O BRAVE OLD WORLD!
All morning long the bells had been ringing, those bells which had been for a while silenced so that the sound of them might instantly signal if enemy troops were to land. But, by common consent and by clerical permission, they now sounded something else entirely. The reddish-gray-haired man looked up from the sheet of parchment, of which he must by now, it seemed, know every letter, so often had he scanned it. Immersed though he was in his text and his thoughts, still he lifted his head at length and spoke.
“It sounds as though every church in the city is ringing its bells,” he murmured.
The friend and countryman who had so long and so often stood by his side, figuratively and literally, said, “Yes, and even in the suburbs … the Liberties, as they call them here.”
The reddish-gray-haired man made a soft, musing noise, turned again to the document, then half-raised his head once more. “One might call them liberty bells, then,” he said. Another thought brought his head all the way up. “What was it,” he asked, “that text from Scripture—you recall, don’t you?—on the bell in Philadelphia?”
His friend and countryman considered, nodded. “‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land—’”
“Aye, liberty. The Jews had a word for it. And ‘unto all the inhabitants thereof,’ aye … .” He nodded, sighed. “Philadelphia,” he said.
At the door, a burly, tousle-headed fellow, cheeks stubby and shirt (none too fresh) open at his shaggy breast, looked in, listened. His face showed a mixture of impatience and compassion. Often had he listened to these and other refugees recounting, as a litany, the names of their towns and provinces. (One could not always tell them apart.) Sometimes the names of the New World (perhaps Brave, perhaps just Bold) merely echoed the names of the Old. (O servant exalted above the master!) Sometimes they seemed a concatenation of barbarous sybilants and gutterals from the aboriginal tongues. Ah, well. To duty.
“Are you quite ready for us, then?” he asked the two. They turned.
“Ah, Charles. I should think—”
“Ah, Charles. Just one more moment. A last look. You understand.”
“Of course. Of course. No wish to rush you.” He coughed; he raised his eyebrows. The reddish-gray-haired man went back to his text. The friend moved quietly and, gently and tactfully (he was not always quiet, or gentle, or tactful) eased the newcomer away.
“He won’t be much longer at it, I promise. I know.”
“Yes, yes. You’ve known him a long time.”
“Since his hair was quite red.”
Arm in arm they moved out into the corridor. There, all was controlled turmoil. Country squires and yeoman farmers with mud on their boots spoke confidentially to craftsmen smelling of machine oil and the forge. Bishops, white sleeved, listened with modified majesty to inferior clergy, all in black save for the white bands at the neck. And a member of the old peerage, head covered with a wig of archaic cut, nodded to the comments of an old man wrapped in a ragged—and still, technically, illegal—tartan. It was at least as likely that this last anachronism had crossed, recently and hastily, from long exile in France, than that he had descended from Scotland. The Estates, as the Scottish parliament was called since the revisions of the Act of Union, had done little more with the use of their regained powers than to pass innumerable acts of outlawry and attainder upon each other. But this, too, would soon enough pass away.
Very, very soon, in fact.
On seeing the two approach, one gentleman, evidently in a condition of total confusion as well as in court dress (court dress, sword and all), buttonholed the burly fellow with an agitated air.
“Where will it end, Charles?” he asked. “Where will it all end?”
“All’s well that ends well,” was the half-muttered reply, then added, after a moment’s recollection, “Doctor.”
As though needing no more than this acknowledgment of his profession, the doctor at once said, “As to where it all began, why, say I, it all began with the fatal tennis ball. Or, if I may be permitted to say it—” here he glanced around, defiantly “—the insufficiently fatal tennis ball.”
“Water under the bridge,” Charles muttered, tugged a watch out, glanced, then muttered again, “Water under the bridge … . London Bridge … .”
But the medical man’s phrase was overheard, was appreciated, was at once repeated and passed from mouth to mouth. “The insufficiently fatal tennis ball … .”
And the bells rang out and the bells rang on. St. Paul’s, St. Martin’s, St. Clemens, Bow, St. Mary-le-Bone … .
“The insufficiently fatal tennis ball … .”
The Stuarts, as even the handful of still-unreconstructed Jacobites would needs admit, the Stuarts had their faults. But they had not hated their heirs. That is, the Jameses and the Charleses had not hated one another. Anne, to be sure, now, Anne—Anne had certainly shown no fondness for, first, Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover, and for Sophia’s son, George. But they were only Anne’s distant cousins, and were far off in what someone later was to term “a despicable Electorate.” Poor Anne! Last of the Stuarts actually to occupy the throne, thirteen (thirteen!) pregnancies, and no heir to outlive her, she might have been (and was) excused for not wishing the sight or presence of her so-distant kin.
But it was left for the kin themselves to exemplify the phrase of Elizabeth, her sentiment that “she could not bear to hear the mention of a Successor.” And yet, even so, Elizabeth, too, had had some reason. Had she not? “The Queen of Scots hath a bonny Babe, and I am but a barren stock.” Thus Elizabeth. But what reason had the sovereigns of the House of Hanover for hating, and for so hating, their own heirs? Heirs who were of their own bodies lawfully begotten—and lawfully present. Had not George I, at a court levee, publicly cursed his son, the future George II, forbidding him thenceforth to attend cabinet meetings, cabinet meetings from which, there no longer being any interpreter whom German George felt he could trust, the king thenceforth absented himself from. (And a good thing, too, said many.)
Even this, however, had faded beside the subsequent hatred of George II for his own heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales. The English, not used to the sort of thing which was evidently traditional in Hanover, the English had murmured, “Poor Fred … .” Poor Fred, indeed. The king could not, after all, immure the Prince of Wales in a palace prison, however much he called him “scoundrel.” Nor could he cut his son off from revenues which either had been voted as “supply” by Act of Parliament, or accrued by ancient English law and custom, via the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. However much he thought and called him “fool.”
Frederick, Prince of Wales, was, however, subject to all the coldness, the scorn, hatred, spleen and exclusion of which his father, George II, was capable. He was left to molder in his own petty counter-court, attended only by those politicians who were not merely out of favor but entertained no hopes of ever being again in favor while George lived. The prince was left to admire the poems of Pope. And he was left to play tennis.
It was the blow upon or near the breastbone, the blow from a hard-struck tennis ball, which gave the princely physician a concern. “I fear me,” the meddlesome apothecary had murmured, “I fear me that this blow might be the occasion of an imposthume. And that, should Your Royal Highness suffer at some future date from a severe cold … an inflammation on the lungs … .”
“Is nothing to be done?” inquired the prince, somewhat languid from opium and ipecac. “Am I so soon to leave nine orphans? [There had been, after all, one other thing in which the king was powerless to constrain him.] Should we send for the chaplain?” But the physician-in-ordinary was not ready to send for the chaplain.
“I should propose to bleed Your Royal Highness once again,” he said. The Prince of Wales, however, was not ready to be bled once again. “Then I should propose to purge Your Royal Highness once again.” But the prince absolutely refused to be purged once again.
The physician-in-ordinary threw up his hands. “In that case,” he said. And stopped. “In that case … . In that case, I must recommend … in fact … . In that case,” he said, firmly, “I indeed must insist upon Your Royal Highness taking a long and immediate change of air.”
As was to be expected, the king managed to contain his grief.
“A change of air? Vhere?” he demanded.
“The Isle of Wight has been suggested, Your Majesty.”
“Der Isle of Vhat?” A map was brought and the Isle of Wight pointed out to the king, who was pleased to give a grunt, interpreted as a Gracious Assent.
However and however.
“His Royal Highness does not, it seems, desire to go to the Isle of Wight.”
The king had been playing backgammon with his mistress and already felt bored with this interfering subject.
“Teufelsdreck! Dhen vhere he vants to go?” It was intimated that the prince had expressed a preference for either Hanover or France as the scene of his recuperation. The king gave a shout of rage and kicked the backgammon board across the room. Hanover? Never! Hanover … . In Hanover … . In Hanover the air was sweeter, the water purer, the food better, the populace more loyal (“—than in England” being understood). Hanover was reserved for the king himself to go to for changes of air. And as for France—
“He vould intrigue vhit der French king! He vould efen intrigue vhit der pretender!” It was pointed out to him that the pretender now lived in Italy, and rather meanly, on a papal pension. But the king would hear no arguments. Once let Frederick set foot upon the Continent, why, what would prevent his going even to Italy? “Der force of graffity, maybe?” he screamed, with immense sarcasm.
“Nein! Nein! He can go to der Isle of Vight—or he can go to Hell—und—und—if he doesn’t vant to go to Hell, den he can go to America!”
At this, the royal mistress was unwise enough to allow a snort of laughter to escape her lips. The entire court waited breathlessly for the lightnings. But the king, having had his attention called to the fact of his having made a joke, abruptly decided to enjoy it. His hard-bitten little red face grew redder still, and the court, breathing inward sighs of relief, joined in the now royally permissible laughter.
And on this merry gale, the prince’s vessel was wafted out to sea.
First aboard the Anna Maria was the royal and proprietarial governor. His cocked hat showing above the railing as he climbed the ladder, he was demanding, “Have ye got me snuff with ye? Have ye got me madeira? Have ye brought me mail, me newsletters?” With a heave and a ho he clambered on deck, looked all around. “Have ye got any pretty wenches that have come to seek their fortunes in the new-found world? Have ye—” And here his face, which had just that moment focused on a slender and somewhat pale passenger, underwent an absolutely fascinating transformation.
“Your Royal Highness!” he bawled, and did not so much fall upon his knees as on his face.
It was in this manner that Frederick, Prince of Wales, came to America.
The king, it was reported, had near had an apoplexy when he heard the news. But he had, after all, he had given his permission. After a fashion, no doubt, but given it he had. And in the hearing of all the court. There was, then, nothing he could do about it.
From The Court Circular and Gazette:
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, and their Children [here followed a list], have, by Reason of His Majesty’s Most Gracious Solicitude, engaged upon a visit to the American Plantations, in order that His Royal Highness may recruit his Health.
No member of the royal family had ever before set foot upon the soil of the American plantations (“the colonies,” as it was now becoming fashionable to call them). And, suddenly, in one stroke, here were eleven of them! They moved into the home of the royal and proprietarial governor, the r. and p.g. moved into the house of the lieutenant-governor and the lieutenant-governor moved into an inn. The governor’s home was, for the Americas, palatial. But it was, after all, crowded with all of them there. It was damned crowded!
“Let’s build a little house,” the prince suggested. “Eh, my dearest? Shall we build a little house along the river? Is that not a capital suggestion?” The princess thought that it was a capital suggestion. All her life, after all, she had lived in houses built for others. The notion that she might now have a voice in designing one for her own use fell upon her ears like harpsichord music played by an orchestra of angels. The house was to be on the Delaware River, and not on the Thames? Bless you, it might have been on the Styx for all she cared! And in the meanwhile … in the meanwhile … for it was crowded in the governor’s house … well, what about a visitation of the other colonies?
And so it was arranged. The youngermost ones of the royal infants remained in Pennsylvania with their nurses; the eldest of the royal infants accompanied their royal parents. New Jersey and New York had heard with curiosity what they now beheld with enthusiasm. Connecticut had been cool, but the coolness was now warmed. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and Providence plantations had, in fact, been skeptical about the whole thing: who knew but that it was some sort of a flummery tale concocted down there in Pennsylvany? What would a prince be doing in America, anyway? It was all obviously, or half-obviously, a sort of granny’s tale. Prince? There was no—
And then, thunderation! Here he was!
And would you just look-see what he was doing!
Previous examples of British officialdom had merely sniffed at the coarse foodstuffs of the frontier, hastily ordered their cooks to prepare some French kickshaws (“Or at least a decent dish of mutton!”). Not Fred. The capacity of Frederick for the New England dinner, boiled or otherwise, was prodigious.
“Look at him a-tuckin’ inta the baked beans!”
“Didn’t do a injustice to the hasty puddin’, either!”
“How many bowls o’ chowder and how many quohogs’d the prince eat down’t the clambake?”
Up came the First Selectman of the Township of East Neantic, which was, so to speak, catering the affair; sweating and smiling slightly (in East Neantic they smile slightly where others would beam), he called his order for “more o‘th’ ha‘nch o’venison fr His R’yal Highness!”
And, not very long later: “More roast beef fr the Prince o’ Wales!”
In England, venison came from the King’s Deer, and the king was not inclined to share. In England, one had not known that bears could be roasted; in England, one had, in fact, never even seen a bear!
The New Englanders looked at each other, looked at their prince—who gave them back a hearty grin, somewhat greasy about the chops—looked at each other again.
“Likes our vittles, do he? He do!”
“Guess we ain’t sech barbarious critters after all!” they said to each other.
And they said: “Well, sir, I snum!”
Even at this date one may wonder: why had Fred such an appetite, such a zest for things? Well, for one thing, the provinces of the New World were … well, they were new! The hand of man had not yet had time to tame them as in Europe, trim them into shape like yew hedges, turn their sparkling rivers into tame canals or drainage ditches. And, in that pure air, under that clear sky, the despised son of what a later New England writer was to call a “snuffy old drone from the German hive” seemed to enter a new youth—almost without ever having, under the cold gaze and hot scorn, almost without ever having had a previous one.
Here, no one called him “fool!”
Here, no one called him “scoundrel!”
And, perhaps best of all, here, no one called him “poor Fred!”
After a while, the weather commencing to turn cold; prince and princess turned south, were reunited with the royal infants in Philadelphia, examined the progress on what people were already beginning to call the Prince’s Palace … . The Prince’s Palace was not really quite ready yet … . Not quite ready yet, eh? Hm, well, there were colonies to the south of Pennsylvania, were there not? There certainly were! And, having heard of their sovereign’s son’s reception by the colonies to the north, they were restlessly waiting to show him what they could do in Delaware … Maryland … Virginia … North and South Carolina … and even in far-off Georgia, hard upon the borders of the Spanish dons.
It was all very pleasant. It was all most pleasant. And so, as he was bound to do, sooner or later, the king heard about it.
It is His Majesty’s pleasure that the Prince should now return.
The prince did not return.
Those listless days of playing cards before a smoky fireplace under a lowering London sky, listening to the slow babble of a secondhand and second-rate set of courtiers were over. The Prince’s Palace was finished now, but the prince had no intention of turning it into a copy of what he had left behind him. It was brought to his attention that what the colonies, menaced by French and Spanish and Indians, what the colonies needed was a well-regulated militia. Very well, then; he began to regulate—that is, to organize and reorganize and drill one. And, at the first occasion—another outbreak on the frontier—he led it into battle. There was no nonsense of bright, gaudy uniforms (such as his father so loved), preceded by loud-sounding brass and drums. In their native buckskin and hickory-dyed homespun, slinking through the wilderness as stealthily as Indians, the colonial troops met the enemy. And he was theirs.
More shouts of rage in far-off London. Once again the backgammon board was kicked across the room.
It is His Majesty’s command that the Prince shall now return forthwith.
In tones practicedly smooth and outwardly respectful, the prince replied that his health did not, alas, permit him to return … just yet. And, in fact, he—but let the story follow, turn by turn.
The king was of course not without resources. And one of them was to commandeer the resources of the Prince of Wales. These were collected as soon as ever they fell due, and at once closed up in the Privy Purse. The king did not, to be sure, confiscate them. He merely neglected to forward them to the prince.
“Let der vild backvoodsmen pay Fred’s bread und board,” he said. Or was said to have said. And, so, might as well have said.
The Assembly of Pennsylvania voted the prince a subvention of a thousand pounds, Pennsylvania. The Assembly of Maryland voted a similar sum. The Virginia House of Burgesses voted him fifteen hundred. The race was on. From colony after colony the money rolled in. It rolled in—until word arrived that His Majesty has refused the Royal Assent to the subvention. By now the colonial temper was hotting up. What was to be done?
“The king be a-tryin’ tew take our prince away from us, be he? A-tryin’ to starve him out, be he? Well … he bain’t a-goin’ tew!”
The Selectmen and Town Meeting of East Neantic voted the prince the best three lots in the township available, and promptly voted to rent them back at the best rent possible; they then voted to send the money forthwith; as a further act, they also voted the prince’s household “twenty pecks of cornmeal, two barrels prime salt pork, a barrel of oysters, a barrel of clams, a hogshead of hominy and one of samp … .” The list rolled on.
“The king, he bain’t able tew veto the Township of East Neantic, no, sir, not even he!”
It caught on. It caught right on. Within two months the prince’s storehouses not only bulged with victualry, peltry and wampum, but he had become the largest landowner in any single colony one might care to name. There was lots of land.
Could not the prince be said to have “fled the Realm” and hence to have abdicated, as was said of James II? The cabinet dubiously said that it rather thought not. The Privy Council respectfully said, not. And even the law lords, with many a regretful harrumph, said, absolutely … absolutely not. Well, then, what could the king do? Once again the king was politely made to know that he could do—nothing.
Of course, he could die. And, of course, he did.
What happened next was compared to the Flight of the Wild Geese, the Flight of the Earls, when the leaders of the Irish almost en masse took to their heels and, not waiting for the completion of yet another English reconquest, took refuge on the Continent. Of course, it was not the same. It was, well, it was because no one really knew how one stood in regard to the new king. (“Frederick, by the Grace of God”; how odd it sounded! There had never been a King Frederick before. Well, there had once never been any King George before, either.) And, for that matter, no one knew how the king himself stood in regard to … well, anything!
The Atlantic was white with sails. London Pool was left bare of any vessel capable of crossing the ocean, and Bristol, the same. Every man with a place to lose or hope of a place to gain was posting o’er the white-waved seas. Was London the capital, still? Well … Parliament sat in London. But only if the king summoned it to sit. The king was, after all, still very much the Fountain of Honor … and of power. And each cabinet minister, each member of the Privy Council, each powerful marquis and viscount and earl, each of them had the thought that if he were the first to bring the new king the news, if the new king, panting for the crown, were to accompany him back to England … .
For bringing back an earlier exiled Prince of Wales, General Monk had been created Duke of Albermarle.
Historians dispute who actually was the first to bring Fred the news. There was, after all, quite a crowd of them. They found him—and a hard journey of it they had had, too, in finding him—they found him sitting on a split-rail fence the other side of the Alleghenies, wearing a coonskin cap (“Sitting on a what? The other side of where? Wearing a which?”) and buckskin breeches stained with grease and blood. They babbled out their news. Their great news. And waited for the new king to cry for his horse.
“I shan’t budge,” said the new king. And he spat a stream of something which they soon learned was tobacco juice.
“I ain’t a-gonna go,” the king said.
He rid himself of his chaw and called—not for his horse—for a dipper of rye whiskey. “To rense out my mouth.”
Nothing was ever the same afterwards.
Parliament was summoned to sit, and Parliament sat. A royal and Ducal uncle opened it in the capacity of “Captain of the Realm.” But the Privy Council was held in Philadelphia! True, only a Parliament could, only a House of Commons, in fact, could vote the king “supply.” But, secure in his colonial rents and revenues, the king did not need their supply. “Ship money”? Bless you, he had all the ships, and all the money, as ever he could need, right where he was! London? The king called London “a cesspool full of snobs.” He said that if London did not like it, London could kiss his royal arse.
He did suggest that Parliament should make provision for American members. Parliament was dazed but it did not feel itself to be as dazed as that. Parliament’s term eventually expired. The king simply did not summon another one.
What he did summon, by and by, was a sort of American parliament, called a Continental Congress, with the new privy council acting as a sort of House of Lords (a prominent member of which was the First Selectman of East Neantic). The prime minister was a colonial, a native of the American Boston, who had moved to Philadelphia in his youth. His name was Benjamin Franklin. The detested Navigation Acts, so hostile to colonial manufacture and shipping, were in effect nullified. Before long, American shipping—so much closer, after all, to wood and sailcloth and resin and pitch, and just as close to iron—had begun to supplant British preeminence in the trade upon the seas.
Who does not remember the great invasion of England planned by one Bonaparte? Who has not thrilled to the story of the sailing of the American armada, which, under the command of John Paul Jones, swept the French from the seas in a twinkling? Who, then, could object to the fact that American troops now spat their tobacco juices in the streets of London?
Franklin retired and was replaced by a Virginia planter by the name of Washington. “I detest your Party, sir,” was his common word; “your Faction, sir, I abhor.” But he grew old. (And, for that matter, so did the king.) And presently Washington stepped down, and was replaced, of course, by another colonial. The king grew very old. But the king, though he did not die, less and less attended to the business of state, leaving it more and more in the hands of his first minister. And this one was one who did by no means despise party or faction. Intrigue was middle name to him. The Americans had had little or no experience in such matters. The power slipped bit by bit from the hands of the old congressmen before they even noticed it. And the prime minister, securing the lord presidency of the privy council as well, began that which some said he had aimed at all along: a dictatorship after the old Roman model.
The old king no longer roamed the wilderness frontier delighting in the hunt and in the rough but genial banter of the backwoodsmen. He stayed in the by now truly palatial Prince’s House—the name had stuck and would never be changed—drinking rum cocktail and watching what were known as minstrel shows. One by one, the old champions of liberty slipped away, slipped across the seas, took refuge in an England which their forefathers, in the name of that same liberty, had long ago left behind them.
The old king lived on and on and on.
Though the prudence of retaining the American troops in England seemed clear to many (mostly in America), the costliness of doing so was also clear. The troops could hardly go and shoot game enough to feed themselves. England grunted at the first of the new tax acts. Stamped paper was to go up, was it? Well … they did not like it, but, after all, it was the same both sides of the sea. One by one the Acts of Congress descended. Congress, as such, could not act for England. But the Privy Council could; it could act anywhere in the realm. An Order in Council. Another Order in Council. And another.
England, it was being said, now groaned beneath an American tyranny.
And still there was not enough money. The American troops needed new clothes. The troops were protecting England, weren’t they? Well, then let the English pay for it.
To be sure, some of this expense had to be shared by American taxpayers, too. One had to step delicately here. The prime minister-president cautiously considered. What source of revenue was there which would least vex the colonies? It did not take him long to find it. After all, in all the Americas, how many folks really drank tea?
That had been the back-breaking straw. The British were long suffering, slow to wrath. They were loyal. They endured the absence of their king. They had submitted to the loss of their Parliament. They had accepted the presence of what were more or less foreign troops. They had muddled through the dismal diminution of trade. But—
Raise the tax on their tea?
The bells tolled in the churches, but not to summon the faithful to prayer. Fishwives and bishops, coal porters and Whig gentry, Thames watermen and bishops, cheesemongers and prentice boys, the beggars and the whores and the learned Proctors of the Doctors Commons, all rose up as one:
There was an East India vessel of the Honorable Company then in the Pool of London, laden with the newly taxed hyson, oolong and pekoe. A mob, calling itself the Sons of Liberty (said actually to be composed of the younger sons of the younger sons of peers), stormed the vessel and threw the tea chests into the harbor (whence the well-sealed containers were promptly and clandestinely pulled out, to be sold, sub rosa and sub counter, and sans tax, by members of the Worshipful Company of Grocers). And, as though to express their opinions as to the source of the oppressive tax, the mob had dressed themselves as Indians!
Could contempt and defiance go further?
For almost the first time in English history, a Parliament met without being summoned by the hand of a sovereign. The precedent, the so-called Convention Parliament—which had outlawed James II and confirmed the Crown to William and Mary—the precedent was uncertain. But when a precedent is wanted by a people close to rebellion, any precedent will do. They did not meet in the old Houses of Parliament, long empty—though empty in a sense only, for the House of Commons had served for some years as a choirboys’ school for Westminster Abbey, and the Commons itself was now used as a quartermasters warehouse for the American soldiers. They met in the Guildhall, under the great statues of Gog and Magog. First they repealed the old Act of Union. Then, under a slightly different style, they reenacted it. Then they passed resolutions. This delay was almost fatal.
The American troops, marching down Leadenhall Street in their brave new red-white-and-blue uniforms (symbols of oppression), and with their newly equipped bands playing—rashly, oh so rashly—“Yankee Doodle,” were met by a withering crossfire from the newly re-formed Trained Bands, hiding in the thickly clustering houses. And, abandoning their intended attack on the Guildhall, they were obliged to fall back, retreating across the Thames in the direction of Southwark.
And so, now, all day, behind the barricades, the refugee American with the reddish gray hair had toiled over the document. And now at last he looked up, and he nodded.
They marched into the great hall. They read the document aloud as the Liberty Bells rang out, proclaiming liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof. And when the words were reached, “RESOLVED, That these United Kingdoms are, and of right, ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT”—ah, then, what a shout went up!
“Charles James Fox should be first to sign,” the American said.
Charles James Fox scratched his bristly chin and shaggy chest. Shook his unkempt head. “No, sir,” he declared. “You have written it, the honor of signing it first belongs to you. Let that scoundrelly American prime minister-president, let the tyrant who has driven you all from your homeland, let him see your name there for himself.”
The American nodded. With a wry smile, he said to his friend, “Well, Pat, I now commit treason … eh?”
His friend’s comment was, “If this be treason, let us make the most of it.”
The other, with a sound assent, picked up the proffered pen and, in a great round hand, wrote: “Thomas Jefferson.”
“There,” he said in grim contentment. “Now Aaron Burr can read it without his spectacles … .”
AFTERWORD TO “O BRAVE OLD WORLD!”
Avram Davidson’s fantasies of the nineteenth century are explorations of neglected incidents or alternative explanations of well-known events. “O Brave Old World!” is a classic example of alternate history, now known in academic circles as “counterfactual history.” What if, Davidson asks, Frederick of Hanover didn’t die young in 1751, and the British monarchy evolved along quite different lines? What if the seat of government were moved to North America?
Many of those who write alternate history betray monarchist leanings. The portrait of the down-to-earth King Fred is quite sympathetic, but Davidson takes his politics several twists further: as England bears the brunt of an occupying army sent to combat Bonaparte in Europe, London becomes the seat of a revolution in which Thomas Jefferson raises the voice of liberty. Note also the cameo role of “that scoundrelly American prime minister-president,” Aaron Burr.