Freedom References in Literature

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An
article published sometime ago seemed to be dismissive of the usefulness
of lighter literature such as novels and other works. Light they
may be but they do have their moments.

To counter the generalization about the lack of value in lighter
Western literature there will be mentioned poems, songs and stories
in which personal freedoms and lack of governmental control are
shown in a positive light, even if in only a passing reference.
Even current ideas of libertarian thought and maybe a little anarchy
are present. The examples given are from sightings taken along the
paths and byways of a wasted life and are not drawn from accepted
masterworks. It is to be hoped that avid readers can add to the
list.

Disclaimer: One should not suppose that an author subscribed to
a particular concept because of its inclusion in some work. Quite
often it may have been introduced strictly to expand the story line
and develop the characterization of the actors. Therefore, no specific
claims are made for beliefs of the authors mentioned. Still, it
is interesting to note how and when certain ideas move into general
literature. Even when assigned to a peripheral group the inclusion
of these concepts may indicate a presence in the discourse of the
times of composition as opposed to setting.

While Thomas Hardy as poet and novelist was not thought of as an
anarchist or libertarian, he would not be at ease in Cool Britannia.
One of his short stories was "The Distracted Preacher."
The story, set in the 1830's in a rural community, revolved around
the female leader of a band of smugglers and a Methodist minister.
The preacher and smuggler were at odds and she attempted to clarify
the situation and show their similarity. "u2018You dissent from
Church, and I dissent from State,' she said. u2018And I don't see why
we are not well matched.'"

The author resolved the plot by having the woman realize the error
of her ways, recant and then marry the minister. In the 1912 edition
of his works, Hardy explained the need for this at the time of initial
publication but indicated his sympathies might be elsewhere. In
a note the author referred to his preferred ending. "More over
it corresponds more closely with the true incidents of which the
tale is a vague and flickering shadow. Lizzy did not, in fact marry
the minister, but — much to her credit in the author's opinion —
stuck to Jim the smuggler, and emigrated with him after their marriage,
an expatrial step rather forced upon him by his adventurous antecedents."

The point to be made is not what Hardy actually believed but that
in his 1879 story he could sympathetically portray someone such
as Lizzy Newberry and create a phrase for her to utter, "I
dissent from State," that is as succinct a credo as any anarchist
in this or any other year could speak. In the story she justified
her actions as supporting her widowed mother by continuing the family
business, as it were, and providing assistance to friends and neighbors
in the community. Admirable goals, all.

Going further with the smuggler angle, you should be aware that
there is more to Rudyard Kipling's verse than "The White Man's
Burden." In an age when we are all concerned with the questions
that our librarians might be asked about our reading habits, the
desire that others might better mind their own business looms large.
Having broached that subject, I offer up "A Smuggler's Song"
from the ending of "Hal o' the Draft" in the 1906 Puck
of Pook's Hill. The first verse and chorus:

If you wake
at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't
go drawing back the blinds, or looking in the street,
Them
that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch
the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five
and twenty ponies
Trotting
through the dark –
Brandy
for the Parson,
‘Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces
for a lady, letters for a spy,
And
watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

And
further:

If you meet
King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You
be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If
they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you ‘neath the
chin,
Don't
you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

With
the last verse:

If you do
as you've been told, u2018likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present
from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!

Has anyone told John Ashcroft about this? That bulwark of the empire,
Mr. Kipling, corrupting little eight-year-old girls! Encouraging
them to mind their own business and not snitch. That to do so is
good behavior and that further they will be rewarded for not cooperating
with duly constituted authority. Far be it for this writer to maintain
that Kipling had any such intent. It was from a children's story
and no doubt, it was written in fun, and yet, "Hal o' the Draft"
is about smugglers after all. In the story Kipling ends with the
king's agents getting the goods, but he does give the smugglers
their due. Perhaps they should be seen just as businessmen seeking
to maximize return on their investment. They might have been willing
to sell to the king's agents if the agents had been empowered to
pay market prices. The ending verses certainly were written from
the smugglers' point. Kipling's story and verse demonstrate that
all of these issues were present in earlier times even if his treatment
and solution were of his time.

Early in the twentieth century the poem was set to music and recorded
several times. Peter Dawson's 1929 version with orchestral accompaniment
is available on a 1997 EMI CD (8 56895 2), a collection of Dawson
recordings.

Henry Blossom was librettist for Victor Herbert's 1917 comic opera,
"Eileen." The story line once again involves smugglers.
This time they are in a subordinate role to the main protagonists
who are caught up in the 1798 Irish rising. In an eighteenth or
nineteenth century literary setting, gypsies, brigands, or smugglers
would be the logical characters to espouse views for existence outside
the accepted social fabric. In act one there is the smugglers chorus
with its title, "Free Trade and a Misty Moon," taken from
the last line of the song. From the first verse:

While Heaven
sends us a misty moon,
Sure,
why not take it as a gracious boon?
If
France and Spain have somethin' we can use,
Faith,
‘twould be ungracious to refuse!
So,
free of tax or duty
We'll
fetch ashore our booty!
Let's
drink to the mist o'er the moon!

As noted it is a comic opera so all ends well with Cornwallis' arrival
and the king's pardon for the rebels. It ends with an expression
that the hopes of all parties will be realized in the future. Again
from the story line one can discern an understanding of the smugglers'
plight.

A two CD recording of this work was issued on the Newport Classics
label (NPD 85615/2) in 1998. The work itself had probably not seen
a complete performance since 1918 prior to the Ohio Light Opera
season of 1997.

Chapter Eleven of the historical sketch of Dominique de Gourges
in Gilmore Simms' The Lily and the Totem or, The Huguenots in
Florida is entitled "Morals of Revenge." Simms raises
the applicability of revenge as a proper tool in light of preceding
events. Huguenots attempted to establish settlements in the 1560's
in what is now the Southeast United States. They were at odds with
both their government and church at home in France where the Wars
of Religion had begun in 1562. These efforts to settle in the New
World were in conflict with Spanish aspirations in the region. The
Spanish disposed of those they considered interlopers and heretics.
The French government was relieved to have them removed as an irritant
so no effort was made support them or to avenge the honor of France.
According to the author, de Gourges, a Gascon Catholic, sold his
own property to fund an expedition he raised to chastise the Spanish.
His reprisals were every bit as bloody as the initial actions of
the Spanish. Simms has some thoughts on the failure of the state
or society to protect its own:

"That
society or nation which is unable or unwilling to prevent or punish
the offender within its own sphere and province, must incur his
penalties; and this principle once recognized, it becomes imperative
with every citizen to take heed of the public conduct of his fellow,
and the proper exercise of right and justice on the part of his
ruler. There are, no doubt, difficulties in the way of doing this
always; but what if it were commonly understood and felt that each
citizen had thus at heart the wholesome administration of exact
justice on the part of the society in which he lived, and the Government
which can exist only by the sympathies of the people?…We do not
mean to justify Gourges; but say that it is well, perhaps, for humanity,
that heroism sometimes puts on the terrors of the avenger, and visits
the enormous crime, which men otherwise fail to reach, with penalties
somewhat corresponding with the degree and character of the offence!"

Ah, yes, the derivative Mr. Simms. The preceding quotes must obviously
originate from something in Scott or Cooper. Surely, someone should
be able to document this.

Good old self help. A look at this indicates that this historical
sketch may have additional depth and may treat political concerns
not evident at first glance. Simms renews questions in the mid nineteenth
century that still are not settled. He seems to be saying that the
individual has the right to hold the state accountable for its responsibilities
and that in extreme circumstances act on his own in default of the
state. Interestingly, one of his main sources for this work about
Huguenots was the Jesuit scholar Pierre-François-Xavier Charlevoix
and his 1744 Histoire et description de la Nouvelle France.

Lest one think that all of this development in thought must follow
the Renaissance and Enlightenment as well as the American and French
Revolutions, it would be well to step back a few years. Late twelfth
century France is as good a place as any to look so dip into a work
of Walter of Châtillon, The
Alexandreis
. As an epic to celebrate the life of Alexander
the Great it is divided into ten books covering the highlights of
his career. Among other things in Book Eight is a confrontation
between the Scythian Messenger and Alexander. The conquest of Persia
is in the past and that of India lies in the future. Beginning with
line 476, Walter put these words in the Scythian's mouth:

"Our
land's free race desires nothing more
than
what Nature, our first source, has bestowed.
In
virtue of her gift, we neither serve
nor
seek to rule. Such practice brings us blessing:
that
each man is a law unto himself,
protecting
his own folk and goods, content
with
their possession, wanting no one else's.
If
more than this you seek, your will exceeds
the
boundaries of true beatitude."

And
again at line 501:

"What
need have you of riches, which engender
in greedy men yet greater hunger? Thus
the more you have accrued, the fiercer burns
your love of having; thus you sate your appetite,
and plenty fosters want."

Then at line
548:

"Beware
lest
you imagine you can count as friends
those
you have vanquished. Sooner shall the earth
contain
the stars, sooner the Ocean drown
the
Dipper's seven lights, sooner shall fish
crawl
on dry land, than slaves enjoy a bond
of
true love with their masters. Concord never
shall
stand between them. Though in outward show
peace
may prevail, hatred surges within.
Beneath
such guise of peace, hearts foment war."

These quotes are from a verse translation by David Townsend published
by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1996. These lines must
have resonated with Mr. Townsend as the Scythian Messenger was one
of the dedicatees of his translation. Do they strike a chord with
you?

Note that in the instances quoted the characters do not represent
the dominant culture of their times. They all manifest a desire
to be left alone. If considered in this light even light fiction
can be useful in the study and propagation of freedom. Look carefully
into what you are reading and look into the past to see where freedom
thoughts crop up from time to time. There is no telling where you
will find a kindred spirit.

It
should be remarked that this article has been crafted with snippets
and more lengthy excerpts drawn from works of traditional Western
literature. The writer has not stooped to cheap tricks that pander
to certain disreputable elements by quoting from parodies such as
"The Ballad of the Blue Berets" or "The Ballad of
David Koresh."

October
18, 2003

Robert F. Conn [send him mail]
writes from Jasper County, Texas.


        
        

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