Wow, a year and a half since my last post. But I have an excuse: I was very busy finishing my dissertation! And then after that I was in a state of intellectual collapse. I’m feeling better now, though, thank you.
Last week I was over at the Connecticut Historical Society, researching sermons (more on that some other time) and a few other things, and happened across two catalog references to what I like to refer to as “improving literature.” (They were printed in Danbury, Connecticut, which is the search I was doing.) So I decided to pull them, because their titles made me curious.
They proved to be a matched pair of single-page broadsides, printed on very age-darkened paper but safely encapsulated for indefinite preservation. Someone back in 1791 was willing to pay for the printing of several paragraphs exhorting the reader to practice virtue – specified as Christian virtues, as per standard. The virtues also came in male and female versions, also as per standard. This was the United States in 1791, after all.
I believe they are the earliest specimens of improving literature that I’ve ever personally looked at. I have no doubt that they’re actually reprints of something, though I don’t know of what. So, without further ado, here are partial transcripts of the texts, with contrasting terms highlighted.
The Happy Man, and True Gentleman
The happy man was born in the City of Regeneration, in the Parish of Repentance unto Life. He was educated at the School of Obedience, and lives now in the Town of Perseverence. He works at the Trade of Diligence, notwithstanding he has a large Estate in the Country of Christian Contentment; and many times does Jobbs of Self-Denial. …
A true Gentleman is GOD’s Servant, the World’s Master, and his own Man. Virtue is his Business, Study his Recreation, Contentment his Rest, and Happiness his reward. GOD is his Father, the Church is his Mother, the Saints are his Brethren, and he is a Friend to all that need him. Heaven is his Inheritance, Religion his Mistress, Loyalty and Justice his two Ladies of Honor, Devotion is his Chaplain, Chastity his Chamberlain, Sobriety his Butler, Temperance his Cook, Hospitality his Housekeeper, Providence his Steward, Charity his Treasurer, Piety is Mistress of the House, and Discretion is Porter, to let in and out, as is most fit.
Thus is his whole Family made up of Virtues, and he is the Master of the Family. …
So much for the man’s side.
The Happy Woman, and True Lady
The Happy woman was born in the City of Virtue, in the Parish of Obedience; she was educated in the School of Chastity; and now lives in the Town of Innocence. Her Profession is Industry, and she works with her own Hands at the Trade of Diligence, notwithstanding she has large Property in the Funds called Christian-Contentment. …
The true Lady is God’s Servant, the World’s Mistress, and her own Woman. Virtue is her Business, to do good, her Recreation, Contentment her Rest, and Happiness her Reward. GOD is her Father, the Church her Mother, the Saints her Brethren, and she is a Friend to all that need her. Heaven is her Inheritance, Religion her Guide, Justice and Economy her Companions; Piety is Mistress of the House, Judgment and Prudence chuse the Company, and Wisdom, Truth, and Cheerfulness entertain them. Providence is her Steward, Temperance her Cook, and Charity her Treasurer. …
FYI, I looked up “innocence” the early 19th-century dictionary that I have on hand, and it meant “purity, harmlessness, simplicity.” To the reader, I leave the exercise of contemplating how these two works of improving literature reflect the expected gender roles and stereotypes of their time period.
Tune in next week for whatever historical thing I come up with between now and then! In the meantime, there may also be a cooking-related post. We’ll see.