The first General Directory for the city of Washington is herewith presented to the public, in the hope that it will be found that the compiler has spared no pains in endeavouring to make it worthy of their patronage.

An ebullient neighbor, who bears with pride the distinction of being a fifth-generation Washingtonian ("fifth generation on one side, fourth on the other," she qualifies scrupulously), introduced me, one sultry day this week, to an unlikely and engrossing bit of reading material: Washington's first city directory. The book, a fragile 142-page pocket-sized volume, is exhaustively captioned "The Washington Directory, Showing the Name, Occupation and Residence of Each Head of a Family and Person in Business, the Names of the Members of Congress and Where They Board; Together With Other Useful Information."

Judah Delano, the compiler, apparently convinced local businessmen that it would sell. Solomon Drew placed a striking ad for his Columbian Tavern, which offered gracious accommodations for gentlemen travelers "with good Beds and Boarding and with a variety of Liquors." Pishey Thompson took a full page to promote his book and stationery store, which carried such additional items as theodolites, telescopes and drawing materials from London.

The year was 1822, a period of renewed optimism and industry that followed a post-war depression. Most of the damage caused by the conflagrations of 1814 had been erased. The rebuilding of the Capitol was nearly completed, and the executive mansion had been handsomely restored. The federal government employed 300 Washingtonians, and the permanent population of the city had reached 13,247: 9,606 whites, 1,945 slaves, 1,696 "free colored."

The home-rule city charter had recently been renewed and the electorate -- white males who had lived in the city for a minimum of a year and who paid taxes of 50 cents or more annually -- had voted in Thomas Carbery as mayor. The new mayor's list of appointed city officials and their responsibilities appears in the directory. A newly established Board of Health had 13 members, one the physician in charge of the Washington Asylum. The "managers of the City Lotteries" had the duty of seeing that funds from the lotteries were allocated to provide two public schools, a penitentiary and a city hall. The "Commissioners for draining low grounds, and etc." were charged with control of the pestilential tidal swamps, which extended to the Mall and bordered public buildings. Although garbage was still flung in the streets to be disposed of by nomadic pigs, an advance in sanitation had been made with the appointment of "public scavengers," who received $50 a year from the city treasury to clean public privies "once in two months from April to October and once in three months from October to April."

The "Useful Information" section of the directory also covers such matters as hack fares, which were based on a rudimentary zone system, licensing regulations and tax rates on real and personal property. Hack men incurred stiff penalties if caught overcharging: $5 for an offense against a permanent resident, $10 for the same offense committed against a newcomer, defined as anyone who had lived in the city for less than 12 months. The owner of a male slave between ages 15 and 45 incurred a tax of $2 annually. The rate for owning a chariot, post chariot or post chaise was $15. Licenses for potentially profitable business ventures came high: $50 for a license to serve liquor in quantities of less than a pint; $100 for an auctioneer's license or permission to run a billiard hall.

When the directory was issued the members of the 17th Congress were in residence, living as winter batchelors at: Mrs. Claxton's, Capitol Hill, or with Miss Polk, near the city hall, or with Mrs. Wilson, near the Treasury Department, or with Mr. Fletcher, near the post office. Or at Brown's Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, Queen's Hotel on Capitol Hill, Peck's Hotel in Georgetown. Vice President Daniel Tompkins boarded at Mr. Dowson's, Capitol Hill.

The major portion of the directory is made up of the alphabetical listing of names of heads of households followed by their occupations and their street addresses. It offers unlikely juxtapositions: Daniel Goulding, carpenter; William Grace, professor of Greek at the Catholic Seminary; John Graeff, wine merchant; G. C. Grammer, grocer, Mrs. J. G. Graham, widow; Alice Hepburn, midwife; Joseph Herbert, ship carpenter; "Nathaniel Herbert (col'd man), ass't messenger general post office . . ." Marmaduke Dove was a sailing master at the Navy Yard and "Charles Blackson (col'd man)" held the mysterious position of "shearer at the glass house."

During his presidency, Thomas Jefferson, seeking to improve the quality of the Marine Band, brought to Washington a group of Italian musicians -- and the 1822 list of almost uniformly Anglo- Saxon names sparkles with a few remaining exotics: Venerando Pullizi, fife major of the Marine Band, Felice Pullizzi a musician in the band, Lewis Carusi, a dancing master.

Perhaps it's true after all that summer heat softens the brain and reading tastes change. Why else would an alphabetical list of the names of people who walked our streets, went to work in federal government buildings, suffered overcharges for the ride from the Capitol Square to the south end of New Jersey Avenue and bought their books at Pishey Thompson's more than a century and a half ago make such compelling porch reading?

". . . Mizzies, James, boatswain at N Yrd . . . Mitchell, Richard, carter, 11E near bridge . . . Mohum, Phillip, laborer, 3W btw. F and G . . . Monroe, James, president of the United States at the president's house . . . Monroe, James, engineer at Dyer's steam mill . . . Moody, J., shoe maker, corner Penn av and 11E . . ."