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The Adventures of Timothy Peacock, Esquire; or, Freemasonry Practically Illustrated


Daniel P. Thompson

"Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November,—
All the rest have thirty-one
But February alone."

The above, reader, I consider the best verse of poetry of modern production: the best, because the most useful, that has been given to the world by the whole tribe of poets of the present century, whether born or made so, from Byron, intellectual giant of lofty imaginings, down to N. P. Willis, puny prince of poetical puppyism. Don't stare so: I am in earnest; and make my appeal, not to finical critics, but to the great mass of the people, learned and unlearned, for a confirmation of my opinion. What man, woman or child, in their daily reckoning of the days in the different months, for the calculations of business, profit or pleasure, does not instantly recur to this verse, which is fixed in the memory of all, or a majority of all, who speak the English language, as the readiest way of ascertaining at once what would otherwise require a considerable exertion of the memory, or perhaps an inconvenient recurrence to the almanac to determine. And what is modern poetry?— what is its real utility, and what are its effects? Metal refined to dross—a crazy man's dreams—a combination of vague, mystified, and unmeaning imagery, containing scarcely one natural simile—one sensible thought, or one sound maxim of moral instruction; and calculated only to enervate and undiscipline the mind, without bettering the heart by awakening one commendable sensibility or by fostering one virtue. Such at least is too much the character of the productions of our mistaken poets. The above lines, however, are obviously an exception to these remarks; and thus viewing them, I thought I would quote them in compliance with the custom of heading chapters with a catch of poetry; and as to their applicability to the subject matter of the chapter over which they are placed, I have little fear of violating the precedents of many of my superiors in authorship.

I left my hero, lodged for the night in a tavern situated in a town some miles west of the Green-Mountains. This town, as he found on enquiry, contained a village of considerable size lying about three miles distant from the tavern of which he was then an inmate. After a night's selfconsultation, Timothy concluded he would make his debut in this village without further wanderings. Whether he came to this determination just at this time, because he considered it a public duty to try to enlighten the inhabitants of this particular town, or whether the diminished gravity of his purse admonished him that he could not proceed any farther without replenishing it, is a matter of no consequence; but certain it is, he was now making an inroad on his last guinea.

I mention these trifling circumstances, because I am aware that even trifles become invested with interest and importance when connected with subsequent greatness. Timothy was informed by the landlord that there was an academy, or town school in the village, which having no funds, was supported by subscription, and taught by such preceptors as could, from time to time, be obtained; some of whom instructed in the dead languages, and all the classics, and some only in English branches, and that this academy was at present destitute of a teacher. For this station our hero now resolved to offer himself, not in the least doubting his qualifications to instruct the children of a people so rude and ignorant, as he had been taught in his own country to believe the Vermonters. For this purpose he proceeded directly to the village, and calling on one of the trustees or committee, who, he was told, superintended the hiring of instructors, promptly offered himself for the vacant situation. The gentleman, as soon as he was made to understand this proposal of Timothy, eyed its author a moment with keen attention—then took out his spectacles, rubbed the glasses, put them on, and took a second look, surveying from head to foot the goodly dimensions of the young six-footer before him, (our hero stood just six feet high in his cowhides, reader,) his looks seeming to say, "a sturdy fellow, truly! but does he look like a preceptor?" For a while he appeared puzzled what answer to make to Timothy. At last however he observed, that perhaps they had better walk over to Esquire Hawkeye's office, as the Squire was also a committee-man, and usually took the main management of the establishment. Accordingly he led our hero to the office of the 'Squire, and introduced him by observing, "A gentleman, who wishes to engage as teacher of our academy, 'Squire.—I always leave cases of this kind to your management, you know, 'Squire," he added, with a kind of half grin. After all the necessary introductory nods, &c. had been made by the parties, the 'Squire, who was a lawyer, laid aside the writs and executions which were ostentatiously displayed on the table before him, and proceeded to put a few general questions to Timothy, who promptly answered them in the way he thought best calculated to produce a favorable impression of his abilities. The 'Squire listened with great attention to every answer, rolling his tobacco quid at the same time in his mouth with increased rapidity. "What say you," at length he said, addressing the man who introduced Timothy, "what say you, Deacon Bidwell, shall we proceed to examine into the gentleman's qualifications, or does he bring with him sufficient credentials?" The Deacon looked to Timothy for an answer to the last question, but not receiving any, he observed, "The 'Squire means to ask you whether you have brought any credentials, or letters of recommend with you." To this our hero, conceiving the question implied a doubt of his qualifitions, and feeling indignant that any doubts should be entertained of him by a people whom he considered so much his inferiors, rather haughtily replied, that he "never carried about with him such superfluous superfluities; and that, if they were not already satisfied with his blandishments, they might proceed to invistigate them." The 'Squire now rolled his quid faster than before. At this moment, a little thin, sallow-faced, important-looking fellow came bustling in, who was saluted as Doctor Short, and who was a no less important personage than the village physician, and a third member of the august board who were about to sit in judgement on the literary and scientific qualifications of our hero. The Doctor having been informed of what was on the carpet, and invited to take a part in the examination, the 'Squire now observed, "Perhaps we may as well proceed to invistigate the gentleman a little, as he expresses it.—So, I will propound a question or two, with his leave:—And in the first place, What is grammar?"

`That part of speech,' replied Timothy, with the utmost promptitude, `which teaches us to express our ideas with propriety and dispatch.'

"How would you parse this sentence," said the 'Squire, holding up in his hand an old book of forms, "This book is worth a dollar?"

`Pass!' replied Timothy, with a sneer, `pass it? why, I should pass it as a very absurd incongruity, for the book evidently is not worth half that sum!'

"Ah, well, Sir, we will take another branch," said the 'Squire, in an apologetic tone—"What histories have you read?"

`Robinson Cruso, George Barnwell, Pilgrim's Progress, Thaddeus of Warsaw, Indian Wars, Arabian Nights, the account of the Great Gunpowder Plot, and a multitudinous collection of others, too numerous to contemplate.'

"At what time did the Gunpowder Plot take place—how, and in what country?"

`In England, in the dark ages of ancestry, when it blew up the King, whose name was Darnley, into the immeasurable expanse of the celestial horizon—shook the whole of Europe, and was heard even into France and Scotland.'

"What is Geography?"

`It is a terraqueous description of the circumambular globe.'

"The gentleman really seems to answer the questions with great promptitude," said the 'Squire, with well-supported gravity. "Doctor, will you take your turn in a few interrogatories?"

The Doctor now assuming a wise look, and taking a new pinch of snuff by way of sharpening his faculties for the occasion, asked Timothy if he had ever studied the Latin language.

Our hero hesitated; but thinking it would not do to be thought deficient in any branch of education, and having caught the signification of a few words from having heard the recitations of a Latin scholar or two in a school which he once for a short time attended, he concluded to risk the consequence of giving an affirmative answer: Accordingly, he told the Doctor that he did profess to know something about that language.

"Well, then," said the Doctor, "What is the English meaning of this sentence—Varium et mutabile semper femina?"

`Why,' replied Timothy, `it means, I opinionate, that simpering females will mutiny without variety.'

"Not so wide from the mark, by the shade of old Virgil!" said the other, laughing: "but let us try another—a famous quotation from Horace: it is this—Poeta nascitur, non fit?"

`O, that is plain enough,' quickly replied our hero, `and I agree with that Mr. Horace—he says that a nasty poet is not fit—that is, not fit for any thing.'

The Doctor and 'Squire now laughed outright—the Deacon looked round to see what was the matter, and smiled faintly through sympathy, but said nothing. "I will now," said the Doctor, after having recovered from his fit of merriment, "I will now give you a sentence in prose, with which you, being a teacher, will of course be familiar:— Bonus doctor custos populorum."

`Why,' replied Timothy, with a look of mingled doubt and wicked triumph glancing at the lean visage of the other, `seeing you put it out to me, I will explanitate it: It says and signifies, that bony doctors are a curse to the people.'

The laugh was now against the Doctor, in which even the Deacon joined heartily; while the somewhat discomfited object of the joke, after a few shrugs of the shoulders, hastily proceeded to say,

"Well, well, let us drop the Latin,—other studies are more important,—let us take some of the higher branchos of English education. What, Sir, is Chemistry?"

`Chemistry!' said our hero, `why, that I take to be one of your physical propensities which has nothing to do with education.'

"Well, then," said the Doctor, "we will take a view of the higher branches of Mathematics—algebraical, geometrical or trigonometrical principles, if you please."

But Timothy, thinking he had answered enough of their impertinent questions, replied, that `as to algymetry and trygrimetry, and such other invented abstrusities,' he considered too insignificant to monopolize his internal consideration: He therefore wished them to tell him at once whether or not they would employ him. This unexpected request rather disconcerted the learned trio, and they appeared much at a loss what to say. After some shuffling of feet, spitting and looking down upon the floor, the Deacon and Doctor both turned their eyes imploringly on the 'Squire, as much as to say, "you must be the man to smooth the answer as well as you can."

The 'Squire then told Timothy, that they were not exactly prepared at present to give any answer. But our hero was not to be put off in this manner, and desired to know when they would be ready to answer him. The 'Squire replied that it was extremely difficult to tell, but if at any time hence they should wish to employ him, they would send him word. Timothy, however, was determined to bring them to something definite, and therefore insisted on their naming a day when they would let him know their decision. On this, the 'Squire finding himself likely to be baffled in his plan of indefinite postponement, as the legislators say, very gravely proposed that Timothy should call in one year from that day, at half past four o'clock in the afternoon, precisely, when he should have the answer which he so much desired.

Our hero hearing this strange proposition, and observing them exchange sundry winks, instantly rose, and, with becoming indignation declaring that he had no sort of desire to enter the employment of men too ignorant to appreciate his talents, abruptly left the office. Pausing not a moment to look either to the right or left, he strode on with rapid steps till he was fairly out of the village; when he turned round and gave vent to his smothered resentment in a torrent of anathemas against those conceited and impudent fellows, who, with such astonishing stupidity, had failed to discover his capacities in an examination in which he had, in his own opinion, acquitted himself so honorably. But he was now clear of them, and he determined to trouble them no more. Indeed, he began now to entertain a contemptible opinion of school-keeping altogether, and he therefore concluded to make no more applications for this kind of employment, at least among the conceited Vermonters. "But where am I going?" he now for the first time thought to ask himself. He revolved several things in his mind, and at last resolved, as it was now nearly night, to return to the tavern where he lodged the last night, and consult with the landlord, who had treated him with much kindness, relative to the course he had better pursue in his present unpleasant circumstances.

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