I actually love the 18th century. I love the witty 18th century comedies–I was quite the dish when I played Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal in 1977. I am fascinated by the transition from the sensibilities of the earlier part of the century to the juicy foment of the mid- and late century.
I like tricorn hats and can sit down gracefully while wearing panniers and a wig that includes a fully-rigged schooner on the top.
I love Gainesborough. And Bach. And Beethoven (though he definitely leaks into the early 19th).
Sure there were plenty of heinous things that happened in the 18th century. Name a century that wasn’t full of heinous things.
Periwigs and mobcaps and hard cider and lots of dreaming of freedom–even when people didn’t exactly know what that meant. Thinking for the sake of itself–a trait seemingly lost in most of the modern world. Ideas were dangerous, powerful…revolutionary.
After such a long, long time of kings and emperors and czars, people even started considering different modes of government. Things like elections and voting and average ordinary people–peasants–having some sort of rights to not be governed by imbeciles, asshats or both.
Kind of hard to imagine, isn’t it? The thinking part, as well as the rights part.
I invite all of you who are reading these words to spend the last half of this year re-reading the foundational documents of this country. Start with the Declaration, get yourself a pocket copy of the Constitution and read that, find a battered copy of the Federalist Papers at your local used bookstore and read it aloud to your friends and lovers.
It isn’t easy reading but you can do it. Won’t be as entertaining as the Cooking channel but I think you’ll find it eye-opening nonetheless. I challenge you to memorize the first 5 Amendments to the Constitution and really know what they mean.
And when your friends gather for a cold one and start to talk about the same boring stuff, trot out some Samuel Adams quotes. You know–“brewer, patriot.”
Because this election year is going to tempt all of us to turn our backs on the process. It is going to be nasty, brutish, never-ending. When you are ready to throw up your hands, think about your favorite Amendment (and, yes, I think you should choose one. Liberals should choose something that isn’t the First, though. And Conservatives should pick one that isn’t the Second).
And anyone–anyone–who complains about undocumented immigrants should do two things: Google the test for citizenship and learn the answers to all the questions, and then Google what it takes to become a citizen. After that, you can complain. If you still want to.
Yeah, I’m asking you to work your brains instead of your mouths. Figure out what it means to live in this country–what it meant before 1776 and what it means after.
I will, if you will. And the next time we meet, we can discuss the gardens at Monticello or the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.