origin of ‘simon-pure’


title page of A Bold Stroke for a Wife – London, 1718



The phrase the (real) Simon Pure means the real or authentic person or thing in question; the adjective simon-pure means completely genuine, authentic or honest.

Simon Pure is the name of a character in A Bold Stroke for a Wife (London, 1718), a comedy by the English poet, playwright and actress Susanna Centlivre (circa 1667-1723). In order to marry Mrs. Lovely, Colonel Fainwell must convince her four guardians that he will make the ideal husband. He takes the ‘bold stroke’ of disguising himself according to the personalities and occupations of each of the guardians in turn. The last of them, Obadiah Prim, being a stern Quaker, Fainwell impersonates Simon Pure, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, whom Aminidab Holdfast, a Quaker of Bristol, has recommended to Prim. While the Colonel is at Prim’s with Mrs. Lovely, the real Simon Pure arrives:

                    Enter Servant.
– Servant. There is another Simon Pure enquireth for thee, Master.
– Fainwell. The Devil there is.
– Prim. Another Simon Pure? I do not know him, is he any Relation of thine?
– Fainwell. No, Friend, I know him not—Pox take him, I wish he were in Pensilvania again, with all my Blood. [Aside.
– Mrs. Lovely. What shall I do? [Aside.
– Prim. Bring him up.
– Fainwell. Humph! then one of us must go down, that’s certain—Now Impudence assist me.
                    Enter Simon Pure.
– Prim. What is thy Will with me, Friend?
– Simon Pure. Didst thou not receive a Letter from Aminidab Holdfast of Bristol, concerning one Simon Pure?
– Prim. Yea, and Simon Pure is already here, Friend.
– Fainwell. And Simon Pure will stay here, Friend, if possible. [Aside.
– Simon Pure. That’s an Untruth, for I am he.
– Fainwell. Take thou heed, Friend, what thou dost say; I do affirm that I am Simon Pure.
– Simon Pure. Thy Name may be Pure, Friend, but not that Pure.
– Fainwell. Yea that Pure, which my good Friend Aminadab [sic] Holdfast wrote to my Friend Prim about, the same Simon Pure that came from Pensilvania, and sojourned in Bristol eleven Days; thou would’st not take my Name from me, would’st thou?—till I have done with it. [Aside.
– Simon Pure. Thy Name! I am astonished.
– Fainwell. At what? at thy own Assurance? [Going up to him, Simon Pure starts back.
– Simon Pure. Avant, Sathan; approach me not; I defy thee and all thy Works.
– Mrs. Lovely. Oh, he’ll out cant him—Undone, undone for ever. [Aside.
– Fainwell. Hark thee, Friend, thy Sham will not take—Don’t exert thy Voice, thou art too well acquainted with Sathan to start at him, thou wicked Reprobate—What can thy Design be here? [Enter Servant, and gives Prim a Letter.
– Prim. One of these must be a Counterfeit, but which I cannot say.
– Fainwell. What can that Letter be? [Aside.
– Simon Pure. Thou must be the Devil, Friend, that’s certain, for no humane Power can stock so great a Falshood.
– Prim. This Letter sayeth that thou art better acquainted with that Prince of Darkness, than any here— Read that, I pray thee, Simon. [Gives it the Colonel.
– Fainwell. ’Tis Freeman’s Hand*—[Reads.] There is a Design form’d to rob your House this Night, and cut your Throat, and for that purpose there is a Man disguised like a Quaker, who is to pass for one Simon Pure, the Gang whereof I am one, tho’ now resolved to rob no more, has been at Bristol, one of them came up in the Coach with the Quaker, whose Name he hath taken, and from what he gathered from him, form’d that Design, and did not doubt but he should impose so far upon you, as to make you turn out the real Simon Pure, and keep him with you. Make the right Use of this. Adieu.

(* Freeman, Fainwell’s friend, has sent a fake letter.)

The real Simon Pure is dismissed and Fainwell obtains Prim’s consent to marry Mrs. Lovely. When Pure returns with the coachman who brought him from Bristol, the Colonel admits that he has “only made bold with this Gentleman’s Name”.

The English poet and satirist John Wolcot (1738-1819) mentioned Simon Pure in Lyric Odes, for the Year 1785, published in London in 1785 under the pseudonym of Peter Pindar; in Ode IX, A Recommendation of Flattery as a Specific in Fortune-making is as follows:

FLATTERY’s the turnpike-road to Fortune’s door—
     Truth is a narrow lane, all full of quags,
     Leading to broken heads, abuse, and rags,
And work-houses,—sad refuge for the poor!—
FLATTERY’s a MOUNTEBANK so spruce—gets riches;
     A Moral Mender, a disgusting Teacher,
That never got a sixpence by her SPEECHES!

A Free Briton” also used Simon Pure in a letter published in The Daily Universal Register (i.e. The Times – London) of Monday 14th February 1785:

From indigested crudities that too often disgrace the public prints, it would almost seem, as if all who enjoy power and places are political sinners, and scoundrels of the first magnitude; or that those who attack them are all saints, Simon Pure’s, and of incorruptible description.

I have found two instances of the real Simon Pure predating the earliest quotation in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition – 1989). The first one is from The Connecticut Courant, and Weekly Intelligencer (Hartford, Connecticut) of Thursday 28th January 1790:

BALTIMORE, January 12.
Beware of Counterfeits, for many are abroad.
A quantity of DOLLARS have lately been brought to this town, which had been taken up from a wreck. They are much discoloured, and are in value as much as one fourth less than the real Simon Pure, having suffered a diminution in their weight by the corroding of the salt water. A number of them were sold by weight, and are now, very honestly, imposed upon the unwary.

The second instance is from The Times (London) of Thursday 4th November 1790:

An odd scene took place on Sunday, in a church at the east end of the town. The bans being published between a couple, two others in the congregation got up immediately, and forbad them, being exactly the same names. This created no little confusion, till the real Simon Pure stepped forward, and, with his sweetheart in his hand, cried out as loud as he could, that neither Miss, her friends, himself, or his friends, had any objection to the match.

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