The annual almanac was the Eighteenth Century's monthly magazine, encyclopedia, calendar, a repository of literature, and what not, and is the mirror of the American mind between 1700 and the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin made his name with one, but his Poor Richard was not the first of the species nor, by long odds, was it the last (it is impossible to draw a line between almanacs and magazines in the history of American journalism).
James Franklin issued his Rhode Island Almanac five years before Poor Richard appeared in Philadelphia; and Nathaniel Ames, of Dedham, Mass., issued his eight years before, in 1725. This last was, except for Poor Richard, the most famous of the almanacs, and it was among the longest lived. Its author was physician, inn-keeper, scholar, wit, orator, and one of the brightest stars in the constellation of the famous Ames family. His biography was written and his works edited in 1891, in a volume entitled The Essays, Humor, and Poems of Nathaniel Ames, father and son, of Dedham, Mass., from their Almanacs, 1726-1775 with notes and comments, by Sam Briggs (Cleveland, Ohio). From this delicious old volume which should be read with a pipe and bowl of apples in front of the fireplace, it transpires that Bro. Ames was a member of Constellation Lodge in Dedham, and more than once aimed his skits and verses at the Fraternity. Thus, on page 116, in a poem are the lines: "So Masonry and Death are both the same, Tho' of a different name" ; meaning that a man knows nothing of either until be bas been initiated. Of these words Editor Briggs notes that "These few lines of verse are the first I have noticed in any publication of the kind, adverting to the institution, which had been but lately introduced to the [New England] Colonists, through the office of Henry Price, who established the first Lodge in New England, in 1733." On page 203 is a verse for the month of October, not easily construed:
"Heaven's Candidates go clothed with foul Disguise, And Heaven's Reports are damned for senseless lies : Tremendous Mysteries are (so Hell prevails) Lampooned for Jargon and fantastic Tales.''
Bro. Briggs says be can make nothing of this. As a guess Ames bad been reading exposs and Anti-Masonic lampoons brought over from England. Beginning on page 464 is a long Hudibrastic poem entitled "Entertainment for a Winter's Evening" which runs to six pages, describes a Masonic church service with wit and satire, and contains dozens of topical allusions, some very obscure ; it was written by Joseph Greene, an alumnus of Harvard University of the class of 1726, a Tory who fled to England, where he resided until his death in 1780. It is recommended to some member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research that he edit this (in its way) important document and publish it in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum.
On page 34: Vol. I of The Book-worm (A. C. Armstrong & Son; 1888) is a paragraph about the first American almanac.
''It is a fact upon which most bibliographers are agreed, that the first almanac printed in America came out in 1639, and was entitled 'An Almanac Calculated for New England,' by Mr. Pierce, Mariner: The printer was Stephen Day, or Daye, to whom belongs the title of first printer in North Arnerica. The press was at Cambridge, Mass., and its introduction was effected mainly through the Rev. Jesse Glover, a wealthy Non-conformist minister who had only recently left England. Some Amsterdam gentlemen 'gave towards furnishing of a printing-pre' with letters, forty-nine pounds and something more.' The first book issued was the 'Bay Psalm-Book,' in 1640." (Day is a famous and frequent name in the history of printing. The John Day Company of New York was named in honor of one of them.)
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