Old New England Traits Part 7

Old New England Traits -

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"Why, man," she answered, "what dreadful thing has befallen you? Take comfort and come to supper." But he, when he went on sobbing and sighing, and would take no food, and his wife pressed him to tell the cause of his woe, at last said, "Don't you know the bad news I have heard to-day?"

"What?" asked the wife. "Roland is dead, who alone was the safeguard of Christendom." On which his wife tried to soothe the silly grief of her husband, and yet, with all her tenderness, could scarce get him to sit down to meat.'"[13]

The effect of the ballad, however, upon the worthy man of Milan reminds one of the historical incident, recording the effect of song, celebrated anew in one of the stanzas of Childe Harold:--

"When Athens' armies fell at Syracuse, And fettered thousands felt the yoke of war, Redemption rose up in the Attic Muse, Her voice their only ransom from afar; See! as they chant the tragic hymn, the car Of the o'ermastered victor stops: the reins Fall from his hands--his idle scimitar Starts from its belt--he rends his captives' chains, And bids them thank the bard for freedom and his strains."


The ancestor of Colonel Edward Wigglesworth, mentioned in the text, an officer of the Revolution, highly esteemed by Was.h.i.+ngton, was Rev.

Michael Wigglesworth, author of "The Day of Doom," published in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and reprinted in London; a dreadfully dismal, but edifying poem, and not without a certain horrifying merit.


Were it within the scope of this work, I might furnish a catalogue, by no means meagre, of inhabitants formerly distinguished in their day and generation. For example, I have heard it stated as a curious fact, that, not far from the beginning of the present century, each of the three Professors of Harvard College, namely, Professors Webber, afterwards President; Pearson, and Toppan, were natives of Newbury.


I could hardly dismiss this volume from my hands without some reference to the means of public information furnished by the newspapers of the town. Of these, there have been, since "The Ess.e.x Journal," soon afterwards merged in "The Impartial Herald," and first published in 1773, between thirty and forty attempts to establish newspapers; but the "Herald," the successor of those before-named, for many years conducted as a semi-weekly journal, and since the year 1832 as a daily paper, has alone steadily maintained its ground. It has always been distinguished for the editorial ability displayed in its columns, and for a care bestowed upon its several departments, which gave it a high reputation, scarcely surpa.s.sed by that of leading journals in our larger cities.

"The Ess.e.x Journal" was begun by Isaiah Thomas, who in the course of a year sold his interest in it to Ezra Lunt; and he, after two years, obeying another call to public service, sold it to John Mycall. The first of these began life in the humblest condition, without schooling of any kind, it is alleged; taught himself to read and write, and after a time removed to Worcester, became connected with a noted paper there, the "Ma.s.sachusetts Spy," at length acc.u.mulated a handsome fortune, for the times, much of which, after a long life, he bequeathed to the Antiquarian Society of Worcester, and a portion to Harvard College, and other literary inst.i.tutions. He was the founder, also, of the American Antiquarian Society. He became a writer and educator of much repute.

Upon the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, Mr. Ezra Lunt was the first man who volunteered, in the meeting-house, when the minister, Rev.

Mr. Parsons, exhorted his paris.h.i.+oners to military service; was chosen captain of the company, with which he was present in command at Bunker Hill, and afterwards was raised to the rank of major. He took part in the battle of Monmouth Court House, when the British army, under Sir Henry Clinton, retired with much difficulty and loss before Was.h.i.+ngton, and used to relate the particulars of the well-known rebuke administered by that great chief to General Charles Lee for his hasty retreat from the advanced post, which had been a.s.signed him. He declared himself to have been close by at the moment, and to have heard the energetic language used on the occasion. After the war, he received his allotment of land, and settled upon it, at Marietta, Ohio.

Mr. Mycall was a person of much natural capacity and shrewdness, with certain eccentricities of character, and kept up a little politic mystery about himself. He once engaged a well-known carriage-maker of the day to build him a chaise, which it was agreed should be finished at a certain time. When the specified period arrived, the vehicle was not forthcoming.

Enduring a similar disappointment several times, and expressing himself strongly about it to the offender, that individual promised it to him positively at a certain date, _if he was alive_. Even then, it was not delivered; but what was the astonishment of the faulty party to read in his newspaper the next morning, "Died, yesterday, P. B., chaise-maker,"

etc. In a state of boiling indignation he rushed to the street, and on the way to the office of publication called the attention of various acquaintances to the wrongful statement, which, it appeared, no one had observed. Entering the office, he inquired, with much feeling, how Mr.

Mycall could have published such a paragraph. "Did you not promise me,"

said the editor, "that my chaise should be sent home, on such a day, if you were alive?" "Well, supposing I did?" "Why, then, of course, you must be dead!" Taking up a copy of the paper from his desk, and examining the obituary notices, "But," said the editor, "there is no such statement here." The bewildered chaise-maker hastened home to examine his paper anew; and it appeared, on inquiry, that the account of his decease was printed only in his own copy; a gloomy jest, which was soon much relished by the community.

Indeed, the town became for a time a noted place for the publication of standard works, and books of various descriptions. It was here that the well-known Mr. Edmund M. Blunt, who subsequently removed to the city of New York, published his valuable and famous "American Coast Pilot," and, afterwards, the no less useful "Practical Navigator."


In attestation of the remark, on page 144 of the text, that an antiquated p.r.o.nunciation of many English words prevailed long in New England, after it was disused in Old England, and was brought by the colonists from the Mother Country, see the criticism of "Holofernes" upon innovations in p.r.o.nunciation, in Act V., Sc. 1, of "Love's Labor Lost," showing the state of the case in Shakespeare's time.


In closing this Appendix, which might be extended to almost any length, as recollections which did not occur to me in writing the body of the work come up, I cannot omit a remarkable use of the American language, let us say, since the Czar once so denominated the English tongue. It was upon the part of a town constable, perhaps as nearly of the Dogberry type as could be imagined. I was standing in the town hall, at a moment preliminary to a public meeting. A knot of youngsters had been joking one another, when this authoritative official approached. All but one speedily retired before the awful presence. "Master Constable" addressed the lingerer: "_Disperge_,"--a difficult operation for an individual,--"_disperge_, I say; we can't have no _burlash_ here!"

Even Shakespeare might have been glad of such an opportunity to enlarge the cacology, by actual hearing, of some of his most amusing characters.

----- [13] Quoted in Dasent's "Jest and Earnest." London, 1873.

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