Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Vaughn Scribner's "Inn Civility"

Vaughn Scribner is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Central Arkansas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Inn Civility: Urban Taverns and Early American Civil Society, and reported the following:
Right in the middle of page 99 is one of my favorite lengthy quotes in Inn Civility:
There are also among us Unlicensed Houses, (too many such!) where our Young Sparks Drink and Game, and Revel for whole Nights together, and Perhaps Every Night. And such Vile Houses will be kept…[for] the Club of Rakes, truly so call’d. And these spend whole Nights in Drinking and Gaming, it is to be fear’d at their Fathers and Masters Expence. The quantitys of Wine and Brandy-Punch drank (or rather destroy’d) by these Clubs, is incredible. So that their practice is an Excess of Riot with an Emphasis.
I love this quote for a few reasons. First, this mid-eighteenth-century New Englander’s diatribe wouldn’t seem that odd if it were to appear in a modern newspaper. So many Americans still love to complain about the drinking, revelry, and “excess of riot” which occurs every weekend in college town bars (well, all bars, I suppose).

I also love this quote because it rather concisely gets to Inn Civility’s core argument: that urban taverns—the most numerous, accessible, and popular public spaces in colonial America—provide an ideal lens through which to dissect colonists’ fantasies and anxieties surrounding the rocky development of a “civil society” in British North America. As today, citizens hoped to direct their society around mercurial notions of liberty, harmony, and order. And, as is still the case, these efforts were fraught with contradiction and dissension.

Take the “a Club of Rakes” quote, for example. A “Rake” was a wealthy “gentleman” who reveled in what is now called “slumming it.” He would strap his sword to his side, don his finest clothes, and dive head-first into lower-class taverns with a drunken cadre of friends, where they would turn tables, accost fellow tavern goers and servants, and drink to excess. Then, the next day, they would go back to their “genteel” lifestyle of balls and tea tables without any repercussions. Many of those men who made the “rules,” in short, didn’t necessarily have to play by them. Everything, and nothing, has changed.
Visit Vaughn Scribner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue