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Home ~ Lord Timothy Dexter's Legacy

 

[From fictional biography by John Phillips Marquand entitled, "Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, Massachusetts, first in the East, first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the western world" published by Minton, Balch & company, New York 1925. Marquand's fabrication combined the information from the work of Samuel Lorenzo Knapp with historical corrections by William Cleaves Todd, John J. Currier and in particular, Samuel Perley's transcript in the Essex Antiquarian. Marquand's novel in its entirety contains 378 pages (including the transcript of the 1848 edition of Dexter's "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones"). The following is taken from pages, so noted in parentheses.]


Newburyport has always permitted the individual to flourish (4)… Lord Timothy Dexter, who knew his own worth so well that he described himself frankly where all the world could see as "First in the East, First in the West, and the Greatest Philosopher of all the Known World."

This resounding clause has come down traditionally in two distinct forms. One is this complete rounded period; the other, printed beside an engraving of his Lordship in 1805, is more specific and instead of "all the Known World" we find "In the Western World" substituted. Though (the latter) is slightly more modest, both are splendid, and the reader may take his choice. (7)

There is hardly a more outrageous character in all our social phenomena than this untrammeled individual. There is such a quality of abandon in all his ventures and such disregard of binding fact and regal defiance of the impossible that he has become more than a legend in a time which is almost too busy for folklore. There is today a horrid irony in his laughing shadow. Beyond all other world-shaking serious events of his generation, his achievements stand alone, and transcend the genuine and forgotten works of other New England traders, until his whole career reflects the highly seasoned opulence of New England shipping … No ordinary muse can be invoked to conjure Dexter back …

Lord Dexter himself has vanished, with his dog and his preposterous hat. They are gone, yet they still remain, cunningly mixed with the memory of the man who conjured them up … Timothy Dexter in his life had done something which has fallen to the lot of a few … Despite all efforts to eradicate it, there is an element so lastingly mirthful and so expansive in his memory, that is has embraced, in a sense, the whole time in which he lived, until to those casual souls who are not students or antiquarians, Lord Dexter has come to represent in himself a whole rich and vanished age. All the cargoes, all the ships, all the coaches and counting houses, all the appurtenances (324) of an ancient maritime supremacy are Timothy Dexter's now. It is strange but it is true. The name of a roistering irresponsible man who played the fool, and very often was one, is now the one remembered beyond all his richer and more virtuous brother merchants. Up from the shadows comes Timothy Dexter of Newburyport to represent them all, to stand for all their forgotten works. The profusion of the age, its uncertainty, its license, its bright colors and its richness all lie with him, until his ghost haunts every street where the sea wind blows, an ironic shade, smiling tolerantly, reeling slightly with ghostly wine, a period to all accomplishment, a mockery, but a laughing mockery. (325)

Upon that stone that marks his grave (in Old Hill cemetery) has been cut a kindly epitaph, neglecting his brighter phases, but saying what is best. "Mr." they called him. At the prospect of "Lord" the stone cutter's chisel evidently faltered, but he might have added with permissible license and no small grain of truth, "He was First in the East" (and) no man has ever followed him. (325 - 326)

  

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