American Fun

American Fun by John Beckman Read Free Book Online

Book: American Fun by John Beckman Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Beckman
Grayorum masque, performed in front of Queen Elizabeth, featuring a Maypole and “Indeans” and even Proteus, whom Morton puts at the center of his poem and jokingly conflates with “Priapus.” This may be so, but such revels were utterly changed on Merry Mount, where the instruments of monarchy became the lubricants of democracy: the “Indeans” wereactual, the would-be courtiers were lowlybondservants, and their pleas for fertility weren’t theatrical, but real.
    For when May Day arrived, Morton’s young bachelors hoped their pretty garlands would catch the eyes of local women—especially Massachusetts women. Having waited long enough for English wives, they welcomed the idea of starting households that the Separatists would have abominated. (Of course courting wasn’t preliminary only to marriage.) But in a song he wrote to buoy the occasion—telling “Lasses in beaver coats,” “Yee shall be welcome to us night and day”—Morton encouraged open minds among his wights, declaring Indian women far more desirable than “Scotch” or “Irish stuff,” a bit of bigoted English misogyny that sent a strangely tolerant message. What is more, his harping on marriage throughout the account reinforces his interest inmaking Merry Mount last.
    The pageant would have been a marvel to see. Local invitees filled the grassy, sun-drenched hill. Against a deep backdrop of shimmering wooded mountains, and the Shawmut hills in the distant north, a formal parade of Europeans and Indians—heralded by rifles, pistols, drums, “and other fitting instruments”—portaged an enormous, ribbon-streaming tree from the lapping beach of Boston Harbor to the crest of their village mount. They erected the thing with a communal heave, sturdily packed it deep in the ground, and tacked up the poem for the Separatists’ pleasure. Cheers were raised, shots were fired, toasts of beer and spirits were drunk. Probably the poem was read aloud in honor of their germinal colony. And when the mood was right, the mummers arrayed themselves widely about the pole, joined their hands and took up ribbons, and cordially began the old pagan dance that prettily weaves a rainbow-colored braid.
    One fellow was assigned to replenish “the good liquor like gammedes and Jupiter,” and to lead the dancers in singing Morton’s verses:
    Make greene garlons, bring bottles out;
    And fill sweet Nectar, freely about.
    Uncover they head, and feare no harme,
    For hers good liquor to keep it warme.
    All the while, dancing to pipes and tabors, men ducked under the arms of women, who curtsied beneath the arms of the men, and the two traipsing rings—probably quite clumsy for lack of practice, many of them hindered for lack of English—did what they could to sing the racy chorus:
    Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes,
    Let all your delights be in Hymens joyes,
    So to Hymen now the day is come,
    About the merry Maypole take a Roome.
    Stamping grass into mud, stumbling up a sweat, singing and shouting and entwining their ribbons, Morton’s mixed company, in “harmless mirth,” closed in closer and closer on the pole, soon entangling in such an erotic knot that even William Bradford, who would have been tending his fields that day, let himself go with a bit of alliteration, imagining them: “drinking and dancing aboute it many days together, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices.” For who could resist this innovative pleasure—so youthful, vernal, innovative, and free? Naturally they wished it to continue for days. They wanted the joylity to last forever.
    Morton nurtured a species of pleasure that later Americans would simply call “fun.” In England, in 1755, Dr. Johnson would nail its definition: “Sport; high merriment; frolicksome delight.” But Americans, following Morton’s lead, would hone their fun to an even sharper edge—they would have it in

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