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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

From His Parody on Rivington’s Petition

By John Witherspoon (1723–1794)

[Born in Yester, near Edinburgh, Scotland. Died near Princeton, N. J., 1794. Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon. 1800.]

The humble representation and earnest supplication of J. R———, printer and bookseller in New York. RESPECTFULLY SHEWETH:

THAT a great part of the British forces has already left this city, and from many symptoms there is reason to suspect that the remainder will speedily follow them. Where they are gone or going, is perhaps known to themselves, perhaps not; certainly, however, it is unknown to us, the loyal inhabitants of the place, and other friends of government who have taken refuge in it, and who are therefore filled with distress and terror on the unhappy occasion.

That as soon as the evacuation is completed, it is more than probable, the city will be taken possession of by the forces of your high mightinesses, followed by vast crowds of other persons—Whigs by nature and profession—friends to the liberties and foes to the enemies of America. Above all, it will undoubtedly be filled with shoals of Yankees, that is to say, the natives and inhabitants (or as a great lady in this metropolis generally expresses it, the wretches) of New England.

That from several circumstances, there is reason to fear that the behavior of the wretches aforesaid may not be altogether gentle to such of the friends of government as shall stay behind. What the governing powers of the state of New York may do also, it is impossible to foretell. Nay, who knows but we may soon see in propria persona, as we have often heard of Hortentius, the governor of New Jersey, a gentleman remarkable for severely handling those whom he calls traitors, and indeed who has exalted some of them (quanquam animus meminisse horret luctuque refugit) to a high, though dependent station, and brought America under their feet, in a sense very different from what Lord North meant when he first used that celebrated expression.

That your petitioner in particular, is at the greatest loss what to resolve upon, or how to shape his course. He has no desire at all, either to be roasted in Florida, or frozen to death in Canada or Nova Scotia. Being a great lover of fresh cod, he has had thoughts of trying a settlement in Newfoundland, but recollecting that the New England men have almost all the same appetite, he was obliged to relinquish that project entirely. If he should go to Great Britain, dangers no less formidable present themselves. Having been a bankrupt in London, it is not impossible that he might be accommodated with a lodging in Newgate, and that the ordinary there might oblige him to say his prayers, a practice from which he hath had an insuperable aversion all his life long.

In this dreadful dilemma, he hath at last determined to apply to your high mightinesses, and by this memorial to lay himself at your feet, which, he assures you, is the true modish phrase for respectful submission, according to the present etiquette of the court….

There cannot possibly be any danger to the United States, in suffering me to live. I know many of you think and say, that a tory heart acquires such a degree of sourness and malevolence, in addition to its native stock, and such a habit of treachery by breaking through the most endearing ties of nature, that no good can be expected from it, nor any dependence placed upon it, let pretences or appearances be what they will. I remember also, about seven years ago, a certain person hearing, accidentally, one or two paragraphs read from the writings of an eminent controversial divine in this country, said, That fellow must be a turncoat; it is impossible that he could have been educated in the profession which he now defends. What is your reason for that opinion, said another gentleman who was present? Because, says he, he discovers a rancor of spirit and rottenness of heart unattainable by any other class of men. But I contend that these remarks relate only to the natives of this country, who like parricides took up arms for her destruction; and to apostates in religion, neither of which, I am certain, can be applied to me. I was born, as is well known, in old England; and as for the accusation of apostasy, I set it at defiance, unless a man can be said to fall off from what he was never on, or to depart from a place which he never saw….

I beg leave to suggest, that upon being received into favor, I think it would be in my power to serve the United States in several important respects. I believe many of your officers want politeness. They are, like old Cincinnatus, taken from the plough; and therefore must still have a little roughness in their manners and deportment. Now, I myself am the pink of courtesy, a genteel, portly, well-looking fellow as you will see in a summer’s day. I understand and possess the bienséance, the manner, the grace, so largely insisted on by Lord Chesterfield; and may without vanity say, I could teach it better than his lordship, who in that article has remarkably failed. I hear with pleasure, that your people are pretty good scholars, and have made particularly very happy advances in the art of swearing, so essentially necessary to a gentleman. Yet I dare say they will themselves confess, that they are still in this respect far inferior to the English army. There is, by all account, a coarseness and sameness in their expression; whereas there is variety, sprightliness and figure in the oaths of gentlemen well educated. Dean Swift says very justly, “a footman may swear, but he cannot swear like a lord.” Now we have many lords in the English army, all of whom, when here, were pleased to honor me with their friendship and intimacy; so that I hope my qualifications can hardly be disputed. I have imported many of the most necessary articles for appearance in genteel life. I can give them Lavornitti’s soap-balls to wash their brown hands clean, perfumed gloves, paint, powder, and pomatum. I can also furnish the New England men with rings, seals, swords, canes, snuff-boxes, tweezer-cases, and many other such notions, to carry home to their wives and mistresses, who will be nation-glad to see them….

Finally, I hope I may be of service to the United States, as a writer, publisher, collector, and maker of news. I mention this with some diffidence; because perhaps you will think I have foreclosed myself from such a claim, by confessing (as above) that my credit as a news-writer is broken by over-stretching. But it is common enough for a man in business, when his credit is wholly gone in one place, by shifting his ground, and taking a new departure, to flourish away, and make as great or greater figure than before. How long that splendor will last is another matter, and belongs to an after consideration. I might therefore, though my credit is gone in New York, set up again in the place which is honored with your residence. Besides, I might write those things only or chiefly, which you wish to be disbelieved, and thus render you the most essential service. This would be aiming and arriving at the same point by manœuvring retrograde. Once more, as I have been the ostensible printer of other people’s lies in New York, what is to hinder me from keeping incog. and inventing or polishing lies to be issued from the press of another printer in Philadelphia? In one or more or all of these ways, I hope to merit you approbation. It would be endless to mention all my devices; and therefore I will only say further, that I can take a truth, and so puff and swell and adorn it, still keeping the proportion of its parts, but enlarging their dimensions, that you could hardly discover where the falsehood lay, in case of a strict investigation.