Friday, June 29, 2012

“It is impossible we should think of Submission”

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
From The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence

Lady Howe Checkmating Benjamin Franklin, 1867, oil on canvas by British American artist Edward Harrison May (1824–1887). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
It began with a game of chess. In December 1774 Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe at the Royal Society in London. She challenged him to a game, which turned into a series of chess matches over several days. On Christmas Day, she introduced the American to her brother, Lord Richard Howe, who told Franklin that some members of the British government “were extremely well disposed to any reasonable accommodation” between the British and the American colonists. The two men continued to use the chess matches as a front for a series of secret meetings to negotiate a peace. Nothing concrete resulted from the meetings, which ended in March 1775, but the Franklin and Howe concluded their talks with a mutual respect for one another.

The following year the admiral was appointed commander of the British navy in North America. Historian Walter Isaacson summarizes what happened just after the Continental Congress issued its Declaration of Independence.
[Admiral Howe] carried a detailed proposal that offered a truce, pardons for the rebel leaders (with John Adams secretly exempted) and rewards for any American who helped restore peace.

Because the British did not recognize the Continental Congress as a legitimate body, Lord Howe was unsure where to direct his proposals. So when he reached Sandy Hook, New Jersey, he sent a letter to Franklin, whom he addressed as “my worthy friend.” He had “hopes of being serviceable,” Howe declared, “in promoting the establishment of lasting peace and union with the colonies.”

Congress granted Franklin permission to reply, which he did on July 30.
Franklin opens the following letter with a cordial statement, but the tone quickly sours as he rejects the offer with fury: “It is impossible we should think of Submission to a Government” whose “atrocious injuries have extinguished every remaining Spark of Affection for that Parent Country we once held so dear.”

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Friday, June 22, 2012

“Our Beleaguered City”

Judith W. McGuire (1813–1897)
From The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It

This week (through July 1) marks the 150th anniversary of the “Seven Days,” which Brooks D. Simpson succinctly described in a recent post on the Library of America’s blog:
On June 25, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac clashed outside Richmond, Virginia, and continued to do so for a week. The series of engagements that followed has become known as the Seven Days, and at their conclusion, Robert E. Lee had succeeded in driving George B. McClellan’s bluecoats from the outskirts of the Confederate capital.
Judith and John McGuire were in Richmond when the Seven Days battles began. The previous year, in May 1861, the McGuire family had been forced to split up when their home in Alexandria came under attack; their three daughters were sent to stay with a relative, while both sons enlisted nearby with Confederate forces. (All the McGuire children were from their father’s previous marriage.) They were refugees for the duration of the war and, they soon learned, they lost all their possessions when their home in Alexandria was requisitioned as a military hospital by Union forces. By February 1862, rejoined by the two youngest daughters (the oldest had married), they had made their way to Richmond, Judith’s childhood home, where she served as a volunteer nurse.

Mrs. McGuire kept a diary for the benefit of “the members of her family too young to remember these days” and initially had no intention of publishing it. A 1974 biographical profile by Willie T. Weathers in
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography summarizes the book’s subsequent history:
Having been persuaded to share her private record of the war years with the public, she published it anonymously and with the names of living friends and relatives concealed under their initials. The first edition was published in New York in 1867, and a second followed in 1868. A Richmond publisher brought out a third in 1889, with the author's name in parentheses below "A Lady of Virginia" [and] a partial key to the initials.
Weathers notes that the book became “a best seller throughout the postwar South and [is] a classic still read with pleasure.” The text of Judith’s riveting eyewitness account of the Seven Days presented to Story of the Week readers is taken from the third and final edition.

Notes: Major General A. P. [Ambrose Powell] Hill was a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Pegram’s Battery refers to the Purcell Artillery, a company established a year earlier in Richmond and led by twenty-year-old William R. J. Pegram, the younger brother of Confederate General John Pegram. His unit sustained the heaviest losses of any Confederate artillery company during the Seven Days, and Pegram became a local hero after the engagement. Ballard House was a five-story hotel in Richmond. General C. is Thomas Jefferson Chambers, commissioned as a major general during the Texas Revolution. Of the casualties mentioned in the closing paragraphs, First Lieutenant Edward Brockenbrough, Major [Francis Buckner] Jones, and Lieutenant Colonel [Bradfute] Warwick would die of their wounds within two weeks.

June 27th.—Yesterday was a day of intense excitement in the city and its surroundings. Early in the morning it was whispered about that some great movement was on foot. . . . 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, June 15, 2012

The Legend of the Two Discreet Statues

Washington Irving (1783–1859)
From Washington Irving: Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, The Alhambra

Alhambra, Patio de los Leones, 1895, oil on canvas by American artist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.
The Alhambra complex in Granada, a province of southern Spain, has been a popular tourist destination for nearly two centuries. Named for the color of its walls (Calat Al-Hambra is a transliteration from the Arabic for “the red castle”), its three sections served as the home base for Muslim rulers on the Iberian peninsula for two centuries, until the last Islamic kingdom of Spain was dissolved after the Battle of Granada in 1492. For several decades after the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, various Catholic monarchs used the site as an administrative center, and Charles V built a palace within its confines during the 1520s. But the site then suffered through several centuries’ worth of neglect.

In 1829 Washington Irving, whose international celebrity was already unprecedented for an American author, stayed in the Alhambra during the late spring and early summer. “It absolutely appears to me like a dream; or as if I am spell bound in some fairy palace,” he wrote to a friend. Three years later he finished writing The Alhambra, a work that included a brief history of the Moorish kingdom of Granada, descriptions of Irving’s own travels, profiles of the offbeat inhabitants he met during his stay, and his own adaptations of the palace’s legends and myths—many of which resemble stories from the “Arabian Nights,” complete with mysterious caverns, imprisoned princesses, and hidden treasure. John Murray, the publisher of several of Irving’s previous books, was still smarting from the expense and relatively low sales of his Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829), and he balked at this latest collection of Spanish-themed material. Irving soon found new publishers for the collection in London and Philadelphia—and it proved to be not only an immediate success but also one of Irving’s most enduring works. The book’s popularity played no small role in the renewal of European and American interest in the Alhambra during the nineteenth century.

St. John’s Eve (June 23), occurred during Irving’s residence at the Alhambra, and the holiday must have made quite an impression since it features prominently in the narrative and a couple of the tales. During the feast, “the lower classes of Granada swarm into the country, dance away the afternoon, and pass midsummer’s night on the banks of the Darro and the Xenil,” while some residents “light bonfires on the hills.” In the opening scene of “The Legend of the Two Discreet Statues,” in the midst of this revelry, a young girl finds an ancient talisman and launches her family on a series of magical adventures.

Notes: Constructed during the early decades of the fourteenth century, the Generalife is the section of the Alhambra containing a palace and gardens for the rulers of Granada. Originally, a covered walkway linked the Generalife across a ravine to the rest of the complex. Boabdil el Chico (or Abu Abdullah the Little) was the Spanish name for Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII, the last ruler of Muslim Granada. The bells rung for animas (page 1006) occur at dusk; the term derives from the Spanish word for souls. A somerset (page 1007) is the word we now spell as somersault.

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There lived once in a waste apartment of the Alhambra, a merry little fellow named Lope Sanchez, who worked in the gardens, and was as brisk and blithe as a grasshopper, singing all day long. . . . . 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, June 8, 2012

“Come into the Roof Garden, Maud”

Djuna Barnes (1892–1982)
From Writing New York: A Literary Anthology

Djuna Barnes was born 120 years ago this month (on June 12); by the time of her death six days after ninetieth birthday, she was regarded by the denizens of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village as a notoriously reclusive presence. Many New Yorkers who lived near the fabled Patchin Place from the 1940s to the 1970s have a Djuna story; many others failed in their fervent attempts to see her at all. Carson McCullers burst into tears when Barnes screamed at her to “go the hell away!” She terrified local business owners; once an unwary store clerk, asking for identification for her check payment, received the shouted response, “Identification? I was a friend of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce!” Weeks would go by, however, when hardly anyone would see her, and her neighbors reported hearing Estlin (e.e.) Cummings yell across the courtyard from the window of his own apartment, “Are ya still alive, Djuna?”

She wasn’t always the cantankerous New Yorker, but even as a young woman she had a reputation for boldness. Before she spent the 1920s in Paris, she lived for nearly a decade as an artist and writer in Brooklyn and Manhattan, first as a student for six months at the Pratt Institute, then as a journalist for various newspapers. According to one account, she landed her first job when she went to the offices of the
Brooklyn Eagle and declared, “I can draw and write and you’d be foolish not to hire me.” Influenced by modernists such as James Joyce (whom she famously interviewed), her articles—about one hundred altogether—straddle the line between fiction and journalism, and she often illustrated her own work. Before the decade was out, Barnes joined up with the Provincetown Players, a group that included writers such as Theodore Dreiser, Edna Ferber, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, and Wallace Stevens, and they produced three of her one-act plays.

In a recent review of Barnes’s writing from the period, Jenny Hendrix
describes her “as one of the great carnival barkers of the nonfiction world—a kind of Tom Wolfe of her day. . . . Her writing—full of immigrants, circus animals, freaks, socialists, hipsters, servants, and suffragettes—revels in the atmosphere of the ‘yellow nineties,’ a period characterized by Wildean decadence.” A good number of her pieces are highly stylized profiles of the vibrant cityscape, and “Come into the Roof Garden, Maud” presents fictionalized, comic snapshots of the fashionable crowd chasing the latest craze of the 1910s: rooftop dancing.

Through August 12, 2012, visitors to New York can see a sampling of Djuna Barnes’s work from the 1910s on display at the Brooklyn Museum: “photographs, drawings, works on paper, and Barnes’s stories in newsprint, including eight illustrations she composed to accompany her newspaper columns.”


Notes: The Jardin de Danse (page 411), also called the New York Roof, was a popular open-air nightspot that opened in 1913 on the roof of the New York Theatre on 45th Street. The Four Hundred (page 412) is a term coined by social writer Ward McAllister to refer to the New York elite of the late nineteenth century, based on the number of people who could comfortably fit into Caroline Astor’s ballroom. A Rosetti [sic] neck (page 413) is the elongated female neck in paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, especially in his portraits of Elizabeth Siddal. The Dolly sisters (page 415) were a popular dancing duo of the period; they often performed with Carlos Sebastian.

First of all, enter the atmosphere.

And this, the atmosphere of a roof garden, is 10 per cent. soft June air and ten per cent. gold June twilight, and a goodly per cent. of high-hung lanterns and the music of hidden mechanical birds. . . . 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, June 1, 2012

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

Stephen Crane (1871–1900)
From Stephen Crane: Prose & Poetry

“He sat with a hand on each knee, like a man waiting in a barber’s shop.” Illustration from the original publication of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” in the February 1898 issue of McClures’s Magazine.
Heavily and increasingly in debt, Stephen Crane wrote a large number of tales and sketches in quick succession during the years 1897 and 1898, yet his desperate pace did not keep him from publishing four stories that are considered masterpieces of American short fiction: “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Monster.” Although he remained famous primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, Crane and his circle of friends acknowledged the transformation of his art (if not his pocketbook). Just before “Yellow Sky” was published, he wrote from London, “All my friends come here say it is my very best thing. I am so delighted when I am told by competent people that I have made an advance.” The advance, sadly, was short lived; in two years he was dead of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight.

“The Bride of Yellow Sky” is the only story of the four that contains comic overtones. (James Agee played up the story’s humor in the screenplay he wrote for the second half of “Face to Face,” a double-bill feature film released in 1952.) Following a trip to Texas, Crane drafted this parody of the familiar Wild West formula pitching a sheriff against an outlaw. The upright marshal of Yellow Sky, nervously preparing to introduce his new bride to the “innocent and unsuspecting” town, returns from San Antonio in a sleek, modern Pullman train. The town’s drunken gunslinger, however, is a well-worn stereotype—an artifact of the dying, male-only frontier spirit. “As Crane makes clear,” notes the scholar James B. Colvert, the gunman is “a creation of the legend-mongering Eastern imagination, just as his costume is largely a creation of the New York garment industry,” and his relevance to the town is called into question when he comes face to face with its future. In the opening of her book On Writing, Eudora Welty describes what makes the story work so well by focusing on this conflict: “Two predicaments meet here. . . . You might say they gravitate towards each other—and collide. . . . Here are the plainest elements of comedy, two situations in a construction simple as a seesaw.”

Note: A drummer is a traveling salesman.

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The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. . . . 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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