J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

“Such Illiberal Grubstreet, Such Raving Billingsgate”

On 30 Dec 1765, the Boston Gazette printed the essay from “H.” that it hadn’t received in time for its previous edition. The page I have available from the America’s Historical Newspapers online database (available to anyone holding a Boston Public Library card—get yours today) is ragged along one edge. One doesn’t need to read the whole essay, however, to get the gist.

“H.,” like “Y. Z.,” insisted that the man who had written to the newspapers under the pseudonym “Gloria Mundi” was Samuel Waterhouse, despite his public denials. “H.” repeated the accusation that Waterhouse had wanted a position distributing the dreaded stamps under the Stamp Act. He went on:

Such low-bred, low liv’d, idle, restless, unprincipled wretches, as Gloria has proved himself, being as tired of the world as the world is of them, would deride and mock at their punishment even on the gallows, and the dying speech would be, Come one swing for it with a wry neck and a p—t pair of breeches, and all will be over.

I would therefore rather propose that Gloria might be put to work, a much greater punishment, and more dreaded by such miserables than death. . . . [I] have a high opinion of the policy of the Hollanders, who send such objects to the rasp house, to be there worked for like, rather than to the gibbet, to be there hanged, till they are dead, dead; and have other wished that our workhouse was furnished with a machine, called in Dutch a Waterhoose...
Just in case readers didn’t understand what Bostonian he was talking about. (I suspect “a p—t pair of breeches” was “a pist pair...,” the result of a sudden jerk at the neck.)

On the first Monday of the new year, it was Waterhouse’s turn to answer, though he still wasn’t using his name. The 6 Jan 1766 Evening-Post ran two pieces on this controversy. The second was yet another denial that he was “Gloria Mundi” or had seen the essays published over that name before they had appeared in the newspaper. The first was a direct reply to “H.”

Waterhouse acknowledged the possibility that the person who wrote the 9 December “H.” letter wasn’t the same as the person who wrote the “H.” letter published on 30 December. And then he laid into the latter:
Of all the foul mouth’d, dirty Drabs, that ever, to the disgrace of human nature, bolted forth and affronted the public Eye, certainly [this]...appears the most coarse, the most impotently spiteful and unexceptionably despicable! . . .

A performance, where such ridiculous inability, such illiberal grubstreet, such raving billingsgate, together with the most flagrant, as well as the most injurious, and atrocious calumnies maintain throughout a perpetual contest for superiority; and completely evince to the public, the folly, stupidity, solecism, meanness, falsehood, and envy, as well as the most abandoned impudence of it’s aukward, petulant, and every way contemptible Paper-scratcher.
If only Waterhouse had let us know how he really felt.

TOMORROW: And then Waterhouse’s reply to “H.” got personal.

[The thumbnail above, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows London’s Billingsgate Fish Market in the first decade of the 1800s. The area was already notorious for coarse language.]

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