Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Update/A Boston Wit

   I have published a new page which lists all of the posts on this blog. Hopefully, it will enable readers to locate a specific post more easily.

  The next subject to be discussed in forthcoming posts is Edward Church, Dr Church's younger brother, who had a role to play, albeit minor, in the lead up to the Revolution and is a rather interesting character in his own right.

  My posts on Deacon Church mention that he was a member of the Hollis Street Church whose pastor was the Rev Mather Byles, a very prominent figure in Pre-Revolutionary Boston and member of the "Mather aristocracy." Rev Byles had a reputation as one of the best wits in Boston and was very well known through out the town for it. Some of his remarks were quite sarcastic and some quite cruel; undoubtedly he suffered for them after war broke out. I thought I might share a couple of instances of Byles' wit to give you a flavor of what was considered really witty and funny in Boston at this time.

  A man with a bad toothache asked Rev Byles where he should go to have his tooth drawn. Rev Byles responded with directions to an isolated house near Beacon Hill where he told the man he would find someone "to draw it." The man made the apparently long walk to this house where he found, not a dentist, but John Singleton Copley, the artist. "This is a poor joke for Doctor Byles," said Copley. "I do not think my drawing your tooth would ease the pain very much."

   Dr Byles, while walking past the North Church, came upon a crowd watching a man who had climbed the steeple and was flapping some artificial wings to the great delight of the crowd below. "What has this crowd gathered for?", declaimed the celebrated wit. "We have come, sir, to see a man fly," someone answered him. "Pooh! Pooh!," said the doctor, "I have seen a horse fly."

  Dr Byles, one day, in a very agitated manner, told his household Irish servant girl who apparently was  not too too bright, to run upstairs and tell her Mistress that "Dr Byles has put an end to himself." She did so and her Mistress came dashing down the stairs with her daughters to find Dr Byles waltzing around the room with part of a cow's tail he had found somewhere tied to the tail of his coat.

  I don't make this stuff up, folks.

  I should mention that Mather Byles was very good friends with John Singleton Copley, so he may have been playing a jest on a good friend when he sent the man with a toothache to him. Copley, a Tory sympathizer, lived on an eleven acre estate, perhaps the largest in Boston at that time.
John Singleton Copley. Self-portrait. 1769

   Dr Byles also carried on a long correspondence with Benjamin Franklin  with whom he apparently became acquainted with when both were boys in Boston, albeit from different social backgrounds. They were born in the same year.

   But the Rev Byles became a casualty of the Revolutionary War and one can sympathize with him and his daughters for the really unfair abuse they had to absorb from the Patriots. But then civil wars are the most bitter and the Revolutionary War certainly had the characteristics of one.

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