Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon man."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 44

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 45
    Previous Chapter
    REBEL MUSIC--SINGULAR LACK OF THE CREATIVE POWER AMONG THE SOUTHERNERS
    --CONTRAST WITH SIMILAR PEOPLE ELSEWHERE--THEIR FAVORITE MUSIC, AND WHERE
    IT WAS BORROWED FROM--A FIFER WITH ONE TUNE.

    I have before mentioned as among the things that grew upon one with
    increasing acquaintance with the Rebels on their native heath, was
    astonishment at their lack of mechanical skill and at their inability to
    grapple with numbers and the simpler processes of arithmetic. Another
    characteristic of the same nature was their wonderful lack of musical
    ability, or of any kind of tuneful creativeness.

    Elsewhere, all over the world, people living under similar conditions to
    the Southerners are exceedingly musical, and we owe the great majority of
    the sweetest compositions which delight the ear and subdue the senses to
    unlettered song-makers of the Swiss mountains, the Tyrolese valleys, the
    Bavarian Highlands, and the minstrels of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

    The music of English-speaking people is very largely made up of these
    contributions from the folk-songs of dwellers in the wilder and more
    mountainous parts of the British Isles. One rarely goes far out of the
    way in attributing to this source any air that he may hear that
    captivates him with its seductive opulence of harmony. Exquisite
    melodies, limpid and unstrained as the carol of a bird in Spring-time,
    and as plaintive as the cooing of a turtle-dove seems as natural products
    of the Scottish Highlands as the gorse which blazons on their hillsides
    in August. Debarred from expressing their aspirations as people of
    broader culture do--in painting, in sculpture, in poetry and prose, these
    mountaineers make song the flexible and ready instrument for the
    communication of every emotion that sweeps across their souls.

    Love, hatred, grief, revenge, anger, and especially war seems to tune
    their minds to harmony, and awake the voice of song in them hearts. The
    battles which the Scotch and Irish fought to replace the luckless Stuarts
    upon the British throne--the bloody rebellions of 1715 and 1745, left a
    rich legacy of sweet song, the outpouring of loving, passionate loyalty
    to a wretched cause; songs which are today esteemed and sung wherever the
    English language is spoken, by people who have long since forgotten what
    burning feelings gave birth to their favorite melodies.

    For a century the bones of both the Pretenders have moldered in alien
    soil; the names of James Edward, and Charles Edward, which were once
    trumpet blasts to rouse armed men, mean as little to the multitude of
    today as those of the Saxon Ethelbert, and Danish Hardicanute, yet the
    world goes on singing--and will probably as long as the English language
    is spoken--"Wha'll be King but Charlie?" "When Jamie Come Hame," "Over
    the Water to Charlie," "Charlie is my Darling," "The Bonny Blue Bonnets
    are Over the Border," "Saddle Your Steeds and Awa," and a myriad others
    whose infinite tenderness and melody no modern composer can equal.

    Yet these same Scotch and Irish, the same Jacobite English, transplanted
    on account of their chronic rebelliousness to the mountains of Virginia,
    the Carolinas, and Georgia, seem to have lost their tunefulness, as some
    fine singing birds do when carried from their native shores.

    The descendants of those who drew swords for James and Charles at Preston
    Pans and Culloden dwell to-day in the dales and valleys of the
    Alleganies, as their fathers did in the dales and valleys of the
    Grampians, but their voices are mute.

    As a rule the Southerners are fond of music. They are fond of singing
    and listening to old-fashioned ballads, most of which have never been
    printed, but handed down from one generation to the other, like the
    'Volklieder' of Germany. They sing these with the wild, fervid
    impressiveness characteristic of the ballad singing of unlettered people.
    Very many play tolerably on the violin and banjo, and occasionally one is
    found whose instrumentation may be called good. But above this hight
    they never soar. The only musician produced by the South of whom the
    rest of the country has ever heard, is Blind Tom, the negro idiot. No
    composer, no song writer of any kind has appeared within the borders of
    Dixie.

    It was a disappointment to me that even the stress of the war, the
    passion and fierceness with which the Rebels felt and fought, could not
    stimulate any adherent of the Stars and Bars into the production of a
    single lyric worthy in the remotest degree of the magnitude of the
    struggle, and the depth of the popular feeling. Where two million
    Scotch, fighting to restore the fallen fortunes of the worse than
    worthless Stuarts, filled the world with immortal music, eleven million
    of Southerners, fighting for what they claimed to be individual freedom
    and national life, did not produce any original verse, or a bar of music
    that the world could recognize as such. This is the fact; and an
    undeniable one. Its explanation I must leave to abler analysts
    than I am.

    Searching for peculiar causes we find but two that make the South differ
    from the ancestral home of these people. These two were Climate and
    Slavery. Climatic effects will not account for the phenomenon, because
    we see that the peasantry of the mountains of Spain and the South of
    France as ignorant as these people, and dwellers in a still more
    enervating atmosphere-are very fertile in musical composition, and their
    songs are to the Romanic languages what the Scotch and Irish ballads are
    to the English.

    Then it must be ascribed to the incubus of Slavery upon the intellect,
    which has repressed this as it has all other healthy growths in the
    South. Slavery seems to benumb all the faculties except the passions.
    The fact that the mountaineers had but few or no slaves, does not seem to
    be of importance in the case. They lived under the deadly shadow of the
    upas tree, and suffered the consequences of its stunting their
    development in all directions, as the ague-smitten inhabitant of the
    Roman Campana finds every sense and every muscle clogged by the filtering
    in of the insidious miasma. They did not compose songs and music,
    because they did not have the intellectual energy for that work.

    The negros displayed all the musical creativeness of that section.
    Their wonderful prolificness in wild, rude songs, with strangely
    melodious airs that burned themselves into the memory, was one of the
    salient characteristics of that down-trodden race. Like the Russian
    serfs, and the bondmen of all ages and lands, the songs they made and
    sang all had an undertone of touching plaintiveness, born of ages of dumb
    suffering. The themes were exceedingly simple, and the range of subjects
    limited. The joys, and sorrows, hopes and despairs of love's
    gratification or disappointment, of struggles for freedom, contests with
    malign persons and influences, of rage, hatred, jealousy, revenge, such
    as form the motifs for the majority of the poetry of free and strong
    races, were wholly absent from their lyrics. Religion, hunger and toil
    were their main inspiration. They sang of the pleasures of idling in the
    genial sunshine; the delights of abundance of food; the eternal happiness
    that awaited them in the heavenly future, where the slave-driver ceased
    from troubling and the weary were at rest; where Time rolled around in
    endless cycles of days spent in basking, harp in hand, and silken clad,
    in golden streets, under the soft effulgence of cloudless skies, glowing
    with warmth and kindness emanating from the Creator himself. Had their
    masters condescended to borrow the music of the slaves, they would have
    found none whose sentiments were suitable for the ode of a people
    undergoing the pangs of what was hoped to be the birth of a new nation.

    The three songs most popular at the South, and generally regarded as
    distinctively Southern, were "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "Maryland, My
    Maryland," and "Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland." The first of
    these was the greatest favorite by long odds. Women sang, men whistled,
    and the so-called musicians played it wherever we went. While in the
    field before capture, it was the commonest of experiences to have Rebel
    women sing it at us tauntingly from the house that we passed or near
    which we stopped. If ever near enough a Rebel camp, we were sure to hear
    its wailing crescendo rising upon the air from the lips or instruments of
    some one more quartered there. At Richmond it rang upon us constantly
    from some source or another, and the same was true wherever else we went
    in the so-called Confederacy.

    All familiar with Scotch songs will readily recognize the name and air as
    an old friend, and one of the fierce Jacobite melodies that for a long
    time disturbed the tranquility of the Brunswick family on the English
    throne. The new words supplied by the Rebels are the merest doggerel,
    and fit the music as poorly as the unchanged name of the song fitted to
    its new use. The flag of the Rebellion was not a bonnie blue one; but
    had quite as much red and white as azure. It did not have a single star,
    but thirteen.

    Near in popularity was "Maryland, My Maryland." The versification of
    this was of a much higher Order, being fairly respectable. The air is
    old, and a familiar one to all college students, and belongs to one of
    the most common of German household songs:

    O, Tannenbaum! O, Tannenbaum, wie tru sind deine Blatter!
    Da gruenst nicht nur zur Sommerseit,
    Nein, auch in Winter, when es Schneit, etc.

    which Longfellow has finely translated,

    O, hemlock tree! O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches!
    Green not alone in Summer time,
    But in the Winter's float and rime.
    O, hemlock tree O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches! Etc.

    The Rebel version ran:

    MARYLAND.

    The despot's heel is on thy shore,
    Maryland!
    His touch is at thy temple door,
    Maryland!
    Avenge the patriotic gore
    That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
    And be the battle queen of yore,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Hark to the wand'ring son's appeal,
    Maryland!
    My mother State, to thee I kneel,
    Maryland!
    For life and death, for woe and weal,
    Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
    And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Thou wilt not cower in the duet,
    Maryland!
    Thy beaming sword shall never rust
    Maryland!
    Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
    Remember Howard's warlike thrust--
    And all thy slumberers with the just,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Come! 'tis the red dawn of the day,
    Maryland!
    Come! with thy panoplied array,
    Maryland!
    With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
    With Watson's blood at Monterey,
    With fearless Lowe and dashing May,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Comet for thy shield is bright and strong,
    Maryland!
    Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
    Maryland!
    Come! to thins own heroic throng,
    That stalks with Liberty along,
    And give a new Key to thy song,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
    Maryland!
    Virginia should not call in vain,
    Maryland!
    She meets her sisters on the plain--
    'Sic semper' 'tis the proud refrain,
    That baffles millions back amain,
    Maryland!
    Arise, in majesty again,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    I see the blush upon thy cheek,
    Maryland!
    But thou wast ever bravely meek,
    Maryland!
    But lo! there surges forth a shriek
    From hill to hill, from creek to creek--
    Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    Thou wilt not yield the vandal toll.
    Maryland!
    Thou wilt not crook to his control,
    Maryland!
    Better the fire upon thee roll,
    Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
    Than crucifixion of the soul,
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    I hear the distant Thunder hem,
    Maryland!
    The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum.
    Maryland!
    She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb--
    Hnzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
    She breathes--she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
    Maryland! My Maryland!

    "Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland," was another travesty, of
    about the same literary merit, or rather demerit, as "The Bonnie Blue
    Flag." Its air was that of the well-known and popular negro minstrel
    song, "Billy Patterson." For all that, it sounded very martial and
    stirring when played by a brass band.

    We heard these songs with tiresome iteration, daily and nightly, during
    our stay in the Southern Confederacy. Some one of the guards seemed to
    be perpetually beguiling the weariness of his watch by singing in all
    keys, in every sort of a voice, and with the wildest latitude as to air
    and time. They became so terribly irritating to us, that to this day the
    remembrance of those soul-lacerating lyrics abides with me as one of the
    chief of the minor torments of our situation. They were, in fact, nearly
    as bad as the lice.

    We revenged ourselves as best we could by constructing fearfully wicked,
    obscene and insulting parodies on these, and by singing them with
    irritating effusiveness in the hearing of the guards who were inflicting
    these nuisances upon us.

    Of the same nature was the garrison music. One fife, played by an
    asthmatic old fellow whose breathings were nearly as audible as his
    notes, and one rheumatic drummer, constituted the entire band for the
    post. The fifer actually knew but one tune "The Bonnie Blue Flag"
    --and did not know that well. But it was all that he had, and he played it
    with wearisome monotony for every camp call--five or six times a day,
    and seven days in the week. He called us up in the morning with it for a
    reveille; he sounded the "roll call" and "drill call," breakfast, dinner
    and supper with it, and finally sent us to bed, with the same dreary wail
    that had rung in our ears all day. I never hated any piece of music as I
    came to hate that threnody of treason. It would have been such a relief
    if the old asthmatic who played it could have been induced to learn
    another tune to play on Sundays, and give us one day of rest. He did
    not, but desecrated the Lord's Day by playing as vilely as on the rest of
    the week. The Rebels were fully conscious of their musical deficiencies,
    and made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to induce the musicians among
    the prisoners to come outside and form a band.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 45
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a John McElroy essay and need some advice, post your John McElroy essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?