More Farce, Please!
or Did Poodles Pee on Plymouth Rock?
By R. D. Flavin
November 5, 2009 would have been my mother’s ninety-second birthday. She passed away on the night that Operation Desert Storm began, almost eighteen years ago, but if she would have lived she’d have seen Pres. Obama’s remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference cut short to allow for a discussion of a domestic terrorist attack against soldiers and civilians at
This November 2009 has been proclaimed National Native American Heritage Month and Friday, November 27, 2009, the day after our federal holiday of Thanksgiving, has been designated as Native American Heritage Day. Okay, earlier this year, a white cop busts a black professor for being a jerk and our mixed-race president (cool be his administration, as I voted for him) convenes a beer summit thinking that alcohol can assist a "teachable moment" and solve our country’s racial problems.
Prof. Mark D. Merlin (botany,
In a 1970 journal article in Economic Botany (24: 73-80), the ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes asked the anthropologist Weston La Barre a question concerning the known distribution of traditional psychoactive drug plant use in the Old and New Worlds. Schultes wanted to know why there are so few known psychoactive drug plants associated with traditional cultural use in the
La Barre argued that there must have been numerous other species that were used in the Old World for such purposes, but the rise of civilization, and in particular monotheism eliminated most of these traditions in the Old World (and in those areas of the New World, where European religious influence has affected the pre-contact uses of such species). More fundamentally, La Barre argued that humans, at least in pre-industrial contexts, have been “culturally programmed” to find plants (or fungi) that allow them to communicate with the ancestors (or their spirit world). He suggested that this tradition goes back to the Paleolithic Era, long before the invention of agriculture when people were all hunters and gatherers. According to his theory, as bands of humans spread out into new regions, including new ecological situations, they carried with them a culturally inspired motivation to find and use species of plants or fungi that would allow them to transcend their “normal” consciousness and enable them to communicate with their ancestors or gods – in essence, their spirit world.
Merlin goes on to discuss the early and widespread
Anthropologists still debate which came first, beer or bread. Go grain! Unless of course you hold the opinion that the invention of “agriculture” may have feed bellies, but broke backs and ruined teeth. Anywho, beer, as a “soaking technology,” goes back to the early Neolithic (that’s “caveman” time for the Flintstones crowd), gets legal support by Hammurabi’s “Laws” at ca. 1750 BCE, and beer is way chunky and straws were needed in ancient Egypt, the Bible (Mishlei or The Book of Proverbs) calls it “strong drink,” medieval Germans created purity regulations to get rid of the chunks, and …what was to become the United States of America’s Commonwealth of Massachusetts' first recorded conversation between a European and a Native American was: “Welcome English. Got any beer?” The answer? “Ah, running low; try some of this high-proof brandy…” My country ‘tis of thee…
"The May-Flower at Sea" after G. Perkins, "water dog" proto-poodle (Markham 1621, p. 70), and an unfinished statue of Samoset.
Now, the truth about the 1620 Mayflower voyage to America, the antagonism between the “Saints” and “Strangers,” the financial arrangements to work seven days a week for seven years between the “Planters” and the “Merchant Adventurers,” the late invention of the “Pilgrim” designation (following “Separatist” and “Puritan”), the mid-sized small dogs and much else has been presented elsewhere (e.g. Young 1841, Ames 1901). That the colonists had little potable water and relied on beer and brandy is a given (as was the grief when they realized they hadn’t brought along small fishing hooks). While there were probably some descent folk among those who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, most passengers (read: indentured servants) were stubborn egotists, not especially bright, and more than a tad tyrannical. When Samoset approached and asked for beer, drank their brandy, and wanted to hang out for awhile, most accounts complain of him as a “savage” and mention how upsetting his near-nakedness was to the women. They gave him a coat, a small knife, a few trinkets, and finally convinced him to leave. There’s also mention that the colonists suspected Samoset of being deceitful and perhaps faking poor health, but anyone who has ever experienced the month of March in
The colonists had spent the winter on-board the Mayflower and a week after meeting Samoset they decided to move permanently onshore. A week and a half after that, on April 5, 1621, the Mayflower returned to England. Although there were adventures aplenty between the colonists and the Native Americans, a productive Spring and Summer allowed for (all things considered) a splendid Autumn. William Bradford wrote (Bradford 1908, p. 121):
"They begane now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersized in fishing, aboute codd, and bass, and other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All the sommer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corne to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their friends in England, which were not fained, but true reports. ¶. In Novemb, about that time twelfe month that them selves came, ther came in a small ship to them unexpected or loked for..."
I've long teased that there was popcorn at the first Thanksgiving feast in October shared by Native Americans and the colonists, however, forsooth, there's no evidence that ears of Indian corn were crammed into a gutted deer and the carcass lined with fat was tossed on top of a raging fire. Pop, pop, pop! Of course, that's only because the Native Americans went to Plymouth for Thanksgiving and not the other way around. You know, the whole “When in Rome...” thing. Native Americans of the period did serve a variation of today's popcorn, but it's very unlikely that it was featured in the first colonial Thanksgivings. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet yams, biscuits and pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert? The colonists had produce, water-fowl, and seafood, and the Native Americans went out and killed five deer for the celebration according to Mourt's Relation (likely penned, at least the section that discusses the first Thanksgiving, by Edward Winslow). Yet, we do read in Gov. William Bradford's later and somewhat embellished account (see above) of “wild Turkies.”
1759 portrait of Ben Franklin by B. Wilson, male Meleagris gallopavo after Auduban, and after-Thanksgiving NYT headline 11/25/1870.
So, perhaps, turkeys were served at the first Thanksgiving, and, eyes akimbo, it's not outside the realm of conjecture to suppose that the colonists made some quick beer to go with the tobacco that the Native Americans brought... Our collected crossword-puzzle consciousness pecks past a hundred and a half years or so of fowl history, maybe 'gobbles' would be more appropriate, and we seem to remember something about dear, old Benjamin Franklin complaining that the turkey wasn't chosen as our national bird. As the Secretary of the Continental Congress in 1782, Charles Thomson co-designed a proposal for the Great Seal of the United States which prominently featured the Bald Eagle, and while the design was not officially adopted until 1787, the large eagle has been regarded as America's national bird since almost immediately after it was suggested. In a letter dated “Passy, Jany, 26th. 1784, Franklin wrote to his daughter, Sarah "Sally" Bache, as “My dear Child,” and remarked:
Others object to the Bald Eagle, as looking too much like a Dindon, or Turkey. For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perch’d on some dead ... ... driven all the King birds from our Country, tho’ exactly fit for that Order of Knights which the French call Chevaliers d’Industrie. I am on this account not displeas’d that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack ...
Attack of the turkeys? It farcically follows that one of America's most charismatic Foundering Fathers, a soldier and diplomat who urged violence and then brokered peace, would have personal experience with being attacked by a turkey. Besides his writing of Poor Richard's Almanack, Ben Franklin was also a printer, inventor, introduced America's first post office and lending library, and ...then there's that stuff about flying a kite with a key dangling from it in a thunderstorm. Yeah, Franklin was interested in electricity ...and turkeys. Come on, let's be honest; we know where this is going...
As a post-Renaissance dude, Ben Franklin had many pursuits (read: hobbies) and electricity was way high on his list of personal favorites. With “publish or perish” aplomb, Franklin submitted an unsigned article on electricity to a popular British periodical in 1849 (Anonymous 1850), which was soon followed by a signed article to the same publication describing the first lightening rod (Franklin 1850). The London publisher of the periodical, The Gentleman's Magazine, was Edward Cave, a friend of Peter Collinson of The Royal Society, who would allow Cave to print a pamphlet collection of letters that Franklin had sent him about electricity without asking Ben's permission first. Franklin was okay with it, as the pamphlet (Franklin 1751) scored him honorary degress from Harvard and Yale in 1753 and membership in The Royal Society in 1756, the first “Across the Pond” fellow to be awarded such. The pamphlet received a 'positive' endorsement with a review in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (Watson 1752), which also published two letters from Franklin, one of which detailed his soon-to-be “famous” experiment with the kite and the key in a thunderstorm (Franklin 1752). The review is remarkable on several levels, not the least of which is Watson's assessment of Franklin's electrical work as “ingenious,” as well as offering conjecture that electricity might be used to restore sight and hearing in the afflicted. There was also mention that electricity might be used to kill a man. And, wonder of wonders, all such theoretical speculation arose because Franklin had performed a series of experiments when he electrocuted turkeys. (Soon-to-be Sir) William Watson wrote in his review:
As Mr. Franklin, in a letter to Mr. Collinson some time since, mentioned his intending to try the power of a very strong electrical shock upon a turkey, I desired Mr. Collington to let Mr. Franklin know, that I should be glad to be acquainted with the result of that experiment. He accordingly has been so very obliging as to send an account of it, which is to the following purpose. He made first several experiments on fowls, and found, that two large thin glass jars gilt, holding each about 6 gallons, and such as I mentioned I had employed in the last paper I laid before you on this subject, were sufficient, when fully charged, to kill common hens outright; but the turkeys, though thrown into violent convulsions, and then, lying as dead for some minutes, would recover in less than a quarter of an hour. However, having added three other such to the former two, though not fully charged, he killed a turkey of about ten pounds weight, and he believes that they would have killed a much larger. He conceited, as he himself says, that the birds kill'd in this manner eat uncommonly tender (Watson 1752, p. 209).”
Hmmm, “uncommonly tender” turkeys... Though vegans and PETA would likely denigrate Mr. Franklin's culinary investigations, in an age of “deep-fried” turkeys and turduckens, his “ingenious” application of electrocution to poultry remains quaint, though dispatchment (i.e. murder, execution, slaughter, etc.) is widely mechanical today. It's argued that double-ungood tasting hormones and other chemicals are released through stress before and during the killing of livestock, but as someone who generally overcooks everything he eats and subsequently covers anything edible with a sauce or a gravy, my personal opinion should be withheld. Well done, Mr. Franklin! [Note: Mindful of any “Small World” comparison, it's a tad ironic that in the issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society which first featured material about and by Benjamin Franklin, described by some as America's first genuine foray into scientific investigation, also contained an article by portrait painter and scientist, Benjamin Wilson, F.R.S. (Wilson 1752), who would later have Franklin sit for a painting (which now hangs in The White House), and also became London's leading critic of Franklin's ideas about the nature of electricity, to wit (DNB 1900, p. 83): "He had a long controversy with Benjamin Franklin on the question whether lightening-conductors should be round or pointed at the top, and was supported in his view by George III, who declared his experiments were sufficient to convince the apple-women in Covent Garden." Intimidated by the "apple-women" and King George? Nope...]
The “wild Turkie” next leafs through history with the Haitian-born, French-American naturalist and artist, Jean-Jacques (“John James”) Fougère Audubon (1785-1851), who began his career a little more than a dozen years after Franklin's passing and a smidgen under a hundred miles away from Philadelphia. After performing some initial trials with “bird-banding” (or tagging) migratory birds, he undertook a personal sojourn of discovery and documentation throughout much of the relatively young United States of America, produced an outstanding portfolio of illustrations, and made his way to Edinburgh, Scotland and convinced a prominent engraver to begin production of what has arguably become the greatest color-plate collection ever produced (Audubon 1827-1838). On November 28, 1826, William H. Lizar pulled the first proof sheet from his press, a copy of “Plate 1. The Great American Cock – male,” that is the Meleagris gallopavo or the “wild Turkie.” Unfortunately for Lizar, there was a hand-colorist strike in Edinburgh which stalled Audubon's subscription schedule (also, some debate about the quality of Lizar's work), and the project was transferred to London and the engraving taken over and completed by Robert Havell, Sr. and Robert Havell, Jr. In 2007, a copy sold at auction for $8,802,500, a current record amount paid for a printed work.
In the early nineteenth century, the Thanksgiving holiday was still a regional celebration, despite its then two-century old observance. Which, putting the punk attitudes of some celebrants in perspective, might have been a fortunate development, as it kept the holiday relatively local before it was finally ready to further morph into a quasi-legendary federal day of …cough, solemnity, humility, and a public recognition that there was a (brief) time when the colonists and the aboriginal inhabitants of Massachusetts got along and shared some food. And, then the land-grabs began with the Pequot and King Phillip's Wars. That a son of Massasoit, and a Harvard student, should have his head cut-off and put on a tall pole in downtown
Our “Puritan” forefathers (and, likely some foremothers, as well), were simple folk – they wept about a God of compassion and showed none to their neighbors, plain and simple. Though, in all fairness, those “Americans” who followed in the formation of America (at, of course, the expense of the original “owners,” the “Native Americans”), though they might not have lied themselves into legal debt like the “Saints” of Plymouth Plantation, …the American Revolutionary War-era folks and the following few generations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states didn’t exactly sit down to a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s on Thanksgiving Day, in fact, in too many cities and towns, there was a tradition among the men and boys that it ("Thanksgiving Day") was a sanctioned goof-off day, i.e. get drunk, wear women’s clothes, bum change from strangers, get into fights, disrespect authority, break things, and maybe consume some fun-food. Yeah, I know, just another weekend night for the few, the not-so-proud, and the Discordians, but …it appears that every “holiday” observed by America has seen periods of “celebration” which has at one time or another involved …booze and bad or sort-of-bad things. The Guy Fawkes/Pope Day parties with anti-Catholic contests, mass drunkenness (Gen.
Gnostics think they know it all inherently, skeptics draw lines so small that sometimes they can’t see them all, while humanists too easily raise their curtains and let all take a peek. [Note: To self; change personal description of a “neo-gnostic, skeptical-believer and humanist with extra sauce” to “Post-‘Lord of the Rings’ non-combative. Level: Eldarian-Common Speech." RDF] We, that is ‘Americans’ who, gosh-duh and mea culpa, guiltily take responsibility for those who have defined our nation even though our (or some of “our”) immediate ancestors had nothing whatsover to do with …lies, try to occasionally step sideways and look to those next to us for reassurance. Damn, something, or not. Most of us are mutts, the rest are nuts, and the so-called “Blue-Bloods,” or those other strutting and sniffing hounds, well, they ain’t all that. It’s about integrity or the lack thereof. Some took "The
While it could be argued that Edward Rawson, of the Suffolk Probate Office, signed the first official “Thanksgiving Proclamation” on June 20, 1676, with the infamous Salem Witch Trials just up the road a couple of decades, me thinks those early colonists had colon issues. Prof. Elizabeth H. Pleck (Univ. of Illinois – Urbana, history) has rescued early and earthy Thanksgiving celebrations from later sanitized versions, and I, for one, welcome my new Thanksgiving overlords. She's discussed (Pleck 1999) the complicated social emergence of American federal holidays, specifically Thanksgiving, and ...I'm envious of past parties I didn't attend. Pleck wrote:
"Groups of men, crossdressing, who called themselves the Fantastics or Fantasticals, masqueraded on Thanksgiving beginning in the 1780s. The name Fantastic was English and the practice seems to have been derived from English door to door masquerading for treats. Subsequntly the Fantastics copied these and other elements of English mumming, such as drunkenness and ridiculing authority. At the end of the Revolutionary war veterans were dressing up in the rags of the Continental soldiers. The Fantastics paraded in rural and urban areas of eastern and central Pennsylvania, and New York City on Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve and Day, Battalion Day, Washington's Birthday, and the Fourth of July (Pleck 1999, pp. 776, 777).
Growing up is rough, I know, but punking on Thanksgiving? Who'd have thunk? Prof. Pleck goes on to describe how the inspired (read: drunken) behavior may have had cross-cultural roots in Scot, English, Swedish, and German traditions of letting off steam from time to time. In Philadelphia, it morphed into their “Mummers Parade,” in New York the kids kept bumming change 'til the early 1940s, while in the rest of America, the begging and masquerading was allocated to Halloween and the straight-up drunkenness was reserved for New Years. Pres. Lincoln nationalized Thanksgiving as a holiday, and a century later there was Stove-Top. Yeah, I wish they still had Thanksgiving parties like yesteryear.
"A kitchen is revealed to us, and the paraphernalia of stove, kettles, pail, &c., are in full relief. At a table stands the maid – we don't have many such (ital.) maids now-a-days! – with her hands just from the pan in which she is manufacturing “stuffing.” This sticking to the right hand she extends to the invisible visitor, with a face plainly expressive of the rich vein of humor and relish of a joke that is in her nature, she offers to Shake Hands!” Around, on the table, on the shelf, &c., is the still life in profusion – a dressed turkey, for which she is preparing the stuffing, butter, salt-cellar, eggs, &c., all in reach, while a pan of apples is on a stool under the table – a ham, &c., is on the shelf above, a pot of flowers, &c., &c. The whole spirit and detail of the picture are incomparably excellent, and impress the beholder with a peculiar satisfaction. The face of the maid is a perfect study. Perhaps no picture painted in this country is better fitted for popular appreciation (Anonymous 1857)."
When I was a kid and my brothers were still at home, Mom would save old bread a few weeks before the holidays to make her stuffing. By the early ‘70s, with my brothers up and away, she began to take short-cuts with her stuffing. Instead of doing everything from scratch, Mom would buy a box of Stove-Top stuffing and add chopped up onions and celery to the mix. It gave the stuffing some crunch… Now, years later, I still “doctor” up Stove-Top, sometimes with just onions and celery, though I’ve been known to include sausage or livers, even clams on occasion. I suppose one could buy the bags of already cut and toasted bread cubes; I’m thinking it’s the thought and effort that counts.
The oldest surviving cookbooks,
farce n.¹ [a. OF. farce, f. farcir, farsir: – L. farcīre to stuff.] Force-meat, stuffing.
farce n.² [a. (in 16th c.) F. farce, app. A metaphorical use of farce stuffing, see prec. The history of the sense appears to be as follows: In the 13th c. the word (in latinized form farsa, farsia) was applied in France and England to the various phases interpolated in litanies between the words kyrie and eleison (e.g. 'Kyrie, genitor ingenite, veraessentia, eleison'); to similar expansions of other liturgical formulae; and to expository or hortatory passages in French (sometimes in rime) which were inserted between the Latin sentences in chanting the epistle. (The related vb. L. farcire, OF. farcir to stuff, hence to 'pad out', interlard, was used in the same connexion in the expressions epistolafarcita, un benedicamus farci. See Du Cange s. vv. Farsa, Farsia, and Burney Hist. Music II. 256.) Subsequently the OF. farce, with similar notion, occurs as the name for the extemporaneous amplification or 'gag', or the interludes of impromptu buffoonery, which the actors in the religious dramas were accustomed to interpolate into their text. Hence the transition to the modern sense is easy. (The Eccl. Lat. farsa, farcire, referred to above, have been anglicized by mod. writers on liturgical antiquities as FARSE n. and v.)] 1. a. A dramatic work (usually short) which has for its sole object to excite laughter.
Well, Thanksgiving 2009, “Black Friday” and Native American Heritage Day has come and gone. We all know what’s coming next… That’s right, Earth Day 2010! I better start looking for socks that match right away…
Ames, Azel. 1901. The May-flower and Her Log, July 15, 1620 – May 6, 1621. Chiefly from Original Sorces. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and
Company. Online here.
Anonymous. 1750. “By a Number of Experiments, lately made in Philadelphia, several of the principal Properties of the Electrical Fire were
demonstrated, and it's effects shewn.” Written by Benjamin Franklin and published uncredited. Gentleman's Magazine. Edited by Edward
Cave. January issue. London: E. Cave. A tease online here.
Anonymous. 1857. “Mrs. Lilly M. Spencer's Paintings.” Cosmopolitan Art Journal. 1, 5: 165.
Audubon, John James. 1827-1838. The Birds of America: from Original Drawings. 4 vols. London: Published by the Author.
Bradford, William. 1908. Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, 1606-1646. Edited By William T. Davis. Series: Original Narratives of
Early American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
DNB. 1900. “Wilson, Benjamin (1721-1788).” Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 62 (Williamson – Worden). Edited by Sidney Lee;
entry written by E. Irving Carlyle. New York: The MacMillan Company/London: Smith, Elder, & Co.
Franklin, Benjamin. 1750. “A curious Remark on ELECTRICITY; from a Gentleman in America; whose ingenious Letters on this Subject will
soon be published in a separate Pamphlet, illustrated with Cuts. Extract of a Letter to Mr P. C. F.R.S.” Gentleman's Magazine. Edited by
Edward Cave. May issue. London: E. Cave. A tease online here.
Franklin, Benjamin. 1751. Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America, by Mr. Benjamin Franklin, and
Communicated in several Letters to Mr. P. Collinson, of London, F.R.S. London: E. Cave.
Franklin, Benjamin. 1752. “A Letter of Benjamin Franklin, Esq; to Mr. Peter Collinson, F. R. S. concerning an Electrical Kite.”
Philosophical Transactions. 47: 565-567.
Markham, Gervase. 1621. Hunger preuention: or, The whole arte of Fovvling by vvater and land: Containing all the secrets belonging to that
arte, and brought into a true forme or method, by which the most ignorant may know how to take any kind of fowle, either by land or water.
Also, exceeding necessary and profitable for all such as trauell by sea, and come into vninhabited places: especially, all those that haue
any thing to doe with new plantations.
Relation or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth, with an Introduction and Notes by H. M. Dexter; Boston: John Kimball Wiggin: “This day
in the evening [Jan. 16, 1621 RDF], Iohn Goodman went abroad to vse his lame feete, that were pittifully ill with the cold he had got, having
a little Spannell with him, a little way from the plantation, two great Wolues ran after the Dog, the Dog ran to him and betwixt his leggs for
succour, he had nothing in his hand but tooke vp a sticke, and threw at one of them and hit him, and they presently ran both away, but
came againe, he got a paile bord in his hand, and they sat both on their tayles, grinning at him, a good while, and went their way, and left
him.” See: pp. 29,30/77,78.
Merlin, M. D. 2003. “Archaeological Evidence for the Tradition of Psychoactive Plant Use in the
Pleck, Elizabeth. 1999. “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States. Journal of Social History.
32, 4: 773-789.
Watson, Wm. 1752. “XXXI. An Account of Mr. Benjamin Franklin's Treatise, lately published, intituled, Experiments and Observations on
Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America; by Wm. Watson, F.R.S.” Philosophical Transactions. 47: 202-211.
Wilson, Benjamin and Richard Supple. 1752. “An Account of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, from Its First Beginning to the 28th of October
1751, in a Letter from Mr. Richard Supple, Communicated by Mr. Benjamin Wilson, F.R.S." Philosophical Transactions. 47: 315-317.
Young, Alexander. 1841. The Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, From 1602 to 1625. Now First Collected from Original Records and
Contemporaneous Printed Documents, and Illustrated with Notes. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown. Second edition online here.