Here is yet another family history post, this one in the form of a speculative history of a phrase associated with a particular grandmother (of Nancy’s, great-grandmother of the Rust kids’ generation, great-great-grandmother of the Arcadia, Alexa, and Ben generation, and great-great-great grandmother of Arlo Murch): the phrase “Let joy be unconfined,” a favorite of Blanche Shuttleworth (née Blanche Sokol, 1869-1957; read short biography here), aka Nanny.
To us lit’rary types a phrase like that has the ring of a quotation. So I did a little “google-ing” and discovered that the phrase comes from (or was at least used by) Lord Byron in his poem “The Eve of Waterloo,” which is a part of his long narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage published between 1812 and 1818. The poem “The Eve of Waterloo” (read the whole poem here) is about a fancy ball given the evening before one of the battles before the great battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, at which Napoleon was defeated by British and Prussian forces. At the ball, the party-goers first think they hear the sounds of battle but decide they don’t and keep on dancing and celebrating; eventually, though, it’s clear that they were right in the first place, and they leave the party to go off to fight. Here are poem’s first stanzas:
There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!
Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
But hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;
Arm! arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!
Could Nanny have picked up the phrase “Let joy be unconfined” from Byron’s poem? Maybe, but if not from there, it turns out that it’s a phrase that was used frequently in all kinds of Iowa newspapers–many published near Sibley–where more often than not it’s stripped of the sense of foreboding that surrounds it in Byron’s poem. In an article from February 11, 1929 (in the run-up to another kind of Waterloo . . . ), the phrase is used in the Mason City Globe-Gazette in an article about Mardi Gras (see full page with lots of interesting ads here):
Mason City Globe-Gazette, February 11, 1929
Another appearance of the phrase is in a fairly long article in the Humboldt County Republican devoted to superstitions about weddings, published on April 11, 1895, tantalizingly near and in advance of Blanche’s and Will’s wedding in 1896. Wrapping up a discussion of superstitions about wedding dates and localities, the article enjoins, “Let joy be unconfined to any locality. The date of your wedding day will always prove the anniversary of the best day in your life.” Could the bride pictured below have remembered the phrase “let joy be unconfined” from reading an article about wedding dates while looking forward to her own?
Blanche Sokol and William Shuttleworth, 1896