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Home ~ Introduction by "Cymon"

 

 

The sympathetic "Introduction"

penned by "Cymon" appending

the 1858 (20th anniversary) reprint of

the antipathetic portrait of

"The Life of Lord Timothy Dexter

with Sketches of the Eccentric Characters that Composed his Associates"

by the biographer Samuel L. Knapp (originally published in 1838)

 

Never since the Flood has there lived a man so little appreciated as Timothy Dexter. Whilst all his foibles and eccentricities have been "conned by rote," and emblazoned to the world, his many virtues are overlooked. We will not here assay to write the life of this celebrated individual, for that has already been done in the subsequent pages; our task is only to introduce this book to the reader. But we should feel as if we had omitted doing our duty, did we let pass this opportunity of showing the subject of this biography in some of his noble and manly points, of which he possessed not a few.

We "speak by the card," having the best authority from those who lived near this man as neighbors, and knew him well, in all his outgoings and in his incomings. Had Dexter been an educated man, and cultivated a sycophantic and hypocritical disposition --- being all things to all men, and living strictly in outward appearances, at least, in accordance with the times then we should have had a very different history of him. If he was erratic, he was honest. Howbeit, time makes all things even, --- and it shall go hard with us, O Timothy! but we will help to cast off the scales which have ever blinded the eyes of the world to thy manifold virtues, we will e'en attempt to remove the stains which bigotry and intolerance have ever delighted to heap upon thy devoted head, and strive to

"Weed the nettles from thy grave"

Circumstances placed our subject in a town remarkable for its religionists of the "straitest sect". Nothing in their "close pent up" opinions could be right and just, unless it came within the rules of their church. Timothy Dexter eschewed bigoted devotion, consequently he brought down the ire of their supporters upon himself in all its malignancy. But they should have remembered his many good qualities; --- alas! how could they? Those who believed in the doctrine of total depravity would not nor could not, with their jaundiced vision and narrow mindedness, see "any good coming out of Nazareth".

Dexter left a legacy of two thousand dollars for the poor of Newburyport who keep outside the almshouse; and this fact is known at this day but to a very few. See his will at the latter part of the book, a more judicious one never was made, as the reader may judge for himself.

Had Newburyport been blessed with a few more as generous and public-minded men as Dexter, it would have been much better for its interests. A peculiar trait in most of the people in that town was a morbid religious sentiment, which by keeping their minds so intent upon the things of a future world, caused them to lose their relish for this.

Dexter was anything by a fool. Every thing that he undertook, worked well; not by luck, as many thought and said, but by a most excellent judgment. When he brought up the government paper, he made a brilliant speculation. He was laughed at by the old fogies of that day for taking so many shares in the first chain bridge of the Merrimack; but the smile went the other way, when for the first forty years it yielded a dividend of over twenty-five cents on the dollar!

Dexter offered to build a magnificent hall, and give it to the town, provided that they would name it after him; and likewise to pave their principal business street, if it should be called by his name; but the stiff-necked and straight-waistcoated old hunkers, in the plenitude of their grave and profound wisdom, spurned his generous offer with a holy horror, because, forsooth, it came from Dexter, the eccentric, who unlike their deacons and elders, did no wear leather breeches, and belong to a Presbyterian church. Oh, those intolerable old bigots! They had heads, and so had Dexter's images.

He did not send his money to Italy for statuary cut from foreign marble by their artists; but a young townsman, just beginning life as a carver, was selected to chisel images of our best public men, from native timber, wherewith to his republican mansion.

As to his eccentricities, perhaps they have been somewhat exaggerated. Many of us, if we dared to brave the opinions of the world, would throw off our constraint, and occasionally act the harlequin. Moreover, who shall judge betwixt the pomp and vainglory of the real and the mock lord? --- In passing along the great principal thoroughfare of Boston, one day, we saw two men of the Shaker family walking down (the) street in all their soberness, and a well-known Chinaman in full regalia coming up in the opposite direction. Simultaneously, the three made a dead halt. "John Chinaman" stood and smiled at the queer close-cut garb of the straight-laced shakers; and the two plain, broad-brimmed, lean, lank, long-haired, serious visages disciples of Ann Lee, burst forth in a cachination, not at all in keeping with their general mode and manner of deportment, as they gazed upon the celestial, with his peculiar trappings, especially the cue, which hung down his back like the handle of a warming-pan, tipped with "a bunch of blue ribbon". We could not forbear laughing at the three, --- at the same time reproving ourself (sic) for so doing, not feeling sure that we stood wholly free from some peculiarities which might call forth a smile from them. In short, as the inimitable Fielding has it, --- whilst we laugh at the follies of others, we should, at the same time, think of a grieve at our own.

 

 

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