kingbird on fence
Journal of a Sabbatical

January 28, 1999

an itinerant fish peddler



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Copyright © 1998, Janet I. Egan

This is the perfect kind of day for pondering such questions as "Who was loonier, Timothy Dexter or Jonathan Plummer?"

"He [Lord Timothy Dexter] employed at various times an astrologer and a poet laureate named Jonathan Plummer, who was also an itinerant fish dealer, selling haddock and scrolls of his his own works from door to door." - John P. Marquand quoted in The Merrimack by Raymond Holden.

I didn't even consider looking for the lark sparrow today. I picked up the latest batch of pictures this afternoon and that was the last time I went out. It has been snowing all day and not accumulating all that much. Actually, it's been snowing since last night. The weather dudes keep revising the forecast, however. Last night it was going to be one inch, tops. This afternoon it was going to be five inches. Tonight they're saying maybe eight inches in coastal areas. I guess the bottom line is they have no clue.

"I had some practice as a physician, and earned something with my pen, but for several years was obliged chiefly to follow various kinds of business less honorable, viz: farming, repeating select passages from authors, selling halibut, sawing wood, selling books and ballads in the streets, serving as post boy, filling beds with straw ad wheeling them to the owners thereof, collecting rags, &c." - Jonathan Plummer, from his autobiography quoted in the preface to the 1838 edition of A Pickle for the Knowing Ones by Lord Timothy Dexter

And he gave up selling halibut (or haddock) door to door to be personal poet laureate to Timothy Dexter?!? They even had some sort of installation ceremony where he was crowned with parsley instead of laurel. Hmm, guess I'll retire and rest on my parsley?

When I encountered the Marquand quote above I'd heard of Timothy Dexter only from the WPA guide to Massachusetts, which notes the location of his house in Newburyport, his supposed making of a fortune selling warming pans in the West Indies, and his masterwork A Pickle for the Knowing Ones. Nothing at all about employing a poet laureate of his very own. I couldn't get the image of Jonathan Plummer going door to door with a basket of haddock on one arm and a basket of poems in the other out of my head.

What are warming pans anyway, and why would they make such great molasses ladles?

Did Plummer only sell species of fish beginning with h? Haddock, Halibut. Hake. I can't think of anymore h fish. Did his poems smell of fish?

Who are the "knowing ones" and why do they need a pickle?

Any time I didn't spend plowing through my collection of Merrimack River books or searching the web for information on Timothy Dexter and Jonathan Plummer, I spent reading Bernd Heinrich's The Trees in My Forest, which I am now about 2/3 of the way through. The chapter on tree structure and snow/ice loading seemed particularly appropriate today.