Story type: Essay
It is fortunate that a passion for display is implanted in human nature; and if we owe a debt of gratitude to anybody, it is to those who make the display for us. It would be such a dull, colorless world without it! We try in vain to imagine a city without brass bands, and military marchings, and processions of societies in regalia and banners and resplendent uniforms, and gayly caparisoned horses, and men clad in red and yellow and blue and gray and gold and silver and feathers, moving in beautiful lines, proudly wheeling with step elate upon some responsive human being as axis, deploying, opening, and closing ranks in exquisite precision to the strains of martial music, to the thump of the drum and the scream of the fife, going away down the street with nodding plumes, heads erect, the very port of heroism. There is scarcely anything in the world so inspiring as that. And the self-sacrifice of it! What will not men do and endure to gratify their fellows! And in the heat of summer, too, when most we need something to cheer us! The Drawer saw, with feelings that cannot be explained, a noble company of men, the pride of their city, all large men, all fat men, all dressed alike, but each one as beautiful as anything that can be seen on the stage, perspiring through the gala streets of another distant city, the admiration of crowds of huzzaing men and women and boys, following another company as resplendent as itself, every man bearing himself like a hero, despising the heat and the dust, conscious only of doing his duty. We make a great mistake if we suppose it is a feeling of ferocity that sets these men tramping about in gorgeous uniform, in mud or dust, in rain or under a broiling sun. They have no desire to kill anybody. Out of these resplendent clothes they are much like other people; only they have a nobler spirit, that which leads them to endure hardships for the sake of pleasing others. They differ in degree, though not in kind, from those orders, for keeping secrets, or for encouraging a distaste for strong drink, which also wear bright and attractive regalia, and go about in processions, with banners and music, and a pomp that cannot be distinguished at a distance from real war. It is very fortunate that men do like to march about in ranks and lines, even without any distinguishing apparel. The Drawer has seen hundreds of citizens in a body, going about the country on an excursion, parading through town after town, with no other distinction of dress than a uniform high white hat, who carried joy and delight wherever they went. The good of this display cannot be reckoned in figures. Even a funeral is comparatively dull without the military band and the four-and-four processions, and the cities where these resplendent corteges of woes are of daily occurrence are cheerful cities. The brass band itself, when we consider it philosophically, is one of the most striking things in our civilization. We admire its commonly splendid clothes, its drums and cymbals and braying brass, but it is the impartial spirit with which it lends itself to our varying wants that distinguishes it. It will not do to say that it has no principles, for nobody has so many, or is so impartial in exercising them. It is equally ready to play at a festival or a funeral, a picnic or an encampment, for the sons of war or the sons of temperance, and it is equally willing to express the feeling of a Democratic meeting or a Republican gathering, and impartially blows out “Dixie” or “Marching through Georgia,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me” or “My Country, ’tis of Thee.” It is equally piercing and exciting for St. Patrick or the Fourth of July.
There are cynics who think it strange that men are willing to dress up in fantastic uniform and regalia and march about in sun and rain to make a holiday for their countrymen, but the cynics are ungrateful, and fail to credit human nature with its trait of self-sacrifice, and they do not at all comprehend our civilization. It was doubted at one time whether the freedman and the colored man generally in the republic was capable of the higher civilization. This doubt has all been removed. No other race takes more kindly to martial and civic display than it. No one has a greater passion for societies and uniforms and regalias and banners, and the pomp of marchings and processions and peaceful war. The negro naturally inclines to the picturesque, to the flamboyant, to vivid colors and the trappings of office that give a man distinction. He delights in the drum and the trumpet, and so willing is he to add to what is spectacular and pleasing in life that he would spend half his time in parading. His capacity for a holiday is practically unlimited. He has not yet the means to indulge his taste, and perhaps his taste is not yet equal to his means, but there is no question of his adaptability to the sort of display which is so pleasing to the greater part of the human race, and which contributes so much to the brightness and cheerfulness of this world. We cannot all have decorations, and cannot all wear uniforms, or even regalia, and some of us have little time for going about in military or civic processions, but we all like to have our streets put on a holiday appearance; and we cannot express in words our gratitude to those who so cheerfully spend their time and money in glittering apparel and in parades for our entertainment.