Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Kitty Hard-to-Please" and "Bob What-You-Please" (1787)

                From the Massachusetts Gazette.

        Messrs. Printers,

I want a man to my mind--If you insert the following description of the man I do not like, and any of your readers are free from the faults of which I complain, pray send him to me, for I long to be married.

                                                Kitty Hard-to-Please.

I DO not love a man that's tall--

A man that's little is worse than all.

I much abhor a man that's fat--

A man that's lean is worse than that.

A young man is a constant pest--

An old one would my room infest.

I do not like a man that's fair--

A man that's black I cannot bear.

A man of sense I could not rule,

And from my heart I hate a fool.

A sober man I will not take---

A drunken man my heart would break.

All these I do sincerely hate,

And yet I love the marriage state.

Northern Centinel and Lansinghborough Advertiser. July 23, 1787.

                For the Northern Centinel.

        Messrs. PRINTERS,

In compassion to the lady, who, under the signature of Kitty Hard-to-Please, has lately advertised the objects of her aversion in several public papers, and at the same time declares she longs to be married,---you are requested to insert the following in your next.

                                                BOB WHAT-YOU-PLEASE.

O KITTY, I'm the man for thee,

        I'm neither tall nor slender,

Not old, nor young--come meet with me,

        I'm ready to surrender.

Nor grossly fat, not ghostly spare,

        Nor sedulous, nor slack, miss;

Like puny boy I am not fair,

        Nor like an Indian black, miss.

Plain common sense I do not lack,

        And that's a lawful tender;

Yet I ne'er made an almanack,

        Nor saw the witch of Endor.

No sober smock-fac'd lump am I

        That deems the bottle treason;

I'll stick to Bachus till I die,

        But will not drown my reason.

A decent bowl inspires the soul,

        And makes us better spunk, miss;

But he's a brute, beyond dispute,

        Who grogs it till he's drunk, miss.

So, Kitty, if I please your mind,

        With you I'd like to winter.

And when you wish my place to find,

        Enquire of Mr. Printer.

        August 20, 1787.

Northern Centinel and Lansinghborough Advertiser. August 17, 1787.

One wonders if the Lansingburgh paper really was the first place of publication for the response. It seems at least possible, as one reprint shortly thereafter was credited "From the Northern Centinel." Vermont Gazette [Bennington, VT]. September 3, 1787: 4. Reprints by the next century would carry both poems together.

By the end of the eighteenth century, in the Atlantic coastal region, conventional wisdom obviously held the Indians to be "black," as illustrated in the silly American song, "Kitty Hard To Please." [...] [Bob] might have easily used the word "Negro" instead of "Indian," but in his mind there was no difference in color. (The image is all the more vividly instructive in that whites did not admire the pure white color of a "puny boy," for a man should have the ruddy complexion of healthy masculinity. Whiteness was idealized, but it was also gendered and thereby rendered seemingly irrational.) Kitty did not want to marry a person of color because it would be socially disadvantageous for her, not because she had a cultural bias against blackness as such. She made a conscious decision to do what she did—she was not simply reacting to cultural forces. Her personal act was socially motivated and structured.

Ingersoll, Thomas N. To Intermix with Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from the Earliest Times to the Indian Removals. University of New Mexico Press, 2005. 32.

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