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VIII: THE BUSY-BODY—NO. I 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. I Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. I (Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734).
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THE BUSY-BODY—NO. I1
Tuesday, February 4, 1728-9.
Mr. Andrew Bradford:
I design this to acquaint you that I, who have long been one of your courteous readers, have lately entertained some thought of setting up for an author myself; not out of the least vanity, I assure you, or desire of showing my parts, but purely for the good of my country.
I have often observed with concern that your Mercury is not always equally entertaining. The delay of ships expected in and want of fresh advices from Europe make it frequently very dull; and I find the freezing of our river has the same effect on news as trade. With more concern have I continually observed the growing vices and follies of my country-folk; and though reformation is properly the concern of every man, that is, every one ought to mend one; yet it is too true in this case, that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business; and the business is done accordingly. I therefore, upon mature deliberation, think fit to take nobody’s business wholly into my own hands; and, out of zeal for the public good, design to erect myself into a kind of censor morum; purposing, with your allowance, to make use of the Weekly Mercury as a vehicle in which my remonstrances shall be conveyed to the world.
I am sensible I have in this particular undertaken a very unthankful office, and expect little besides my labor for my pains. Nay, it is probable I may displease a great number of your readers, who will not very well like to pay ten shillings a year for being told of their faults. But, as most people delight in censure when they themselves are not the objects of it, if any are offended at my publicly exposing their private vices, I promise they shall have the satisfaction, in a very little time, of seeing their good friends and neighbours in the same circumstances.
However, let the fair sex be assured that I shall always treat them and their affairs with the utmost decency and respect. I intend now and then to dedicate a chapter wholly to their service; and if my lectures any way contribute to the embellishment of their minds and brightening of their understandings, without offending their modesty, I doubt not of having their favor and encouragement.
It is certain that no country in the world produces naturally finer spirits than ours; men of genius for every kind of science, and capable of acquiring to perfection every qualification that is in esteem among mankind. But as few here have the advantage of good books, for want of which good conversation is still more scarce, it would doubtless have been very acceptable to your readers if, instead of an old out-of-date article from Muscovy or Hungary, you had entertained them with some well-chosen extract from a good author. This I shall sometimes do, when I happen to have nothing of my own to say that I think of more consequence. Sometimes I purpose to deliver lectures of morality or philosophy, and (because I am naturally inclined to be meddling with things that do not concern me) perhaps I may sometimes talk politics. And if I can by any means furnish out a weekly entertainment for the public that will give a rational diversion, and at the same time be instructive to the readers, I shall think my leisure hours well employed; and if you publish this, I hereby invite all ingenious gentlemen and others (that approve of such an undertaking) to my assistance and correspondence.
It is like by this time you have a curiosity to be acquainted with my name and character. As I do not aim at public praise, I design to remain concealed; and there are such numbers of our family and relations at this time in the country, that though I have signed my name at full length, I am not under the least apprehension of being distinguished and discovered by it. My character, indeed, I would favor you with, but that I am cautious of praising myself, lest I should be told my trumpeter ’s dead; and I cannot find in my heart at present to say any thing to my own disadvantage.
It is very common with authors, in their first performances, to talk to their readers thus: “If this meets with a suitable reception, or, if this should meet with due encouragement, I shall hereafter publish, &c.” This only manifests the value they put on their own writings, since they think to frighten the public into their applause, by threatening that, unless you approve what they have already wrote, they intend never to write again; when perhaps it may not be a pin matter whether they ever do or no. As I have not observed the critics to be more favorable on this account, I shall always avoid saying any thing of the kind; and conclude with telling you that, if you send me a bottle of ink and a quire of paper by the bearer, you may depend on hearing further from, Sir, your most humble servant,
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. II
Tuesday, February 11, 1728-9.
Monsieur de la Rochefoucault tells us somewhere in his Memoirs that the Prince of Condé delighted much in ridicule, and used frequently to shut himself up for half a day together in his chamber, with a gentleman that was his favorite, purposely to divert himself with examining what was the foible or ridiculous side of every noted person in the court. That gentleman said afterwards in some company, that he thought nothing was more ridiculous in anybody than this same humor in the Prince; and I am somewhat inclined to be of this opinion. The general tendency there is among us to this embellishment, which I fear has too often grossly imposed upon my loving countrymen instead of wit, and the applause it meets with from a rising generation, fill me with fearful apprehensions for the future reputation of my country. A young man of modesty (which is the most certain indication of large capacities) is hereby discouraged from attempting to make any figure in life; his apprehensions of being out-laughed will force him to continue in a restless obscurity, without having an opportunity of knowing his own merit himself or discovering it to the world, rather than venture to oppose himself in a place where a pun or a sneer shall pass for wit, noise for reason, and the strength of the argument be judged by that of the lungs.
Among these witty gentlemen let us take a view of Ridentius. What a contemptible figure does he make with his train of paltry admirers! This wight shall give himself an hour’s diversion with the cock of a man’s hat, the heels of his shoes, an unguarded expression in his discourse, or even some personal defect; and the height of his low ambition is to put some one of the company to the blush, who perhaps must pay an equal share of the reckoning with himself. If such a fellow makes laughing the sole end and purpose of his life; if it is necessary to his constitution, or if he has a great desire of growing suddenly fat, let him eat; let him give public notice where any dull stupid rogues may get a quart of four-penny for being laughed at; but it is barbarously unhandsome, when friends meet for the benefit of conversation and a proper relaxation from business, that one should be the butt of the company, and four men made merry at the cost of the fifth.
How different from this character is that of the good-natured, gay Eugenius, who never spoke yet but with a design to divert and please, and who was never yet baulked in his intention. Eugenius takes more delight in applying the wit of his friends than in being admired himself; and if any one of the company is so unfortunate as to be touched a little too nearly, he will make use of some ingenious artifice to turn the edge of ridicule another way, choosing rather to make himself a public jest than be at the pain of seeing his friend in confusion.
Among the tribe of laughers, I reckon the petty gentlemen that write satires and carry them about in their pockets, reading them themselves in all company they happen into; taking an advantage of the ill taste of the town to make themselves famous for a pack of paltry, low nonsense, for which they deserve to be kicked rather than admired, by all who have the least tincture of politeness. These I take to be the most incorrigible of all my readers; nay, I expect they will be squibbing at the Busy-Body himself. However, the only favor he begs of them is this, that if they cannot control their overbearing itch of scribbling, let him be attacked in downright biting lyrics; for there is no satire he dreads half so much as an attempt towards a panegyric.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. III
Tuesday, February 18, 1728-9.
It is said that the Persians, in their ancient constitution, had public schools in which virtue was taught as a liberal art or science; and it is certainly of more consequence to a man, that he has learnt to govern his passions in spite of temptation, to be just in his dealings, to be temperate in his pleasures, to support himself with fortitude under his misfortunes, to behave with prudence in all his affairs and in every circumstance of life; I say, it is of much more real advantage to him to be thus qualified, than to be a master of all the arts and sciences in the world beside.
Virtue alone is sufficient to make a man great, glorious, and happy. He that is acquainted with Cato, as I am, cannot help thinking as I do now, and will acknowledge he deserves the name, without being honored by it. Cato is a man whom fortune has placed in the most obscure part of the country. His circumstances are such as only put him above necessity, without affording him any superfluities; yet who is greater than Cato? I happened but the other day to be at a house in town, where, among others, were met men of the most note in this place. Cato had business with some of them, and knocked at the door. The most trifling actions of a man, in my opinion, as well as the smallest features and lineaments of the face, give a nice observer some notion of his mind. Methought he rapped in such a peculiar manner, as seemed of itself to express there was one who deserved as well as desired admission. He appeared in the plainest country garb: his great coat was coarse, and looked old and threadbare; his linen was homespun; his beard, perhaps, of seven days’ growth; his shoes thick and heavy; and every part of his dress corresponding. Why was this man received with such concurring respect from every person in the room, even from those who had never known him or seen him before? It was not an exquisite form of person or grandeur of dress that struck us with admiration.
I believe long habits of virtue have a sensible effect on the countenance. There was something in the air of his face that manifested the true greatness of his mind, which likewise appeared in all he said, and in every part of his behaviour, obliging us to regard him with a kind of veneration. His aspect is sweetened with humanity and benevolence, and at the same time emboldened with resolution, equally free from diffident bashfulness and an unbecoming assurance. The consciousness of his own innate worth and unshaken integrity renders him calm and undaunted in the presence of the most great and powerful and upon the most extraordinary occasions. His strict justice and known impartiality make him the arbitrator and decider of all differences that arise for many miles around him, without putting his neighbours to the charge, perplexity, and uncertainty of law-suits. He always speaks the thing he means, which he is never afraid or ashamed to do, because he knows he always means well, and therefore is never obliged to blush, and feel the confusion of finding himself detected in the meanness of a falsehood. He never contrives ill against his neighbours, and therefore is never seen with a lowering, suspicious aspect. A mixture of innocence and wisdom makes him ever seriously cheerful. His generous hospitality to strangers according to his ability, his goodness, his charity, his courage in the cause of the oppressed, his fidelity in friendship, his humility, his honesty and sincerity, his moderation, and his loyalty to the government, his piety, his temperance, his love to mankind, his magnanimity, his public-spiritedness, and, in fine, his consummate virtue, make him justly deserve to be esteemed the glory of his country.
Who would not rather choose, if it were in his choice, to merit the above character, than be the richest, the most learned, or the most powerful man in the province without it?
Almost every man has a strong natural desire of being valued and esteemed by the rest of his species, but I am concerned and grieved to see how few fall into the right and only infallible method of becoming so. That laudable ambition is too commonly misapplied and often ill employed. Some, to make themselves considerable, pursue learning; others grasp at wealth; some aim at being thought witty; and others are only careful to make the most of a handsome person; but what is wit, or wealth, or form, or learning, when compared with virtue? It is true we love the handsome, we applaud the learned, and we fear the rich and powerful; but we even worship and adore the virtuous. Nor is it strange; since men of virtue are so rare, so very rare to be found. If we were as industrious to become good as to make ourselves great, we should become really great by being good, and the number of valuable men would be much increased; but it is a grand mistake to think of being great without goodness; and I pronounce it as certain, that there was never yet a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.
O Cretico! thou sour philosopher! thou cunning statesman! thou art crafty, but far from being wise. When wilt thou be esteemed, regarded, and beloved like Cato? When wilt thou, among thy creatures, meet with that unfeigned respect and warm goodwill, that all good men have for him? Wilt thou never understand, that the cringing, mean, submissive deportment of thy dependents is (like the worship paid by Indians to the Devil) rather through fear of the harm thou mayest do them, than out of gratitude for the favors they have received of thee? Thou art not wholly void of virtue; there are many good things in thee and many good actions reported of thee. Be advised by thy friend. Neglect those musty authors; let them be covered with dust and moulder on their proper shelves, and do thou apply thyself to a study much more profitable—the study of mankind and thyself.
This is to give notice that the Busy-Body strictly forbids all persons, from this time forward, of what age, sex, rank, quality, degree, or denomination soever, on any pretence, to inquire who is the author of this paper, on pain of his displeasure (his own near and dear relations only excepted).
It is to be observed that if any bad characters happen to be drawn in these papers, they mean no particular person, if they are not particularly applied.
Likewise, that the author is no party-man, but a general meddler.
N. B. Cretico lives in a neighbouring province.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. IV
Tuesday, February 25, 1728-9.
In my first paper I invited the learned and the ingenious to join with me in this undertaking, and I now repeat that invitation. I would have such gentlemen take this opportunity (by trying their talent in writing) of diverting themselves and friends and improving the taste of the town. And because I would encourage all wit of our own growth and produce, I hereby promise that whoever shall send me a little essay on some moral or other subject, that is fit for public view in this manner, (and not basely borrowed from any other author,) I shall receive it with candor and take care to place it to the best advantage. It will be hard if we cannot muster up in the whole country a sufficient stock of sense to supply the Busy-Body at least for a twelvemonth.
For my own part, I have already professed, that I have the good of my country wholly at heart in this design, without the least sinister view; my chief purpose being to inculcate the noble principles of virtue and deprecate vice of every kind. But as I know the mob hate instruction, and the generality would never read beyond the first line of my lectures if they were actually filled with nothing but wholesome precepts and advice, I must therefore sometimes humor them in their own way. There are a set of great names in the province, who are the common objects of popular dislike. If I can now and then overcome my reluctance, and prevail with myself to satirize a little, one of these gentlemen, the expectation of meeting with such a gratification will induce many to read me through, who would otherwise proceed immediately to the foreign news. As I am very well assured, the greatest men among us have a sincere love for their country notwithstanding its ingratitude and the insinuations of the envious and malicious to the contrary, so I doubt not but they will cheerfully tolerate me in the liberty I design to take for the end above mentioned.
As yet I have but few correspondents, though they begin now to increase. The following letter, left for me at the printer’s, is one of the first I have received, which I regard the more for that it comes from one of the fair sex, and because I have myself oftentimes suffered under the grievance therein complained of.
“TO THE BUSY-BODY
You having set yourself up for a censuror morum (as I think you call it), which is said to mean a reformer of manners, I know no person more proper to be applied to for redress in all the grievances we suffer from want of manners in some people. You must know I am a single woman, and keep a shop in this town for a livelihood. There is a certain neighbour of mine, who is really agreeable company enough, and with whom I have had an intimacy of some time standing; but of late she makes her visits so exceedingly often, and stays so very long every visit, that I am tired out of all patience. I have no manner of time at all to myself; and you, who seem to be a wise man, must needs be sensible that every person has little secrets and privacies that are not proper to be exposed even to the nearest friend. Now I cannot do the least thing in the world but she must know about it; and it is a wonder I have found an opportunity to write you this letter. My misfortune is that I respect her very well, and know not how to disoblige her so much as to tell her I should be glad to have less of her company; for if I should once hint such a thing, I am afraid she would resent it so as never to darken my door again.
“But alas, Sir, I have not yet told you half my affliction. She has two children that are just big enough to run about and do petty mischief; these are continually along with mamma, either in my room or shop, if I have ever so many customers or people with me about business. Sometimes they pull the goods off my low shelves down to the ground, and perhaps where one of them has just been making water. My friend takes up the stuff and cries: ‘O thou little wicked mischievous rogue! But, however, it has done no great damage; it is only wet a little’; and so puts it upon the shelf again. Sometimes they get to my cask of nails behind the counter, and divert themselves, to my great vexation, with mixing my ten-penny, and eight-penny, and four-penny together. I endeavour to conceal my uneasiness as much as possible, and with a grave look go to sorting them out. She cries: ‘Don’t thee trouble thyself, neighbour; let them play a little; I ’ll put all to rights before I go.’ But things are never so put to rights, but that I find a great deal of work to do after they have gone. Thus, Sir, I have all the trouble and pesterment of children, without the pleasure of calling them my own; and they are now so used to being here that they will be content nowhere else. If she would have been so kind as to have moderated her visits to ten times a day, and stayed but half an hour at a time, I should have been contented, and I believe never have given you this trouble. But this very morning they have so tormented me that I could bear no longer; for while the mother was asking me twenty impertinent questions, the youngest got to my nails, and with great delight rattled them by handfuls all over the floor; and the other, at the same time, made such a terrible din upon the counter with a hammer that I grew half distracted. I was just then about to make myself a new suit of pinners; but in the fret and confusion I cut it quite out of all manner of shape and utterly spoiled a piece of the first muslin.
Pray, Sir, tell me what I shall do; and talk a little against such unreasonable visiting in your next paper; though I would not have her affronted with me for a great deal, for sincerely I love her and her children, as well, I think, as a neighbour can, and she buys a great many things in a year at my shop. But I would beg her to consider that she uses me unmercifully, though I believe it is only for want of thought. But I have twenty things more to tell you besides all this. There is a handsome gentleman that has a mind (I don’t question) to make love to me, but he can’t get the opportunity to—— O dear! here she comes again; I must conclude, yours, etc.,
Indeed it is well enough, as it happens, that she is come to shorten this complaint, which I think is full long enough already, and probably would otherwise have been as long again. However, I must confess, I cannot help pitying my correspondent’s case; and, in her behalf, exhort the visitor to remember and consider the words of the wise man: “Withdraw thy foot from the house of thy neighbour, lest he grow weary of thee and so hate thee.” It is, I believe, a nice thing, and very difficult, to regulate our visits in such a manner as never to give offence by coming too seldom, or too often, or departing too abruptly, or staying too long. However, in my opinion, it is safest for most people in a general way, who are unwilling to disoblige, to visit seldom, and tarry but a little while in a place, notwithstanding pressing invitations, which are many times insincere. And though more of your company should be really desired, yet in this case, too, much reservedness is a fault more easily excused than the contrary.
Men are subject to various inconveniences merely through lack of a small share of courage, which is a quality very necessary in the common occurrences of life, as well as in a battle. How many impertinences do we daily suffer with great uneasiness, because we have not courage enough to discover our dislike? And why may not a man use the boldness and freedom of telling his friends that their long visits sometimes incommode him? On this occasion, it may be entertaining to some of my readers, if I acquaint them with the Turkish manner of entertaining visitors, which I have from an author of unquestionable veracity, who assures us that even the Turks are not so ignorant of civility and the arts of endearment but that they can practise them with as much exactness as any other nation, whenever they have a mind to show themselves obliging.
“When you visit a person of quality,” says he, “and have talked over your business, or the compliments, or whatever concern brought you thither, he makes a sign to have things served in for the entertainment, which is generally a little sweetmeat, a dish of sherbet, and another of coffee; all which are immediately brought in by the servants, and tendered to all the guests in order, with the greatest care and awfulness imaginable. At last comes the finishing part of your entertainment, which is perfuming the beards of the company—a ceremony which is performed in this manner. They have for the purpose a small silver chafing-dish, covered with a lid full of holes, and fixed upon a handsome plate. In this they put some fresh coals, and upon them a piece of lignum aloes; shutting it up, the smoke immediately ascends with a grateful odor through the holes of the cover. This smoke is held under every one’s chin, and offered as it were a sacrifice to his beard. The bristly idol soon receives the reverence done to it, and so greedily takes in and incorporates the gummy steam that it retains the savour of it, and may serve for a nosegay a good while after.
“This ceremony may perhaps seem ridiculous at first hearing, but it passes among the Turks for a high gratification. And I will say this in its vindication, that its design is very wise and useful. For it is understood to give a civil dismission to the visitants, intimating to them that the master of the house has business to do, or some other avocations, that permits them to go away as soon as they please, and the sooner after this ceremony the better. By this means you may at any time, without offence, deliver yourself from being detained from your affairs by tedious and unseasonable visits; and from being constrained to use that piece of hypocrisy, so common in the world, of pressing those to stay longer with you, whom perhaps in your heart you wish a great way off for having troubled you so long already.”
Thus far my author. For my own part, I have taken such a fancy to this Turkish custom, that for the future I shall put something like it in practice. I have provided a bottle of right French brandy for the men and citron-water for the ladies. After I have treated with a dram and presented a pinch of my best snuff, I expect all company will retire and leave me to pursue my studies for the good of the public.
I give notice that I am now actually compiling, and design to publish in a short time, the true history of the rise, growth, and progress of the renowned Tiff Club. All persons who are acquainted with any facts, circumstances, characters, transactions, &c., which will be requisite to the perfecting and embellishment of the said work, are desired to communicate the same to the author, and direct their letters to be left with the printer hereof.
The letter, signed “Would-be-something,” is come to hand.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. V
Tuesday, March 4, 1728-9.
This paper being designed for a terror to evil-doers, as well as praise to them that do well, I am lifted up with secret joy to find that my undertaking is approved and encouraged by the just and good, and that few are against me but those who have reason to fear me.
There are little follies in the behaviour of most men which their best friends are too tender to acquaint them with; there are little vices and small crimes which the law has no regard to or remedy for; there are likewise great pieces of villany sometimes so craftily accomplished, and so circumspectly guarded that the law can take no hold of the actors. All these things and all things of this nature come within my province as Censor; and I am determined not to be negligent of the trust I have reposed in myself, but resolve to execute my office diligently and faithfully.
And that all the world may judge with how much humanity as well as justice I shall behave in this office, and that even my enemies may be convinced I take no delight to rake into the dunghill lives of vicious men, and to the end that certain persons may be a little eased of their fears and relieved from the terrible palpitations they have lately felt and suffered and do still suffer, I hereby graciously pass an act of general oblivion, for all offences, crimes, and misdemeanors of what kind soever, committed from the beginning of the year 1681 until the day of the date of my first paper, and promise only to concern myself with such as have been since and shall hereafter be committed. I shall take no notice who has (heretofore) raised a fortune by fraud and oppression, nor who by deceit and hypocrisy; what woman has been false to her good husband’s bed, nor what man has, by barbarous usage or neglect, broken the heart of a faithful wife, and wasted his health and substance in debauchery; what base wretch has betrayed his friend and sold his honesty for gold, nor what baser wretch first corrupted him and then bought the bargain;—all this and much more of the same kind I shall forget and pass over in silence; but then it is to be observed that I expect and require a sudden and general amendment.
These threatenings of mine I hope will have a good effect, and if regarded may prevent abundance of folly and wickedness in others, and at the same time save me abundance of trouble; and that people may not flatter themselves with the hopes of concealing their loose misdemeanors from my knowledge, and in that view persist in evil-doing, I must acquaint them that I have lately entered into an intimacy with the extraordinary person who some time since wrote me the following letter; and who, having a wonderful faculty that enables him to discover the most secret iniquity, is capable of giving me great assistance in my designed work of reformation.
I rejoice, Sir, at the opportunity you have given me to be serviceable to you, and, by your means, to this province. You must know that such have been the circumstances of my life, and such were the marvellous concurrences of my birth, that I have not only a faculty of discovering the actions of persons that are absent or asleep, but even of the devil himself, in many of his secret workings, in the various shapes, habits, and names of men and women; and having travelled and conversed much, and met but with a very few of the same perceptions and qualifications, I can recommend myself to you as the most useful man you can correspond with. My father’s father’s father (for we had no grandfathers in our family) was the same John Bunyan that writ that memorable book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, who had in some degree a natural faculty of second sight. This faculty (how derived to him our family memoirs are not very clear) was enjoyed by all his descendants, but not by equal talents. It was very dim in several of my first cousins, and probably had been nearly extinct in our particular branch, had not my father been a traveller. He lived in his youthful days in New England. There he married, and there was born my elder brother, who had so much of this faculty, as to discover witches in some of their occult performances.
My parents transporting themselves to Great Britain, my second brother’s birth was in that kingdom. He shared but a small portion of this virtue, being only able to discern transactions about the time of, and for the most part after, their happening. My good father, who delighted in The Pilgrim’s Progress, and mountainous places, took shipping, with his wife, for Scotland, and inhabited in the Highlands, where myself was born; and whether the soil, climate, or astral influences, of which are preserved divers prognostics, restored our ancestor’s natural faculty of second sight in a greater lustre to me than it had shined in through several generations, I will not here discuss. But so it is, that I am possessed largely of it, and design, if you encourage the proposal, to take this opportunity of doing good with it, which I question not will be accepted of in a grateful way by many of your honest readers, though the discovery of my extraction bodes me no deference from your great scholars and modern philosophers. This my father was long ago aware of; and, lest the name alone should hurt the fortunes of his children, he, in his shiftings from one country to another, wisely changed it.
Sir, I have only this further to say, how I may be useful to you, and as a reason for my not making myself more known in the world. By virtue of this great gift of nature, second-sightedness, I do continually see numbers of men, women, and children, of all ranks, and what they are doing, while I am sitting in my closet; which is too great a burden for the mind, and makes me also conceit, even against reason, that all this host of people can see and observe me, which strongly inclines me to solitude, and an obscure living; and, on the other hand, it will be an ease to me to disburthen my thoughts and observations in the way proposed to you by, Sir, your friend and humble servant.”
I conceal this correspondent’s name, in my care for his life and safety, and cannot but approve his prudence in choosing to live obscurely. I remember the fate of my poor monkey. He had an ill-natured trick of grinning and chattering at every thing he saw in petticoats. My ignorant country neighbours got a notion that pug snarled by instinct at every female who had lost her virginity. This was no sooner generally believed than he was condemned to death; by whom, I could never learn, but he was assassinated in the night, barbarously stabbed and mangled in a thousand pieces, and left hanging dead on one of my gate-posts, where I found him the next morning.
The Censor observing that the itch of scribbling begins to spread exceedingly, and being carefully tender of the reputation of his country in point of wit and good sense, has determined to take all manner of writing, in verse or prose, that pretend to either, under his immediate cognizance; and accordingly hereby prohibits the publishing any such for the future, till they have first passed his examination and received his imprimatur; for which he demands as a fee only sixpence per sheet.
N. B. He nevertheless permits to be published all satirical remarks on the Busy-Body, the above prohibition notwithstanding, and without examination or requiring the said fees; which indulgence the small wits in and about this city are advised gratefully to accept and acknowledge.
The gentleman who calls himself Sirronio is directed, on the receipt of this, to burn his great book of Crudities.
P. S. In compassion to that young man, on account of the great pains he has taken, in consideration of the character I have just received of him, that he is really good-natured, and on condition he shows it to no foreigner or stranger of sense, I have thought fit to reprieve his said great book of Crudities from the flames, till further order.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. VIII
Tuesday, March 27, 1729.
One of the greatest pleasures an author can have is certainly the hearing his works applauded. The hiding from the world our names while we publish our thoughts, is so absolutely necessary to this self-gratification, that I hope my well-wishers will congratulate me on my escape from the many diligent but fruitless inquiries that have of late been made after me. Every man will own that an author, as such, ought to be tried by the merit of his productions only; but pride, party, and prejudice at this time run so very high, that experience shows we form our notions of a piece by the character of the author. Nay, there are some very humble politicians in and about this city who will ask on which side the writer is before they presume to give their opinion of the thing wrote. This ungenerous way of proceeding I was well aware of before I published my first speculation, and therefore concealed my name. And I appeal to the more generous part of the world if I have, since I appeared in the character of the Busy-Body, given an instance of my siding with any party more than another in the unhappy divisions of my country; and I have, above all, this satisfaction in myself, that neither affection, aversion, nor interest has biassed me to use any partiality towards any man or set of men, but whatsoever I find nonsensical, ridiculous, or immorally dishonest I have and shall continue openly to attack, with the freedom of an honest man and a lover of my country.
I profess I can hardly contain myself, or preserve the gravity and dignity that should attend the censorial office, when I hear the odd and unaccountable expositions that are put upon some of my works, through the malicious ignorance of some, and the vain pride of more than ordinary penetration in others; one instance of which many of my readers are acquainted with. A certain gentleman has taken a great deal of pains to write a key to the letter in my Number IV., wherein he has ingeniously converted a gentle satire upon tedious and impertinent visitants into a libel on some of the government. This I mention only as a specimen of the taste of the gentleman I am, forsooth, bound to please in my speculations; not that I suppose my impartiality will ever be called in question on that account. Injustices of this nature I could complain of in many instances; but I am at present diverted by the reception of a letter which, though it regards me only in my private capacity as an adept, yet I venture to publish it for the entertainment of my readers.
“To Censor Morum, Esq., Busy-Body General of the Province of Pennsylvania and the Counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex upon Delaware.
I judge by your lucubrations that you are not only a lover of truth and equity but a man of parts and learning and a master of science; as such I honor you. Know then, most profound Sir, that I have from my youth up been a very indefatigable student in and admirer of that divine science, astrology. I have read over Scott, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa above three hundred times; and was in hopes, by my knowledge and industry, to gain enough to have recompensed me for my money expended and time lost in the pursuit of this learning. You cannot be ignorant, Sir, (for your intimate second-sighted correspondent knows all things,) that there are large sums of money hidden under ground in divers places about this town and in many parts of the country; but, alas, Sir, notwithstanding I have used all the means laid down in the immortal authors before mentioned, and when they failed, the ingenious Mr. P—d—l, with his mercurial wand and magnet, I have still failed in my purpose. This therefore I send, to propose and desire an acquaintance with you; and I do not doubt, notwithstanding my repeated ill fortune, but we may be exceedingly serviceable to each other in our discoveries; and that if we use our united endeavours the time will come when the Busy-Body, his second-sighted correspondent, and your very humble servant will be three of the richest men in the province. And then, Sir, what may we not do? A word to the wise is sufficient. I conclude, with all demonstrable respect, yours and Urania’s votary,
In the evening after I had received this letter I made a visit to my second-sighted friend and communicated to him the proposal. When he had read it he assured me that to his certain knowledge there is not at this time so much as one ounce of silver or gold hid under ground in any part of this province; for that the late and present scarcity of money had obliged those who were living, and knew where they had formerly hid any, to take it up and use it in their own necessary affairs; and as to all the rest which was buried by pirates and others in old times, who were never likely to come for it, he himself had dug it all up and applied it to charitable uses: and this he desired me to publish for the general good. For, as he acquainted me, there are among us great numbers of honest artificers and laboring people who, fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business, almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasure. They wander through the woods and bushes by day to discover the marks and signs; at midnight they repair to the hopeful spots with spades and pickaxes; full of expectation, they labor violently, trembling at the same time in every joint, through fear of certain malicious demons who are said to haunt and guard such places. At length a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cart-loads of earth thrown out; but, alas, no keg or iron pot is found! No seaman’s chest crammed with Spanish pistoles or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude that, through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach. Yet when a man is once thus infatuated, he is so far from being discouraged by ill success that he is rather animated to double his industry, and will try again and again in a hundred different places, in hopes at last of meeting with some lucky hit that shall at once sufficiently reward him for all his expense of time and labor.
This odd humor of digging for money, through a belief that much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has for several years been mighty prevalent among us; insomuch that you can hardly walk half a mile out of the town on any side without observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some lately opened. Men, otherwise of very good sense, have been drawn into this practice through an overweening desire of sudden wealth and an easy credulity of what they so earnestly wished might be true; while the rational and almost certain methods of acquiring riches by industry and frugality are neglected or forgotten. There seems to be some peculiar charm in the conceit of finding money: and if the sands of Schuylkill were so much mixed with small grains of gold that a man might in a day’s time, with care and application, get together to the value of half a crown, I make no question but we should find several people employed there that can with ease earn five shillings a day at their proper trades.
Many are the idle stories told of the private success of some people, by which others are encouraged to proceed; and the astrologers, with whom the country swarms at this time, are either in the belief of these things themselves, or find their advantage in persuading others to believe them; for they are often consulted about the critical times for digging, the methods of laying the spirit, and the like whimseys, which renders them very necessary to, and very much caressed by, the poor deluded money-hunters.
There is certainly something very bewitching in the pursuit after mines of gold and silver and other valuable metals, and many have been ruined by it. A sea-captain of my acquaintance used to blame the English for envying Spain their mines of silver and too much despising or overlooking the advantages of their own industry and manufactures. “For my part,” says he, “I esteem the Banks of Newfoundland to be a more valuable possession than the mountains of Potosi; and when I have been there on the fishing account, have looked upon every cod pulled up into the vessel as a certain quantity of silver ore, which required only carrying to the next Spanish port to be coined into pieces of eight; not to mention the national profit of fitting out and employing such a number of ships and seamen.”
Let honest Peter Buckram, who has long without success been a searcher after hidden money, reflect on this, and be reclaimed from that unaccountable folly. Let him consider that every stitch he takes, when he is on his shopboard, is picking up part of a grain of gold that will in a few days’ time amount to a pistole; and let Faber think the same of every nail he drives, of every stroke with his plane. Such thoughts may make them industrious, and, in consequence, in time they may be wealthy. But how absurd is it to neglect a certain profit for such a ridiculous whimsey; to spend whole days at the George, in company with an idle pretender to astrology, contriving schemes to discover what was never hidden, and forgetting how carelessly business is managed at home in their absence; to leave their wives and a warm bed at midnight (no matter if it rain, hail, snow, or blow a hurricane, provided that be the critical hour) and fatigue themselves with the violent exercise of digging for what they shall never find, and perhaps getting a cold that may cost their lives, or at least disordering themselves so as to be fit for no business beside for some days after. Surely this is nothing less than the most egregious folly and madness.
I shall conclude with the words of my discreet friend Agricola, of Chester County, when he gave his son a good plantation. “My son,” said he, “I give thee now a valuable parcel of land; I assure thee I have found a considerable quantity of gold by digging there; thee mayst do the same; but thee must carefully observe this, Never to dig more than plough-deep.”