Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Fitch, "The Song of the Brown Jug"

The song below was printed into a will that Fitch drew up in 1792. As can be seen from the song, Fitch intended to commit suicide at that point, but ended up holding off suicide until 1798.


The Song of the Brown Jug

With my jug in one hand and my pipe in the other
I'll drink to my neighbor and friend
All my cares in a whiff of Tobacco I'll smother
My life I know shortly must End
While Ceres most kindly refills my Brown Jug with Brown Ale
I will make myself mellow
In my old Vicar Chair I'll set myself snuf
Like a jolly and true-hearted fellow

I'll ne'er trouble myself with the Cares of my Nation
I've enough of My own for to mind
All we see in this World is but grief and vexation
To Death I am Shortly Resigned
So we'll laugh Drink and Smoke and leave nothing to Care
And Drop like a Pair (Pear) Ripe and Mellow
When Cold in my Coffin I'll leave them to Say
He's gone what a True-hearted Fellow[i]

[i]Fitch, "Will," July 13, 1792, Force Collection, Library of Congress.

21 Comments:

Blogger pinkismyfavoritecolor said...

This song honestly doesn't really seem like a suicide note. If it were present in our popular music culture today, I would probably brush John Fitch off as a free spirit, a hippie so to say. There are tons of songs out there today that are much much more closely related to suicide notes. This guy really just seems like he wants to get drunk and sit around smoking and not giving a damn about anything. Today, this certainly doesn't have to mean that you want to die. If everyone who wanted to not fight and to instead bother with their own problems, a productive society might arise.

I guess the reason that this song doesn't seem like a depressing death wish is because it is actually quite vivid in it's language and tone. I think that someone who wanted to die could have certainly come up with a much more dark song to sing. This one seems quite suitable for a bar...

12:40 PM  
Blogger AubergineClementine said...

I really like this song. It shows the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes's "nasty brutish and short" outlook on life in saying that "all we see in this world is but grief and vexation... to death I am shortly resigned." In other words, life is a dark journey whose goal is merely to finish. This explains why Fitch used it as his suicide anthem; in response to pinkismyfavoritecolor's post, the beauty of the song is that it isn't in fact dark and death-ridden. It doesn't seem like a suicide note to make a point. Fitch was less hippie than realist. He actually did give a damn and thought about life to prove it. It was the result that he concluded that made him seem like he didn't care (i.e. drinking off his jug): the Rabalasian way of socialization with others that life is all about. Isn't that also a lot of college students' opinions too, though? They argue that they'll be out of the university in 4 years (if they're lucky) so they might as well make the most of it while they're there and party with people they like ("neighbor and friend")and have fun. Rabelais partied with the best of them because that was the point of life him basically. So the song is actually a very well thought out if not a bit ironic, Hobbesian opinion or mortality.

2:26 PM  
Blogger daltonRussell said...

I don’t really personally see Hobbes’ philosophy as life is a dark road that’s only goal is death. I did not get that from his readings. Anyways, I think that Fitch is looking forward to people feeling sorry for him. He views life as a waste of time obviously, which sucks for him. I agree with pink in the sense that the note doesn’t sound very dark. He doesn’t give reasons for his suicide. He is just complaining and telling us that he is going to drink and smoke his sorrows away before his death. In the last line, he also says, “When Cold in my Coffin I’ll leave them to Say/ He’s gone what a True-Hearted Fellow”. I think that his whole letter is somewhat of a sympathy note. This last sentence is telling us that he wants people to feel bad for him that he is dead. Of course this is going to happen, but if anything, this thought of loved ones missing me would make me want to live.

9:13 PM  
Blogger elle_ecrit87 said...

I like this song because I think it is very true to the human mind and soul and many people could identify with it. Here is a man at his wits end and tired of the world and outside forces running and messing with his life. It also shoes what most people want when they die: 1) to be happy (which i think the liquor is doing that job nicely), and 2) to be remembered as the author says to elequently as "true hearted", kind, and intelligent (which this poetic suicide note expresses very well). I do wonder what kept him from going through with it--- perhaps he passed out from too much drinking before he could do anything. Or, perhaps he found that at least at that moment death was more horrific than the ugly world he found himself in. All in all, i think this is a very interesting suicide note, and for better or for worse, one that many people can identify with through all points of time.

2:31 PM  
Blogger swiffer_mop1234 said...

The way that I see this song relating to Hobbes is that life is full of problems and the writer seems to be wanting to get away from the world, or the people that cause him grief, somewhat similar to Hobbes. I really like the comparison made to rabaleis' thoughts on life. This song seems to place a light heartedness on the thoughts concerning suicide, which is what is usually seen in suicide notes. To comment on pinkismyfavoritecolor, I think this suicide note/song was the type of song written for that day and age when people were stressed and just wanted to give up. Also, as the intro says, he didn't commit suicide directly after he wrote this; he just wanted to complain a little.

2:13 PM  
Blogger thisismyname said...

Wow. Even though it's sad John Fitch killed himself, although it was years after writing this, this song is actually positive in some aspects. I mean, he's living it up before he dies by smoking and drinking. Sure, both activities, especially the smoking, may put him in the grave sooner rather than later, but, like it was said before; he's enjoying his earthly pleasures before it's his time to go. I think a lot of people focus too much on the serious, and not enough on the fun in life. Yeah, there’s always something we need to be doing, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a little bit of time out of your day (it doesn’t have to be every day!) to do something you enjoy doing, so long as it’s not robbing other people of their freedom or rights. Life is short!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

I would really have to disagree with pinkismyfavoritecolor on this one. I think that you can tell that it is a suicide note...if you read the underlying message here. Yes, if you take it a face value the it does seem like a lighthearted and simply happy song. But I have to think if the author was happy with his life he wouldn't be contemplating suicide...would he???

I think that Mr. Fitch is really broken. I mean he openly sees the world as nothing but grief and vexation...that has to say right there that he hates the life he is leading. I think that he is being quite sarcastic actually. It is like he is wishing others will see him as a true hearted fellow, but he probably was far from that. He talks so lightly on life and yet he wants to die. He is saying...drink, smoke and die...not eat, drink, and be merry. And you know what, even if he didn’t kill himself after he wrote that, he did less than ten years later....So yeah I think he was not a very happy person.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Beatrice Baudelaire said...

I really don't think of Fitch as a "free spirit" as pink put it. I think he's kind of ruled by his depression and really a drain on society. "I'll ne'er trouble myself with the Cares of my Nation / I've enough of My own for to mind." He's using alcohol and apathy as a personal opiate. While it's probably better that he's left "the cares of his nation" to others, he did contribute the Steamboat. However, this apparently did not bring him happiness as he has decided on suicide as an exit from his mental illness. Unlike elle_ecrit I don't believe his death will be happy, just drugged and bitter. I think he's kind of trying to play it off like this is the choice that makes him happy, but it's only half-hearted. He's trying to say that his death is like a pear dropping. I think an important difference to recognize is that the pear's death/consumption causes the germination of the seed. This seems to be an interesting link to the Human Capital argument. Is suicide the way that Fitch is protesting his consumption as the inventor of the steamboat?

8:33 PM  
Blogger bob_barker_is_my_hero said...

This has a very Rabelaisian feel to me. Live life and don’t worry about it so much. It seems like he is reminding people not to constantly worry about things like “Cares of the Nation” and to loosen up a bit and enjoy life. Rabelais would have undoubtedly approved this song. Fitch was clearly a man who didn’t want to have a care in the world. It seems like he is saying that everyone dies and so there really isn’t a point in caring, I find it interesting how he mentions Ceres, who is the Roman goddess of the harvest. Since ale is made by fermenting things that can be harvested, perhaps he was hinting that Ceres was aiding in his drinking himself to death in the way a mother would give her child medicine.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Magic Chicken said...

This is definitely a suicide note. Even taking things at face value, it becomes obvious that this is related to death when he says “My life I know shortly must End” (Line 4). It isn't until line 9 that it seems to be a suicide note rather than a song on death in general. After all, if you are talking about your imminent death and talking about your frustrations with life, one of the possible connections that could be made is suicide. Anyway, this song seems to be detail a way to “go out with a bang.” What better way to leave than to be relaxing with not a care in the world? I think this is partially what he means by “what a True-hearted Fellow.” However, this phrase also suggests that the author is aware of the fruitlessness of life, thus, his heart is following the true path according to his observations: if life is filled with “grief and vexation,” why stick around when you can get rid of it with suicide?

9:34 PM  
Blogger Morsmordre said...

Though it is obviously about death, this doesn’t necessarily sound like a suicide note. Suicide notes often entail deliberate intent. In my opinion, this song sounds like he is resigned to death, perhaps due to illness or some other factor, but not that he is causing it himself. Therefore, he simply doesn’t care anymore and decides to “live life to the fullest” so to speak. Also, he says that people would have viewed him a “True-hearted fellow”. Since Catholicism was the dominant religion during the late eighteenth century, I doubt that many would view him as such as suicide is forbidden and damnable in the Catholic faith.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Larogoth said...

This song was rather interesting to me. Had it not been told that this author were planning on committing suicide I would have guessed that this author were at least referring to an act of suicide through reading the song. There were many clues in the song that would lead one to believe that the author could have been considering suicide.

Although the author adopted suicide as an answer to his life problems, I find that suicide is the coward's way out of problems that one may face. Once one has committed suicide, there is no reset button; in the words of Phil Donahue, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." Suicide should never be considered as an option for overcoming ones life problems.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Krangor said...

I like this because instead of being an angst driven rant about how horrible the world is, Fitch expresses a kind of warm but melloncholic embrace of the freedom from the world he expects to find in death.

I agree with pinkismyfavoritecolor when she says that it is much more vivid in language and tone than what you would expect someone who planned to kill themselves to come up with. I think Fitch is different in this regard because he has come to this desicion after lots of rational thought rather than someone who decides to end it all in the throes of passion. I don't think this is as cowardly of a way out as largoth seems to think, because Fitch seems to less be saying "I just can't handle life," and more like "meh, why would I want to?" Selfish to an extent maybe, but not cowardly.

4:48 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

At times I feel like Fitch did when he wrote this. The world seems to be full of problems and I’m supposed to care about everything that is going on with everyone everywhere. It’s hard to care though when I’ve got a plate full of problems myself. Sometimes it seems like it would just be easier to drink my cares away. But at the same time, this isn’t the best thing to do. Today’s world seems to be getting more and more apathetic as to what’s going on around them. While not every thought of everyday should revolve around others, we should still think about people other than ourselves. Maybe this is a Polly Anna idea, but if we did care a little more about what is going on with other people, then maybe just maybe there wouldn’t be so many problems in this crazy world. I was surprised to read that this was somewhat of a suicide note though. It certainly doesn’t sound like one to me. It just sounds like the song of a man who doesn’t care anymore and is just going to drink and smoke the rest of his life. But then again, if all one did was drink, I suppose that is in essence killing yourself.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Eden Van Bibber said...

This reminds me of the quote "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." which is rather upbeat for an apparent suicide note. If I simply stumbled upon the song myself I would have interpreted it as a seize the moment message. The overall tone of the song is very simple and earthy, Fitch repeatedly returns to the color brown, brown jug, brown alcohol, this gave the overall work an organic feel, yet these elements seem to provide comfort to the author rather than add to his sorrow. Traditionally one would expect a suicide note to be more macabre or mournful. I think the author’s tone gives the piece a sort of relaxed feel, as if suicide for him is not an end so much as a release from life's troubles. It reminds me also of Hamlets "to be or not to be" speech and obviously Fitch has chosen the latter and he seems at ease with his choice.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Kayla Meadows said...

There is a cliche quote floating about society along the lines of 'death is only the beginning', and this song reminds of those words. Everyone is going to die -it's a fact of life, and one can choose to look at it as a curse, or a new journey. Everything beyond death is unknown, which most human beings are not comfortable with; we are creatures that thrive on the knowledge of what could happen in our lives, or the belief that we have control.

Control is lost in this song, purposefully. Fitch lets it go, giving himself, representationally through color and word choice (brown, as Eden said, etc.) to the earth, which is where the body goes when one dies. He has given up on the idea that he will live forever. At the risk of being feminist, many men do believe that they're going to live together, that they're invincible -hence the higher rate of them that do dangerous, adrenaline-based stunts as well as not wearing their seat belts.

In a sense, Fitch has realized that he will die, but he is still riding through life without his seat belt. He is not interested in fighting it anymore. This is admirable and beautiful, a sacrifice of human desires and instict. He shows an extraordinary willingness to accept the inevitable, which, these days, is a rarity.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Nate Sallee said...

This is a very interesting song because I believe just about everyone can relate to it. At one time or another people become overwhelmed with their own personal problems. Not only that but when those same people are exposed to the great problems of our society it can cause a great amount of stress and possible suicidal thoughts on the extreme side of things. Even though there may not be a ton of people that have had feelings that are borderline suicidal, everyone has either thought about or tried various substances to ease their pain. Either by drowning their sorrows in alcohol or feeling like they need to smoke something to take their problems away, everyone feels stressed enough to try and erase pressing times. Generally speaking this song reflects a negative outlook on life but it doesn't come off to me to be extremely dark and depressing. There are some very good points that could be considered cynical but its just a temporary mindset that many experience at some point in their life. The absence of divinity here is obvious to me because he is much more concerned in earthly pleasures of getting drunk and smoking instead of considering where death will take him.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Marissa Manns said...

It is very interesting that this song was supposed to be a suicide note. To me the writer does not seem to have a desire to die. Rather he gives his decree on how he will never beat death.Knowing this disturbs him deeply. Since there is nothing that he can do about death why bother with life? He has just given up. The songwriter’s suicide is not one where he dies literally. It is more like a discharge of his problems. In essence he is still alive but he might as well be dead. He decides to just drink and smoke for the rest of his life. It is so funny that people still do that now after all this time. Drinking to forget your problems is what a lot of college students that I know do. Instead of finding solutions they prefer to have a good time and forget about it. Simply existing like this is not beneficial to anyone. If the man had killed himself it would have had the same result. By living all he is doing is taking up space. He is no closer to making a difference. Most importantly he is no closer to enlightenment.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

All artistic endeavors can be interpreted in many different ways. For this reason, I have multiple views about this song. In a sense, I agree with bob barker that Rabelais might have approved of this song, but I don’t believe Fitch’s point in writing this was “loosen up a bit and enjoy life.” I interpret the song as him being very discouraged and unmotivated to continue living when “all we see in this world is but grief and vexation.” I think it would be more accurate to say his point was to “loosen up a bit and enjoy death.” It seems Fitch cannot figure out how to enjoy living, so he is going to make dieing as ‘pleasant’ (so to speak) as possible.

Also, I completely disagree with what Krangor wrote about Fitch’s decision to commit suicide being a conclusion of “lots of rational thought.” Suicidal thinking is not rational, healthy, or a sign of mental stability. However, I do not think anyone can judge someone for attempting, committing, or thinking about suicide for this reason as well. If the individual is mentally unstable/unhealthy/irrational, then their decision to commit suicide isn’t truly a sign of their character. Therefore, I don’t believe this song shows that Fitch is selfish or cowardly…just simply suicidal.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meaghan Dill

If this song hadn't been intended as a suicide note, I would have guessed that John Fitch was a bit of an existentialist. He seems to wield defiance toward life in his suggestion that everyone sit back and party. An existentialist would say that our actions in life simply do not matter, so we must face life with stoicism and live it however the heck we want, which is especially prevalent in the line suggesting that everyone just drink, smoke, and "leave nothing to care". However an the fact that this poem is about committing suicide completely ruins that argument, for if John Fitch truly were existential, he would have known that by killing himself, life would have defeated him instead of the other way around. He seemed to be on the right track but for the whole ending his life deal. However, if one had a choice as to how they would die, Fitch's way of doing it would be ideal. How best to end your life by sitting around with your friends, having fun (not necessarily drinking and smoking for those of you who might not enjoy it)? I for one, certainly would like to go out laughing and happy. I hope that Fitch died the way he described in this song.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless I miss interpreted this song, I love it!

This is how I want to live my life. Pretty much not care about anything and everything else just say screw it. This is pretty much true, once you die you die and I hope that someone will say what a true hearted fellow I was!

But this song is honestly pretty amazing. “I’ve enough of my own for to mind.” And this quite right here pretty much says it all, why worry about anything else when you have so much to worry about as it is?

We should all just realize the life we lead is the only life we get, have fun with it, do what we want when we want and not worry about all the crap that comes with it. Throw up our hands grab a pint chug it and have a blast!!!

Pretty much the type of mood this song puts me into. I like it, I want to live it

8:20 AM  

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