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Upon the Talents Requisite in an Almanack-Writer

To the Author of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

SIR,

As I am a great Lover of all Works of Ingenuity, and the Authors of them, so more especially am I a great Reader and Admirer of those Labours of the Learned, called ALMANACKS.

As I am a considerable Proficient in this Sort of Learning; and as at this time of the Year, Copies of Almanacks for the next Year usually come to the Press, long before they are wanted: And as I have laid out many a Six-pence among your Customers, the Profit whereof has in a great Measure redounded to you: So I may reasonably hope to be look’d on as a good Customer, and claim a favourable Place in your Paper.

I have a large Volume in Manuscript by me, on the Important Subject of Almanack-making, which I may in time communicate to the Publick; but at present I am willing to oblige them, with only a Taste of my Skill, which (if I have any Title to the Art of Prognostication) will certainly make them long for the whole.

My present Design, is to give to you and the Publick, a short Essay, upon the Talents requisite in an Almanack-Writer, by which it will plainly appear, how much the Community is indebted to Men of such great and uncommon Parts and Sagacity.

An Almanack-Writer, Sir, should be born one like a Poet; for as I read among the Works of the learned, Poeta nascitur non fit; so it is a Maxim with me, thatAlmanackorum scriptor nascitur not fit. Gifts of Nature, Sir, compleated by Rules of Art, are indispensably Necessary to make a great Man this way, as well as any other.

The first Thing requisite in an Almanack-Writer, is, That he should be descended of a great Family, and bear a Coat of Arms, this gives Lustre and Authority to what a Man writes, and makes the common People to believe, that certainly this is a great Man. I have known Almanack-Writers so curious and exact in this particular, that they have been at the Expence and Charge of a Wooden Cut in the Frontispiece, with their Arms emblazon’d, and surrounded with a Label, expressing the Name of the Family. This, Sir, made a great Impression, I confess, upon myself and others, and made those Works to go off well.

If the Author who was born to be an Almanack-maker, has the Misfortune to be meanly descended, but yet, has a true Genius; if he has by him, or can borrow a Book, entitul’d the Peerage of England, he may safely borrow a Coat, (if there happens to be a Peer of his own Name) by reason, we are so great a Way distant from the Earl Marshal of that Part of Great-Britain call’d England.

The next Talent requisite in the forming of a compleat Almanack-Writer, is a Sort of Gravity, which keeps a due medium between Dulness and Nonsence, and yet has a Mixture of both. Now you know, Sir, that grave Men are taken by the common People always for wise Men. Gravity is just as good a Picture of Wisdom, as Pertness is of Wit, and therefore very taking. And to compleat an Almanack-maker, in this particular, he shou’d write Sentences, and throw out Hints, that neither himself, nor any Body else can understand or know the Meaning of. And this is also a necessary Talent. I will give you some Instances of this Way of Writing, which are almost inimitable, such as these,Leeds, Jan. 23. 1736. Beware, the Design is suspected. Feb. 23. The World is bad with somebody. Mar. 27. Crimes not remitted. April 10. Cully Mully puff appears. May 21 The Sword of Satan is drawn. June 7. The Cat eat the Candle. Now, Sir, Why should the Sword of Satan be drawn to kill the Cat on the 21st Day of May, when it plainly appears in Print, that the Cat did not eat the Candle till the 7th of June following? This Question no Man but an Astrologer can possibly answer.

In the next Place, I lay it down as a certain Maxim or Position, that an Almanack-Writer shou’d not be a finish’d Poet, but a Piece of one, and qualify’d to write, what we vulgarly call Doggerel; and that his Poetry shou’d bear a near Resemblance to his Prose. I must beg Horace’s and my Lord Roscommon’s Pardon, if I dissent from them in this one particular. I will give you their Rule in my Lord’s English Translation, and save myself the Trouble of transcribing the Latin of Horace.

But no Authority of Gods nor Men
Allow of any Mean in Poesy.”

This might for all I know be a Rule for Poetry among the Ancients, but the Moderns have found it troublesome, and the most of them, have wholly neglected it for that Reason. Witness the Authors Verses, whose Praise I am now celebrating, December1736.

Now is my 12 Months Task come to conclusion,
Lord free us from Hatred, Envy and Confusion.
All are not pleas’d, nor never will i’th’ main.
Fewds and Discords among us will remain.
Be that as ’twill, however I’m glad to see,
Envy disappointed both at Land and Sea
.

I do not pretend to say, that this is like the Poetry of Horace, or Lord Roscommon, but it is the Poesy of an Astrologer; it is his own and not borrowed; It is occult and mysterious. It has a due Degree of that Sort of Gravity, which I have mentioned: In short, it is form’d upon the Rules which I have laid down in this short Essay.

I could further prove to you, if I was to go about it, That an Almanack-Writer ought not only to be a Piece of a Wit, but a very Wag; and that he shou’d have the Art also to make People believe, that he is almost a Conjurer, &c. But these Things I reserve for my greater Work, and in the mean time, until that appears, I desire to remain,

Sir,
Sept. 27. 1737. Your very humble Servant,
PHILOMATH.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, October 20, 1737