Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Gleaner. No. I.
The Gleaner, No. 1, Massachusetts Magazine
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This essay appeared in the February 1792 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine. In it, Judith as her male persona The Gleaner (or Mr. Gleaner) introduces "himself" to "his" readers.

The Gleaner. No. I.

Yes, I confess it -- I do sigh for fame,
An ardent wish to glean a brightening smile.

Observing in the general preface, published in the December Magazine, a hint which I have construed into a desire to encrease the number of your miscellaneous correspondents; and, stimulated by the delicate reproof upon literary indolence, which that elegant exordium contains, I feel myself, while sitting quite at my leisure, upon this evening of January 27th, 1792, strongly incited by my good or bad genius—the event must determine the character of the spright which is goading me on—to take into my serious consideration, the solicitation which in said preface is so modestly urged, and which squares so wonderfully well with my ideas of the reason and fitness of things.

Not that I shall aim at palming myself upon the publick, for a son of literature, a votary of the nine, or a dabbler in wit.—No, no, nothing of all this.—I am rather a plain man, who after spending the day in making provision for my little family, sit myself comfortably down by a clean hearth, and a good fire, enjoying, through these long evenings, with an exquisite zest, the pleasures of the hour, whether they happen to be furnished by an amusing tale, a well written book, or a social friend. Possibly, I might have jogged on to the end of my journey in this sober, tranquil manner.—But alas, for some time past, I think, as near as I can remember, ever since the commencement of your Magazine, I have been seized with a violent desire to become a writer. To combat this unaccountable itch for scribbling, it is in vain that I have endeavoured; it follows me through all the busy scenes which the day presents—it is my constant accompaniment in every nocturnal haunt, and it often keeps me waking, when, I verily believe, but for this restless desire, I might enjoy, in the fullest latitude, every blessing which hath ever yet been ascribed to sleep.

The many comprehensive titles, with the many pretty signatures, which have from time to time embellished your Magazine, have well near captivated my reason; and among many etceteras which might be enumerated, the following appellations have had for me their peculiar charms: An ample field seemed inscribed upon the title page of the General Observer; the name Philo appeared replete with studious lore; the Politician was indefatigable for the good of the nation; the Philanthropist bled sympathy; and with the Rivulet I was enraptured. At the bar of fancy, many a title for my intended essays hath been tried, and hath been successively condemned. A variety of signatures have been deliberately adopted, and as deliberately displaced—until my pericranium hath been nearly turned with thinking. Unfortunately, with my wish to commence author, originated also, a most inordinate ambition, and an insatiable thirst for applause.—In whatever line I made my appearance I was solicitous to stand unequalled.—I would be Cesar—or I would be nothing. The smoothness of Addison's page, the purity, strength, and correctness of Swift, the magick numbers of Pope—these must all veil to me. The Homers and Virgils of antiquity I would rival; and, audacious as I am, from the Philenia's of the present age, I would arrogantly snatch the bays. Strange, as is this account, it is nevertheless true. And, moreover, all these wild extravagancies have been engendered in a brain, which is not conscious of possessing abilities adequate to the furnishing a paragraph in a common newspaper! My case, I assure you, gentlemen, hath been truly pitiable, while for three years passed I have been struggling with an inflatus, which hath been almost irresistible.—Reason, however, aided, as I said, by a conviction of inferiority, hath hitherto restrained me; but your last preface hath done the business—it hath interested my feelings, and induced even reason to enlist under the banners of temerity—the fire thus long pent up cannot now be smothered, but acquiring, from its confinement, additional vigor, it hath at length produced me a candidate for that applause, by a prospect of which, you are solicitous to allure your readers to pursue, in the path of fame.

Thus resolved, the die is cast, and my ungovernable mania admits of one only remedy. But having once made up my mind to write, an appellation is the next thing to be considered—for as to subjects, my sanguine hopes assure me, that they will follow of course. A writer of facetious memory, hath represented his dear Jenny, when she could not obtain the tissued robe, as meekly assuming the humblest garb which frugality could furnish.—I am fond of respectable examples, and I have humility enough to be influenced by them. My title having much exercised my mind, and being convinced that any considerable achievements are beyond my grasp upon mature deliberation I have thought best to adopt, and I do hereby adopt, the name, character, and avocation of a GLEANER; and this appellation I do freely confess gives a full and complete idea of my present amazingly curtailed views.

Here, pride suggests a question—what is any modern scribbler better than a Gleaner? But I very sagaciously reply—let my brethren and sisters of the quill characterize themselves. I shall not thus in the very commencement of my career enter the lists.—The truth is, I am very fond of my title; I conceive that I shall find it in many respects abundantly convenient; more especially, should an accusation of plagiarism be lodged against me, my very title will please my apology, for it would be indeed pitiful of the opulent reaper, whose granaries are confessedly large, and variously supplied, should grudge the poor Gleaner what little he industriously collects, and what from the richness and plenty of his ample harvest, he can never want.

With diligence then, I shall ransack the fields, the meadows, and the groves; each secret haunt, however sequestered, with avidity I shall explore; deeming myself privileged to crop with impunity a hint from one, an idea from another, and to aim at improvement upon a sentence from a third.—I shall give to my materials whatever texture my fancy directs; and, as I said—feeling myself entitled to toleration as a Gleaner, in this expressive name I shall take shelter, standing entirely regardless of every charge relative to property, originality, and every thing of this nature, which may be preferred against me.

Mean time, should any of the Parnassians girls, or his godship Apollo, or any other genius, sylph, or gnome, of legendary, or fairy ancestry, fond of encouraging a young beginner, throw into my basket an unbroken sheaf, you may depend upon it, that I will assay to form the valuable original, with all the care, accuracy, and skill, which close thinking, deep study, and an ardent desire to excel, can bestow; and you may farther assure yourselves, that when thus highly wrought, I shall haste to present the precious gift, a fit offering at the shrine of the Massachusetts Magazine.—Thus having, as far as it lays with me, adjusted preliminaries, I propose myself, Gentlemen, as a candidate for a place in your Magazine. If my piece is judged inadmissible, presiding in your respectable divan, you have but to wave your oblivious wand, and the Gleaner is forever silenced. I confess, however that I have no violent inclination to see the Gleaner among your list of acknowledgements to correspondents, set up as a mark for the shafts of wit, however burnished they may be.

You, Gentlemen, possess the specifick at which I have already hinted, and by which I may be radically cured, and if this attempt is really as absurd, a I am even now, at times, inclined to think it—your non insertion of, and silence thereto, will operate as effectually as the severest reprehension, and will be regarded by the Gleaner, as a judgment from which there is no appeal.


2008 © Bonnie Hurd Smith


Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.