seized upon and used in the new paper established under the influence of the Boston clergymen Mather Byles and Thomas Prince. This was The New England Weekly Journal, and Mather Byles, hailed at the time as “Harvard's honour and New England's hope,” who “bids fair to rise, and sing, and rival Pope's contributed largely to the verse and prose on the first page of the paper. A series of “Speculations” is announced, in exact and close imitation of The Spectator; even a fictitious author, Proteus Echo, appears as a new Spectator of men and manners, to banter a folly by representing it in a glass. He forms a club, and sketches the members for us in his second essay, which proceeds exactly as the second number of The Spectator.
These characters of Proteus Echo's "Society" show some good strokes. There is Mr. Timothy Blunt, an amusing New England version of Sir Roger de Coverley. He lives at some distance from the town of Boston, but rides in every week, often bringing his “Wallet ballanced with two Bottles of Milk, to defray his necessary. Expenses. His Periwigg has been out of the Curl ever since the Revolution and his Dagger and Doublet are supposed to be the rarest Pieces of Antiquity in the Country." If it had not been for an unlucky stroke to his “Intellectuals” in his infancy, “he would have stood the fairest of any of his Contemporarys to have found out the Philosopher's Stone.” The “wonderful Mr. Honeysuckle, the Blossom of our Society, and the beautiful Ornament of Litterature,” is nothing less than Will Honeycomb translated
into a poet.
On the whole, however, such work is rare in the Journal. Strictly moral essays, of which even The Spectator has its full share, soon follow the more creative touches, and we find the ordinary eighteenth-century treatment of merit, covetousness, idleness, the vapours, and so on. Such essays came to be the accepted "filling" for the first page of many newspapers up to 1740 and sometimes after that date. Jeremy Gridley's Rehearsal (1743–6), for instance, has a series of speculations rather above the common order, yet requiring no especial notice for their originality or their importance except as a type.
Benjamin Franklin's later journalism amply fulfilled the promise contained in the Silence Dogood papers. When he finally established himself in Philadelphia, shortly before
See Book I, Chap. IX.