American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nationby Caleb Crain
"A friend in history," Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "looks like some premature soul." And in the history of friendship in early America, Caleb Crain sees the soul of the nation's literature.
In a sensitive analysis that weaves together literary criticism and historical narrative, Crain describes the strong friendships between men that supported and inspired… See more details below
"A friend in history," Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "looks like some premature soul." And in the history of friendship in early America, Caleb Crain sees the soul of the nation's literature.
In a sensitive analysis that weaves together literary criticism and historical narrative, Crain describes the strong friendships between men that supported and inspired some of America's greatest writingthe Gothic novels of Charles Brockden Brown, the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the novels of Herman Melville. He traces the genealogy of these friendships through a series of stories. A dapper English spy inspires a Quaker boy to run away from home. Three Philadelphia gentlemen conduct a romance through diaries and letters in the 1780s. Flighty teenager Charles Brockden Brown metamorphoses into a horror novelist by treating his friends as his literary guinea pigs. Emerson exchanges glances with a Harvard classmate but sacrifices his crush on the altar of literaturea decision Margaret Fuller invites him to reconsider two decades later. Throughout this engaging book, Crain demonstrates the many ways in which the struggle to commit feelings to paper informed the shape and texture of American literature.
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In the Pear Grove: The Romance of Leander, Lorenzo, and Castalio
On 1 August 1786, a Princeton undergraduate wrote of his twenty-seven-year-old friend, "After recitation [I] went to Leanderhe gave me a hair ribbon and I promised to sleep with him to night." More than two centuries later, it is hard to read this diary entry without either pooh-poohing or exaggerating its hint of sex. On the one hand, it might mean very little. After all, in the late eighteenth century, male friends often shared a bed, and many gentlemen were fastidious about their personal appearance. On the other hand, the entry must mean something. It does show a man flattering a boy's vanity, in a relationship where the two are easy and familiar with each other's bodies.
Gay love as we know it is modern, and as Thoreau wrote, "The past cannot be presented." In the case of this particular undergraduate and his older friend, however, it is possible to examine at some length the language the men used to describe and convey their feelings. James Gibson (1769-1856) and John Fishbourne Mifflin (1759-1813) left behind diaries that offer a uniquely detailed and extensive chronicle of passion between men in early America. Under the cognomens of Leander and Lorenzo, Mifflin and Gibson wrote for each other and about each other. Two volumes (totaling 546 pages) of Mifflin's diary survive, and one volume (100 pages) of Gibson's. Read in conjunction with the family correspondence of a third young man, Isaac Norris III (known as Castalio), these diaries tell astory of affection between American men at a crucial moment: at the acme of the culture of sentiment and sensibility, when individuals first considered following the unruly impulse of sympathy as far as it would go. The men's writings also sensitively register the changing ideal of literary beauty: the diaries begin as gestures of refinement, like fancy ribbons that gentlemen might add to their coiffures, but they gradually become exposures of the selfattempts to let out something unexpected.
Where the Second Bank of the United States now standson Chestnut Street between Fourth and Fifth streets in Philadelphia, one block east of Independence Hallthe Norris family once grew a famously elegant garden. Charles Norris had built his house on the western edge of the city, but Philadelphia grew outward to meet the Norrises: by the 1780s their home enviably combined rural proportions with urban location. The Quaker matron Ann Warder recorded in her diary on 18 October 1786 that the Norrises "have a noble house and beautiful garden, which are rare in this city." Deborah Norris Logan, Charles's only daughter, remembered years later that "a walk in the garden was considered by the more respectable citizens as a treat to their friends from a distance, and as one of the means to impress them with a favourable opinion of the beauties of their city."
The Norris garden was a mix of beauty and science typical of the eighteenth century. The Norrisesor rather the Swiss gardener they employed for twenty-five yearsraised pineapples in their hothouse and medicinal herbs in their herbarium. Just outside the window of the back parlor, a palisade of roses and scarlet honeysuckle enclosed a terrace shaded by catalpas. Farther away grew willows, the first trees of this species brought to the region, a gift from Benjamin Franklin. To reach the garden proper, one descended a flight of stone steps into an area of "square parterres and beds, regularly intersected by graveled and grass walks and alleys." Espaliers of grapes led to a rustic-style cottage that lodged one of the women whom the Norrises were always too tactful to call a servant. The garden was a jewel. The balance and order of its design, the attention to previously unknown species, and the fastidiously kept grounds spoke of the Norrises' "taste and industry."
On Saturday, 20 May 1786, John Fishbourne Mifflin rambled through the Norris garden alone, as he often did. He was slight, weighing 127 pounds, and carried a cane. He was very nearsighted. His powdered hair was gathered into a fashionable queue. Mifflin, at twenty-seven years of age, was the sort of man that children threw snowballs atfinicky about his appearance, mildly pompous in his manners, and too delicate to do much harm if he caught the offender. His father had been a successful merchant. The son, a lawyer with a trust fund, spent most of his days either sipping tea with Philadelphia ladies or trying to collect rent from his own or his half-brother's tenants.
On this visit, as on most of his visits to the Norris garden, Mifflin headed to the pear grove. It was his favorite spot"the scene of friendship," he called it in his diary. "Dear delightful spot," he wrote, "it ever sheds a charming influence over my spirits." As Richard Bushman has noted, an eighteenth-century genteel garden was meant to be "an extension of the parlor, a place where polite people walked and conversed." It was intended as a backdrop for highly staged, decorous socializing; if the garden was sufficiently scientific, it could provide a topic of conversation as well. Mifflin, however, did not visit the pear grove to show off his knowledge of botany or to court women (at least, not exclusively for these reasons: on another day he gathered hyacinths to catch the interest of young Mary Rhoads, who lived next door). He sat in the pear grove because "it always brings Lorenzo [James Gibson] very affectionately to my mind." Mifflin came to meditate on a young male friend and on the pleasures of friendship.
This was a novel use of the garden. It was neither virtuous nor politethe two behavior styles Mifflin's late father would have had to choose between. For much of the eighteenth century, American men had seen themselves reflected in The Spectator. They had defined themselves according to the challenge that the newfangled merchant Andrew Freeport presented to the old-style country squire Roger de Coverley. Sir Andrew represented progress and refinement, but no one was quite ready to dispense with Sir Roger, in part because it was with stodgy republican virtue that men like George Washington had won the Revolution. Never mind that America lacked a landed aristocracy on the English scale. The gentlemanly ethos that kept The Spectator's Sir Roger insolvent was imposing enough to prevent even ambitious and unconventional Benjamin Franklin from assuming any pretensions to gentility until his moneymaking was decorously behind him. But under pressure of satire and bribed by dollars, virtue was gradually yielding to politeness. In Mifflin's day, the republican patriot seemed quaint, rustic, and out of touch. His deference to superiors and authority over subordinates no longer functioned well in a postrevolutionary society, where even parents could hope only to befriend their children, not command them. In Royall Tyler's 1787 play The Contrast, the old soldier Colonel Manly holds the moral high ground, although his overcoat is tattered, stinky, and years old. The audience would have snickered. As Tyler lamented in his prologue, with not quite heartfelt censure, "modern youths, with imitative sense, / Deem taste in dress the proof of excellence."
The new politeness went hand in hand with the burgeoning of commerce, and the economic force behind this cultural shift was recognized even by those who did not welcome it. Politeness was polish, the natural result of the friction of marketplace collisions and exchanges. As Montesquieu observed, "Plus il y a de gens dans une nation qui ont besoin d'avoir des ménagements entre eux et de ne pas déplaire, plus il y a de politesse." Or, as Mifflin put it in his diary, "How civil & goodnatured people are when you are laying out your money with them." Politeness was venal, but it had the moral advantage over virtue that it was conceived in relation to others; it looked beyond oneself or one's own pride. However praiseworthy virtue might be, it was less social than politeness, and less useful. As Colonel Manly's sister disparagingly explained of her brother's goodness, "His heart is like an old maiden lady's handbox; it contains many costly things, arranged with the most scrupulous nicety, yet the misfortune is, that they are too delicate, costly, and antiquated, for common use." Politeness was a tool; virtue was a trinket.
What then was Mifflin doing in the garden alone? As a man of commerce, he did not believe in solitary pleasures. He would have read in Edward Young's Night Thoughts that "Joy is an import; joy is an exchange; Joy flies monopolists: it calls for two"a couplet that neatly entwined commercial values with the moral superiority of other-directed over selfish actions. To miss an absent friend when other companions could be found was both impolite and, in terms of social economics, imprudent. Mifflin's pear-grove meditation defied the application of market rules to the social sphere, but the blow it delivered to republican virtue was even more lethal. The last card that virtue had held in reserve over politeness was that virtue was inside. It was the constitutive weakness of the man of commerce that every property he had was alienable; no part of him was essential. He was smooth but perhaps soulless. People feared that under commerce's polish "the friction is so violent, that not only the rust, but the metal too, will be lost in the progress? Virtue was supposed to be a kind of inner steel that would not corrode. But what Mifflin found in the garden trumped virtue. It too was insidebut like politeness, it was oriented toward others.
Sympathyalso called sentiment, sensibility, or compassionposed as the most delicate possible refinement and the highest moral quality a person could exhibit, destroying the ethical systems it replaced by claiming to represent the acme of both. The seed of it may have been planted as early as the Restoration, in the optimism preached in England by latitudinarians trying to soften the Puritan concepts of an inscrutable, cruel God and an abject, fallen humanity. Shaftesbury, followed by the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, discovered it operating deep within the human heart, a "moral sense" just as vital as the other five. This "innate principle of sociability" was a touchstone in a world loosened by Locke's environmentalism and Hobbes's cynicism. It grounded people; it said their hearts were naturally good. By providing a counterforce to self-interest, it allowed philosophers once again to explain altruism as not just possible but necessary to human happiness. But like any new force, it also appeared to be dangerous, which heightened its allure. In a testament to the power of sympathy, most of early American novels and many of the British imports in circulation documented its ability to seduce and ruin those, usually young women, who failed to understand its operations. Among a certain class, sympathyirresistible, unruly, and mysteriouswas all the rage.
It fascinated Mifflin. His diary returns again and again to two concerns: his moods and his friendships. In colonial America, "friendship" had been a euphemism for patronage and dependence. Robert Munford had written in his 1744 play The Candidates, "'Tis said self-interest is the secret aim, / Of those uniting under Friendship's name." But by codifying and depersonalizing economic relations, commercial culture had paradoxically made a new kind of personal relationship possible. It had cut friendship loose from its financial duties. For the first time, friendship could be entirely disinterested. Walt Whitman's much later desire to found an "institution of the dear love of comrades" should not be confounded with the eighteenth-century understanding of friendship as unfettered possibility: the new friendships seemed capable of anything because they had at last sprung free of institutions. Mifflin studied the vicissitudes of his libido as if it were a penned animal he had untethered for an experiment: it might serve its master; it might cause terrible damage. But in any case, from its tentative, unsteady motions he would learn something altogether new.
Mifflin's reveries in the Norris pear grove are among the earliest entries in his diary. They are a strange mix of emptiness and superfluity: an actorless stage cluttered with props. He was trying to take hold of someone who was not there; he was trying to produce an absence and then preserve it. In order not to lose his bittersweet longing for his friend, Mifflin wrote it down. Precious emotions had come over him in surplus, and he wanted to invest the excess back into the scene that had produced them.
Well read in British literature, Mifflin turned to a fragmented novelistic style to bank his feelings against the usury of time. In Richardson's novels, time had flowed fitfully, released in discrete, intermittent quantums. This stop-and-go pace had begun as a side effect of epistolary form, but writers were discovering in it new emotional possibilities. Sterne exploded the sequence of his scenes with ekphrastic commentary to see if the fragments could be made to cohere into a new emotional sense. The power of sympathy and the structure of plot had squared off evenly in Richardson, but sentimentalists increasingly sided with the power against the structure. They preferred to hover over what Wordsworth later called "spots of time." They wanted their emotions to accumulate. Because time and plot only squandered feelings, the sentimentalists described special scenes where a gap in time collapsed into a place, where "feeling comes in aid / Of feeling," never dissipated by result. Mifflin's peargrove tableau thus marks him as a sophisticated belletrist, up-to-date on literary techniques evolving across the Atlantic and quick to adopt recent innovations as he constructs for himself an aide-sentiment.
Mifflin had first met his young friend Gibson at six P.M. on 14 March 1785; two years afterward he set down an account of the event in his diary, calling it one of his "happy anniversaries." On that early spring evening, Mifflin joined an audience of nearly eight hundred to hear a blind philosopher named Moyes who was visiting from Europe. "We happened to meet on the front row of the gallery at one of Dr. Moyes's lecturesIt was on electricitythe gallery was crowded & I was indebted to my new friend for a seatHis gentle manners & modest politeness made me feel an immediate attatchment to himwhen the lecture was over we returned home together& at parting made an appointment to meet at the next lecture." Fifteen years old, James Gibson was an earnest and quiet Princeton undergraduate. Although Mifflin probably attended Moyes's lecture because electricity was a voguish topic, Gibson would have gone because he took his education seriously. Mifflin wrote that Gibson was "a handsome lad" but not prepossessing. "My little friend is not a prominent or striking character, but of that amiable kind for which your esteem increases with your acquaintance." Gibson weighed about five pounds less than Mifflin, but people matured more slowly in those days, and Gibson would continue to grow for another decade (later that year, he wrote to his mother asking for "another pair of breeches as I have but too and they are both too short at the knees"). Like Mifflin, Gibson had a "taste for old fashioned queues," sometimes with a wig extension, but one gets the impression he was not quite as dapper as his older friend. For one thing, he did not have as much money to spend on his appearance. Although he employed a hairdresser named Barlowe, Gibson had to bargain to afford his services. Gibson's father, who was mayor of Philadelphia in 1771 and 1772, had died three years earlier, after losing most of his capital in a series of financial mishaps. Gibson's family was genteel but no longer wealthy. They lived in an "obscure and humble residence" that Gibson's sisters, who would soon be looking for husbands, viewed with "Mortification." This house stood at Chestnut Street above Fourth Streeton the same block as the Norris House.
Gibson's family must have made considerable sacrifice in order to send him to Princeton; he appears to have tried hard to deserve it. In his diaries he is diligent to the point of overwork, itemizing his hours with strict economy. Mifflin reports hearing that Gibson was at the top of his class, although it is impossible to know whether this was fact or flattery. To relax, Gibson played battledores (badminton) and pitched quoits (horseshoes). His only rebellion against the numbing regime of rote memorization was an occasional dry comment, like this one the night before an exam: "Euclid is wished into non existence by many."
When Mifflin wrote that Gibson had "a prudence beyond his years," he might have been putting a favorable spin on Gibson's adolescent awkwardness. Whenever the college boys roughhoused, it was always Gibson who got injured. His roommate, John Rhea Smith, who also kept a diary, was rowdier, more lackadaisical in his studies, and much more adept at provoking and then charming away the frowns of their tutor, Gilbert Snowden. "After dinner scuffle with Reed, Furman & Gibson in the entry," Smith recorded on 10 January 1786. "Enter the Room & lock the door on Gibson who bursts it open & fallsGilbert sees him & enters the room immediately after ... He reproves it as imprudent & very wrong but at the same time scar[c]ely keeps from laughter." In a free-for-all pie-slicing competition on 12 June, Smith "came off not very successfully tho I had better fate than poor James my roommate who lost unfortunately part of his thumb in the fray." On 1 August, Gibson was "walking out in the campus when one of the Lads flung a stone and struck me on the Leg." Gibson was liked and accepted by his classmateshe was a member of the Cliosophic Society, a debating clubbut the string of accidents suggests he was not entirely at ease with them.
The klutzy and dutiful Gibson would have been an unlikely match for the sociable and dandyish Mifflin, but Mifflin was always on the lookout for a new friend. It was a habit, not a coincidence, for John Mifflin to strike up a new acquaintance in a public place. Consider, for instance, the adventure recorded in Mifflin's diary for 30 January 1787. Mifflin had gone to the theater alone. "I had no body near me that I knew to talk to which is very requisite to enjoy a play." Fortunately, Mifflin soon picked out from among the masses a "young gentleman ... [who] was very genteelly dressed & seemed to be much in my own situation without any person he cared for near himI touched him on the shoulder with my cane & made room for him between myself & a jolly looking dame of vulgar deportment." Since the young gentleman's previous benchmates had been crowding him and drinking grog, he was grateful for Mifflin's offer. "Upon the whole his getting next to me was an event `to be wished'-for by us bothhe was very clever & appeared to be in his teensI found he was a Mr Coxe." Together the two formed an island of cool gentility in the rabble. They ratified each other's delicacy, sharing severe criticisms of the performance that the other audience members were too lost in riotous enjoyment to appreciate. In the absence of Mr. Coxe, no one would have witnessed the insult to Mifflin's critical faculties inflicted by the pantomime sequence, which involved an elephant. Mifflin's meeting with Coxe is so similar to his first meeting with Gibson as to amount almost to a technique. Good manners gave sensitive young men a code by which to recognize one another.
Another important element in this code was the cognomen, or stage name, usually classical in origin. As David S. Shields, a scholar of early American high society, has explained, these "fixed personae" helped define a space of cultural play and "aestheticized conversation by distancing it from the mundane talk of familiars." When Gibson joined the Cliosophic Society, he was given the cognomen Decius. The renaming signaled that as a member, he would act, to some extent, as a new person. The new name also marked one aspect of Gibson's self as belonging in the club's domain; it was a part of his identity that the Cliosophists, but no one else, knew how to summon. In a similar way, when Gibson took the name Lorenzo, he surrendered a hold on his self to another group, one much more rarefied and flexible and powerful than any undergraduate fraternity: the society of well-educated, well-connected Philadelphia Quaker gentry. The Norrises, Logans, Wistars, Pembertons, Dickinsons, Fishers, and their friends and relatives prided themselves on their spirit as well as their station. Every young man and woman in their circle had a cognomen; the alias certified membership in a playful, intimate group with literary taste. Deborah Norris Logan was Ardelia; Sarah Wister was Laura; Sally Fisher was Amelia; George Logan was Altamont; Richard Wistar was Horatio. When Joshua Fisher courted Hannah Pemberton, he addressed his love letters to Cleora and signed them Philander. The names represented one's social persona, like a marker in a board game. The Cliosophic Society swore Decius to secrecy; if Gibson disclosed that identity, he betrayed his fellows. But Gibson did not need to hide Lorenzo; he needed to reveal him, selectively.
Philadelphia's young smart set did not invent this literary style of masquerade. The public intellectual life around them was swimming with pseudonyms. In newspapers and pamphlets, a nom de plume accommodated both a gentleman's need for modesty and a politician's for canniness. Names such as Philodemos and Demophilus were commonplace. Casapipina (the Reverend Jacob Duché) had baptized Mifflin. The Farmer from Pennsylvania (the Delaware lawyer John Dickinson) was married to a Norris cousin. The Norris circle also knew older, British sources that depended on aliases for effect: Addison and Steele's Tatler and Spectator, and Trenchard and Gordon's Cato.
As teenagers, the Norrises and their friends at Robert Proud's Public Latin School had composed and handwritten pamphlets and newspapers inspired by these British models, plus Tom Paine and Ben Franklin. In "Letters to the Thompsonians" and "An Address to the Inhabitants of Latonia [1777-78]," Junius and Brutus appealed to their fellow citizens of Latonia to shrug off the yoke of tyranny imposed by the arbitrary decrees of the oppressive Toddites, in a goofy transposition of Revolutionary rhetoric to high school. The six numbers of the more ambitious "Universal Magazine and Literary Museum," published by S. L. Wharton, printed correspondence by John Curious and Inquisitive Queer, as well as Poe-like archaeological puzzles and essays about spiders. In 1780, "Amusement for the Circle" featured poetry by Ophelia and a regular column by the Pratler, who noted in his first contribution that "the Taste for disguising is very prevalent in both Sexes at present." When the Pratler wrote about "the Beau Monde," as the prospectus for the "Amusement" had promised, he was writing about his neighbors, siblings, cousins, and classmates. And since the beau monde he wrote about was the same beau monde he wrote for, the aliases concealed no one. Paradoxically, the masks reminded the readers how well they knew one another. Because the monikers both were and were not the people they represented, they fitted the new world of sentimental friendships neatlyfree from the confines of being Deborah Norris, for example, Ardelia could try on any number of poetic poses and romantic alliances.
Mifflin's nom de plume was Leander. In Greek myth, Leander swam the Hellespont every night to reach his beloved Hero, who lit a torch to guide him. One stormy night the torch blew out, and he drowned. Mifflin was not the only Philadelphian known as Leander at this time. In a private journal, Anna Hume Shippen gave her lover Louis Guillaume Otto, comte de Mosloy, the same name. Shippen kept her Leander quiet, since she had a husband, but Mifflin was known as Leander to the Norris circle as early as November 1779, long before he met Gibson. To Shippen, the name Leander connoted an ardent and persistent lover. (The story would famously inspire Byron to swim the strait in imitation.) The name fit Otto better than it did Mifflin, who in 1786 and 1787 flirted with women without devoting himself to any one in particular.
Lorenzo might have been named after the lover in the Merchant of Venice, but it is more likely that he was named after the reckless youth of Edward Young's Night Thoughts. Mifflin quotes Young's most famous line in his diary: "Procrastination is the thief of time." If Mifflin chose the name, it was probably not so much because Gibson resembled the character Lorenzowho is giddy, indolent, and in need of reformas because the poem addressed Lorenzo the way Mifflin wanted to address Gibson. "Thou say'st I preach, Lorenzo!" Young wrote; "'Tis confess'd." The narrator's tonesometimes hectoring, sometimes doting, always self-satisfiedis very much the tone Mifflin adopted.
Mifflin wanted to be Gibson's patron; he wanted to provide and help. Concerned about Gibson's public speaking, the older man wrote orations for him to deliver at his debating club. As graduation approached, Mifflin used his connections to find Gibson a job as an apprentice in Mordecai Lewis's countinghouse. Mifflin did not want Gibson to become a lawyer, Mifflin's own career choice, because he felt that lawyers were "a rapacious set of cormorants feasting & fattening upon the miseries & misfortunes of their fellow citizens," and he knew Gibson was too kindhearted to "brook such an ungracious ungenerous inurbane line of life, the prosperity of which depends on the wretchedness of thousands."
There is something disingenuous about Mifflin's asking Gibson to be a purer sentimentalist than he ever was. Mifflin wanted to act as a father of sorts, but it is not clear that he understood what the role involved. Whereas Edward Young wanted to save his Lorenzo's soul, Mifflin's advice was at once more worldly and less practical: "My hopes & expectations of him [Gibson] are the highest that an affectionate friendship can formAlas! should he not come up to them it will be sapping the foundation upon which I have built much promised happinessBut should he continue himself under the guidance of my mentorship I trust I shall pilot him safely thro' these shoals & rocks among which he will shortly be launched& then, ten years hence I may look back with delight on this days journal & find all my hopes & expectations accomplished." Gibson must have seen through some of the posturing, because he eventually became a lawyer despite Mifflin's "mentorship." Perhaps Gibson took Mifflin's friendship with a grain of salt. No doubt he knew that he was not the sort of Lorenzo that Edward Young railed againstone of
Ye well-array'd! ye lilies of our land!
Ye lilies male! who neither toil, nor spin,
... Ye delicate! who nothing can support.
Ironically, Young's rebuke matched Mifflin's case much better than it did that of his impoverished, industrious friend.
Although Mifflin and Gibson met on 14 March 1785, Gibson did not begin his diary until 6 February 1786. Mifflin began his even later, on 12 May 1786. Surprisingly, the idea of keeping a diary probably came from Gibson's Princeton roommate, Smith, who started his on 1 January 1786. Not introspective, Smith might have decided to keep a journal to figure out why his days accomplished so little. He intended his journal to be evidence of his good intentions to study longer and harder, but his resolve almost always failed, and the entries instead record the pranks and socializing that distracted him. In a typical entry, Smith sleeps late, tries to memorize a geometry lesson or write a composition until he admits that "my attention [is] diverted from study," arrives at recitation unprepared, gets caught in some collegiate misdemeanor, stays up late talking with his friends, and goes to bed realizing that he forgot to exercise. It is a sociable diary. There are many friends and no cognomens, and Smith chronicles the politicking of the Cliosophic Society in detail.
When Gibson started his diary, he modeled it on Smith's. The layout of Gibson's pages is nearly identical: the day of the week and date, without the month, appear flush left, and the entry follows immediately in smaller script. In the beginning, Gibson also imitated Smith by using his journal more as a memorandum book than as an aid to self-reflection. Because Gibson was a straight arrow, compared to Smith the troublemaker, the plain-style reporting yields a fairly banal result: "5 o clock had a tooth-ach which prevented my studying much, but left me at 8 oclock, When I eat a hearty breakfast. Half after, had some cakes sent from Dr. Smiths, which being a rarity I liked very well at 10 went to recitation, recited 6 propositions of the fifth Book beginning at the second." Like Smith, Gibson used no cognomens, at least not in his early entries. On 8 March 1786, he prosaically referred to his friend as "Mr. Mifflin."
The first entry in Mifflin's diary opens in a tone almost as perfunctory and mechanical: "Went with Lorenzo to wait on Dr Rushnot at hometalked with the ladies awhile and then withdrewIn the afternoon on businessvery absentWent twice out of my wayDrank tea with Mrs G.took leave of my dear LorenzoGod bless him." Princeton separated Gibson from Mifflin. The merchant-lawyer had taken Gibson with him on several tripsin October 1785 to Lancaster, and in April 1786 to Nottinghambut Mifflin regretted that they could not spend more time together. He could compensate by visiting the boy's mother, Mrs. G., to gossip about James, but he still felt lonely. Mifflin later wrote that his journal "began by the desire of Lorenzo." Gibson must have suggested it to Mifflin as a way to ease the pain of parting when he left for school on 12 May 1786.
Mifflin's first entry is colorless, but the words "very absent" hint at what will break out of the dry journalizing. The observation might mean that the debtors Mifflin was dunning were not to be found, but more likely it describes Mifflin's state of mind. Gibson would not have thought to notice such a thing, but Mifflin cannot help it. He lost his way twice because he was paying no more attention to his course than Laurence Sterne did when he wandered into Paris without a passport, forgetting, in his distraction, that England and France were at war. Mifflin's sympathies were drifting away from him, tugging him along, engaged by the person whose name begins and ends the entryLorenzo.
Mifflin never calls Gibson by his proper name. From page one Gibson is Lorenzo. In Mifflin's diary, Dr. Benjamin Rush appears undisguised, as do other respectable adult figures, such as Benjamin Franklin, Hugh Brackenridge, Thomas Paine, and James Madison. But grown-ups who are Mifflin's intimates get abbreviations, and young men and women who provoke Mifflin's sentiments are given fanciful aliases. The widow Mary Parker Norris, proprietor of the Norris House and its garden, appears as Mrs. N.; her three sons are called Castalio (Isaac, the oldest), Josephus (Joseph Parker), and Carolus (Charles, the youngest). Deborah Norris had been Ardelia when she was single and writing to her girlfriends, but after her marriage to George Logan in 1781, she appears as Mrs. L. in the diary. James Gibson is Lorenzo, of course; his mother is Mrs. G.; and his younger brother John is Johannes or Jean. In the Rhoads family, who also lived on the Norrises' block, the widowed mother, Sarah, is Mrs. R.; her daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, are Eliza and Maria; and her twelve-year-old son, Samuel, is Ascanius. There are also a young woman known as Leonora, a deceased friend known as Eugenius, and a young man with the epithet "the young squire," none of whom I have been able to identify.
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