The Wayfarer’s Song, Installment 11

November 15, 2014

An experiment in point of view.

On the other hand, some evangelists were simply opportunists. After the American Revolution came and went, a brash, itinerate parson named Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825) stalked Washington to be his patron. I say this as the true culture entrepreneur and new-fangled spinner of yarns, Weems was also a cultural entrepreneur and new-fangled spinner of yarns. Fortuna is a humbug creature… she can be blue eyes and smiles and all billet deaux… so wags my rhyme: I caught my muse tonight beneath the sheets with another.

Weems knew that Fortuna could give way beneath her own weight. Amidst a land of plenty, many Americans surrendered to their inclination towards gluttony and bawdy entertainments. Weems lamented that America remained a land shrouded in a strange kind of ignorant darkness. In the rural areas of the frontier, people struggled with what their new freedoms actually meant. Their manners, according to Weems, were savage, their thoughts were uninformed, and their minds bitter. Weems recognized the need for the epic stories of homegrown heroes.

Chapbooks became his medium for sharing sermons and invented “frontier” tales. As a chapman, Weems charmed the common folk with his fiddle playing, soapbox, and plethora of little books on religion and right living. Weems was a humbug zealot who could not get his own parish, but he scraped enough together to continue writing and selling books preaching on proper diet, the hedonistic effects of adultery, drunkenness, and gambling that toiling miners could relate to. Weems produced short biographies of the first great Americans, including George Washington, Francis Marion, and Benjamin Franklin interwoven and embellished with stories from newspapers and personal anecdotes from Masonic brothers. He was, I believe, the first American folklorist.

Weems often left his wife and family for long periods to wander the dusty back roads to outposts, farms, and plantations down the Atlantic coast to the Southern States and into the interior frontier lands where few other chapmen tarried. Oh, the things he must have seen without a gun! The following verse was a typical conclusion to his sermons culled from The Bachelor’s Almanac (1799):

I am married and happy. With wonder hear this,

   Ye rovers and rakes of the age,

Who laugh at the mention of conjugal bliss,

   And who only loose passions engage.

 

You may laugh, but believe me you’re in the wrong,

   When you merrily marriage deride

For to marriage the permanent pleasures belong,

And in them we can only confide.

 

If you ask me, from whence my felicity flowers?

   My answer is sure, from a wife;

Whom for cheerfulness, sense and good nature I chose,

   Which are beauties that charm us for life.

 

To make home the seat of perpetual delight,

   Ev’ry hour each studies to sieze,

And we find ourselves happy from morning to night,

   By – our mutual endeavours to please!

Fortuna embraces a man’s worst fears, leading him into the path most feared; her tidings are short-lived, to build upon them is to build golden sand castles upon a beach to be torn asunder with the in-coming tides. (As A weapon, a woman’s tongue is worse than any other.) Weems saw industry, exemplified by hard work, steadiness, and diligence, as the strengths of an enduring nation. In Masonic language reminiscent to a description one of Moraley’s timepieces, Weems clarified, “Love the brotherhood. Let us remember that we are all the same materials wrought by the great Architect… that we are the same flesh and blood wonderfully multiplied into millions of brothers, and wisely gifted with different talents and a passion for society, to make up one great political body…”

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