Isaiah Thomas is best known as a newspapermen and supporter of the American Revolution. But as a printer and publisher he did not limit himself to politics. Among his many printed works were a flattery how-to guide.
Thomas, like many 18th-century American printers, published European works for an American audience, including the popular: A New Academy of Compliments: Or, the Lover’s Secretary: Being Wit and Mirth Improved, by the Most Elegant Expressions Used in the Art of Courtship … To which is Added, a Choice Collection of Above One Hundred and Twenty Love Songs.
Born poor in Boston on Jan. 19, 1749, Isaiah Thomas had the good luck to apprentice to Zachariah Fowle. The two formed a partnership in 1770 to publish the Massachusetts Spy. Three months later they split up, but the Spy continued as an anti-British, pro-independence newspaper.
A few days before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Thomas took his printing press and decamped to Worcester. There he read the Declaration of Independence in public and reported on the war. In 1779, he married his hal cpusin, Mary Fowle.
Postwar Isaiah Thomas
After the war, Thomas published an almanac, much like Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard. He also printed music (the first in America to use a musical font) and most of the Bibles and school books in the United States. He built a paper mill and bindery, opened a bookstore in Boston and founded the American Antiquarian Society in 1812.
Thomas had a lifelong ambition, which he accomplished, to publish a history of printing. He died in Worcester on April 4, 1831.
In 1795, he printed A New Academy of Compliments. The book went through dozens of editions and was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. It was chock full of inspirations for tongue-tied people looking to impress with their skill in conversation and flattery. Today, the compliments he suggested might provoke guffaws or head scratching.
The chapter on “Witty and ingenious sentences to introduce and grace the art of well speaking,” included flattering phrases for many situations. Why not try one today?
1. Good one!
The virtues of your mind would compel a stone to become a lover, and devote himself your humble servant.
2. That’s the best idea I’ve heard in a while.
Not the mountain ice congealed to crystal is more bright than you.
3. Whatever you say.
I’d rather doubt an oracle than question what you deliver.
Sir, your noble deeds transcend all precedents.
5. Thanks, I owe you one.
Sir, the ocean is not so boundless as the obligations you daily heap on me. I lodge them in my bosom, and always keep them in my heart.
6. Thanks, you’re really a good friend.
I prize your chaste love above all the wealth of India.
7. You look good.
Others seem glimmering stars when compared with you, who outshine them like Luna.
8. Well said.
Report could never have gotten a sweeter air to fly in than your breath.
9. What do you want to do?
I totally submit myself to your directions, govern me as it pleases.
10. Hey, friend me.
Sir, I must enroll you in the Catalogue of my dearest friends.
Thanks to A New Academy of Compliments: Or, the Lover’s Secretary: Being Wit and Mirth Improved, by the Most Elegant Expressions Used in the Art of Courtship … To which is Added, a Choice Collection of Above One Hundred and Twenty Love Songs.
Image: ‘Isaiah Thomas 1818’ by Ethan Allen Greenwood, courtesy American Antiquarian Society. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. This story last updated in 2022.