An Experiment in point of view.

Our next wayfarer, Samuel Woodworth (1784-1842), was the father of Selim, who came to my rescue more than once while I was still a green “Jack Doe” in Frisco. Samuel was born in the county of Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of four children born to a poor farmer (a veteran of the Revolutionary war) who tilled the barren soil on a small farm owned by his second wife. He was not able to get his sons a good education, for there was no school held in the village except during the winter months; and economy drove the selection of its teacher who was generally as ignorant as the school’s pupils. By the age of fourteen years, Samuel had a limited knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but a tangible gift for rhyme. Be not deceived, sadly, young Samuel knew that the occupation of poet that first finds a man poor, keeps him so.

How happy is the minstrel’s lot,

   Whose song each care beguiles

The frowns of Fortune fright him not,

   Nor does he court her smiles.

Contented with his tuneful lyre,

   His art can yield the rest;

He pours his soul along the wire,

   And rapture fires his breast.

Samuel’s father and his village teacher could see how bright the lad was – with characteristic quickness of apprehension and strength of memory – and they contrived to procure an education for him. A good preacher, Reverend Nehemiah Thomas (1766-1831) spent a winter teaching him English, Latin, and the classics. Samuel lamented that his education could only last but one short season:

And here the muse bewails her hapless bard,

   Whose cruel fate such golden prospects marr’d;

For hope once whisper’d to his ardent breast,

   “Thy dearest, fondest wish shall be possess’d;”

Unfolded to his view the classic page,

   And all its treasures promised ripening age;

Show’d Learning’s flowery path which led to Fame,

   Whose distant temple glitter’d with his name.

Illusive all! – the phantom all believe,

   Though still we know her promises deceive;

Chill penury convinced the wretch, too late,

   Her words were false, and his a hapless fate.

Young Samuel was compelled to choose a profession, and choose he did, that steadfast profession of Printer. Saying adieu to his dear family, he traveled to the metropolis of his native state, and bound himself as an apprentice to Benjamin Russell, Esq., the publisher and editor of the Columbian Centinel in the year 1806. Samuel, using the pseudonym “Selim,” began to get his poems published in various Boston publications; sadly, he did not retain any copies of these productions. Samuel began to dream of taking an extensive tour of the United States to broaden his understanding of the workings of the world; practicality compelled him to remain with this former master for another year. And alas, he was drawn into hazardous speculations that put him into debt.

Rather than get bound again he traveled destitute along the byways and highways to New York. Samuel hoped to procure employment in the different towns sufficient to continue his tour. His optimism was only dashed when after applying in every printer’s shop in every village, the response was the same: no work here. At length, he found himself in New Haven – a stranger with blistered feet and an empty purse. Not one to give up, Samuel wrote to a friend and asked for some money to carry him further on his quest, and the friend acquiesced. Having a genteel appearance and manners, along with a growing knowledge of human nature, Samuel procured decent lodgings despite poverty, and was treated with respect.

Finding himself comfortable, Samuel returned to his natural disposition that led to scribbling verses, falling in love, and forming transient amiable attachments. He worked for nine months, and decided to begin his own publication, purchased type and a press on credit and soon found himself received payment insufficient to cover costs. In short, he became the pail, dejected picture of despair. In 1810, Samuel formed an enduring amiable attachment with a young lady and the two married. Samuel was no longer a wayfarer.

Love Hitch

An Experiment in point of view.

Thomas Paine (1737-1804) arrived in America from England in 1774. He was a radical pamphleteer who furiously attacked Christianity. Paine, a great man and friend of wayfarers, asserted in his famous pamphlet Common Sense (1776) that “Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitous poor, it generally makes him too timorous to become wealthy.” Sometimes I hum the tune to Paine’s “The Liberty Tree” (1775) when the Spirit moves me:

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,

   The Goddess of Liberty came;

Ten thousand celestials directed the way

   And hither conducted the dame.

 

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,

   Where millions with millions agree,

She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,

   And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

 

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,

   Like a native it flourished and bore;

The fame of its fruit drew nations around,

   To seek out this peaceable shore.

 

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,

   For freemen like brothers agree;

With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,

   And their temple was Liberty Tree.

 

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,

   Their bread in contentment they ate

Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,

   The cares of the grand and the great.

 

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,

   And supported her power on the sea;

Her battles they fought, with getting a groat,

   For the honor of Liberty Tree.

 

But hear, O ye swains, ‘tis a tale most profane,

   How all the tyrannical powers,

Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,

    To cut down this guardian of ours;

 

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,

   Though the land let the sound of it flee,

Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,

   In defense of our Liberty Tree.

Likewise, his The Rights of Man is sung to a traditional melody. I’ve played it on the fiddle for little Lotta to dance to; the Irish in the camps hear it and stamp their feet in solidarity. For those who march for peace, The Rights of Consciousness goes great with a fife tune – though it is mighty pretty heard on a dulcimer play by a lady in hoops. Now Issachar Bates (1758-1837) was a conundrum. A patriot, he became a pacifist; a father of nine children, he embraced celibacy. Brother Issacher was an arresting pacifist – he had misgivings about serving in any war; music became his ticket to a broader world. I learned a lot from his legend. Bates witnessed a sign of wonder in skies above New England in 1769 before the Revolution. It was like the day when God made the sun stand still in the midst of heaven for Joshua. A sign of God’s protection in an imminent battle, a peculiar dark cloud gathered and remained motionless and suspended in the skies over Massachusetts for a day before moving over a town where it swelled, looking black and fierce. The cloud began to roar and bellow, blow and thunder, vomiting smoke and fire and raging like Aetna in a thousand flames in a day that was like no other for New Englanders before it or after it. When he became a Shaker, Brother Issacher shook off soldiers’ pensions offered, and never fought in any other war.

Time is like a bubble floating on the main;

   Puff’d with joy or trouble, bursts and forms again,

On high waves a fleeting, takes its windy race;

   Down ‘tis next retreating takes the lowest place.

So in all my notions tossing up and down,

   Puff’d with various notions, how I’ll win the crown.

Time will still be fleeting, rifles all my plans;

   I am sick of fleeting, let my days be few,

I’ll in my last retreating, bid old time adieu.

Source: Carol Medicott. Issacher Bates: A Shaker’s Journey. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2013.

An Experiment in point of view.

The wayfarer learns that any man can withstand adversity, but character is only truly tested with a taste of power. Thought by some to be the fickle daughter of Jupiter, Fortune might bring good luck or bad. Those men feeling the affects of bad luck accuse her of being capricious as a butterfly. Those who do not trust in God summon Fortuna. If she does not come through as we hope, they called her “two-faced.” I would never court a Belle with such a cutting tongue. Fortuna is an enchanting queen with full dominion and a flouncing hoop skirt; the more hoops the women buy, the sooner men are busted.

As wayfarers of various ranks grapple with contemporary semantics of dependence and independence, we wander clueless as to the true nature of Fortuna’s intent. We seek her material assets and not her inner being as a reflection of Spirit. But, I believe, life’s pathway is fraught with pleasures. To help my rhymes go by, what little things I see myself, I mention in my songs.

In the physical world, conflicting masculine forces struggle to influence power and distributions of wealth as nations firmly seize mechanisms to build continuous wealth. The only viable means for an ordinary man to leverage power is through education; the fortune hunter seeks wealth and comfort through advantageous marriage. Sadly, for many good men there is too little to leverage; we are compelled to leave loved-ones and to place our futures at the mercy of a mistress who will not commit to our well-being.

I have often pulled out my fiddle to play this old tune, but cannot improve on the original phraseology, and would not try. A solitary moment in a winter wood accompanied only by the winds conversing with tree voices, so this song lingers in the soul:

Fortune, my foe, why dost thou frown on me?

   And will they favors never lighter be?

Wilt Thou, I say, forever breed my pain?

   And wilt thou not restore my joys again?

 

In vain I sigh, in vain I wail and weep,

   In vain my eyes refrain from quiet sleep;

In vain I she’d my tears both night and day,

    In vain my love my sorrows do bewray.

 

Then will I leave in Fortune’s hands,

   My dearest love, in most inconstant hand,

And only serve the sorrows due to me:

   Sorrow, hereafter, thou shalt my Mistress be.

 

Ah silly Soul art thou so afraid?

   Mourn not, my dear, nor be so dismayed.

Fortune cannot with all her power and skill,

   Enforce my heart to think thee any ill.

 

Live thou in bliss, and banish death to Hell;  

   All careful thought see thou from thee expel;

As thou dost wish, thy love agrees to be,

   For proof thereof, will behold, I come to thee.

 

Die not in fear, live not in discontent

   Be thou not slain where blood was never meant,

Revive again, to faint thou has no need.

   The less afraid, the better thou shalt speed.

An Experiment in point of view.

I believe, ballads ought only be sung by old spinsters by the fire:

Old maids and futzy batchelor with wonton widows too,

   When you intend to marry, know what you must go through,

But rather than lead apes into hell, along with us do go…

   No horned brother dare makes game, they are cuckolds all-a-row.

Ballads tell stories while folksongs consist of floating verses. Ballads convey epic themes both human and supernatural with plots containing adventure, comic, love, and tragedy told in verse. Ballads are literature of the people. The narratives in ballads generally develop by means of dialogue. Now our American ballads chronicle adventures, scandals and tragedies that were similar in scope to subjects found in chapbooks. The early ballad singers of course performed without instrumentation. They might chronicle a specific incident, but they often get adapted with hearsay and rumor over time, creating and reinforcing legends. Ballads are true indicators of the values of the society and times in which they were written and performed. Conversely, broadside ballads are songs published on single sheets of paper. They are sentimental, declamatory, or scandalous in content and sold on the streets in large urban areas with other broadsides, almanacs, chapbooks, and satirical prints. The ballad known as “James Bird” tells the story of Marine soldier James Bird who demonstrated great bravery during the Battle for Lake Erie in 1813, only to be convicted and executed for desertion when he took off to see his beloved for a long weekend.

An Experiment in point of view

Wayfarers’ songs are work songs, sea shanties, street cries, military cadence and jody calls, and protest songs. Songs for miners, lumberjacks, cowboys and factory workers get sung in rhythmic a cappella that synchronize group action and relieve the loneliness; they are boasts sung during off- hours in social settings. To while away sleepless hours, pitching voices high or low through the intricacies of song, the watchman over time learns to keep in tune. As for me, there has always been a woman to let me be her tom.

Little Tomcat

The wayfarer’s song is seminal to historic memory: the means for groups to remember and perpetuate shared values, experiences, and knowledge. For us to remember, they must have four features: they must be repeated over time and through multiple currents; they must be conspicuousness in intensity to remain in the consciousness; they must be recognizable and standard, and embellish-able; and they must be bold and compelling enough to announce that more complex signal will follow.

An Experiment in point of view

I admit that I mimic the great poets and embellish their sensibilities; competitors and former friends say I am an imposter still masked. Men learn to mimic with their mouths the trilling notes of birds long before they are able to join together in tuneful song. It was akin to the whistling of the breeze through hollow reeds that taught the Ancients to blow through hollow hemlock stalks. After that the wayfarer, troubadours and jongleurs, and wandering minstrels (or nomads like myself) learned by slow degrees the plaintive melodies that with the touch of a player’s fingers flow from the flute.

Coordinated action throughout evolution, I believe, comes to us today in call and response songs inherited from prehistoric kinfolk. Employed to foster “muscular” bonding, these musical dialogs trigger elemental human emotions: love, hate, and fear. We reflect patterns of human communications with a succession of a call phrases in our provincial tongues, the langue d’oc, followed by a direct comment or response. If the sun smiles upon us, then comes the time for joking, talking, and merry laughter. I speak of the heyday of the rustic muse, when he dances out of step, moving limbs clumsily with feet stamping on mother earth.

An Experiment in point of view

Folklorists traditionally capture songs in regions of isolated poverty. Be not deceived, the wayfarer’s song is a phenomenon of cosmopolitanism conceived and incubated in the intense heat of cultural hearths, be they multicultural urban centers or densely packed boomtown camps. Men compelled to wander in search of purpose and utopia carry music from home and hearth. This music imbued with intangible nomadic qualities, hopes, and fears, morphs within shady alleyways and busy bars; it binds wayfarers together even as they compete for opportunity in boom times, but it also shares the sorrow, death, and bust times. Music aligns strangers into kin groups. The fortunes of Liberty get tested with each generation; we must not limit posterity to our limited understanding of freedom, for posterity is born of another time. The wayfarer quickly learns that what does not kill him, will make him stronger.

Anthropologists argue that we inherit music from our male primate ancestors who used it to attract mates. Epic songs, the Ancients believed, were derived from the Muses who ruled over all creative and intellectual endeavors. Evolutionists suggest that music is an action like art and language that changes with social dynamics and cross-cultural nuances through time. They also say that music is practical in ritualized mother-infant exchanges that are shaped by universal common understanding. Song, scientists today argue, is simply various courtship displays akin to those expressed by other complex, varied, and interesting animal sounds found in nature. Music, they agree, is not an object of physical sustenance – like food or water – it provides no protection against attackers. However, they discern, it serves a social function by fostering deeper relationships shaped by both biology and culture. Melodies take shape far from the busy highways, amid groves and thickets in the solitudes where the wayfarer spends his sunlit leisure.

Our campus has updated its Gator mascot to look more aggressive, and this old song came to mind… Samuel Woodworth (1784-1842) wrote the popular broadside ballad, “The Hunters of Kentucky,” originally known as “New Orleans,” as a tribute to Andrew Jackson’s decisive victory during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

YE gentlemen and ladies fair;

   Who grace this famous city,

Just listen if you’ve time to spare,

   While I rehearse a ditty;

And for the opportunity

   Conceive yourselves quite lucky,

For ‘tis not often that you see

   A hunter from Kentucky.

Oh Kentucky, the hunters of Kentucky!

   Oh Kentucky, the hunters of Kentucky!

 

We are a hardy, free-born race,

   Each man to fear a stranger;

Whate’er the game we join in chase

   Despoiling time and danger

And if a daring foe annoys,

   Whate’er his strength and forces,

We’ll show him that Kentucky boys

   Are Alligator horses.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

I s’pose you’ve read it in the prints,

   How Packenham attempted

To make old History Jackson wince,

   But soon his scheme repented,

For se, with rifles ready cock’d,

   Thought such occasion lucky,

And soon around the gen’ral flock’d

   The hunters of Kentucky.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

You’ve hear, I s’pose how New Orleans

   Is fam’d for wealth and beauty,

There’s girls ev’ry hue it seems,

   From snowy white to sooty,

So Packenham he made his brags

   If he in fight was luckey

He’d have their girls and cotton bags,

   In spite of old Kentucky.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

But Jackson he was wide awake,

   And was not scar’d at trifles,

For well he knew what aim we take

   With our Kentucky rifles.

So he led us down to Cypress swamp.

   The ground was low and mucky,

There stood John Bull in martial pomp

   And here was old Kentucky.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

A bank was rais’d to hide our breasts,

   Not that we thought of dying,

But that we always like to rest,

   Unless the game is flying.

Behind it stood our little force.

   None wished it to be greater,

For ev’ry man was half a horse,

   And half an alligator.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

They did not let our patience tire,

   Before they show’d their faces;

We did not choose to waste our fire,

   So snugly kept our places.

But when so near we saw them wink,

   We thought it time to stop ‘em,

And ‘twould have done you good I think,

   To see Kentuckians drop ‘em.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

 

They found, at last, ‘twas vain to fight,

   Where head was all the booty,

And so they wisely took flight,

   And left us all our beauty.

And now, if danger e’er annoys,

   Remember what our trade is,

Just send for us Kentucky boys,

   And we’ll protect ye, ladies.

Oh Kentucky, &c.

The song became Jackson’s presidential campaign song in 1828, and the song found its way into popular culture when author James Fennimore Cooper mentioned it in his 1827 novel called The Prairie. He went on to write the classic broadside ballad called, “The Old Oaken Bucket” that was published in the New York Republican Chronicle on June 3, 1818 and was later set to music by George F. Kiallmark in 1826. Ol’ Samuel’s dream of crossing the country would eventually come to pass; he would find his way to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast posthumously.

 

From the ballad by Woodward called Hunters of Kentucky.

From the ballad by Woodward called Hunters of Kentucky.