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Cross Readings–And Caleb Whitefoord
by [?]

Towards the close of the year 1766–not many months after the publication of the Vicat of Wakefield–there appeared in Mr. Henry Sampson Woodfall’s Public Advertiser, and other newspapers, a letter addressed “To the Printer,” and signed “PAPYRIUS CURSOR.” The name was a real Roman name; but in its burlesque applicability to the theme of the communication, it was as felicitous as Thackeray’s “MANLIUS PENNIALINUS,” or that “APOLLONIUS CURIUS” from whom Hood fabled to have borrowed the legend of “Lycus the Centaur.” The writer of the letter lamented–as others have done before and since–the barren fertility of the news sheets of his day. There was, he contended, some diversion and diversity in card-playing. But as for the papers, the unconnected occurrences and miscellaneous advertisements, the abrupt transitions from article to article, without the slightest connection between one paragraph and another–so overburdened and confused the memory that when one was questioned, it was impossible to give even a tolerable account of what one had read. The mind became a jumble of “politics, religion, picking of pockets, puffs, casualties, deaths, marriages, bankruptcies, preferments, resignations, executions, lottery tickets, India bonds, Scotch pebbles, Canada bills, French chicken gloves, auctioneers, and quack doctors,” of all of which, particularly as the pages contained three columns, the bewildered reader could retain little or nothing. (One may perhaps pause for a moment to wonder, seeing that Papyrius could contrive to extract so much mental perplexity from Cowper’s “folio of four pages”–he speaks specifically of this form,–what he would have done with Lloyd’s, or a modern American Sunday paper!) Coming later to the point of his epistle, he goes on to explain that he has hit upon a method (as to which, be it added, he was not, as he thought, the originator[1]) of making this heterogeneous mass afford, like cards, a ” variety of entertainment.”


1: As a matter of fact, he had been anticipated by a paper, No. 49 of “little Harrison’s” spurious Tatler, vol. v., where the writer reads a newspaper “in a direct Line” … “without Regard to the Distinction of Columns,”–which is precisely the proposal of Papyrius.]

By reading the afore-mentioned three columns horizontally and onwards, instead of vertically and downwards “in the old trite vulgar way,” it was contended that much mirth might observingly be distilled from the most unhopeful material, as ” blind Chance ” frequently brought about the oddest conjunctions, and not seldom compelled sub juga aenea persons and things the most dissimilar and discordant. He then went on to give a number of examples in point, of which we select a few. This was the artless humour of it:–

“Yesterday Dr. Jones preached at St. James’s,
and performed it with ease in less than 16 Minutes.”
“Their R.H. the Dukes of York and Gloucester
were bound over to their good behaviour.”
“At noon her R.H. the Princess Dowager was
married to Mr. Jenkins, an eminent Taylor.”
“Friday a poor blind man fell into a saw-pit,
to which he was conducted by Sir Clement Cottrell.”[2]
“A certain Commoner will be created a Peer.
N.B.–No greater reward will be offered.”
“John Wilkes, Esq., set out for France,
being charged with returning from transportation.”
“Last night a most terrible fire broke out,
and the evening concluded with the utmost Festivity.”
“Yesterday the new Lord Mayor was sworn in,
and afterwards toss’d and gored several Persons.”
“On Tuesday an address was presented;
it happily miss’d fire, and the villain made off,
when the honour of knighthood was conferred on him
to the great joy of that noble family.”
“Escaped from the New Gaol, Terence M’Dermot.
If he will return, he will be kindly received.”
“Colds caught at this season are
The Companion to the Playhouse.”
“Ready to sail to the West Indies,
the Canterbury Flying Machine in one day.”
“To be sold to the best Bidder,
My Seat in Parliament being vacated.”
“I have long laboured under a complaint
For ready money only,”
“Notice is hereby given,
and no Notice taken.”