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The Athenian Catechism or The Gentleman's Courant

The Athenian Catechism or The Gentleman's Courant by DUNTON, John [The Athenian Society] (1704)
Author: DUNTON, John [The Athenian Society]
Title: The Athenian Catechism. To which is added, The Gentleman's Courant, or, News of the Ingenious [14 issues]
Year: 1704
Publisher: Printed for S. Malthus, in London-House-Yard, near St Paul's
Place: London
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: No
Price: £8500
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An ESTC ghost: 14 issues of an early eighteenth century periodical satirising the theatre and Daniel Defoe, otherwise known only from an advertisement by John Dunton and one surviving issue at the University of Wales. Each issue occupies a pair of quarto-sized leaves with a drop-head title: The Athenian Catechism. To which is added, The Gentleman's Courant, or, News of the Ingenious' and was published twice weekly and dated for 'Tuesday... to Friday' or 'Friday... to Tuesday'. Each is numbered and paginated, with the imprint at the foot of the fourth and final page: 'London, Printed for S. Malthus, in London-House Yard, near St. Paul's. 1704' and a signature for each pair of leaves. The issues have been bound out of order and long since removed from a nonce volume. There is staining and occasional marking to the text throughout, slight fraying to the foreedge of the soft paper stock; sometimes the text is close cropped with loss of signatures and a few words from the last line of the page.

In Athens Redivivae Dunton announced that the Athenian Catechism would be 'sold at A Penny each Numb. that the poorer Sort may be able to buy it' but Dunton's life descended into one of its periodic crises at the end of 1704 and it was evidently discontinued perhaps even before the 20 promised issues. Dunton's bibliographer Stephen Parks states that 'No surviving copy of the work has been located' although Number 17, held by the University of Wales, is referred to as extant in the early nineteenth century. Given that these 14 issues conclude with Number 16 it seems possible that the other surviving issue - Number 17 - of this journal comes from the same source as this one. The journal is not in ESTC, but Number 17 is located by Copac.

John Dunton is a controversial figure in late seventeenth century letters. Prolific and ambitious he travelled to Boston, New England, in the 1680s to escape his creditors where he worked successfully as a bookseller before returning to England around the time of the Glorious Revolution. Many of his publications centre on Dunton's Athenian Society which comprised himself, Dr. John Norris, Richard Sault and Dunton's brother-in-law, the Rev. Samuel Wesley. Their presence behind the text allows Dunton to offer a kind of dialogue between himself and his readers in this journal.

Textually Dunton begins each number with his editorial preface followed by a satirical and emphatically secular 'catechism' which precedes the 'Gentleman's Courant' where Dunton set out to 'satyrize all the Plays and Controversies, &c. that we find deserve it', usually in dialogue form. Dunton's Athenian Society, especially Samuel Wesley will usually take one side of the dialogue. The result is a profoundly London-centred publication in its editorial priorities, with much fulmination against the playhouses, in particular Vanbrugh's newly opened Queen's Theatre and a vivid sense of the sometimes overwhelming experience of the early modern city: 'Here's Streets, and Signs, and Paint, and Rogues, and Jilts, and Dogs, and Fops, and Fools, and Women ---- Here's Ribbons, and Laces, and Money, and Point-Cravats, and Top-knots...' Dunton's pamphleteering rival Daniel Defoe is repeatedly satirised in the text, pointedly denied membership of the Athenian Society (surely he never applied for membership?) and in Dunton's most imaginative sally, becomes the butt of a satirical poem that describes him as 'A Quarter-Quibble-Retailer, and a Dealer of Puns/... He reforms us from Newgate... He writes for Subsistence, for he wants P---t Lino,/ And he strolls for Subsistence to his Jure Divino.' As the first publisher in the English speaking world of a journal for women Dunton writes interestingly of his female readership, apologising for the delay in published 'The Catechism relating to Patches, paint and other Female Levities' which duly appeared in Number 10.

The fourteen issues present here collate thus:

Numb. 14: Nov 28-Dec 1. 1704, pp 53-56, 'The Character of a Town Miss... She differs pretty much from a common Prostitute, and your Night-Walkers... Her Rise is frequently from a waiting Woman to my Lady, where the Coach-man the Foot-boy, and perhaps the ------, are obliged in their Turns...' etc

Numb. 15: Dec 1-Dec 5, pp 57-60, 'The Catechism for Coffee-Houses' and 'The Character of a Rake', lengthy advert for Dunton's autobiography, The Life and Errors of John Dunton.

Numb. 13: Nov 24-Nov 28, pp 49-52, lacking corner of both leaves at head of page close to gutter, a few words affected. 'A Catechism for Coffee-Houses' in the form of a dialogue between a 'News-Monger' and the Athenian Society on the subject of European geography.

Numb. 3: Oct 17-Oct 20, pp 9-12, old dried white marking to the verso of the second leaf. Satirical editorial preface on the menace to public morals posed by the playhouses: 'how can we expect the Stage shou'd be overthrown, till the Smiles and Favours of Rich Men be withdrawn?... We are of the opinion that the Reason why our Societies for Reformation have met with no Visible Success, is because of Play-Houses...' Followed by a 'Stage-player's Catechism' with the Athenians questioning the player about his profession; the player responds: 'If occasion offers, they make a Prince of me, I'm rob'd, and Crown'd and Scepter'd in an Instant... then they begin to take my Conduct to pieces in the Fifth, and by the Laws of Poetick Justice, I'm sure either to Poyson or stab my self, or some other must do it for me...' This issue concludes with Dunton setting out his method in writing the periodical: 'We will satyrize all the Plays and Controversies, &c. that we find deserve it; and no remarkable Occurences (either in Church or State) shall 'scape our Notice... our Gentleman's Courant is properly call'd News for the Ingenious...'

Numb, 2: Oct 13-Oct 17, pp5-6 - pp7-8 bound after Numb 16., below. Wrinkling to first leaf; small loss to centre of second leaf.

Numb. 16: Dec 5-Dec 8, pp61-64, the Courant considers at length 'Where Daniel D'Foe, may be admitted a Member of the New Athenian Society?...' Mocks Defoe's grammar, and questions how 'He has set up of late in his Scandal Club... a Judge of our Tongue.' After berating Defoe's grammar Dunton moves on to his fellow Athenian Samuel 'Mr. Wesley's Defence of his Letter' with Wesley's riposte: 'Mr. Wesley, you must know, has written at least Twenty or Thirty Books: but what they are, he does not desire Mr. Dunton shou'd discover...'

Numb. 11: pp 41-44, long dialogue essay on the ethics of women's make-up, which is advertised in the preceding issue with an apology to the journal's women readers: 'We must beg the Ladies Pardon, that we have defer'd so long publishing The Catechism relating to Patches, paint and other Female Levities.'

Numb. 8: pp 29-32, 'The Occasional conformist's catechism..'

Numb. 7: Nov 1-Nov 7, pp25-28, concludes with a 17 lines invective poem against Defoe: 'A hosier, I take him, and a Sterner of Duns,/ A Quarter-Quibble-Retailer, and a Dealer of Puns/... He reforms us from Newgate... He writes for Subsistence, for he wants P---t Lino,/ And he strolls for Subsistence to his Jure Divino./' The poem concludes that he is 'To Prisons and Pillories condemn'd, as you know,/ And a Common Disturber, for 'tis D---l D'F--' In cryptic form Dunton disavows ownership and suggests, without revealing, a possible author of this poem.

Numb. 6: Oct 27-Nov 1, pp 21-24, the Courant is taken up by a debate about 'the new Play-House in Pall Mall' (the Queen's Theatre, established by John Vanbrugh).

Numb. 12: Nov 21-Nov 24, 'A Catechism for our late Pamphleteers' in the form of a lively dialogue between the pamphleteer 'Wolf-Stripper' and the Athenians. In a prefatory editorial Dunton compares 'those who have Pamphleteer'd for these Three Years, their Characters wou'd furnish out the best Comedy that has appear'd since the Days of Ben. Johnson.'

Numb. 5, October 24-October 27, pp 17-20

Numb. 10, Nov 14-Nov 17, pp 37-40

Numb. 9, Nov 11-Nov 14, pp33-36, the Courant includes 'a pleasant description of the Cities of London and Westminster in a dialogue between 'Mercure Serieux & Burlesque': 'Here's Streets, and Signs, and Paint, and Rogues, and Jilts, and Dogs, and Fops, and Fools, and Women ---- Here's Ribbons, and Laces, and Money, and Point-Cravats, and Top-knots. Lads ogling, Lasses winking, Maids flickering, wives plotting, musty Batchellors moulding and overgrown Thornbacks despairing...'
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