History/Legal Hist. III
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Simon Greenleaf I
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Simon Greenleaf V (1783-1853)
Bill Long 7/28/08
"Penmanship Primer," Essay Two
This essay continues my review of an 18-page booklet written by Greenleaf in Nov.-Dec. 1792, when he was 8-9 years old and a student at "South School" in Newburyport, MA. Let's continue with the pages seriatim.
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6. Page 8, dated Nov. 15th 1792. This has two aphorisms on it, the first of which only appears once ("Government is maintained by Rewards"), while the second appears nine times ("Wisdom is the fountain of Happiness"). Since each of these didn't take a whole line for Greenleaf, he filled in the rest of the line with his name, the date, or letters of the alphabet. The penmanship on this page is not as precise and crisp as on other pages. Under one of these he wrote "Philip King of Macedon." The motto of Trent College, UK is "Fons vitae sapientia," or "Wisdom is the fountain of life," and the word "life" could just as easily be replaced by "happiness." The saying sounds like a biblical phrase from Proverbs, but it is not precisely replicated there. The first phrase, "Government is maintained by Rewards," sounds a bit out of place, don't you think? I am not sure the scope of what it might mean, but it suggests that some kind of payments happen to some people to keep government going. Perhaps the teacher thought better of himself after giving the students this statement to copy and thus quickly retreated to the statement "Wisdom is the fountain of Happiness," which could easily be affirmed by all.
7. Page 9, dated November 19, 1792. The statement, appearing nine times, is "A burnt child dreads the fire." On the remainder of the line Greenleaf wrote his name in script: "Simon Greenleaf." This proverb has a fascinating history, only a bit of which I will give here. This page has the quickest summary, but more could be said. Suffice it to say here that it appears to go back to a thirteenth century collection of proverbs: "Brend child fuir fordredeth [is in dread of]." Then, around 1400 we have, "'For evermore gladly,' as I rede, "'Brent child of fier hath mych drede.'" Some online sources also give the equivalent proverb in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French. That will be enough for now.
8. Page 10, dated November 21, 1792. All this one says, in larger letters, is "Knowledge delights, &". The &, come to think of it, may be an "etc," written even shorter than those three letters. The nine exemplars of this are written in a larger hand, since they don't take up much of the line. The rest of the line has "1792." I wonder where this aphorism comes from...
9. Page 11, dated November 26, 1792. The statement he practiced nine times is "Delays are dangerous." Then, finishing the line, were a series of numbers, usually the date (1792), though in a few instances he wrote "1792 1972." Is this an early example of dyslexia? Probably not. He probably wanted simply to vary the pattern of what he was writing. This quotation could have been found almost anywhere. Lyly, in his 1578 Euphues, said "Delayes breed dangers, nothing so perillous as procrastination." Then, from 1655: "Shall we go presently, delaies are dangerous." So, that phrase was floating around in the English mind well before Greenleaf's time.
10. Page 12, with no clear date, though Page 13 (the next in order) is from Dec. 3, 1792. Thus, his "late November" lesson here was "Honesty will ever be the best Policy." Some online sources credit Mark Twain with turning this moralism on its head with the statement: "Honesty is the best policy--when there is money in it." The actual source isn't given, even though it sounds like it fits the cynical character that we know was Twain's.
11. Page 13, dated Dec. 3, 1792. Here we have the brief statement, "Xenophon loved Learning." Because this statement was so short, he filled out the rest of the line with names, beginning with his own. Other names were "John Aubin," "Joseph Rappall," "John Huse," "J Stickney," "Jn Moody," "Joseph Goodhue," "Samuel Clark" and "D D Akerman." Were these the names of his fellow schoolboys? One name isn't clear to me: "Joseph Mooss"? In any case, it would be interesting if anyone doing a history of "South School" in Newburyport in these days might look at the list of residents of the town and then try to "match" that with this list. Little traces of past lives make for unexpectedly rich discoveries today.
12. Page 14, dated December 4, 1792. The first exemplar is written, "Make no friendship with an ill natured man." The second, and subsequent ones are: "Make no friendship with an ill-natured man." Neither "friendship" nor "man" are capitalized. The only Internet example using this complete sentence comes from an 1825 book: A Complete Practical Grammar of the German Language, by Charles Benjamin Schade. Actually, I sort of wonder why it appears here. On page 362, after going through many German words and their English equivalents, we have, in part:
"Make no friendship with an ill-natured man. Refined taste forms a good critic; but genius is necessary to form the poet or the orator. He is so prudent that every body consults him."
Were small moralistic statements so frequent in the late 18th/early 19th century America that they just overflowed in almost any type of book? I became fascinated with the German grammar book and, thinking I need to "brush up" a little on that, took a break to review...
13. Page 17, with no date, is next. I don't know what happened to pages 15 and 16. It does say at the bottom, however, "Simon Greenleaf Aged 9 years." He turned nine on December 5, 1792. This page has two aphorisms. The first is, like one a few days previously, "Xenophon loved Learning." Well, this is interesting, because it probably points not so much to Xenophon's love of learning but to the subject of one of his works, Cyrus the Great. In the Cyropaedia, which is his biography of Cyrus, Xenophon poses the issue in Book I, Section 1 of how Cyrus was able to bring men from all different kinds of culture under his obedience. In searching out the answer, he said:
"Believing this man to be deserving of all admiration, we have therefore investigated who he was in his origin, what natural endowments he possessed, and what sort of education he had enjoyed, that he so greatly excelled in governing men. Accordingly, what we have found out or think we know concerning him we shall now endeavour to present," I.1.6.
So, I suppose Xenophon loved learning, and he discovered that Cyrus also did so. Maybe Greenleaf and the other boys at South School would make the same discovery.
Five sentences saying "Xenophon loved Learning" were followed by five which said "Troy was a famous City." Thus, even though Greenleaf wasn't learning the "classics" at a young age, as some Internet resources suggest, he was imbibing the moralistic and classical "buzz" that was part of the education of those days.
14. Page 18 is next. It is headed: "An Elegy on the bells Chiming for the Internment of a Copse." Then, just between the "o" and "p" of "Copse" we have the slightest scratch of an "r." Oops. Simon had made a mistake and the teacher had probably spotted it and had him put it in. Here is the "Elegy," which I haven't been able to find elsewhere. Any help?
"Hark now the solemn Peal begins,
And sounds the sad alarm,
Forsake it cries, forsake your Sins,
And shun impending Harm.
Behold the Corpse approaching near;
View there your transient State,
Reston[one word] at least one pious Tear,
And with submission wait.
E'er long this melancoly, scene (the "h" is also written in by hand with a small carat below, and there is a comma after 'melancoly'),
Shall on our Hearse attend,
With haste emply the Space between
To make a God a Friend."
I suppose one could spend quite a bit of time thinking about this one--about the transience of life and frequency of childhood death in those days, about the way death is interpreted as a 'warning sign' in order to urge repentance. If this kind of theology is inculcated into you as a youth, you seemingly have two choices: either rebel against it completely or absorb it an apply yourself to a duty-oriented life. The thought is that warnings of our mortality are all around us and we better pay them heed, for if the bell begins to toll for us, and we have not shed the pious tear or reformed our life, we too could be facing not just temporal, but also eternal, death. I can fully understand how subsequent generations of New Englanders, when society changed, when people became longer-lived and prosperous, when education gradually became available to more people, when medical care improved, might have little time for this kind of theology. But Greenleaf was "copying" it. You wonder what actually "sticks" from this kind of education?
The next essay "finishes" his "booklet."
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long