Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Great Fun Reading: Early American 4th of July

I am re-reading Captain Frederick Marryat's Diary in America (1839) for that pinpoint citation purpose previously mentioned.  Marryat was a Royal Navy officer who wrote some very popular novels and decided to visit America where his novels turned out to be more popular than the author.  Canada had a rebellion while he was in America, and being a patriotic Briton, offered his services to help suppress the rebellion at a time when Americans were very supportive of the rebellion.  Nonetheless, I thought you might enjoy his account of the 4th of July in New York City:

THE 4th of July, the sixty-first anniversary of American Independence!
Pop-pop-bang-pop-pop-bang-bang-bang! Mercy on us!  How fortunate it is that anniversaries come only once a year. Well, the Americans may have great reason to be proud of this day, and for the deeds of their forefathers, but why do they get so confoundedly drunk? why, on this day of independence, should they become so dependent upon posts and rails for support?  The day is at last over; my head aches, but there will be many more aching heads to-morrow morning!
What a combination of vowels and consonants have been put together! what strings of tropes, metaphors, and allegories, have been, used on this day! what varieties and gradations of eloquence!  There are at least fifty thousand cities, towns, villages, and hamlets, spread over the surface of America--in each the Declaration of · Independence has been read; in all one, and in some two or three orations have been delivered, with as much gunpowder as in the squibs and crackers. But let me describe what I actually saw.

The commemoration commenced, if the day did not, on evening of the 3d, by the municipal police going round and pasting up placards, informing the citizens of New York, that all persons letting off fireworks would be taken into custody, which notice was immediately followed up by the little boys proving their inde­pendence of the authorities, by letting off squibs, crackers, and bombs; and cannons, made out of shin bones, which flew in the face of every passenger, in the exact ratio that the little boys flew in the face of the authorities. This continued the whole night, and thus was ushered in the great and glorious day, illumined by a bright and glaring sun (as if bespoken on purpose by the mayor and corporation), with the thermometer at 90° in the shade. The first sight which met the eye after sunrise, was the precipitate escape, from a city visited with the plague of gunpowder, of respectable or timorous people in coaches, carriages, waggons, and every variety of vehicle. "My kingdom for a horse!" was the general cry of all those who could not stand fire. In the meanwhile, the whole atmosphere was filled with independence. Such was the quantity of American flags which were hoisted on board of the vessels, hung out of windows, or carried about by little boys, that you saw more stars at noon-day than ever could be counted on the brightest night. On each side of the whole length of Broadway, were ranged booths and stands, similar to those at an English fair, and on which were displayed small plates of oysters, with a fork stuck in the board opposite to each plate; clams sweltering in the hot sun; pine­apples, boiled hams, pies, puddings, barley-sugar, and many other indescribables. But what was the most remarkable, Broadway being three miles long, and the booths lining each side of it, in every booth there was a roast pig, large or small, as the centre attraction. Six miles of roast pig! and that in New York city alone; and roast pig in every other city, town, hamlet, and village, in the Union. What association can there be between roast pig and independence? Let it not be supposed that there was any deficiency in the very necessary articles of potation on this auspicious day: no! the booths were loaded with porter, ale, cyder, mead, brandy, wine, ginger-beer, pop, soda-water, whiskey, rum, punch, gin slings, cocktails, mint julips, besides many other compounds, to name which nothing but the luxuriance of American-English could invent a word. Certainly the preparations in the refreshment way were most imposing, and gave you some idea of what had to be gone through on this auspicious day. Martial music sounded from a dozen quarters at once; and as you turned your head, you tacked ~the first bars of a march from one band, the concluding bars of Yankee Doodle from another. At last the troops of militia and volunteers, who had been gathering in the park and other squares, .do their appearance, well dressed and well equipped, and, in honor of the day, marching as independently as they well could. I did not see them go through many manoeuvres, but there was one which they appeared to excel in, and that was grounding arms and: eating pies. I found that the current went towards Castle Garden, and away I went with it. There the troops were all collected on the green, shaded by the trees, and the effect was very beautiful. The artillery and infantry were drawn up in a line pointing to the water. The officers in their regimental dresses and long white feathers, generals and aides-de-camp, colonels, commandants, majors, all galloping up and down in front of the line,---white horses and long tails appearing the most fashionable and correct.- The crowds assembled were, as American crowds usually are qiuiet and well behaved. I recognised many of my literary ·friends turned into generals, and flourishing their swords instead –their pens. The scene was very animating; the shipping at the wharfs were loaded with star-spangled banners; steamers paddling in every direction, were covered with flags; the whole beautiful Sound was alive with boats and sailing vessels, all flaunting ... pennants and streamers. It was, as Ducrow would call it, a "Grand Military and Aquatic Spectacle."
Then the troops marched up into town again, and so did I follow them as I used to do the reviews in England, when a boy. All creation appeared to be independent on this day; some of the horses particularly so, for they would not keep "in no line not now how." Some preferred going sideways like crabs, others went backwards, some would not go at all, others went a great deal too fast, not a few parted company with their riders, whom they kicked off just to shew their independence; but let them go which way would, they could not avoid the squibs and crackers. And the women were in the same predicament: they might dance right, or dance left, it was only out of the frying-pan into the fire, for it was pop, pop; hang, hang; fizz, pop, bang, so that you literally trod upon gunpowder.
When the troops marched up Broadway, louder even than the music were to be heard the screams of delight from the children at the crowded windows on each side. "Ma! ma! there's pa!" "Oh! there's John." "Look at uncle on his big horse."

The troops did not march in very good order, because, independently of their not knowing how, there was a great deal of independence to contend with. At one time an omnibus and four would drive in and cut off the general and his staff from his division; at another, a cart would roll in and insist upon following close upon the band of music; so that it was a mixed procession--Generals, omnibus and four, music, cartloads of bricks, troops, omnibus and pair, artillery, hackney-coach, &c. &c. Notwithstanding all this, they at last arrived at the City Hall, when those who were old enough heard the Declaration of Independence read for the sixty-first time; and then it was-"Begone, brave army, and don't kick up a row."

I was invited to dine with the mayor and corporation at the City Hall. We sat down in the Hall of Justice, and certainly, great justice was done to the dinner, which, ( as the wife says to her husband after a party, where the second course follows the first with unusual celerity) "went off remarkably well." The crackers popped outside, and the champagne popped in. The celerity of the Americans at a public dinner is very commendable; they speak only now and then; and the toasts follow so fast, that you have just time to empty your glass, before you are requested to fill again. Thus the arranged toasts went off rapidly, and after them, any one might withdraw. I waited till the thirteenth toast, the last on the paper, to wit, the ladies of America; and, having previously, in a speech from the recorder, bolted Bunker's Hill and New Orleans, I thought I might as well bolt myself, as I wished to see the fireworks, which were to be very splendid.

Unless you are an amateur, there is no occasion to go to the various places of public amusement where the fireworks are let off, for they are sent up every where in such quantities that you .hardly know which way to turn your eyes. It is, however, adviseable to go into some place of safety, for the little boys and the big boys have all got their supply of rockets, which they fire off in the streets--some running horizontally up the pavement, and sticking onto the back of a passenger; and others mounting slantingdicularly and Paul-Prying into the bed-room windows on the third floor or attics, just to see how things are going on there. Look in any point of the compass, and you will see a shower of rockets in the sky: turn from New York to Jersey City, from Jersey City to Brooklyn, .and shower is answered by shower on either side of the water. Hoboken repeats the signal: and thus it is carried on to the east, the west, the north, and the south, from Rhode Island to the Missouri, from the Canada frontier to the Gulf of Mexico. At the various gardens the combinations were very beautiful, and exceeded .anything that I had witnessed in London or Paris. What with sea-serpents, giant rockets scaling heaven, Bengal lights, Chinese fires, Italian suns, fairy bowers, crowns of Jupiter, exeranthemums, Tartar temples, Vesta's diadems, magic circles, morning glories, stars of Columbia, and temples of liberty, all America was in a blaze; and, in addition to this mode of manifesting its joy, all America was tipsy.

There is something grand in the idea of national intoxication. ·In this world, vices on a grand scale dilate into virtues; he who murders one man, is strung up with ignominy; but he who murders twenty thousand has a statue to his memory, and is handed down posterity as a hero. A staggering individual is a laughable and, sometimes, a disgusting spectacle; but the whole of a vast continent reeling, offering a holocaust of its brains for mercies vouchsafed, is an appropriate tribute of gratitude for the rights of equality and the levelling spirit of their institutions. 


Eskyman said...

I wish that I lived in a free country, where small boys could fire off squibs, crackers, bombs and rockets; alas, I live in California. Here the Constitution is never read, even less followed, and the Declaration of Independence isn't heard even on Cinco de Mayo.

Here, we elect bombs to public office; they blow up our infrastructure, and give themselves huge pay-raises for doing so. I'd so like to put a rocket up their tails!

Billll said...

And no mention of fires. With a description like that I would expect the whole of New York to have been burnt to the ground.

Or maybe the actual risk is somewhat less that we have lately been led to believe.

Andy in San Diego and Elsewhere said...

A most excellent find. Seems like this would be worth re-posting on July 2 or 3 so we can see how to properly celebrate Independence Day!

Mike Gordon said...

90 degrees in the shade on July 4th 1839! Haven't we been told that high Summer temperatures are only a result of man made global warming.