To Professor Althouse.
As the Ghost of a Gentleman, dead these 260 Years and more, you may imagine the Tales of Adventure in untam'd Quarters of the Globe that I had read in my younger Days.
In truth, my earliest Reading was much proscrib'd by my Parents, intending me as they did for the Holy Ministry. During my Service in the Army, however, I more than made up for my youthful Neglect of this Species of Entertainment; the Reading of heroick Romances being a more wholesome Pastime in Camp, than, Whoring, Drinking & Gambling, the habitual Diversions of too many of my Fellow-Officers.
After my Discharge following the Wars, when I was first employ'd as Secretary to My Lord, the Earl of O-----, I had form'd an Ambition to become the anonymous Author of such Books; but, I may tell you, Madam, the appearance of Gulliver's Travels in the Year 1726, compleatly overthrew my Plans. In a Stroke, Dr. Swift turn'd such Tales on their Heads, having made one into a biting Satire, and thus all others of its Kind into Laughingstocks.
Dr. Pepusch and Mr. Gay did a very similar thing when they wrote their Beggar's Opera, and so drove Mynheer Handel's ridiculous Italian Operas from the Stage. Of course, neither Opera Seriæ, nor Tales of Heroick Courage in remote Lands ceas'd to be made; but, they came to be regarded with bemus'd Contempt by the more intelligent Part of the Publick.
The Story of the American Colonists' first ordain'd Day of Thanksgiving at Plymouth in Massachusetts was wholly unfamiliar to me from my Youth. I may have read an Account of it, as an Example of proper Christian Gratitude for GOD's manifest Favour; but, as you may imagine, it made as little Impression upon me as one of the good Rev. Dimwiddie's ancient Sixty Sermons Saving Sinners' Sicke Soules, that was forc'd upon me at about the same Time. I had rather have read Pilgrim's Progress, and at least found Pleasure in a lively Style, than to have had my tiring Eye fall on such dreary Examples of Christian Perseverance as the Story of the bare Escape by the so-call'd Pilgrims of New-England from the Ill-Effects of their own Bungling, all puff'd up as Divine Favour.
Nay, Madam, I was all for Tales of an entirely different Character. It may have been that my Imaginations were likely to run away with my Reason; but, had I thought of it whilst I was alive, I could hardly have conceiv'd of anything more rightly romantick than the Story of Sackajaweea, and, her Journey across the the North American Continent.
Indeed, I can imagine now how the Book would have been advertis'd, had Sackajaweea been born 80 or 90 Years earlier, and, the British more forward in pressing their Claims in America. If it were to have made the Lists in, say, the Year 1723, we might have seen the following, viz.:The Indian Princess,
or, The Slave Redeem'd.
Being a true Account
Of the Capture & Enslavement
An Indian Princess,
The Mountains of Louisiana in America,
By the Ancient Enemies of Her Tribe;
Her Variety of Fortune,
Her Ransom by, and subsequent Marriage to
A French Gentleman Adventurer;
Their Service to His Britannick Majesty
as Guides & Translators,
His Majesty's Corps of Discovery,
In finding the Headwaters,
& Traversing the enormous Length
Of a previously unknown River,
Emptying into the Pacific Ocean
In the Regions North of the fabl'd Province
Thus laying a rightful British Claim
To this new & unexplor'd Country;
Episodes of Courage & Fortitude
In the Face of
Attacks by Bears, Lions, Wolves, &c.
Of Prodigious Size & Ferocity;
Tender Scenes of new Motherhood;
An Affecting Account of
The Reunion of
With her Brother, now King of his People;
Her tearful Departure to resume her Duties;
Her subsequent Happiness;
Delight in her Children, &c.
Illustrated with several curious CUTS.
Printed for Sebastian Cruikshank
in the Strand;
and to be had at Booksellers
in the Principal Cities.
price bound 4s. 6d.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ah! Madam! I might have been laugh'd out of the Town, or, gotten a Fortune from such a Book! I would not have omitted a close description of Sackajaweea's firm, young Breasts, heaving as they were upon her Capture against her tight-stretch'd leathern Bodice; and, the cords that were cinch'd about her Arms and Ankles by her cruel Enemies, &c. But, all would have been concluded with a pretty Moral upon the Virtues of Marriage, Constancy, Motherhood, Duty, Fortitude, &c.; such that both a Parson & his Stable-Boy would have found Entertainment & Improvement enough in its Pages.
But, leaving off Projections of undone Literary Endeavours near to 300 Years old, I shall only say, Madam, that every Nation needs its Legends & Fables in order to bind the common People more closely together. The Arms of many a Family in Scotland, including my own, bear some heraldick Device from the Age of Robert the Bruce, whose Exploits were the Subject of several accurate Accounts from his own Day; yet, whose Legends abound in Scotch Lore, the Details of which may be not wholly truthful; and, indeed, may often be foolish Concoctions, cook'd up hundreds of Years after the Events they purport to describe. That does not prevent such Legends from serving their Purpose, which is the maintenance of an Ardour for the Liberty & Unity of the Scottish Nation amongst the People.
Similarly, you should not be asham'd of your own National Legends, such as that of your first Thanksgiving, or, even of better-attest'd ones, such as the fantastick Adventures of Sackajeweea; whose main Import & Thrust are the noble and good ones of human Brotherhood, Fortitude in the Face of Adversity, and, Trust in the Beneficience of a Supreme Being. A People who value these Ideals will never willingly thrust their Necks into the Yokes created for them by those who sneer at such Principles and the Tales told to inculcate them.
Altho' the Story of the first American Thanksgiving is, in its Original, thin Gruel indeed (as I above aver), I cannot forbear to remark, by way of closing, that, were I alive, I should be very glad to get such a Dinner as is commonly prepar'd in its Honour.
Praying that your own Thanksgiving Dinner, and those of your Audience, should, in no wise, consist of Gruel, I am,
Your humble & obt. Servant,
November 27, 2008
"Praying that your own Thanksgiving Dinner, and those of your Audience, should, in no wise, consist of Gruel..."
Sir Archy, our ghost commenter, pays us a Thanksgiving visit: