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Home ~ Excerpts from "Hits and Dashes: A Medley of Sketches and Scraps, Touching People and Things" by Cymon (nom de plume of Frederic Thomas Somerby)

 

["Cymon" is the nom de plume of Newburyport native Frederic Thomas Somerby, who was an author and "ornamental" artist of considerable renown. Born in Newburyport on January 4, 1814 --- the son of Thomas Somerby (Jr) and mother Sally (Dole) Somerby, descendent of Anthony Somerby (one of the earliest settlers of Newbury in 1639) --- Frederic Thomas Somerby died in Worcester, Massachusetts on January 18, 1871. Come to know more about the author and brother Horatio Gates Somerby at this link without.

Under his pen name, Somerby was a frequent correspondent to the Boston publications, the "Post" and the "Spirit of the Times." In 1852, a collection of his whimsical and thoughtful contributions would be printed by the publsiher Redding (Boston) under the title "Hits and Dashes, or a Medley of Sketches and Scraps touching People and Things." A facsimile of this publication is available online at this link without --- and in that Lord Timothy Dexter is thrice mentioned in this compendium, the excerpted text follows. "Cymon" would later contribute a sympathetic introduction to the 1858 reprint of Samuel Lorenzo Knapp's 1838 myopic biopic of Lord Timothy Dexter; a transcript of that introduction can be found at this link within.]

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From "HITS AND DASHES," the section entitled “Epistle from Newburyport to the Boston Post,” the following transcription begins with the second paragraph of page 84 through the first paragraph of page 85:

Of course, you and the whole world have heard of Lord Timothy Dexter, who so pompously flourished here some thirty or forty years ago.  But whilst all his little foolish eccentricities has been published to the world, I am sorry to say that his many virtues have been hid under a bushel.  He was a benefactor to the people --- not party.  He took things in a cosmopolitan light --- not one-sided.  He did not give a large sum to a sectarian minister manufactory; if he had, his name, like some others, would have pealed forth throughout the land.  But he gave his little here --- his little there.  He gave, as a saint, a pretty little purse towards building St. Paul’s church there, which in olden time, would have canonized him.  He gave, as a christian and a MAN, a goodly sum to be put in the care of the town, the interest of which, annually, to be invested in provisions for the poor, who kept themselves out of the almshouse.  In short, he did many noble things, which he should be credited for, and which are now lost sight of through his peculiarities.  Even one who has read his will, says there was never a more judicious one made.  He was no fool, either, as many an anecdote of him will show.  Speaking of a man whom he had befriended (page 85) many times, and got repaid with ingratitude, he said, “D—n him, he reminds me of a hog under a tree, eating acorns, never once thinking of looking up to see where they come from!”

Transcribed from "HITS AND DASHES," pages 106 – 107:


EPISTLE FROM NEWBURYPORT TO THE BOSTON POST

INEXHAUSTIBLE was the widow's pot of oil, mentioned in the holy writ, and likewise inexhaustible seemeth the anecdotes of eccentric characters stored up in this old settlement.  Among all these characters, none have figured so conspicuously, and no one has had so little justice done him as Timothy Dexter.  In a letter to the Post last summer, I gave a sketch of a few of his benevolent deeds, which had heretofore been hid under a bushel; and I have raked up a few more, which shall be rescued from oblivion.

Timothy Dexter was anything but a fool.  Everything he took hold of worked well; not by luck, as some folks have said, but by most excellent judgment. He bought up the state notes off Massachusetts, when they were at the lowest ebb, and gave as his reasons for doing so, that if the state ever came up and flourished, she of course would redeem her paper; if, on the contrary, she went down, why, he and the people and his property would all go to the devil together!  Of course, the old Bay State came right side up, and Dexter reaped a golden harvest.

Dexter once had a challenge sent him to fight a duel; with the judgment of a philosopher, he enquired if his antagonist was worth as much property as himself, as it would not be a fair thing for him to fight at nothing --- to "pit" a fortune against a beggar!

If the old settlement had been blessed with a few more as generous and public spirited men as Dexter, it might have been something, and kept its head above water.  He did not send his money to Italy for statuary chiselled by a foreign artist, but he employed a young townsman, just beginning life, to carve images of our best public men from native wood, to adorn his republican mansion. Furthermore, he offered to build a splendid hall and give it to this town, provided they would christen it “Dexter Hall."  But the stiff-necked and straight-waistcoated old puritans, in the  plenitude of their grace and profound wisdom, spurned his generous offer with a holy horror, because it came from Dexter, the eccentric Timothy, who did not wear leather breeches and belong to a Presbyterian church.  O, those self-righteous old fools!  They had heads --- and so had Dexter's images.

O, Timothy! thy weaknesses have been blazoned forth to the world, whilst thy good and benevolent actions have been written in the sands, and thy manifold (continued next image, page 108)
charities nearly forgotten. But, while I live, I'll take every opportunity to do thee justice, and strive to

"Weed the nettles from thy grave!"


From “Hits and Dashes,” section entitled “A Response” beginning page 119:


A RESPONSE.


I HAD been reading very late one evening, about the "spirit rappers," who have set the wonder-struck wonderers agog, of late, as well as some others.  Suddenly, an indescribable sensation of drowsiness stole over me, and I was soon lost in the misty mazes of Morpheus.  I dreamed that I was sitting in "ye Morss howse," at Newburyport, the first place of rendezvous for "ye unseen spirits" and witches in New England.  Save the monotonous clicking of the old eight-day clock that stood in one corner of the room, and the occasional snap of the last remnant of a back log, all was hush.

Well, thought I, things have changed here somewhat since Cotton Mather's day; everything in this room --- once the scene of all manner of strange pranks most strangely played --- is now as quiet as the quietest body might wish.  Ah! those were rare times, when old Gaffer Morss's “inke horne did fly about ye roome, lyke as if itt was possessed with ye dyvel,” and when “ye potte did hoppe and dance and skippe around ye roome,'" all to their great amazement!  But those days of superstition are passed and gone, and witchcraft has gone down to the grave, with the old fbols who believed in it. At that moment, I heard one --- two ---three ---, distinct raps upon the old oaken table (text continues on pages 120 through 121) beside me, and immediately the antique candlestick thereon did twirl about with the velocity of a top, the flame of the twenty-four-to-the pound dipped candle therein, burning with a most brilliant ultramarine tint.  One loud rap, the candlestick ceased its gyrations, the flame of the tallow luminary "paled its fire," and all again was still.  Another distinct rap ---like the Gaelic chieftain, I sprang upon my feet, and exclaimed, “Thy name and purpose!"  Rap, rap again. By the aid of the alphabet I learned that 'twas the spirit of Lord Timothy Dexter.

He had come to tender me his thanks for vindicating his character as I had done --- in reminding the cold, heartless, self-righteous, narrow-minded, ungrateful old hunkers of his manifold charities, and his magnanimous public spirit, when on earth in the flesh.  Rest in peace, generous spirit, I replied --- so long as this town existeth, so long will the product of that fund thou didst bequeath the poor and needy, who have kept themselves from the alms-house, cheer and gladden the heart of many a poor widow, who shall, from her grateful heart, as she partaketh of thy bounty, send up thanks to thy good and kindly spirit!

Rap, again; it was Billy Watkins's spirit; he had just called to pay me his compliments. A bouncing rap!  "Parson Milton," was the response: "and" replied the spirit of the old parson, "I don't thank you for telling so many anecdotes about me; d'ye hear!"

Rap, rap, rap, rap --- thicker and faster --- some I could recognize, others I could not makes out distinctly; but many, I knew, were spirits of the olden school, who whilom did flourish in the flesh in this good old town, that had come to greet me.  A short pause now ensued; but in a few moments --- rap! bang!! whang! sounded upon the floor of the kitchen, "so loud and dread!'" that it seemed to shake the old building from sill to ridgepole. With no little trepidation, I demanded what spirit had now come, that

"Roared so loud and thundered in the index!"

With reverence did I bow mine head, even unto the floor, and hold in my breath, when this transcendent-spirit responded --- "ANDREW JACKSON!”  “And what is your bidding?" I queried of the old sage, warrior and patriot.  By Jove's imperial thunder-bolts! such loud responses! when the General rapped --- or rather thundered out --- "THE UNION! by the Eternal! don’t split it!”



(Webmaster’s note:  Following the last line of the text on this scanned printed page is the number 9, positioned in the twelfth space of the line following the text --- which coincidentally was Dexter’s lucky number.)


 

 

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