October 11, 2012

Warner: as steadily as they drink beer

"On the 11th of October the sun came out, after a retirement of nearly two weeks," begins Charles Dudley Warner in his sketch "The October Fest — The Peasants and the King," collected in his 1872 book Saunterings. Though this particular sketch takes place in Germany, Warner was no stranger to "sauntering." After his birth in Massachusetts, he lived or worked in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Connecticut (where he befriended neighbor Samuel Clemens) before the end of his life.

On this particular trip to Germany, part of a longer journey throughout Europe, Warner admitted that rain had become a tradition for the annual October Fest. A combination of an agricultural fair and cattle show and "general jollity and amusement." Indeed, he writes, "the main object of a German fair seems to be to have a good time." Throughout the ten day celebration, "Bavarians" (as he calls them) wear old-fashioned costumes, and each one he sees seems "more preposterous than the preceding." There was a circus, the art galleries opened for free, and the theaters had packed audiences. About midway through, the king himself made an appearance:

At last the firing of cannon announces the coming of royalty. There is a commotion in the vast crowd yonder, the eagerly-watched gates swing wide, and a well-mounted company of cavalry dashes down the turf, in uniforms of light blue and gold. It is a citizen's company of butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers, which would do no discredit to the regular army... While the cannon roars, the big bells ring, all the flags of Bavaria, Prussia, and Austria, on innumerable poles, are blowing straight out, the band plays "God save the King," the people break into enthusiastic shouting, and the young king, throwing off his cloak, rises and stands in his carriage for a moment, bowing right and left before he descends.

The king cheerfully interacts with the people, only slightly (and comically) interrupted by a stray dog before he returns to his carriage, drawn by six majestic black horses. When one citizen notes the king of Bavaria has little power, Warner reports another man says, in fact, he has "a six-horse power." Warner only vaguely references the gun-shooting contests, but notes:

There was a continual fusillade for a couple of days; but what it all came to, I cannot tell. I can only say, that, if they shoot as steadily as they drink beer, there is no other corps of shooters that can stand before them.

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