In 1850 people didn’t know how their favorite symphony sounded.
Back then, it was common for musicians to work hectic schedules and perform multiple shows in a row. Instruments were frequently out of tune and good, consistent timing was fairly new. In addition, going to the symphony was a big deal: you dressed up, you hitched up the horses, you went into town.
You might only hear your favorite symphony 5 or 6 times in your life. Each time it was probably slightly in a different key, with a slightly different tempo, played with slightly different instruments, and each time you actively strained to hear and remember how it all sounded.
You would sit very attentively, absorbing each and every note and drumbeat of the symphony. It was a play, a painting, an imaginary world come to life, and you were living in it. It was magic.
Want some fun diversion? That was different too. You could read, which required an above average education and concentration. The more you read, however, the more you could read, so it was a self-reinforcing pastime. You could perform music, which also took years of study and was self-reinforcing. Then there were games, which mostly either involved physical exercise or concentration.
Everything back then took work and time. In rural America, it wasn’t unusual to walk five miles to a friend’s house to play a few games of checkers. Life was monotonous and physically challenging. In the countryside there was no plumbing and electricity hadn’t been invented yet. You spent a lot of time hauling around water, chopping firewood, planting and tending crops. It took nearly continuous physical activity. Leisure was no different: it took time, work, and active minds.
Want to socialize, hang out with the buds? It was a big deal, a special day. You’d either walk a ways or get on your horse and ride. If it were a really big day, like election, you’d hitch the wagon up to the plow team. It was a lot of work and hassle, but eventually you’d end up at the dance, the election, the church, the pub, or wherever. There would be drinking and story-telling ugoing on for hours on end. Hey — these were your friends and it took a lot of hassle to spend time with them. For instance, when the American Colonies were formed, Ben Franklin and a few other delegates threw a kegger before everybody else arrived that went on for several days.
The chemical diversion for the vast majority of people was alcohol. Who can forget Franklin’s famous quote about wine?
“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
It wasn’t an ideal life by any means, but by contrast within 50 years the devil himself paid a visit to western society and it made those days look like a picnic.
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