21 October 2011

Paul Revere's Pony Ponys Up

I want to thank everyone for pitching in during the pitching to help raise money for this community radio station. Thank you!

If you are hearing this on Sunday, between Celtic and This American, good morning, and the pledge drive is now in its final day. If you are hearing the repeat broadcast on Wednesday, good afternoon, and the pledge drive is a fond memory.

If you are reading this online you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. And that’s OK.

I stayed home this week nursing a small stone that decided to descend from kidney to outside world. While screaming in pain (I exaggerate, but not much) I managed to finish an entire novel. I’m all better now, thank you.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere...

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell celebrates the Penobscot Expedition – a now-obscure battle that took place in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War. Told with the freedom of a novelist but closely following the facts, Cornwell’s The Fort is a refreshingly clear vision of events that over the years have been both simplified and patriotically glorified.

And I on the opposite shore will be
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm...

In a note on Heroic Myths Cornwell writes, “The Penobscot Expedition is a forgotten campaign of the American Revolution, and many people probably wish it would remain forgotten. For the Americans it was a disaster, though in the end it made no difference to the war’s outcome or to their eventual triumph, while for the British it was a victory that did nothing to avert their humiliating loss of the Thirteen Colonies.”

Basically, the Americans screwed up. Paul Revere was there, for example, and he did not do well.

... And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;

As an artillery officer in the Massachusetts Militia, Revere was “utterly ineffective...(as well as) consistently uncooperative, awkward and belligerent toward his comrades.”

It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who years later made Revere famous with the poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

“And Americans have been hearing of the midnight ride ever since,” Cornwell notes, “mostly oblivious that the poem plays merry-hell with the true facts and ascribes to Revere the heroics of other men...”

In fact, of the several riders that famous night Paul Revere was the only rider who did not complete his mission.

Cornwell continues, “Before the poem was published Revere was remembered as a regional folk-hero, one among many who had been active in the patriot cause, but in 1861 he entered legend” due, in part, to Longfellow’s wish to rouse Northern patriotism at the start of the American Civil War.

For those who read The Fort, Revere’s reputation will never be the same. Some of his contemporaries “believed Revere’s behavior (at the battle) was disgraceful. Revere’s present reputation would have puzzled and, in many cases, disgusted his contemporaries.”

There are other, more important actors in this story, but throughout their adventure Paul Revere is the prime prima donna – at crucial moments in the battle he returns to his anchored ship for hot meals. Ordered to move cannons he delays or denies or questions the order. His gunners are inaccurate due in part to Revere’s inexperience and insouciance. Revere was a patriot, an excellent silversmith and successful businessman, but no soldier.

We’ll talk again next week. In the meantime, thanks for supporting this wonderful station.


The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. Harper paperback $14.99. ISBN 0062010875.

To “pony up” -- informal. to pay (money), as in settling an account: Next week you'll have to pony up the balance of the loan.  Origin: 1650–60; earlier powney < obsolete French poulenet, diminutive of poulain colt < Medieval Latin pullanus (Latin pull(us) foal + -anus -an); see -et
 — Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.

Good friend Adam Springwater sends this link about another midnight rider, perhaps more heroic...

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). Written April 19, 1860; first published in 1863 as part of Tales of a Wayside Inn:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,-
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,-
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,-
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,-
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,-
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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