J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

“A New-year Song, as heretofore!”

After Gen. Sir William Howe took Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, printer Benjamin Towne remained in the city and continued to print the Pennsylvania Evening Post. But he did have to adjust some of his attitudes of the previous year, as his apprentices’ verse for the New Year of 1778 displays:

New Year’s Verses,
Addressed to the KIND CUSTOMERS
of the
By the PRINTER’s LADS who carry about the same.
THURSDAY, January 1, 1778.

TOWNE’s Evening Post!---Good Masters pray,
Permit your Postboy still to pay
His annual Tribute at your Door,
A New-year Song, as heretofore!
Too long—I own it with remorse,
I labor’d, like a jaded Horse,
To fetch and carry loaded Squibs,
Bouncing Crackers, artful Fibs,
While CONGO’s Harness gall’d my Ribs!
Then Safety, Peace, and Freedom fled,
And Truth was fain to hide her Head;
But now, from those vile Shackles free,
Which fetter’d you as well as me,
I’ll tell the Truth, and gladly fly
To contradict each daring Lie;
Throw in my little Mite to bring
Each Wanderer back to bless the KING!
For then, to crown the rising Year,
Sweet smiling Peace shall soon appear,
With Joy and Plenty in the Rear.
This Hope we all may cherish now,
For thus has JOVE commission’d HOWE.

LATE a Council of GODS, by the Mandate of Jove
Was call’d on OLYMPUS to meet;
The THUNDERER spoke—and the MUSE from above
Descended his Speech to repeat.
Ye know, all ye Powers that attend on my Throne,
Your Will to my Pleasure must bow;
I will that those Gifts which you prize as your own,
Shall now be bestow’d on my HOWE.
Astraa, who long since had quitted the Earth,
Presented her Balance and Sword,
A Soul that does honor to Titles and Birth,
Imperial Juno conferr’d;
Fierce Mars gave his Chariot, gay Hermes his Wand.
Alcides his Club and his Bow,
Sweet Peace with her Olive Branch graced his Hand,
And Pallas did Wisdom bestow.
Thus adorn’d with Endowments and Armour divine,
The Hero by JOVE was address’d;
This Balance and Sword to thy Hands we consign,
Let Justice preside in thy Breast.
But temper’d with Mercy let Justice appear,
Majestic, yet mild and serene;
And still in the Heat of your martial Career,
Let the Prospect of Peace close the Scene.
Though Discord your generous Zeal to oppose,
Shall nourish Sedition and Hate,
Till your Friends feel the Horrors of War with your Foes;
Yet Success is ensur’d you by Fate.
Sweet Peace shall revive from the Horrors of War,
Her Empire again be restor’d,
Affection and Duty shall cover each Scar,
And HOWE by the World be ador’d.
Towne’s verse for the previous new year had wished the best for the Continental Congress, Gen. George Washington, and the Continental troops. But in December 1777 the Congress was in York, Washington and his army in Valley Forge. So Towne’s verse referred to the Congress as “Congo’s Harness.”

But then Howe pulled out of Philadelphia, and in July 1778 the Congress returned.

TOMORROW: Benjamin Towne makes his choice.


DebbieLynne said...

Okay...I see why you advised me to hold off on blogging about yesterday's song.

Interesting (to me, at least) that Towne's song supporting independence employed Christian imagery, while his song supporting the Crown used pagan mythology. Not sure what to make of that. Any thoughts?

J. L. Bell said...

When I see classical allusions in this period, I usually interpret them to carry the subtext of "I've been educated about the Greeks and Romans, so I'm a classy guy." Howe, as a British gentleman, apparently warranted a more classy level of fawning, and his supporters were deemed more likely to appreciate it.

Towne himself was an immigrant to Pennsylvania from Britain, and therefore may not have been steeped in American culture as much as people born and bred in New England, Virginia, &c. Philadelphia was a very cosmopolitan city then.

G. Lovely said...

The function of allusions to classical vs. Christian imagery in the 18th century reminds me of the use of accents in some epic 'sword and sandal' films of the 20th century. British accent = evil roman oppressor. American accent = heroic revolutionary upstart. (see: Ben Hur; Spartacus)