Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Peter Funks Revenge
By Charles Frederick Briggs (18041877)
[Born in Nantucket, Mass., 1804. Died in Brooklyn, N. Y., 1877. The Knickerbocker Magazine. 1846.]
WALKING down Broadway a few mornings since, I discovered a man stationed opposite a store which had a small red flag hanging at the door, with a large muslin banner, impended from a tall staff, which he held, on which was inscribed this strange device: BEWARE OF MOCK AUCTIONS! Upon inquiry, I learned that this was intended as a caution to Peter Funk, and a warning to strangers not to part with their money without getting its full value in return. Upon farther inquiry, I learned that this ingenious and benevolent enterprise had been suggested by His Honor the Mayor, who in many other ways has entitled himself to the gratitude of our citizens.
I had often heard of Peter Funk, but had never seen the gentleman, and having a curiosity that way, determined to make the acquaintance of so noted a person. I accordingly entered the store, and saw a person dressed in very good style, with a satin scarf and gold chain, standing behind a counter, with a small hammer in his hand. He was a young man, with an air of the most entire self-satisfaction, and nothing seemed to give him any uneasiness excepting the Beware! on the side-walk, which not only kept bidders from entering the store, but caused a crowd of gaping idlers and ragged news-boys to collect around his door. He had watches, chains, and other trinkets, which he seemed anxious to sell to the highest bidder, but nobody would bid.
In one of the pauses of his continuous and commingled exhortations to the crowd to walk in and secure a great bargain, I asked him if he was a regularly-licensed auctioneer, and was told that he was, and that furthermore, he had always conducted his business in the most honorable manner, and could produce first-rate recommendations from his last employer. This might be true or it might not, but Mr. Funk impressed me with the idea that he was an ill-used gentleman. If Mr. Funk enjoyed any immunities to commit crime, like Mr. Nobody, and other personages who are often spoken of but never seen, it would be very just in our civic Aristides to warn the public against his malpractices. But Mr. Funk assured me that he was amenable to the laws, like any other merchant, and that he wouldnt grumble at paying the penalty of any crime of which he might be convicted; and he thought it a little peculiar, to say the least of it, that he should be selected out from among the fraternity of tradesmen, to be victimized. However, said Mr. Funk, thrusting his hammer into his coat pocket, walk into my back office, Mister, and if I dont make your hair stand on end Im a demijohn, and no mistake!
This was making rather free with a stranger; but there was something in the gentlemans manner which interested me, and I followed him, through a small door in the partition, into his den, which was ornamented by an engraving of a lady in a satin gown, that, viewed at a certain distance, looked like a white horse rearing on his hind legs. There were two or three choice works of art beside, including a French snuffbox with a highly objectionable picture in the inside of the cover, indicative of Mr. Funks taste in such matters. Having lighted a cigar and offered me one, which he assured me was a splendid regalia, and no mistake, he seated himself in his arm-chair and unfolded the following stupendous plan for revenging his own wrongs, and at the same time doing a good turn to his fellow-citizens.
My legal adviser, said Mr. Funk, tells me I can recover immense damages from the Mayor for injury to my business by his bewaring strangers from my store; but, continued Mr. Funk, as he knocked the ashes from the end of his cigar with his jewelled little finger, in a manner which Prince Albert might be proud of, I have thought of a plan which knocks that into all sorts of cocked hats. But wait a bit; theres a countryman.
Heres my progammy, said Mr. Funk; I am getting up some Bewares myself, and a most immense sensation Ill produce with them, I assure you. First, I will have a large banner carried by a Kentucky giant opposite the City Hall, with this inscription in bloody red letters: BEWARE OF LAWYERS!
Opposite Trinity church, at the head of Wall-street, I will station another, to be carried by a lame individual, with this inscription in gilt letters: BEWARE OF FANCY STOCKS! At the corner of Park Place and Broadway Ill have a flashy gentleman carrying a black-and-white banner with this motto: BEWARE OF BLACKLEGS! Then Ill have a flying regiment of boys with pink silk flags bearing this inscription: LADIES, BEWARE OF FRENCH MILLINERY AND FANCY GOODS! and these shall run up and down Broadway every day between twelve and two, and whenever they see a carriage full of ladies, they shall keep flapping the flags in their faces.
I confessed to Mr. Funk that I was struck with the novelty of his plan, and hoped he would not lay himself open to a prosecution for libel; and I cautioned him to be very careful not to insinuate anything against our free institutions.
Perhaps you mean the House of Detention? said Mr. Funk, inquiringly. I then explained to him what I did mean, and to my great surprise found that his mind had been so much affected by the well-meant expedient of the civic authorities for driving customers away from his store, that he could not comprehend my meaning at all; and instead of expressing any reverence for our institutions, he pronounced an opinion which I should be very sorry to repeat, even at second hand. Mr. Funk then told me that he had given an order for no less than five hundred standards, to be emblazoned with these remarkable words, BEWARE OF HUMBUGS! But my respect for authority and learning will not admit of my naming the places where these banners were to be displayed. The invention of Mr. Funk could only be equalled by his malignity. What could have been conceived more maliciously inappropriate, than to station a pumpkin-headed effigy, in a black coat, bearing one of these standards painted in harlequin letters, before the residence of Professor ? Or to put a man of straw, with a similar standard painted in green capitals, before the office of Dr. ?
It was at least prudent in you, Mr. Funk, I said, not to station any of your bewares before the doors of our city presses: the gentlemen who conduct them, you are aware, cannot be abused with impunity.
Poh! poh! replied this unprincipled person; see here. And so saying, he unrolled a paper which lay before him, upon which was emblazoned in miniature a dozen or two of banners, to be paraded before the doors of some of our most highly-esteemed friends. My blood curdled at the sight, or at least it would have done so, if anything could have caused such a phenomenon. Here was a banner for the Virtuous Vigil, inscribed with these words: BEWARE OF VENALITY! The Morning Glory was honored with this wholly unmeaning affiche, BEWARE OF BLUSTERERS! while the Evening Vesper was destined to be signalized with this detestable insinuation: BEWARE OF SOFT CRABS! than which nothing could be more vile, its conductors being universally known as two of the hardest customers about town. The Weekly Wonder had this entirely unmeaning standard assigned to it, which was to be borne by a gentleman in a clean shirt, with an inflated bladder in one pocket and an empty bottle in the other, the letters in deep blue: BEWARE OF FALSE WITNESSES!
I perceive, sir, that you richly merit the character which you bear in this community. I did believe that you were an injured individual, but the mayor knew you better than I did, when he sent a cohort of paupers into Broadway, with banners to beware simple-minded people from your door. It will be a lesson to me in future to mistrust my own judgment when it comes in conflict with the decisions of those having authority. Let me say to you, beware! Beware how you cast suspicion against respectable citizens who are engaged in advancing their own interests; seek some honest employment, and when the authorities endeavor to undermine your business and drive customers from your shop, remember that they do it for the public good, and do not seek revenge by depriving honest men of their means of growing rich.
I have no disposition to be too harsh toward you, I said, and therefore I will commend you for not uttering a beware derogatory to the clergy, who are generally made a butt of by men like yourself.