Monday, November 27, 2006

Item of the Day: Davis's Travels in America (1803)

Full Title: Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America; During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. Dedicated by Permission to Thomas Jefferson, Esq. President of the United States. By John Davis. London: 1803.

Chap. 1.

Upon my landing at New-York, my first care was to deliver a letter of recommendation which I had been favoured with by a friend to a merchant in the city; together with a volume of Travels from Boston to Philadelphia, which he had recently published. But I cannot say that I was received with the urbanity I had anticipated. Neither my friend's letter, nor his book, could soften the features of the stern American; and were the world to read the volume with as little interest as he, it would soon be consigned to the peaceful shelf.

I was now to become the architect of my own fortune. Though on a kindred shore, I had not even an acquaintance to whom I could communicate my projects; the letter had failed me that was to decide my fortune at one blow, and I found myself solitary and sad among the crouds of a gay city.

But I was not long depressed by melancholy reflections over my condition, for I found a friend in a man, who, having himself been unfortunate, could feel for another in adversity. A concurrence of circumstances had brought me into the company of Mr. Caritat, a bookseller, who, being made acquainted with my situation, addressed me with that warmth, which discovers a desire to be useful, rather than a wish to gratify curiosity.

He inquired into my projects. I told him that my scheme was to get into some family as a private tutor. A private Tutor! said he. Alas! the labour of Sisyphus in hell is not equal to that of a private Tutor in America! Why your project put me in mind of a young Mr. Primrose. And your exclamations, said I, remind me of his cousin in London. Just enough, rejoined Mr. Caritat, and let me examine you a little after the manner of his cousin.

Do you write a good hand, and understand all the intricacies of calculation? No. then you will not do for a private Tutor. It is not your Latin and Greek, but your hand-writing and cyphering, that will decide your character. Penmanship, and the figures of arithmetic, will recommend you more than logic and the figures of rhetoric. Can you passively submit to be called School-master by the children, and Cool Mossa by the negroes? No. Then you will not do for a private Tutor. Can you comply with the humility of giving only one rap at the door that the family may distinguish it is the Private Tutor; and can you wait half an hour with good humour on the steps, till the footman or housemaid condescends to open the door? No. Then you will not do for a private Tutor. Can you maintain a profound silence in company to denote your inferiority; and can you endure to be helped always the last at table, aye even after the clerk of the counting-house? No. Then you will not do for a private Tutor. Can you hold your eyes with your hands, and cry Amen! when grace is said; and can you carry the childrens' bibles and prayer-books to church twice every Sunday? No. Then you will not do for a private Tutor. Can you rise with the sun, and teach till breakfast; swallow your breakfast, and teach till dinner; devour your dinner, and teach till tea-time; and from tea-time to bed-time sink into insignificance in the parlour? No. Then you will not do for a private Tutor. Do you expect good wages? Yes. then you will never do for a private Tutor. No, sir, the place of private Tutor is the last I would recommend you; for as Pompey, when he entered a tyrant's dominions, quoted a verse from Euripides that signified his liberty was gone, so a man of letters, when he undertakes the tuition of a family in America, may exclaim he has lost his independence.

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