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and improvements in long communications beginning, "Mr. Printer," and, when the town is dull, has a letter from Alice Addertongue, or a note from Bob Brief, or a piece of pleasantry just coarse enough to excite a laugh. Now he pretends that he is besought to
"Pray let the prettiest creature in this place know (by publishing this) that if it was not for her affectation she would be absolutely irresistible;" and, of course, in the next issue of the "Gazette has six denials from the six prettiest creatures in the place. He hears that in Bucks County a flash of lightning melted the pewter button off the waistband of a farmer's breeches, and observes, ""T is well nothing else thereabouts was made of pewter." Another week the casuist offers an "honorary reward to any cabalist" who shall demonstrate that Z contains more occult virtue than X. Then there is "a pecuniary gratification" for anybody who shall prove "that a man's having a Property in a tract of land, more or less, is thereby entitled to any advantage, irrespective of understanding, over another Fellow, who has no other Estate than the air to breathe in, the Earth to walk upon, and all the rivers of the world to drink of." When nothing else will serve, his own mishaps are described for the amusement of the town. "Thursday last, a cer
tain Pr ('t is not customary to give names at length on these occasions) walking carefully in clean Clothes over some Barrels of Tar on Carpenter's Wharff, the head of one of them unluckily gave way, and let a Leg of him in above the Knee. Whether he was upon the Catch at that time, we cannot say, but 't is certain he caught a Tar-tar. 'Twas observed he sprang out again right briskly, verifying the common saying, As nimble as a Bee in a Tarbarrel. You must know there are several sorts of Bees: 't is true he was no Honey Bee, nor yet a Humble Bee; but a Boo-Bee he may be allowed to be, namely B. F.”
His more serious contributions to the "Gazette may be classed as dialogues, as bad as those of any writer; pieces of domestic and political economy after the manner of "Poor Richard;" moral essays and pieces of pleasantry and mirth, which he has himself declared "have a secret charm in them to allay the heats and tumours of our spirits, and to make a man forget his restless resentments."
Writings of this description would usually appear when storms delayed the London packets and the "Craftsman and the "British Journal" failed to come to hand; when winter interrupted travel, and the postman made his trips northward but once a fortnight; when the
freezing of the rivers shut out the coasters, and news grew scarce and trade grew dull; when the town, no longer absorbed in business, was more than ever ready to be amused. Anything to break the dullness was acceptable, and something was sure to come. One week he affects to be one of the tribe of pedants whose business it is to expurgate, annotate, and deface the text of ancient authors with silly comments and with useless notes; takes a nursery rhyme for his text; has much to say of readings, manuscripts, and versions; and treats his readers to a good satire, which has, in our day, found an unconscious imitator in the author of the sermon on "Old Mother Hubbard." Another week he is a purchaser laughing at the tradesmen for always protesting that they sell wares for less than cost; and in the next number is a tradesman laughing at buyers who assert in every shop they enter that the goods they are examining can be had for less elsewhere. But better than any of these are "The Meditations on a Quart Mug," the account of the witch trial at Mount Holly, and the "Speech of Miss Polly Baker before a Court of Judicatory in New England, where she was presented for the fifth time for having a Bastard Child."
To a generation that frowns on Tom Jones and Peregrine Pickle, the speech of Miss Polly
is coarse in the extreme. But it enjoyed in its own time an immense popularity, was printed and reprinted for fifty years, was cited by Abbé Raynal in his "Histoire Philosophique des Deux Indes" as a veritable fact, and is assuredly a rare piece of wit. The account of the witch - ducking is nearly as witty, cannot be accused of being coarse, is not to be found among Franklin's collected writings, and may therefore be given in full.
Saturday last, at Mount Holly, about eight miles from this place [Burlington], near three hundred people were gathered together to see an experiment or two tried on some persons accused of witchcraft. It seems the accused had been charged with making the neighbours' sheep dance in an uncommon manner, and with causing hogs to speak and sing Psalms, etc., to the great terror and amazement of the king's good and peaceful subjects in the province; and the accusers, being very positive that if the accused were weighed against a Bible, the Bible would prove too heavy for them; or that, if they were bound and put into the River they would swim; the said accused, desirous to make innocence appear, voluntarily offered to undergo the said trials if two of the most violent of their accusers would be tried with them. Accordingly the time and place was agreed on and advertised
about the country. The accused were one man and one woman: and the accusers the same. The parties being met and the people got together, a grand consultation was held before they proceeded to trial, in which it was agreed to use the scales first; and a committee of men were appointed to search the man, and a committee of women to search the woman, to see if they had anything of weight about them, particularly pins. After the scrutiny was over a huge great Bible belonging to the Justice of the Peace was produced, and a lane through the populace was made from the Justice's house to the scales, which were fixed on a gallows erected for that purpose opposite to the house, that the Justice's wife and the rest of the ladies might see the trial without coming among the mob, and after the manner of Moorefield a large ring was also made. Then came out of the house a grave, tall man carrying the Holy Writ before the wizard as solemnly as the sword-bearer of London before the Lord Mayor. The wizard was first placed in the scale, and over him was read a chapter out of the Book of Moses, and then the Bible was put in the other scale, which, being kept down before, was immediately let go; but, to the great surprise of the spectators, flesh and blood came down plump and outweighed that great good Book by abundance.