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How Shall We Be Amused
by [?]

“One, two, three, four,–this makes the fifth accident on the Fourth of July, in the two papers I have just read,” said Jenny.

“A very moderate allowance,” said Theophilus Thoro, “if you consider the Fourth as a great national saturnalia, in which every boy in the land has the privilege of doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”

“The poor boys!” said Mrs. Crowfield. “All the troubles of the world are laid at their door.”

“Well,” said Jenny, “they did burn the city of Portland, it appears. The fire arose from firecrackers, thrown by boys among the shavings of a carpenter’s shop,–so says the paper.”

“And,” said Rudolph, “we surgeons expect a harvest of business from the Fourth, as surely as from a battle. Certain to be woundings, fractures, possibly amputations, following the proceedings of our glorious festival.”

“Why cannot we Americans learn to amuse ourselves peaceably like other nations?” said Bob Stephens. “In France and Italy, the greatest national festivals pass off without fatal accident, or danger to any one. The fact is, in our country we have not learned how to be amused. Amusement has been made of so small account in our philosophy of life, that we are raw and unpracticed in being amused. Our diversions, compared with those of the politer nations of Europe, are coarse and savage,–and consist mainly in making disagreeable noises and disturbing the peace of the community by rude uproar. The only idea an American boy associates with the Fourth of July is that of gunpowder in some form, and a wild liberty to fire off pistols in all miscellaneous directions, and to throw firecrackers under the heels of horses, and into crowds of women and children, for the fun of seeing the stir and commotion thus produced. Now take a young Parisian boy and give him a fete, and he conducts himself with greater gentleness and good breeding, because he is part of a community in which the art of amusement has been refined and perfected, so that he has a thousand resources beyond the very obvious one of making a great banging and disturbance.

“Yes,” continued Bob Stephens, “the fact is, that our grim old Puritan fathers set their feet down resolutely on all forms of amusement; they would have stopped the lambs from wagging their tails, and shot the birds for singing, if they could have had their way; and in consequence of it, what a barren, cold, flowerless life is our New England existence! Life is all, as Mantalini said, one ‘demd horrid grind.’ ‘Nothing here but working and going to church,’ said the German emigrants,–and they were about right. A French traveler, in the year 1837, says that attending the Thursday-evening lectures and church prayer-meetings was the only recreation of the young people of Boston; and we can remember the time when this really was no exaggeration. Think of that, with all the seriousness of our Boston east winds to give it force, and fancy the provision for amusement in our society! The consequence is, that boys who have the longing for amusement strongest within them, and plenty of combativeness to back it, are the standing terror of good society, and our Fourth of July is a day of fear to all invalids and persons of delicate nervous organization, and of real, appreciable danger of life and limb to every one.”

“Well, Robert,” said my wife, “though I agree with you as to the actual state of society in this respect, I must enter my protest against your slur on the memory of our Pilgrim fathers.”

“Yes,” said Theophilus Thoro, “the New Englanders are the only people, I believe, who take delight in vilifying their ancestry. Every young hopeful in our day makes a target of his grandfather’s gravestone, and fires away, with great self-applause. People in general seem to like to show that they are well-born, and come of good stock; but the young New Englanders, many of them, appear to take pleasure in insisting that they came of a race of narrow-minded, persecuting bigots.