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No. 173: A Grinning Match [from The Spectator]
by [?]

–Remove fera monstra, tuaeque
Saxificos vultus, quaecunque ea, tolle Medusae.
OVID, Met. v. 216.

Hence with those monstrous features, and, O! spare
That Gorgon’s look, and petrifying stare.


In a late paper, I mentioned the project of an ingenious author for the erecting of several handicraft prizes to be contended for by our British artisans, and the influence they might have towards the improvement of our several manufactures. I have since that been very much surprised by the following advertisement, which I find in the Post-boy of the 11th instant, and again repeated in the Post-boy of the 15th:–

“On the 9th of October next will be run for upon Coleshill-heath, in Warwickshire, a plate of six guineas value, three heats, by any horse, mare, or gelding that hath not won above the value of 5 pounds, the winning horse to be sold for 10 pounds, to carry 10 stone weight, if 14 hands high; if above or under, to carry or be allowed weight for inches, and to be entered Friday, the 5th, at the Swan in Coleshill, before six in the evening. Also, a plate of less value to be run for by asses. The same day a gold ring to be grinn’d for by men.”

The first of these diversions that is to be exhibited by the 10 pounds race-horses, may probably have its use; but the two last, in which the asses and men are concerned, seem to me altogether extraordinary and unaccountable. Why they should keep running asses at Coleshill, or how making mouths turns to account in Warwickshire, more than in any other parts of England, I cannot comprehend. I have looked over all the Olympic games, and do not find anything in them like an ass-race, or a match at grinning. However it be, I am informed that several asses are now kept in body-clothes, and sweated every morning upon the heath: and that all the country-fellows within ten miles of the Swan grin an hour or two in their glasses every morning, in order to qualify themselves for the 9th of October. The prize which is proposed to be grinned for has raised such an ambition among the common people of out-grinning one another, that many very discerning persons are afraid it should spoil most of the faces in the county; and that a Warwickshire man will be known by his grin, as Roman Catholics imagine a Kentish man is by his tail. The gold ring which is made the prize of deformity, is just the reverse of the golden apple that was formerly made the prize of beauty, and should carry for its poesy the old motto inverted:

Detur tetriori.

Or, to accommodate it to the capacity of the combatants,

The frightfull’st grinner
Be the winner.

In the meanwhile I would advise a Dutch painter to be present at this great controversy of faces, in order to make a collection of the most remarkable grins that shall be there exhibited.

I must not here omit an account which I lately received of one of these grinning matches from a gentleman, who, upon reading the above-mentioned advertisement, entertained a coffee-house with the following narrative:–Upon the taking of Namur, amidst other public rejoicings made on that occasion, there was a gold ring given by a Whig justice of peace to be grinned for. The first competitor that entered the lists was a black, swarthy Frenchman, who accidentally passed that way, and being a man naturally of a withered look and hard features, promised himself good success. He was placed upon a table in the great point of view, and, looking upon the company like Milton’s Death,

Grinned horribly a ghastly smile.