Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Froth of July!

Philadelphia, 1786
"The New Religion had crested better than twenty years before," the Revd Cherrycoke explains, "--by the 'sixties we were well into a Descent, that grew more vertiginous with the days, ever toward some great Trough whose terrible Depth no one knew."

"Or, 'yet knows.'" The intermittently gloomy Ethelmer. As so often, the Revd finds himself looking for Tenebrae's reactions to the thoughts of her Cousin the University man. "All respect, Sir, wouldn't the scientifick thing have been to keep note, through the years after, of those claiming rebirth in Christ? To see how they did,-- how long the certainty lasted? To see who was telling the truth, and how much of it?"

"Oh, there were scoundrels about, to be sure," says the Revd, "claiming falsely for purposes of Commerce, an Awakening they would not have recogniz'd had it shouted to them by Name. But enough people had shar'd the experience, that Charlatans were easily expos'd. That was the curious thing. So many, having been thro' it together.

"You should have seen this place the time Whitefield came. All Philadelphia, delirious with Psalms. People standing up on Ladders at the church windows, Torch-light bright as Midday. Direct experience of Christ, hitherto the painfully earn'd privilege of Hermits in the desert, was in the Instant, amid the best farmland on Earth, freely being given to a town by Burghers and Churchfolk.-- They need only accept. How could a world have remained right-side-up after days like those? 'Twas the Holy Ghost, conducting its own Settlement of America. George the Third might claim it, but 'twas the Ghost that rul'd, and rules yet, even in Deistic times."

"Say." DePugh considering. "No wonder there was a Revolution."

"Hmph. Some Revolution," remarks Euphrenia.

"Why, Euph!" cries her sister.

"How not?" protests Ethelmer. "Excuse me, Ma'am,-- but as you must appreciate how even your sort of Musick is changing, recall what Plato said in his 'Republick',-- 'When the forms of Musick change, 'tis a promise of civil Disorder.'"

"I believe his Quarrel was with the Dithyrambists," the Revd smoothly puts in, "--who were not changing the Forms of Song, he felt, so much as mixing one up with another, or abandoning them altogether, as their madness might dictate."

"Just what I keep listening for, 'Thelmer," Euphrenia nods, "in the songs and hymns of your own American day, yet do I seek in vain after madness, and Rapture,-- hearing but a careful attending to the same Forms, the same Interests, as of old,-- and have you noticed the way that ev'rything, suddenly, has begun to gravitate toward B-flat major? That's a sign of trouble ahead. Marches and Anthems, for Triumphs that have not yet been made real. Already 'tis possible to walk the streets of New-York, passing among Buskers and Mongers, from one street-air to the next, and whistle along, and never have to change Key from B-flat major."

"Ah. And yet... If I may?" The young man seats himself at the Clavier, and arpeggiates a few major chords. "In C, if ye like,-- here is something that the fellows sing at University, when we are off being merry,-- 'To Anacreon in Heaven''s its name,-- I'll spare you the words, lest the Innocence of any Ear in the Room be assaulted." Tenebrae has invented and refin'd a way of rolling her eyes, undetectable to any save her Target, upon whom the effect is said to be devastating. Ethelmer's reaction is not easy to detect, save that he is blinking rapidly, and forgets, for a moment, where Middle C is.

The Air he plays to them would be martial in all but its Tempo, being more of a Minuet,-- thirty-two measures in all,-- which by its end has feet tapping and necks a-sway. "Here, I say, is the New Form in its Essence,-- Four Stanzas,-- sentimentally speaking, a 'Sandwich," with the third eight 'Bars' as the Filling,-- that Phrase," playing it, "ascending like a Sky-Rocket, its appeal to the Emotions primitive as an experienced in the Act of--"


"--of, of, Eating, that's all I was going to say...," hands spread in gawky appeal.

She shakes her Finger at him, tho' as the Revd can easily see, in nought but Play.

"And this is the sort of thing you lads are up to," he avuncularly rumbles, "out there over Delaware? Anatomizing your own drinking songs, till you be questioning earthly, nay Heavenly, Powers?


"...South Philadelphia Ballad-singers," Ethelmer has meanwhile been instructing the room, "generally Tenors, who are said, in their Succession, to constitute a Chapter in the secret History of a Musick yet to be, if not the Modal change Plato fear'd, then one he did not foresee."

"Not even he." His mathematickal cousin DePugh is disquieted.

"My point exactly!" cries Ethelmer, who has been edging toward the Spirits, mindful that at some point he shall have to edge past his Cousin Tenebrae. "'Tis ever the sign of Revolutionary times, that Street-Airs become Hymns, and Roist'ring-Songs Anthems,-- just as Plato fear'd,-- hast heard the Negro Musick, the flatted Fifths, the vocal portamenti,-- 'tis there sings your Revolution. These late ten American years were but Slaughter of this sort and that. Now begins your true Inversion of the World."

"Don't know, Coz. Much of your Faith seems invested in the novel Musick,--"

"Where better?" asks young Ethelmer confidently. "Is it not the very Rhythm of the Engines, the Clamor of the Mills, the Rock of the Oceans, the Roll of the Drums in the night, why if one wish'd to give it a Name.--"

"Surf Music!" DePugh cries.

"Percussion," Brae, sweet as a Pie.

"Very well to both of ye,-- nonetheless,-- as you, DePugh, shall, one full Moon not too distant, be foung haggling in the Alleys with Caribbean Negroes, over the price of a Guitar upon which to strum this very Musick, so shall you, Miss, be dancing to it, at your Wedding."

--Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

1 comment:

Will Divide said...

T.P.'s best novel, for my money.

But what do i rxefwja?