Oh! ’tis a fine Thing to be a Scholar! He was reading the Latin Motto of a Book the other Day, and with great Vehemence and Extasy cried out, Oh! ’tis a Noble Thing to be well versed in Greek! from —The Humourist
8 January 1754
The HUMOURIST. No. II
Quis non Inventi Turbâ quod amaret in Illâ.
Who is there so stupid, as not to find a favourite
Letter in the following Collection.
The Humourist to himself, Greeting:
Charles-Town, Jan. 8, 1753.
I am always happy in the Communication of good News: I can assure you, and that from the best Authority, that you possess an excellent Talent of Humour, ergo, thy Humour is excellent. It is some little Satisfaction, when I reflect how near we stand in Affinity together, to find, that you are a Man of Penetration, and can, with surprising Discernment, see a Church by Day-Light: Your aerial Mansion is almost fitted up; a few Days will compleat it, when, inspiring Thought! I shall send you a Billet to drink a Glass of Falernian Wine,2 and make merry with your Friends. I give slender Entertainments, tho’ you will be amply recompensed by an Oration in the true Sublime, by a Man of Parts, in Praise of my Institution; he is so apt a Scholar, that he will couch the minutest Secret in the most artful Terms.
Fail not on your Peril; if thou dost, thou art a Worm and no Man, and deservest to be the Scorn of Men and the Outcast of People.
In the sincerest Terms of Gratitude I confess my Obligations to you, for the [two words illegible] New Year’s Day. It has had a most [one line illegible] Grand-father, who is a Man [one or two words illegible] Faculty, not only for bearing in Mind the horrors of my Youth, but like-wise for preserving his Money from the Moths of Prey, presented me on Wednesday last with the Young Man’s best Companion,3 and as an Addition to the Favour wrote his Name on the blank leaf, adding, that it was a necessary Step in order to give the Book its due Recommendation, and to convince the World in what Estimation it was held by one of his Abilities.
He gave my little Sister two Books handed down a long Roll of Relations, viz. the History of Gog and Magog the Giants of Guildhall:4 He made a pithy Speech on the Occasion, acquainting his Family that there was nothing like using young People to read History; by the time I was 10 Years old, say’d he, I had made myself a compleat Master of Jack the Giant-killer, Gog and Magog, and the Circle of Sciences; Oh! ’tis a fine Thing to be a Scholar! He was reading the Latin Motto of a Book the other Day, and with great Vehemence and Extasy cried out, Oh! ’tis a Noble Thing to be well versed in Greek!
These and such like Oddities compose my Grand-father: I beg you will work the old Codger, and reduce him to Rationality. I am with all due Respect, Dear Sir,
Your most obedient Servant,
October 1, 1753.
I have this Moment received a Letter by the Hands of a Friend from England, wherein he informs me, that he attended some Trials at the Old-Bailey5 that afforded much Conversation; and after relating some of the Particulars, concludes with the following Paragraph, ‘Yes-‘terday the above Malefactors were hang’d at ‘Tyburn.’6
Qu. By the Humourist. Whether the Prisoners
being made up of Men and Women, the latter
can, by any reasonable Arguments, be proved to be Male-factors?
It is to you I address myself for the Solution of the following Question: As you are a speculative Man, I make no Apology for the Freedom I take in desiring your Opinion, and subscribing myself, Dear Fellow,
Qu. Of the three Professions, Law, Physic, and Divinity, which is the most desirable, not only in moral but political Sense.
Ans. Physic: Because the Physician knows himself both inward and outward, and consequently must conform more strictly to that Lesson of the oracle nosce Teipsum;7 and he undoubtedly is the most useful in a political View, Adrian the VIth speaks thus, Were it not, says he, for the Physician, Men would live so long, and grow so thick, that one could not live for the other, and he makes the earth cover all his Faults.
1 From Ovid’s The Art of Love (Book One, Line 175). The first two lines, in translation, read: “Should anyone here not know the art of love, / read this, and learn by reading how to love.”
2 Celebrated by Horace, Falernian wine was the most famous wine of ancient Rome. Wine Spectator provides a comprehensive discussion, including the legend of the wine’s origin: “The origins of Falernian wine are the stuff of legend. The story goes that an old Roman farmer (that would be Falernus) eked a humble existence from the soil of Mt. Massico, about 30 miles north of Naples, when one day he was visited by Bacchus in disguise. Falernus prepared him a simple meal, and in gratitude for the hospitality, the god of wine caused the cups at the table to fill. When a hungover Falernus awoke the next day, Bacchus was gone, and the whole mountain was blanketed with healthy vines.”
3 This is most likely a reference to George Fisher’s The American Instructor, or Young Man’s Best Companion (Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin and D. Hall, 1748).
4 Gog and Magog figure prominently in apocalyptic literature and in medieval legend. More likely, however, The Humourist is referring to two wooden effigies in the Guildhall, London. “They are thought to represent two giants who were taken to London to serve as porters at the gate of the royal palace after their race was destroyed by Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of London (Troia Nova, or New Troy). Effigies of Gog and Magog have existed in London from the time of Henry V (reigned 1413–22). The first figures were destroyed in the Great Fire (1666) and were replaced in 1708. The second pair was destroyed in a German air raid in 1940 and again replaced in 1953.” Encyclopedia Britannica provides a full discussion in “Gog and Magog.”
5 The Proceedings of the Old Bailey provides a full historical discussion of English criminal trials.
6 In 1753, there were 9 hanging days at Tyburn: 37 men and 4 women were hanged. See Executions at Tyburn 1745-1754.
I am not yet ready to offer a rational opinion as to the identity of The Humourist, but I’m thinking his “Grand-father” might have been Jack the Ripper (long suspected to have been a surgeon or “Physician”).
Also, I had been thinking that, since The Humourist’s oeuvre is so small, he was a dying man and knew it (viz. “aerial mansion almost ready,” “worm”). Now, however, I’m wondering if he wasn’t a “male-factor” (possibly a pickpocketing female impersonator) who was out on bond awaiting sentencing. His column necessarily ended when he entered gaol or was hanged.
The Humourist would take great delight in knowing that you too are a castle -builder! Your speculations regarding his identity are intriguing. A dying man? A “malefactor”? I wonder. He did comment in one essay that he had passed through several stages of life.