Advertisements

Get 2 books with your first month's membership ($14.99/mo) when you use the code AMERICANTORAH to sign up at this link!

Obadiah Plainman to Tom Trueman

To TOM TRUEMAN.

Dear Tommy,

Tho’ there are two Letters addressed to me, one in the Gazette, and the other in theMercury; yet, from the near Conformity they bear to one another in Sentiment, Reasoning, and Similes, I am apt to conclude they were wrote by the same Hand, Or, if by different Persons, that they communicated their Thoughts to one another, and then club’d them together for the Service of the Public. On the latter Supposition, it would be unnecessary in my Reply, to regard them as distinct Performances of several Writers; I therefore address myself to you as the Author of both.

You tell me you have found out by my Letter, that I imagine myself the Prince and Leader of a mighty People. I wonder how a Genius so penetrating as yours could be led into so gross an Error: For, alas! I am but a poor ordinary Mechanick of this City, obliged to work hard for the Maintenance of myself, my Wife, and several small Children. When my daily Labour is over, instead of going to the Alehouse, I amuse myself with the Books of the Library Company, of which I am an unworthy Member. This Account of my Circumstances, the Meanness of my Education, and my innocent Manner of Life, I hope, will effectually remove those groundless Suspicions, which you seemed to entertain, of my being in a Plot against the State.

You are pleased to inform me, that you are But a young Man, Country-born. In Return for such an important Discovery, I will let you into another Secret of as great Consequence. — “Hark in your Ear,” I am But an old Man not Country-born. In Respect of Soil, I presume neither of us will pretend to any Superiority; but the Pre-eminence being on my Side in Regard to my Age, I shall make Use of that Privilege toDocument you a little.

I shall first consider the argumentative Part of your Letter in the Gazette. You there assert, that from the first Facts alledged in the Paragraph, supposing nothing more said, a Stranger would unquestionably imagine that the Rooms were shut up by the Owners. This Assertion is granted you, because you are so kind to allow that It is absolutely destroyed by the Remainder of the Article; which says, the Gentlemen caused the Door to be broke open again. Thus far we have travelled, thro’ the Construction of the Paragraph, with a mutual Agreement, and a wonderful Satisfaction on both Sides. But now you ask, What does the Author mean by informing the World that no Company came the, then, last Assembly Night? Ay, what does he mean? This is the “plaguy” Difficulty that has so strangely puzzled, and which still seems to continue to puzzle the Better Sort. You are however sure, for your Part, that his Words must be intended to signify Something or NOTHING. As I shall always be ready to gratify you, when I can do it safely, I agree to your latter Alternative. But then, how can those Words which, on your own Concession, mean NOTHING, carry in them the Insinuation you contend for, or any Insinuation at all. This notwithstanding, you think yourself so absolutely certain of the Truth of your Consequence, that one would imagine you were ready to take your corporal Oath of it, when required, tho’ you acknowledge there is not the least Shadow of any Premises from which it can be deduced. This is such strange Reasoning, that doubtless, it has been reserved to this Time, solely, dear Tommy, for a Head so singularly clear and logical as yours. You desire I would show the World the Interpretation the Words will bear. Your Request, my dear Child, is contrary to all Laws of Argument, and therefore (tho’ I am heartily sorry it should happen so) I cannot comply with your Desire. If you advance an Assertion, it is at your own Peril to support it with Proofs, which if you fail in, every one has a Right to reject it as false.

In my first I did not give any Construction of the Paragraph, for my Business was to defend it from the Insinuation with which it unjustly stood accused; and therefore, from the Gentlemen’s declared Dislike of Mr. Whitefield‘s Principles, I inferred it was unnatural to suppose they should so suddenly have changed their Sentiments. Against this Defence you object, that the Followers of Mr. Whitefield would naturally believe so sudden a Conversion. Now, that They should be capable of Thinking so, whom, in the first Colume of the Gazette, you regard as irrational Creatures, and, consequently, destitute of the Faculty of Thinking, is to me quite incomprehensible.

I now proceed to your Complaint of the gross Misrepresentation, as you imagine, of the Meaning of the Words, Better Sort, in your first Letter. That notable Epistle was published as the Sentiments of the whole Company concerned in the Concert. Therefore (whether the Fact be so or not; for that is entirely out of the Question) I had NO RIGHT to consider it, but as Theirs, nor Them in any other Light than as they there appeared, namely as Part of the People, which always signifies the Governed, orprivate Persons. Tho’ the Stile be in the third Person, yet, without any Prejudice to the Sense, it may be changed to the first, and then it will run thus, We think our Characters injured by the Paragraph, as tho’ Mr. Whitefield had met with great Success among us the BETTER SORT of People of Pennsilvania. This Case has no Manner of Resemblance to those which you have put, of Boys at Bandy-Wicket, young Fellows at Foot-Ball, Magistrates on the Bench, Quakers with their Hats on, or the Library Company with their Hats off or on, for all those Persons are said to be OF the Better Sort, which does not exclude others from the same Rank. But the Denomination ofBetter Sort in your first Letter (where the Particle of, as applied in the latter Cases, cannot be found) is evidently engrossed by Those who, with such a commendable Modesty, bestowed it on themselves. Now when private Persons publickly stile themselves, exclusively of all others, the BETTER SORT of People of the Province, can it be doubted but that they look on the Rest of their Fellow Subjects in the same Government with Contempt, and consequently regard them as Mob and Rabble. For so gross an Insult on the People in general, I endeavoured (but without respecting any Party in particular, as you groundlessly insinuate) to turn the Writer into Ridicule; and therefore made Use of the Words Mob and Rabble, to expose him more effectually; but with very different Ideas annexed to them in my Mind (of which I was careful to give Notice) from those they receive, when deduced from that extraordinary Epistle. In my Animadversions on it I personated the Public, which you charge as a Crime, tho’ it is an allowed Figure in Speech, frequently used, and particularly by those great Assertors ofPublic Liberty, whose Names I mentioned at the Time.

I imagined my Design lay so apparently on the Surface, that you could not have overlooked it. However, I am far from imitating the Example you have set me, and shall not attribute your Mistake of my Intentions, to an impenetrable Stupidity; but I fairly place it on the Obscurity of my Stile.

This, dear Tommy, will be esteem’d a very liberal Concession, by those who consider your Unskilfulness in Language. You have not, by your Answer, mended the Blunder I remarked in your first: Your saying, that the same Person may be both mischievous and contemptible, is nothing to the Purpose; for you must regard him in different Views before you can properly affirm so differently of him: But Mr. Whitefield‘s Doctrine you represented simply as mischievous, and, under that Appearance only, you pronounced it the Object of your Contempt. It seems as if you would rather have it believed a Fault in Sentiment than Language: So you admit you understood the Word, but charge the wrong Application of it, to the Defect of your Judgment. In my poor Opinion, you gain nothing by the Change, to furnish Matter of Triumph.

Tho’ your Absurdities and Mistakes are such, that no Writer was ever guilty of before; yet, I question not, but you will inform the World in your next, as you did in your last, that my Animadversions on them are only Extracts out of other Men’s Works, viz.those of the Party-Writers in England. I have, more than once, told you, that no Man has a Right to bring an Accusation before the Publick, without bringing his Proofs along with it. You have confined your Evidence, which is to support this Charge, to the Party-Writers of Great Britain. I will not limit you to them, but shall admit, that there is aPossibility of its being true, if you can produce any Author, of any Age or Country, that ever was engaged in a Controversy of the like Nature with Ours. The Paragraph in Dispute contains but five Lines. The Insinuation, deduced from it in your first, is also comprized within five; in your second it takes up fifteen; I hope I shall live to see the Day, when It shall have swelled to a large Volume in Folio: For so useful and edifying a Work, as that is likely to be, must redound to the immortal Honour of that IMPORTANT Article of News, in the Reputation and Defence of which I am so deeply interested.

As to the PERSONAL SCANDAL, in both your Letters, it is a Commodity I never deal in; and therefore, cannot make you any Return for those flagrant UNMERITEDCivilities, which I have received from your polite Hand. However, if you think that such delicate genteel Touches of Raillery will be of any Service to you, in the farther Prosecution of this worthy Argument, I shall be far from objecting against your Use of them.

And so, my dear Tommy, for the present,
I bid you heartily Farewell.
OBADIAH PLAINMAN.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 29, 1740