There is something especially admirable about one of those turn of phrases that carries both a secular and a deeper philosophical or religious meaning. The title is one example of this wisdom and intelligence or luck of the unknown author, and they are always unknown it seems.
On a purely secular level we’ve only had police or cops as we now know them for less than 200 years. The modern idea of cops comes from the movement of Robert Peel the British Prime Minister in the mid-19th century. Thus the term “Bobby” for the English cop on the beat. For most of Mankind’s journey personal security was provided by a handful of constables, sheriff’s or yes watchmen employed by the local King, Baron or other prominent person of the area. Mostly you were on your own when it came to security after the Sun set. Going back for centuries if you read the history you will see that those who could afford it had private guards (footmen for example) when out at night or they went about armed. Gentlemen carried swords not for decoration but to actually defend themselves and more often to discourage the potential robber or criminal from even attempting an assault.
The term Watchman was used for centuries in the cities. Ben Franklin referred to the Watchman when he was trying to organize a more formal police presence in Philadelphia in the 1730’s. That was as generic term that covered Constables or others hired by the local governor or mayor to light the street lamps and make a circuit along the major streets. So the title phrase today is more or less the equivalent of tuning into the 10 o’clock news to see if there is any danger out there. Two centuries ago you would have asked the Watchman on his rounds if there was anything nefarious afoot.
Of more profound and emotional content is the personal introspection and depth of the inquiry. Just as the phrase “whither thou goest”? That is very penetrating. Many of us much of the time might not really want to answer that question because an honest response would be adverse to our self-esteem. That query can apply to the immediacy of today or the panorama of our life path. It is indeed a good and happy man that can answer that poser with equanimity. Remember how Adam in the Garden of Eden didn’t want to answer God’s question about his original sin of the fruit and blamed everything on Eve or even God himself since He gave Adam the woman? Our strivings in life should be such that we can actually answer that question each day of our lives. Every day that you refuse to answer that query or are reluctant is a day you should try to correct on the morrow. Thankfully the good Lord allows us to redeem ourselves and that is available for a day or a lifetime. A good life is not about perfection but about perfection in effort to be noble, honest and decent.
Lead your life so that when you here that voice from within or from real but ethereal origin, calling to you–“Watchman, how goes the night”? You can reply–all is well.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” Proverbs 27/6. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com