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, December 03, 2018

“An incitement for the Author,” Willilam Clarke

In December 1768, the same month that John Brown advertised for customers at the Manufactory as quoted yesterday, his relative Elisha Brown appeared in another plea for business.

That plea took the form of a broadside, a tattered copy of which is visible courtesy of the Library of Congress. It says:
Boston, December, 1768.

For printing by Subscription,
Or The
Of Three Acts,
As it is acted by his Majesty's Servants.

By William Clarke,
Soldier in His Majesty’s XXIXth Regiment.

Non possum placeto Omnibus.

No more Libels shall in my Works be found,
I’ll gently tickle whilst I probe the Wound.

As this new and ingenious Pamphlet was never before printed (though the Author has been often importuned to grant a Copy of the same) it is hoped it will meet with that Applause from the Publick, the Merit of the Performance so justly deserves, which will be an incitement for the Author further to gratify the Curiosity of his Readers in this Way.

The Price to Subscribers will be Eight Pence, L.M. each Book, which will be nearly printed on a good Type, and fine Paper, and will be covered with blue Paper.

Those Persons who subscribe for Six Books shall have a Seventh gratis.

Subscriptions are taken in by ELISHA BROWN, at the Manufactory-House, and by those Gentlemen who are possessed of these Proposals.
Such a proposal was a standard way of raising money to print something when the author didn’t have the funds to pay up front—basically running a Kickstarter campaign, selling copies in advance. The offer of seven for the price of six was an attempt to interest booksellers in carrying the title.

Several details made this proposal unusual, however. First, it was for publishing a play in a town that banned theater. To be sure, Bostonians read plays, and booksellers sold them. But this was said to be a new play, never before printed, and not a respectable, established drama like Addison’s Cato.

Second, the playwright was a private soldier. The name of “William Clark” appears on the rolls of Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth’s company in the 29th. Many men in that regiment couldn’t sign their own names, and William Clarke had written a three-act comedy. His notice even included a Latin motto and a quotation in verse. Now that Latin, apparently meant to say, “It’s not possible to please everyone,” wasn’t accurate Latin. And half the verse, but only half, came straight from one of John Dryden’s translations of Persius. But Clarke was clearly making a claim to be learned.

Finally, the one man named as collecting money for this endeavor was “ELISHA BROWN, at the Manufactory-House”—one of the cloth weavers who had been forcibly resisting the British army just two months before. Brown’s role was even immortalized on his tombstone in 1785. How had Clarke and Brown gone into business together like this?

In October 1923, the Massachusetts Historical Society took note of this broadside. A short article in its Proceedings titled “An Unpublished Comedy” said that nothing was known about “Clarke and his unpublished comedy. . . . No copy of the pamphlet is known and it is doubtful if the response to the ‘Proposals’ were such as to warrant its printing.”

TOMORROW: But Clarke’s play was published.

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