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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Benedick, the Married Man

By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)

[“Consolation for the Old Bachelor.” From “Translation of a Letter, written by a Foreigner on his Travels.” The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 1792.]

MR. AITKEN: Your Old Bachelor having pathetically represented the miseries of his solitary situation, severely reproaching himself for having neglected to marry in his younger days, I would fain alleviate his distress, by showing that it is possible he might have been as unhappy—even in the honorable state of matrimony.

I am a shoemaker in this city, and by my industry and attention have been enabled to maintain my wife and a daughter, now six years old, in comfort and respect; and to lay by a little at the year’s end, against a rainy day.

My good wife had long teased me to take her to New York, in order to visit Mrs. Snip, the lady of an eminent tailor in that city, and her cousin; from whom she had received many pressing invitations.

This jaunt had been the daily subject of discussion at breakfast, dinner, and supper for a month before the time fixed upon for putting it in execution. As our daughter Jenny could by no means be left at home, many and great were the preparations to equip miss and her mamma for this important journey; and yet, as my wife assured me, there was nothing provided but what was absolutely necessary, and which we could not possibly do without. My purse sweat at every pore.

At last, the long-expected day arrived, preceded by a very restless night. For, as my wife could not sleep for thinking on the approaching jaunt, neither would she suffer me to repose in quiet. If I happened through wearisomeness to fall into a slumber, she immediately roused me by some unseasonable question or remark; frequently asking if I was sure the apprentice had greased the chair-wheels, and seen that the harness was clean and in good order; often observing how surprised her cousin Snip would be to see us; and as often wondering how poor dear Miss Jenny would bear the fatigue of the journey. Thus passed the night in delightful discourse, if that can with propriety be called a discourse, wherein my wife was the only speaker—my replies never exceeding the monosyllables “yes” or “no,” murmured between sleeping and waking.

No sooner was it fair daylight, but up started my notable wife, and soon roused the whole family. The little trunk was stuffed with baggage, even to bursting, and tied behind the chair, and the chair-box was crammed with trumpery which “we could not possibly do without.” Miss Jenny was dressed, and breakfast devoured in haste; the old negro wench was called in, and the charge of the house committed to her care; and the two apprentices and the hired maid received many wholesome cautions and instructions for their conduct during our absence, all which they most liberally promised to observe; whilst I attended, with infinite patience, the adjustment of these preliminaries.

At length, however, we set off, and, turning the first corner, lost sight of our habitation, with great regret on my part, and no less joy on the part of Miss Jenny and her mamma.

When we got to Poole’s Bridge, there happened to be a great concourse of wagons, carts, etc., so that we could not pass for some time—Miss Jenny frightened—my wife very impatient and uneasy—wondered I did not call out to those impudent fellows to make way for us; observing that I had not the spirit of a louse. Having got through this difficulty, we proceeded without obstruction—my wife in good-humor again—Miss Jenny in high spirits. At Kensington fresh troubles arise. “Bless me, Miss Jenny,” says my wife, “where is the bandbox?” “I don’t know, mamma; the last time I saw it, it was on the table in your room.” What’s to be done? The bandbox is left behind—it contains Miss Jenny’s new wire-cap—there is no possibility of doing without it—as well no New York as no wire-cap—there is no alternative, we must e’en go back for it. Teased and mortified as I was, my good wife administered consolation by observing, “That it was my business to see that everything was put into the chair that ought to be, but there was no depending upon me for anything; and that she plainly saw I undertook this journey with an ill-will, merely because she had set her heart upon it.” Silent patience was my only remedy. An hour and a half restored to us this essential requisite—the wire-cap—and brought us back to the place where we first missed it.

After innumerable difficulties and unparalleled dangers, occasioned by ruts, stumps, and tremendous bridges, we arrived at Neshamony ferry; but how to cross it was the question. My wife protested that neither she nor Jenny would go over in the boat with the horse. I assured her that there was not the least danger; that the horse was as quiet as a dog, and that I would hold him by the bridle all the way. These assurances had little weight;—the most forcible argument was that she must go that way or not at all, for there was no other boat to be had. Thus persuaded, she ventured in; the flies were troublesome—the horse kicked—my wife in panics—Miss Jenny in tears. Ditto at Trenton ferry.

As we started pretty early, and as the days were long, we reached Trenton by two o’clock. Here we dined. My wife found fault with everything; and whilst she disposed of what I thought a tolerable hearty meal, declared there was nothing fit to eat. Matters, however, would have gone on pretty well, but Miss Jenny began to cry with the toothache—sad lamentations over Miss Jenny—all my fault because I had not made the glazier replace a broken pane in her chamber window. N.B.—I had been twice for him, and he promised to come, but was not so good as his word.

After dinner we again entered upon our journey—my wife in good-humor—Miss Jenny’s toothache much easier—various chat—I acknowledge everything my wife says for fear of discomposing her. We arrive in good time at Princeton. My wife and daughter admire the College. We refresh ourselves with tea, and go to bed early, in order to be up betimes for the next day’s expedition.

In the morning we set off again in tolerable good-humor, and proceeded happily as far as Rocky Hill. Here my wife’s fears and terrors returned with great force. I drove as carefully as possible; but coming to a place where one of the wheels must unavoidably go over the point of a small rock, my wife, in a great fright, seized hold of one of the reins, which happening to be the wrong one, she pulled the horse so as to force the wheel higher up the rock than it would otherwise have gone, and overset the chair. We were all tumbled higgledy-piggledy, into the road—Miss Jenny’s face all bloody—the woods echo to her cries—my wife in a fainting-fit—and I in great misery; secretly and most devoutly wishing cousin Snip at the devil. Matters begin to mend—my wife recovers—Miss Jenny has only received a slight scratch on one of her cheeks—the horse stands quite still, and none of the harness broke. Matters grew worse again; the twine with which the bandbox was tied had broke in the fall, and the aforesaid wire-cap lay soaking in a nasty mud-puddle—grievous lamentations over the wire-cap—all my fault because I did not tie it better—no remedy—no wire-caps to be bought at Rocky Hill. At night my wife discovered a small bruise on her hip—was apprehensive it might mortify—did not know but the bone might be broken or splintered—many instances of mortifications occasioned by small injuries.

After passing unhurt over the imminent dangers of Passaic and Hackensack rivers, and the yet more tremendous horrors of Pawlas Hook ferry, we arrived, at the close of the third day, at cousin Snip’s in the city of New York.

Here we sojourned a tedious week; my wife spent as much money as would have maintained my family for a month at home, in purchasing a hundred useless articles “which we could not possibly do without”; and every night when we went to bed fatigued me with encomiums on her cousin Snip; leading to a history of the former grandeur of her family, and concluding with insinuations that I did not treat her with the attention and respect I ought.

On the seventh day my wife and cousin Snip had a pretty warm altercation respecting the comparative elegancies and advantages of New York and Philadelphia. The dispute ran high, and many aggravating words passed between the two advocates. The next morning my wife declared that my business would not admit of a longer absence from home—and so after much ceremonious complaisance—in which my wife was by no means exceeded by her very polite cousin—we left the famous city of New York; and I with heart-felt satisfaction looked forward to the happy period of our safe arrival in Water Street, Philadelphia.

But this blessing was not to be obtained without much vexation and trouble. But lest I should seem tedious I shall not recount the adventures of our return;—how we were caught in a thunderstorm—how our horse failed, by which we were benighted three miles from our stage—how my wife’s panics returned—how Miss Jenny howled, and how very miserable I was made. Suffice it to say, that, after many distressing disasters, we arrived at the door of our own habitation in Water Street.

No sooner had we entered the house than we were informed that one of my apprentices had run away with the hired maid, nobody knew where; the old negro had got drunk, fallen into the fire, and burnt out one of her eyes; and our best china bowl was broken.

My good wife contrived, with her usual ingenuity, to throw the blame of all these misfortunes upon me. As this was a consolation to which I had been long accustomed in all untoward cases, I had recourse to my usual remedy, viz., silent patience. After sincerely praying that I might nevermore see cousin Snip, I sat industriously down to my trade, in order to retrieve my manifold losses.

This is only a miniature picture of the married state, which I present to your Old Bachelor, in hopes it may abate his choler, and reconcile him to a single life. But, if this opiate should not be sufficient to give him some ease, I may, perhaps, send him a stronger dose hereafter.