January 7, 2011

Death of Joseph Dennie

Author and editor Joseph Dennie died on January 7, 1812 in Philadelphia; he was 41 years old. He published frequently, usually articles in favor of Federalism, and soon founded his own magazine in Boston, The Tablet. After its short run, he wrote for The Farmer's Weekly Museum in New Hampshire before becoming its editor (and printing letters from John Quincy Adams; Adams later wrote Dennie's epitaph). Shortly after the turn of the century in 1801, Dennie founded Port Folio, which continued after his death.

Perhaps his most famous work is a series of essays collected as The Lay Preacher. "The title of this work may appear ludicrous to some, and obscure to others," he wrote in his introduction. It was not, however, a volume of sermons. Instead, Dennie wrote light ("harmless and playful") articles, usually with a didactic lesson, many with Biblical references (many start with a quote from the Old Testament). Here are just a few of the moral lessons he imparts:

"Virtue never dwelt long in filth; nor do I believe there ever was a person scrupulously attentive to cleanliness, who was a consummate villain." (from "On Cleanliness")

"Ye querists... check your impertinent curiosity. Devote not life to hearing and telling new things... Action, not tattle, is the business of life." (from "On Newsmongers")

Of course, as one of the earliest "men of letters" in the young United States, he also offers advice to young men on "The Pleasures of Study":

A book produces a delightful abstraction from the cares and sorrows of this world. They may press upon us, but when we are engrossed by study we do not very acutely feel them. Nay, by the magic illusion of a fascinating author, we are transported from the couch of anguish, or the gripe of indigence, to Milton's paradise, or the elysium of Virgil.

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