Commonplace


Just Teach One

The Story of Constantius and Pulchera (1789)

Spring 2013 – Just Teach One no. 2
Prepared by Duncan Faherty (Queens College & The CUNY Graduate Center) and Ed White (University of Florida)

Constantius and Pulchera

Frontispiece The History of Constantius and Pulchera, or Constancy rewarded. New York: John Tiebout, 1801.

 

book

The Story of Constantius and Pulchera (1798)
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Teaching Reflections

 

Introduction

The first installment of “The Story of Constantius and Pulchera” opened the June, 1789 issue of The Gentlemen and Ladies’ Town and Country Magazine: Consisting of Literature, History, Politics, Arts, Manners, and Amusements, with Various Other Matter, published in Boston by Nathaniel Coverly. The magazine had started in February of that year, and by June had a lively correspondence with local authors. The magazine opened with a page of remarks “To Correspondents,” the lead notice of which read “We are happy in having it in our power to furnish our readers with an original story this month, of Constantius and Pulchera, with an elegant Copper-Plate, suitably adapted to the same.” The other comments by the editor communicated the status of new submissions, some signed and some anonymous, to readers: the “account of a little Phenomenon came too late for this month,” as did the story titled “Leonora.” “Constantius and Pulchera,” one of the anonymous works, continued to appear in the next six issues, ending in January of 1790, which was to be the magazine’s last issue. Lyon Richardson, in his history of early US magazines, suggests that Coverly’s magazine could not compete with the larger and more diversified Massachusetts Magazine launched in January of 1789, and running through 1796. Coverly’s journal, he suggests, was too focused on sentimental fiction to find wider readership.1 While Coverly reprinted legislation from the new congress, local marriage and death notices, and a number of scientific pieces, his journal did publish a large amount of fiction and a lesser amount of poetry, apparently submitted by local readers. And while we know little about the author of “The Story of Constantius and Pulchera,” it does appear to have been written by a local subscriber.

In any case, it appears to have been was the most successful piece published in the magazine, given its subsequent publications. In 1794, it was published as The History of Constantius & Pulchera, Or Constancy Rewarded: An American Novel, now with a few lines of verse appended at the beginning.2 There followed a dedication “To the Young Ladies of Columbia,” for whom this work was “Intended to inspire the mind with fortitude under the most unparalleled MISFORTUNES” and “represent the happy consequences of VIRTUE and FIDELITY.” This dedication was in turn followed by a fascinating preface which we reproduce in its entirety.

Endnotes
1. The last issue, of January 1790, listed 471 subscribers, almost all from Boston and surrounding suburbs. See Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 1741-1789 (New York: T. Nelson & Sons, 1931), 351-54.
2. Of the eight lines of verse, two were taken from the 1702 comedy “She Wou’d and She Wou’d Not, or, The Kind Impostor,” by Colley Cibber, while the other six were taken from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. The editors appear to have ignored Pope’s history as a critic of Cibber.

 

Teaching Reflections

The following are responses written by participants who have included this text in their teachings.

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