Matthews, Brander, ed. (18521929). The Oxford Book of American Essays. 1914.
IV. Consolation for the Old Bachelor
Francis Hopkinson (17371791)
MR. AITKEN: Your Old Bachelor having pathetically represented the miseries of his solitary situation, severely reproaching himself for having neglected to marry in his younger days, I would fain alleviate his distress, by showing that it is possible he might have been as unhappyeven in the honorable state of matrimony.
I am a shoemaker in this city, and by my industry and attention have been enabled to maintain my wife and a daughter, now six years old, in comfort and respect; and to lay by a little at the years end, against a rainy day.
This jaunt had been the daily subject of discussion at breakfast, dinner, and supper for a month before the time fixed upon for putting it in execution. As our daughter Jenny could by no means be left at home, many and great were the preparations to equip Miss and her Mamma for this important journey; and yet, as my wife assured me, there was nothing provided but what was absolutely necessary, and which we could not possibly do without. My purse sweat at every pore.
At last, the long-expected day arrived, preceded by a very restless night. For, as my wife could not sleep for thinking on the approaching jaunt, neither would she suffer me to repose in quiet. If I happened through wearisomeness to fall into a slumber, she immediately roused me by some unseasonable question or remark: frequently asking if I was sure the apprentice had greased the chair-wheels, and seen that the harness was clean and in good order; often observing how surprised her cousin Snip would be to see us; and as often wondering how poor dear Miss Jenny would bear the fatigue of the journey. Thus past the night in delightful discourse, if that can with propriety be called a discourse, wherein my wife was the only speakermy replies never exceeding the monosyllables yes or no, murmured between sleeping and waking.
No sooner was it fair daylight, but up started my notable wife, and soon roused the whole family. The little trunk was stuffed with baggage, even to bursting, and tied behind the chair, and the chair-box was crammed with trumpery which we could not possibly do without. Miss Jenny was drest, and breakfast devoured in haste: the old negro wench was called in, and the charge of the house committed to her care; and the two apprentices and the hired maid received many wholesome cautions and instructions for their conduct during our absence, all which they most liberally promised to observe; whilst I attended, with infinite patience, the adjustment of these preliminaries.
When we got to Pooles Bridge, there happened to be a great concourse of wagons, carts, &c., so that we could not pass for some timeMiss Jenny frightenedmy wife very impatient and uneasywondered I did not call out to those impudent fellows to make way for us; observing that I had not the spirit of a louse. Having got through this difficulty, we proceeded without obstructionmy wife in good-humor againMiss Jenny in high spirits. At Kensington fresh troubles arise. Bless me, Miss Jenny, says my wife, where is the bandbox? I dont know, Mamma; the last time I saw it, it was on the table in your room. Whats to be done? The bandbox is left behindit contains Miss Jennys new wire-capthere is no possibility of doing without itas well no New York as no wire-capthere is no alternative, we must een go back for it. Teased and mortified as I was, my good wife administered consolation by observing, That it was my business to see that everything was put into the chair that ought to be, but there was no depending upon me for anything; and that she plainly saw I undertook this journey with an ill-will, merely because she had set her heart upon it. Silent patience was my only remedy. An hour and a half restored to us this essential requisitethe wire-capand brought us back to the place where we first missed it.
After innumerable difficulties and unparalleled dangers, occasioned by ruts, stumps, and tremendous bridges, we arrived at Neshamony ferry: but how to cross it was the question. My wife protested that neither she nor Jenny would go over in the boat with the horse. I assured her that there was not the least danger; that the horse was as quiet as a dog, and that I would hold him by the bridle all the way. These assurances had little weight: the most forcible argument was that she must go that way or not at all, for there was no other boat to be had. Thus persuaded, she ventured inthe flies were troublesomethe horse kickedmy wife in panicsMiss Jenny in tears. Ditto at Trenton-ferry.
As we started pretty early, and as the days were long, we reached Trenton by two oclock. Here we dined. My wife found fault with everything; and whilst she disposed of what I thought a tolerable hearty meal, declared there was nothing fit to eat. Matters, however, would have gone on pretty well, but Miss Jenny began to cry with the toothachesad lamentations over Miss Jennyall my fault because I had not made the glazier replace a broken pane in her chamber window. N. B. I had been twice for him, and he promised to come, but was not so good as his word.
After dinner we again entered upon our journeymy wife in good-humorMiss Jennys toothache much easiervarious chatI acknowledge everything my wife says for fear of discomposing her. We arrive in good time at Princetown. My wife and daughter admire the College. We refresh ourselves with tea, and go to bed early, in order to be up by times for the next days expedition.
In the morning we set off again in tolerable good-humor, and proceeded happily as far as Rocky-hill. Here my wifes fears and terrors returned with great force. I drove as carefully as possible; but coming to a place where one of the wheels must unavoidably go over the point of a small rock, my wife, in a great fright, seized hold of one of the reins, which happening to be the wrong one, she pulled the horse so as to force the wheel higher up the rock than it would otherwise have gone, and overset the chair. We were all tumbled hickledy-pickledy, into the roadMiss Jennys face all bloodythe woods echo to her criesmy wife in a fainting-fitand I in great misery; secretly and most devoutly wishing cousin Snip at the devil. Matters begin to mendmy wife recoversMiss Jenny has only received a slight scratch on one of her cheeksthe horse stands quite still, and none of the harness broke. Matters grew worse again; the twine with which the bandbox was tied had broke in the fall, and the aforesaid wire-cap lay soaking in a nasty mudpuddlegrievous lamentations over the wire-capall my fault because I did not tie it betterno remedyno wire-caps to be bought at Rocky-hill. At night my wife discovered a small bruise on her hipwas apprehensive it might mortifydid not know but the bone might be broken or splinteredmany instances of mortifications occasioned by small injuries.
After passing unhurt over the imminent dangers of Passayack and Hackensack rivers, and the yet more tremendous horrors of Pawlas-hook ferry, we arrived, at the close of the third day, at cousin Snips in the city of New York.
Here we sojourned a tedious week; my wife spent as much money as would have maintained my family for a month at home, in purchasing a hundred useless articles which we could not possibly do without; and every night when we went to bed fatigued me with encomiums on her cousin Snip; leading to a history of the former grandeur of her family, and concluding with insinuations that I did not treat her with the attention and respect I ought.
On the seventh day my wife and cousin Snip had a pretty warm altercation respecting the comparative elegancies and advantages of New York and Philadelphia. The dispute ran high, and many aggravating words past between the two advocates. The next morning my wife declared that my business would not admit of a longer absence from homeand so after much ceremonious complaisancein which my wife was by no means exceeded by her very polite cousinwe left the famous city of New York; and I with heart-felt satisfaction looked forward to the happy period of our safe arrival in Water-street, Philadelphia.
But this blessing was not to be obtained without much vexation and trouble. But lest I should seem tedious I shall not recount the adventures of our returnhow we were caught in a thunderstormhow our horse failed, by which we were benighted three miles from our stagehow my wifes panics returnedhow Miss Jenny howled, and how very miserable I was made. Suffice it to say, that, after many distressing disasters, we arrived at the door of our own habitation in Water-street.
No sooner had we entered the house than we were informed that one of my apprentices had run away with the hired-maid, nobody knew where; the old negro had got drunk, fallen into the fire, and burnt out one of her eyes; and our best china-bowl was broken.
My good wife contrived, with her usual ingenuity, to throw the blame of all these misfortunes upon me. As this was a consolation to which I had been long accustomed in all untoward cases, I had recourse to my usual remedy, viz., silent patience. After sincerely praying that I might never more see cousin Snip, I sat industriously down to my trade, in order to retrieve my manifold losses.
This is only a miniature picture of the married state, which I present to your Old Bachelor, in hopes it may abate his choler, and reconcile him to a single life. But, if this opiate should not be sufficient to give him some ease, I may, perhaps, send him a stronger dose hereafter.