Friday, March 25, 2011

The Gray Champion

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
From Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches

In 1686 King James II of England appointed Sir Edmund Andros as the Governor of the Dominion of New England in a bold attempt to revoke the charters of the various New England colonies and unite them under one royal government. Andros, along with a group of advisors that included secretary Edward Randolph, attorney general Benjamin Bullivant, and the former New England council president Joseph Dudley, set about enforcing a regime that was viewed by the colonists (with some justification) as both arbitrary and despotic.

Meanwhile, in England, King James was becoming increasingly unpopular because of his conversion to Catholicism. In 1688 he was deposed in the bloodless Glorious Revolution and the next year William, Prince of Orange, together with Mary (his wife and James’s daughter), assumed the throne.

James’s ouster, needless to say, put Governor Andros’s career in jeopardy. Andros would soon attempt to flee New England, only to be caught and imprisoned. Eventually, the colonists shipped him back to England, where William and Mary released him.

These events form the background of the historical fiction of “The Gray Champion,” which imagines, only days before Andros’s downfall, a tense and combustible standoff between “the group of despotic rulers” and the “religious multitude.”

This Story of the Week selection was suggested by reader Marc Spitzer from Farmingdale, New York, who thought that it would remind readers that, “despite our political differences, we are all Americans.” Angry and fearful, the Puritan crowd in the story exhibits “sober garb, the general severity of mien, the gloomy but undismayed expression, the scriptural forms of speech, and the confidence in Heaven’s blessing on a righteous cause,” but they are also the source of “New-England’s hereditary spirit” that displays itself “should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s step pollute our soil.” As the editors of The Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics (1998), in a discussion of “The Gray Champion,” put it, “Hawthorne understood that the same ideas that spawned the Puritans’ religious bigotry also produced a powerful commitment to moral principle that made Puritans resist political tyranny”—thus establishing a tradition of resistance and persistence that has shown itself many times during the course of four centuries of American history.

Notes: John Rogers (p. 238) was a famously fiery Puritan preacher in England during the early seventeenth century. Old Noll (p. 241) was a disparaging nickname for Oliver Cromwell.

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There was once a time, when New England groaned under the actual pressure of heavier wrongs, than those threatened ones which brought on the Revolution. James II., the bigoted successor of Charles the Voluptuous, had annulled the charters of all the colonies, and sent a harsh and unprincipled soldier to take away our liberties and endanger our religion. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Refugee

Jane Rice (1913–2003)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

Over the course of a career lasting four decades, John W. Campbell was one of the leading forces behind the increasing popularity of science fiction. As editor of Astounding Science-Fiction (later Analog Science Fact & Fiction) from 1938 until his death in 1971, he is widely credited with launching the genre’s Golden Age. From 1939 to 1943, he also published Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), a magazine specializing in fantasy, but the magazine was forced to end its brief run after thirty-nine issues because of the lack of paper during the war.

Unknown’s legacy far exceeds its brief duration; The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says, “Along with Weird Tales, this was one of the most influential of all fantasy magazines, and in content superior to its rival.” The contributors included a number of science-fiction authors from Astounding willing to try their hand at horror-fantasy crossover—writers such as Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Williamson. One of Raymond Chandler’s last pulp stories (“The Bronze Door”) and Fritz Leiber’s debut (“Two Sought Adventure”) also appeared in its pages. The rigorous naturalism favored by Campbell, often using everyday settings and infusing the fiction with droll or dark humor, overturned the traditional boundaries of the genre.

Campbell was a pioneer in another way: he introduced to readers a number of women writers during an era when they were not very commonly found in the pulps. In 1942, according to Eric Leif Davin in Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction/, Ursula Kroeber was encouraged enough to send Campbell her first science-fiction story—which he rejected, “but no doubt this was only because Ursula K. Le Guin was just twelve years old at the time and the story needed a lot of work.” One author who did pass Campbell’s editorial muster was Jane Rice, whose career began at Unknown, which published several of her stories. This week’s selection, “The Refugee,” appeared in the very last issue of the magazine. A playful mix of comedy and the macabre, the story portrays an American woman stuck in France during the war, enduring the discomforts of rationing and the boredom of isolation, when an extraordinarily handsome—and entirely naked—young man appears in her garden.

Rice went on to write for other magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes as “Allison Rice” (a name used for her collaborations with Ruth Allison). Just before her death in 2003 at the age of ninety in Greensboro, North Carolina, she gathered her fiction, including her 1995 novelette “The Sixth Dog,” in The Idol of the Flies and Other Stories, a 500-copy limited-edition hardcover collection that she unfortunately did not live to see published. The book is now very hard to find.

Notes: Milli quotes from two poems during the story. “The curfew tolls the knell of the parting day” (p. 42) is the opening line of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Gray (1716–71). “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” (p. 47) is from “The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes (1880–1958).

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The trouble with the war, Milli Cushman thought as she stared sulkily through streaming French windows into her rain-drenched garden, was that it was so frightfully boring. There weren’t any men, any more. Interesting ones, that is. Or parties. Or little pink cocktails. Or café royale. Or long-stemmed roses wrapped in crackly green wax paper. There wasn’t even a decent hairdresser left. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Up the Stairs with Cus D’Amato

Pete Hamill (b. 1935)
From At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing

This past month, journalist and author Pete Hamill was selected by the Boxing Writers Association of America as the winner of this year’s A. J. Liebling Award, and his work appears in the just-published At the Fights, which collects the very best writing on boxing by forty-eight sportswriters and essayists. A veteran reporter who has written for each of the major dailies and several of the weeklies in New York, Hamill served as editor-in-chief of both the Post and the Daily News. But his first story to appear in print was in a Greek-language weekly, for which he served as art director. It was a profile (published in English) of José Torres, who in 1958 was an up-and-coming fighter training at the Gramercy Gym.

The proprietor of that gym was Cus D’Amato, who during the course of a career spanning more than fifty years “earned a reputation as one of the most forthright and honest men in boxing,” notes the excerpt from The Boxing Register on the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s website. Indeed, that honesty—his animosity toward the corruption that pervaded the sport and his refusal to work with the monopolistic International Boxing Club—undoubtedly hurt him and his fighters both financially and professionally. Yet, in spite of the obstacles, one of the Gramercy Gym fighters, twenty-one-year-old Floyd Patterson, in 1956 became the youngest boxer ever to win the world heavyweight championship. And José Torres, too, would eventually win a silver Olympic medal and the championship in his weight division and, later still, would be an author in his own right.

During the following decades D’Amato endured bankruptcy and was forced to sell the Gramercy Gym—although in 1971 his name re-entered the headlines when basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain briefly toyed with the idea of fighting a match against Muhammad Ali and proposed that D’Amato become his trainer. He opened a new gym in Catskill (outside Albany, NY), where in the early 1980s he met an orphaned teenager from a local reform school who showed promise as a boxer. He eventually became the legal guardian of the youngster, who would win all his  professional boxing matches under D’Amato’s management. D’Amato died in 1985 and Pete Hamill wrote the following tribute. Two years later the young man, Mike Tyson, now barely twenty years old, would eclipse Patterson’s legacy as the youngest boxer ever to become the world heavyweight champion.

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In those days, you had to pass a small candy stand to get to the door of the Gramercy Gym on East 14th Street. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Destruction of the Tea in Boston

John Adams (1735–1826)
From John Adams: Revolutionary Writings 1755–1775

"Americans throwing Cargoes of the Tea Ships into the River, at Boston," engraving by W. D. Cooper in The History of North America, London, 1789.
With the publication of a two-volume edition of Revolutionary era writings, John Adams at last joins the other major American Founders in The Library of America. The hundreds of documents in the LOA edition are drawn from the Adams Papers housed by the Massachusetts Historical Society—a national treasure described by historian David McCullough as “five miles in microfilm.” He adds: “There is no comparable written record of a prominent American family. . . . Not Washington, not Jefferson or Madison or Hamilton, not even Franklin for all that he wrote, was so forthcoming on paper as was John Adams.”

This week’s selection gathers three documents that offer Adams’s impressions of what is probably the most famous event of the entire Revolution. In late November 1773, having relocated from Braintree the previous year, Adams and his family were living in Boston when the Dartmouth, a three-masted trader, arrived in Boston Harbor with its valuable cargo of tea. Earlier that year, Parliament had granted the faltering East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea to America. By allowing the Company to sell directly to the colonies, the Tea Act would ostensibly mean lower prices on legally imported tea, but it was a dagger to Boston merchants (and especially to the thriving black market), and many political leaders objected to the act as a usurpation of power by Parliament. With the ship in the harbor, John’s wife, Abigail, wrote to a friend, “that bainfull weed is arrived. Great and I hope Effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it.” Many Boston residents believed that Governor Thomas Hutchinson might have defused the crisis (as did other royal governors) had he just allowed the ship to return to England without unloading its cargo. Instead, Hutchinson insisted the tea be unloaded and the duties paid.

Every American schoolchild knows what happened next. After a raucous meeting of five thousand citizens at Old South Church on December 16, a group of men disguised themselves as Indians and boarded the ship. In a few minutes, “they had demolished 342 chests of tea worth about ten thousand pounds, today’s equivalent of about $1 million,” summarizes John Ferling is his biography of Adams. Word of the daring act spread within weeks throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic—although the event wouldn’t be widely referred to as the Boston Tea Party for several decades.

The following morning John Adams returned to Boston from a trip to Plymouth and immediately heard what had happened. The first two sections that follow are a diary entry and a letter to a friend that record Adams’s initial reactions that first day after the “Destruction of the Tea”; although he was in principle opposed to mob action, he seems defiantly exuberant that the break with the British had finally come. Similar protests took place in other colonial cities, but during the following months the British prime minister, Lord North, rushed through Parliament various punitive measures directed specifically against Massachusetts. The third section is John’s letter to Abigail in May, just after the colonists received word of the Boston Port Act, which closed the port to all trade effective June 1, 1774, virtually strangling the town from global commerce.

Together, these three texts from the Adams Papers chronicle the immediate impressions of the events that would spur John Adams to become a leading figure in the War of Independence.

Notes: There are scattered references to various friends of Adams and to leading citizens of Boston; readers seeking more information on them will find much material in online references such as Wikipedia. In particular, Mr. Trumble (p. 287) refers to John Trumbull, Adams’s law clerk and later a prominent poet; Cushing, Pemberton, and Swift (p. 288) are Thomas Cushing, Samuel Pemberton, and Samuel Swift, a radical leader and lawyer; Coll Doane (p. 288) is Col. Elisha Doane, a wealthy client of Adams; and Balch (p. 288) is Nathaniel Balch, a local resident widely known for his wit.

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ast Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails.

This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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