Frederick Marryat was an English naval officer and novelist, whom some of you might recognize from his novel of shipboard life, “Mr. Midshipman Easy”. He visited North America in 1837, and published the diary of his travels in 1839 under the title, A Diary in America. This is an excerpt from that diary, written when he was in New York City:
“The 4th of July, the sixty-first anniversary of American independence!”
“Pop—pop—bang—pop—-pop—bang—bang—bang! Mercy on us! How fortunate it is that anniversaries come only once a-year. Well, the Americans may have great reason to be proud of this day, and of the deeds of their forefathers, but why do they get so confoundedly drunk? Why, on this day of independence, should they become so dependent upon posts and rails for support?—The day is at last over; my head aches, but there will be many more aching heads to-morrow morning!"
"What a combination of vowels and consonants have been put together! what strings of tropes, metaphors, and allegories have been used on this day! what varieties and graduations of eloquence! There are at least fifty thousand cities, towns, villages, and hamlets, spread over the surface of America—in each the Declaration of Independence has been read; in all one, and in some two or three, orations have been delivered, with as much gunpowder in them as in the squibs and crackers. But let me describe what I actually saw.”
Just as today, the police issued warnings previous to the day that those letting off fireworks would fall afoul of the law; just as today, this was answered by an immediate and continual volley of every possible form of firecracker and artillery, lasting well into the night. How better to show our independence than by thumbing our noses at the law?
“This continued the whole night, and thus was ushered in the great and glorious day, illumined by a bright and glaring sun (as if bespoken on purpose by the mayor and corporation), with the thermometer at 90° in the shade… in the meanwhile, the whole atmosphere was filled with independence. Such was the quantity of American flags which were hoisted on board of the vessels, hung out of windows, or carried about by little boys, that you saw more stars at noon-day than ever could be counted on the brightest night.”
“On each side of the whole length of Broadway, were ranged booths and stands, similar to those at an English fair, and on which were displayed small plates of oysters, with a fork stuck in the board opposite to each plate; clams sweltering in the hot sun; pineapples, boiled hams, pies, puddings, barley-sugar, and many other indescribables. But what was most remarkable, Broadway being three miles long, and the booths lining each side of it, in every booth there was a roast pig, large or small, as the centre attraction. Six miles of roast pig! and that in New York city alone; and roast pig in every other city, town, hamlet, and village, in the Union. What association can there be between roast pig and independence?"
What indeed? And to drink? You probably have a hint already from his diatribe against inebriates…
“Let it not be supposed that there was any deficiency in the very necessary articles of potation on this auspicious day: no! the booths were loaded with porter, ale, cider, mead, brandy, wine, ginger-beer, pop, soda-water, whiskey, rum, punch, gin slings, cocktails, mint juleps, besides many other compounds, to name which nothing but the luxuriance of American-English could invent a word. Certainly the preparations in the refreshment way were most imposing, and gave you some idea of what had to be gone through with on this auspicious day. “
And of course, music! We can’t have a celebration without music!
“Martial music sounded from a dozen quarters at once; and as you turned your head, you tacked to the first bars of a march from one band, the concluding bars of Yankee Doodle from another. At last the troops of militia and volunteers, who had been gathering in the park and other squares, made their appearance, well dressed and well equipped, and, in honour of the day, marching as independently as they well could. I did not see them go through many manoeuvres, but there was one which they appeared to excel in, and that was grounding arms and eating pies.”
From there he went to Castle Garden to see the artillery and infantry troops in line, their officers in bright regimentals on white horses. “The scene was very animating; the shipping at the wharfs were loaded with star-spangled banners; steamers paddling in every direction, were covered with flags; the whole beautiful Sound was alive with boats and sailing vessels, all flaunting with pennants and streamers.”
A parade followed in which neither the horses nor the troops marched in good order, the horses sometimes parting company with their riders, and wagons and other vehicles cutting into the lines.
“Notwithstanding all this, they at last arrived at the City Hall, when those who were old enough heard the Declaration of Independence read for the sixty-first time; and then it was—" Begone, brave army, and don't kick up a row."
“I was invited to dine with the mayor and corporation at the City Hall. We sat down in the Hall of Justice, and certainly, great justice was done to the dinner… The crackers popped outside, and the champagne popped in… I waited till the thirteenth toast, the last on the paper, to wit, the ladies of America; and, having previously, in a speech from the recorder, bolted Bunker's Hill and New Orleans, I thought I might as well bolt myself, as I wished to see the fireworks, which were to be very splendid… “
“Look in any point of the compass, and you will see a shower of rockets in the sky: turn from New York to Jersey City, from Jersey City to Brooklyn, and shower is answered by shower on either side of the water. Hoboken repeats the signal: and thus it is carried on to the east, the west, the north, and the south, from Rhode Island to the Missouri, from the Canada frontier to the Gulf of Mexico. At the various gardens the combinations were very beautiful, and exceeded anything that I had witnessed in London or Paris. …all America was in a blaze; and, in addition to this mode of manifesting its joy, all America was tipsy.”
“There is something grand in the idea of a national intoxication. In this world, vices on a grand scale dilate into virtues ; he who murders one man, is strung up with ignominy; but he who murders twenty thousand has a statue to his memory, and is handed down to posterity as a hero. A staggering individual is a laughable and, sometimes, a disgusting spectacle; but the whole of a vast continent reeling, offering a holocaust of its brains for mercies vouchsafed, is an appropriate tribute of gratitude for the rights of equality and the leveling spirit of their institutions.”
Captain [Frederick] Marryat, C.B., A Diary in America, with Remarks on Its Institutions (1839). pp 31-34.
Well, if you too have 90+ degrees in the shade (and it feels like 106), I don't recommend roasting anything else. Poach the salmon as you did last year, chill it, and serve it on lettuce with a CUCUMBER SAUCE:
Peel 1 to 2 cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and cut them into thin slices. Place them in a colander, sprinkle them with salt, and let them drain for about 20 minutes.
Mix 1/2 cup of mayonnaise with 1/2 cup of sour cream. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and chopped fresh parsley, with salt and pepper to taste (the recipe calls for white pepper. Use what you have).
Rinse the cucumber slices and pat them dry. Stir them into the mayonnaise mixture and chill the whole until ready to serve.
Cold roast beef, chicken, ham, a cold-cut and cheese platter, chilled marinated vegetables... these are good for a heat-wave picnic. Include lots of very cold drinks (and please remember that alcohol and heat are one deadly combination - alcohol and fireworks are another).
Artwork: John Simpson, Portrait of Frederick Marryat, c1826. National Portrait Gallery, London. Swiped from Wikipedia.