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An Old Town by the Sea 6


PORTSMOUTH NH CHARACTERS by TB Aldrich (continued)

Mr. Jaffrey's last will and testament was a whimsical document, in spite of the Hon. Jeremiah Mason, who drew up the paper. It had originally been Mr. Jaffrey's plan to leave his possessions to his beloved friend, Colonel Joshua Wentworth, but the colonel by some maladroitness managed to turn the current of Pactolus in another direction. The vast property was bequeathed to George Jaffrey Jeffries, the testator's grandnephew, on condition that the heir, then a lad of thirteen, should drop the name of Jeffries, reside permanently in Portsmouth, and adopt no profession excepting that of gentleman. There is an immense amount of Portsmouth as well as George Jaffrey in that final clause. George the fourth handsomely complied with the requirements, and dying at the age of sixty-six, without issue or assets, was the last of that particular line of Georges. I say that he handsomely complied with the requirements of the will; but my statement appears to be subject to qualification, for on the day of his obsequies it was remarked of him by a caustic contemporary:

"Well, yes, Mr. Jaffrey was a gentleman by profession, but not eminent in his profession."

This modest exhibition of profiles, in which I have attempted to preserve no chronological sequence, ends with the silhouette of Dr. Joseph Moses.

If Boston in the colonial days had her Mather Byles, Portsmouth had her Dr. Joseph Moses. In their quality as humorists, the outlines of both these gentlemen have become rather broken and indistinct. "A jest's prosperity lies in the ear that hears it." Decanted wit inevitably loses its bouquet. A clever repartee belongs to the precious moment in which it is broached, and is of a vintage that does not usually bear transportation. Dr. Moses -- he received his diploma not from the College of Physicians, but from the circumstance of his having once drugged his private demijohn of rum, and so nailed an inquisitive negro named Sambo -- Dr. Moses, as he was always called, has been handed down to us by tradition as a fellow of infinite jest and of most excellent fancy; but I must confess that I find his high spirits very much evaporated. His humor expended itself, for the greater part, in practical pleasantries -- like that practiced on the minion Sambo -- but these diversions, however facetious to the parties concerned, lack magnetism for outsiders. I discover nothing about him so amusing as the fact that he lived in a tan-colored little tenement, which was neither clapboarded nor shingled, and finally got an epidermis from the discarded shingles of the Old South Church when the roof of that edifice was repaired.

Dr. Moses, like many persons of his time and class, was a man of protean employment -- joiner, barber, and what not. No doubt he had much pithy and fluent conversation, all of which escapes us. He certainly impressed the Hon. Theodore Atkinson as a person of uncommon parts, for the Honorable Secretary of the Province, like a second Haroun Al Raschid, often summoned the barber to entertain him with his company. One evening -- and this is the only reproducible instance of the doctor's readiness -- Mr. Atkinson regaled his guest with a diminutive glass of choice Madeira. The doctor regarded it against the light with the half-closed eye of the connoisseur, and after sipping the molten topaz with satisfaction, inquired how old it was. "Of the vintage of about sixty years ago," was the answer. "Well," said the doctor reflectively, "I never in my life saw so small a thing of such an age." There are other mots of his on record, but their faces are suspiciously familiar. In fact, all the witty things were said aeons ago. If one nowadays perpetrates an original joke, one immediately afterward finds it in the Sanskrit. I am afraid that Dr. Joseph Moses has no very solid claims on us. I have given him place here because he has long had the reputation of a wit, which is almost as good as to be one.

CONTINUED TO Chapter Seven

 

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