Tuesday, December 11, 2012

From the Stacks: "Britain to America" Satiric Puzzle

A rebus is a puzzle in which pictures are used to represent words or parts of words, sometimes used as a form of political satire. One such example from the Book Division of the Clements Library is Britain to America, published by Matthew Darly in 1778. It is a mock letter written from a mother to her daughter, in which Britain asks America to put aside her recent French alliance: "So be a good girl, discharge your soldiers and ships of war and do not rebel against your mother. Rely upon me and do not consort to what that French rascal shall tell you." Darly also published a reply, America to Her Mistaken Mother (London, 1778).
Britain to America (London, 1778). [Click image to enlarge]
The book Rebellion and Reconciliation: Satirical Prints on the Revolution at Williamsburg provides a transcription of the symbols (read "toe" as "to" and "eye" as "i"):
"(Britannia) (toe) Amer(eye)ca.
My (deer) Daughter (eye) (can)(knot) (bee)hold w(eye)thout (grate) pa(eye)n (ewer) (head)strong (back)-(ward)ness (toe) ret(urn) (toe) (ewer) Duty in (knot) op(posy)ing (awl) the good (eye) long (eye)ntended for (ewer) (sole) Hap(pie)ness & (bee)ing told t(hat) (eye) have g(eye)v'n (ewer) (hand) (toe) a (base) & (double-faced) (Frenchman) (Eye) have sent (yew) 5 over/wise (men) the (grate)est of (awl) my (child)ren (toe) put (yew) (toe) r(eye)ghts & (hope) (yew) w(eye)[ll] l(eye)s(ten) (toe) them & m(eye)nd w(hat) they say (toe) (yew) they have (eye)nstr(yew)et(eye)ons [instructions] (toe) g(eye)ve (yew) t(hose) th(eye)ngs (yew) (form)erly required. so (bee a good (girl) d(eye)scharge (ewer) (soldiers) & (ships) of war & (doe) (knot) re(bell) aga(eye)nst (ewer) (moth)er rely upon me & (doe)(knot) (console)t [consort] to w(hat) t(hat) french R(ass)c(awl) sh(awl) tell (yew) IC he w(ants) (toe) b(ring) on an enm(eye)ty (toe) (awl) (union) (bee)tween (yew) & (eye) (but) l(eye)s(ten) (knot) (toe) h(eye)m (awl) the (world) takes (knot)(eye)ce [notice) of h(eye)[s] (doubleface). I'll send h(eye)m such MessaGG [messages] from my (grate) (gun)s as s[h](awl) make h(eye)s (heart) repent & know t(hat) (one) good or (eye)ll t(urn) mer(eye)ts a (knot)her. NB let (knot) (eighty) [hate] take (two) much hold of (ewer) (heart).
(Eye) am (ewer) fr(eye)end & (moth)er."
Approximate translation in plain text:
"Britannia to America:
My dear daughter, I cannot behold without great pain your headstrong backwardness to return to your duty in not opposing all the good I long intended for your sole happiness. And being told that I have given your hand to a base and double-faced Frenchman, I have sent you five over-wise men, the greatest of all my children, to put you to rights and hope you will listen to them and mind what they say to you. They have instructions to give you those things you formerly required. So be a good girl, discharge your soldiers and ships of war and do not rebel against your mother. Rely upon me and do not consort to what that French rascal shall tell you. I see he wants to bring on an enmity to all union between you and I but listen not to him. All the world takes notice of his double-face. I'll send him such messages from my great guns as shall make his heart repent and know that one good or ill turn merits another.
N.B. Let not hate take too much hold of your heart.
I am your friend and mother." 

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