What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A sprightly, active BOY … not much inclined to Macaronism, is wanted as an Apprentice.”
Thomas Fleet and John Fleet sought an apprentice to assist in their printing office at the Heart and Crown in Boston. On May 24, 1773, the printers placed a notice in their own newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post, to advise readers that a “sprightly, active BOY, that can read and write, & not much inclined to Macaronism, is wanted as an Apprentice to the Printing Business.”
Most of those credentials make sense to modern readers. The work undertaken in a printing office was physically demanding, so the Fleets needed a “sprightly, active” apprentice who was up to the challenge. That apprentice would also assist in setting type and perhaps with some of the bookkeeping, making the ability to read and write almost essential (though some apprentices did learn to read in the process of setting type). But what about a prospective apprentice “not much inclined to Macaronism”?
In that instance, the Fleets used a slang term recognized by eighteenth-century readers. They did not seek a “Macaroni” or, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, a “dandy or fop [who] extravagantly imitated Continental tastes and fashions.” The OED also includes an example of “Macaroni” in use in 1770, revealing the derision bestowed on the young men who adopted the style: “There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up amongst us. It is called a Macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.” In the colonies as in Britain, Macaronis participated in the consumer revolution to excess, wallowing in luxury and vice.
Such a character would not do in a printing office … and the Fleets did not want their business to become the venue for parents to attempt to correct such behaviors demonstrated by sons of an appropriate age to enter into apprenticeship agreements. Many other employment advertisements of the era included “sober” (or, turning to the OED once again, “moderate in demeanour … indicating or implying a serious mind or purpose”) as one of the credentials. The Fleets could have included “sober” in their notice, but perhaps they had recent encounters with Macaronis that made them particularly cautious about bringing an apprentice with such proclivities into their printing office. They made it clear that Macaronis need not apply at the Heart and Crown.