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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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Three Scrawlers

Yesterday I quoted from a letter signed “Gloria Mundi,” published in the Boston Evening Post in late November 1765. That letter was a satirical attack on a call for a political boycott from a person calling himself “Y. Z.” In the 9 Dec 1765 issue of the newspaper, “Y. Z.” delivered a pointed reply:

Never was a man more surprized than I was to observe the product of a mad-man (whose wickedness had made him so) in a piece in last Monday’s papers, to which with a very great degree of arrogance was affix’d your name. . . .
Having thus expressed his level of respect for his opponent, “Y. Z.” went on to imagine him:
in a large open space with Water on each side of you, and Monsieur Jack Catch with a hempen neckcloth in his right hand. . . . We shall then be favor’d with your dying speech, in which among many other enormous vices, I shall hear you confess your hatred of America and your fitness for slavery, which induced you thus to attempt to villify those who rejoice at the good of society. . . .
Just as “Gloria Mundi” had implied that “Y. Z.” deserved a public whipping, “Y. Z.” answered that “Gloria Mundi” deserved to be hanged. “Jack Ketch” was slang for the hangman, and Boston’s gibbet was on the Neck, a narrow isthmus leading out of town “with water on each side.”

What’s more, another man had entered the argument. That same day, the Boston Gazette ran this notice:
Mr. H—— presents his respectful Compliments to Mr. Gloria Mundi, and acquaints him that...he should readily furnish him with a Recipe for turning Cyder into Wine...; but as the Ingredients therefor require Cash, and the Process a little Care and Labour, as well as Continence, he thinks him the most improper Person to take up the Vintner’s Business—
Oh, snap.

Something in those letters—perhaps the prominent appearance of the word “Water,” perhaps other allusions we don’t get—caused people to think that “Y. Z.” and “H.” were hinting that “Gloria Mundi” was a Boston man named Samuel Waterhouse, known for his satiric writings about James Otis, Jr. “Y. Z.” even challenged his opponent to “give your name with all its ‘guts,’...; as you might then more easily have been found out a lying r–sc–l, and your well known pen been imployed by the enemies of their country to write nonsense.”

The 16 December Evening-Post carried a reply to both “Y. Z.” (“A Discerning, very ingenious, most humorous, and tremendously satirical, tho’ somehow heavy-brain’d gentleman”) and “H.” (“a political and ghostly gentleman, [who] makes his complaisant appearance, almost anonymously, in Edes and Gill’s Gazette”). This essay claimed that both writers had “taken a false aim” by implying that Waterhouse was “Gloria Mundi.” Rather, it said, that gentleman “looks down with equal and ineffable contempt on all the three pieces and their three scrawlers!” Though that piece was unsigned, its contents made clear that it had come from Waterhouse himself.

Nevertheless, on 23 December, “Y. Z.” returned to the Evening-Post, insisting that he’d correctly guessed the identity of “Gloria Mundi.” That letter also accused Waterhouse of wishing to be “deputy distributor” under the hated Stamp Act. Carefully guarding the moral high ground, “Y. Z.” concluded:
This sharp-edg’d truth will show the villain’s part,
That lies conceal’d within your little heart;
Then, nameless critic, then, thou seeking tool,
Thou shalt appear a villain and a fool.
As for the Gazette, that day its printers wrote: “The Piece directed to GLORIA MUNDI, sign’d H, came too late for a Place in this Paper.” It would have to wait another week.

TOMORROW: But you have to wait only one more day.

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