Friday, November 29, 2013

No Greater Joy Than to See These Children Walking in the Anti-Slavery Path

Lucretia Mott (1793–1880)
From American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation

The American Anti-Slavery Society met in Philadelphia’s Concert Hall 150 years ago, December 3–4, 1863, both to celebrate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and to commemorate the society’s thirtieth anniversary. The keynote speaker was Frederick Douglass, who delivered one of his most famous speeches, “Our Work Is Not Done.” Another featured speaker, Lucretia Mott, was also well known to the audience. She had founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society the same week that William Lloyd Garrison and his colleagues had established the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Mott’s speech summarized the history of the antislavery movement from the eighteenth century to her day. In addition to honoring such prominent national leaders as Henry Ward Beecher and William Furness, Mott acknowledged her younger associates Lucy Stone, a leader of the women’s rights movement; Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock Jones, coeditor of Ohio’s
Antislavery Bugle; and Theodore Tilton, a writer and editor. She mentioned three Quaker forebears from the early days of the struggle, Benjamin Lay, Ralph Sangerford (or, correctly, Sandiford), and Elias Hicks, as well as the more recently deceased Englishman Thomas Clarkson, who spearheaded the passage of the 1807 Slave Trade Act in Great Britain.

But much of her speech urged her listeners, in the aftermath of their success, to forgive past transgressions, set aside their disputes, and let bygones be bygones. She and Stephen Symonds Foster, her colleague from New Hampshire, had had their disagreements, but their arguments ultimately didn’t matter. Women had been forbidden from attending the assemblies in previous decades, but “those things we may pass by.” Various fair-weather friends had fled their meetings, fearing that the group had become too radical, but she welcomed them back at “this eleventh hour” in the hope they will strengthen their association as it nears its end. She even forgave the remorseful members of the “mob” who had burned Pennsylvania Hall to the ground in 1838 and asked her audience to welcome them to the fold.

In so many ways, Mott was an optimist. Although old opponents reconciled, new divisions and internecine strife increased, and during the next year many fellow abolitionists would separate over future priorities. “I can’t believe all this wide difference will lead to any serious ‘split,’” Mott wrote—but she was wrong. While some leaders believed slavery was finished and that future work should be devoted to aiding former slaves; others pushed for a constitutional amendment. Another matter for dispute was whether to dissolve the Anti-Slavery Society now that the “goal” of emancipation had been achieved. (It finally disbanded in 1870, after passage of the Fifteen Amendment extended the vote to black men.) Society members were even divided about whom to support for the Presidency in 1864, with a number of prominent activists supporting John C. Frémont over Lincoln for the Republican nomination—a view with which Mott sympathized even though she personally “had little interest in the election,” concludes Carol Faulkner in the recent book
Lucretia Mott’s Heresy. Angered by her ambivalence, one of Mott’s associates insisted that they no longer talk about political matters.

For her part, Mott felt these various aims were hardly at odds; she kept active in the antislavery societies until they disbanded and simultaneously helped organize the Freedman’s Relief Association, which provided aid to newly released slaves.

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When I see these young men and strong coming forward with acknowledgments of their indebtedness to the cause, and rejoicing that they have been among its later advocates; and when I look around upon this platform, and see here a LUCY STONE, an ELIZABETH JONES, and a THEODORE TILTON, all laboring so effectively in the field, I feel that we older ones may indeed retire, . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, November 22, 2013

John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving

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

During his last year at Bowdoin College, in November 1824, twenty-year-old Nathaniel Hawthorne took a break from his studies to write to his aunt:
The weather has lately been very cold, and there is now snow enough to make some sleighing. I keep excellent fires, and do not stir from them, unless when it is absolutely necessary. I wish that I could be at home to Thanksgiving, as I really think that your puddings and pies and turkeys are superior to anybody’s else. But the term does not close till about the first of January.
Two decades later, in 1842, a few months after he married Sophia Peabody, he wrote in his journal:
This is Thanksgiving Day—a good old festival; and my wife and I have kept it with our hearts, and besides have made good cheer upon our turkey, and pudding, and pies, and custards, although none sat at our board but our two selves. There was a new and livelier sense, I think, that we have at last found a home, and that a new family has been gathered since the last Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving was a big deal in New England in Hawthorne’s day. In her 2001 book, The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret B. Moore notes that only the Fourth of July approached the grandeur of the Thanksgiving festival, which in Hawthorne’s hometown was a weeklong celebration.

In spite of Hawthorne’s love of the holiday, his story “John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving” is surprisingly dark. A century ago, when Asa Don Dickinson compiled an anthology of “good cheer” Thanksgiving stories for children, he made an exception to his theme and included Hawthorne’s tale, noting that it “reminds us that the Puritans, although they originated our Thanksgiving festival, were after all a sombre people, seldom free from a realizing sense of the imminence of sin.”

“It is a strange story by any standard; for a Thanksgiving story it is stranger still,” acknowledges Morgan Meis in the online magazine
The Smart Set. “But Hawthorne was committed to that strangeness in everything he wrote. He wanted to produce an American literature that was deeply moral without being moralistic. It would show human beings as the inscrutable creatures that they are, struggling to make decisions in situations they can never fully comprehend.”
*   *   *
On the evening of Thanksgiving day, John Inglefield, the blacksmith, sat in his elbow-chair, among those who had been keeping festival at his board. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Stout Gentleman

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

“I know of nothing more calculated to make a man sick of this world than a stable-yard on a rainy day.” Illustration by Karl Hermann Schmolze for “The Stout Gentleman” in the 1858 Putnam edition of Bracebridge Hall.
In 1821 Washington Irving and his British publisher, John Murray, were eager to profit from from the extraordinary reception accorded The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which had appeared serially between June 1819 and September 1820. An international hit, the collection included Irving’s two most famous tales, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” as well as the cycle of stories that would later be known as “Old Christmas.” Until the early weeks of 1822 Irving worked feverishly on a sequel while he was traveling through France and England. The resulting volume, Bracebridge Hall, contained fifty-one tales and sketches set in and around a manor modeled in part after Aston Hall, the estate that had provided the setting for his earlier Christmas stories (and that can still be visited in Birmingham, England).

It’s unlikely that any follow-up could have matched the extraordinary success and acclaim that greeted The Sketch Book, but Bracebridge Hall was nevertheless well received by readers and by most critics. Four thousand copies sold in England alone, and Irving’s always-nervous publisher was able to stop worrying about his business for a short while. Francis Jeffrey, the notoriously difficult-to-please critic for the Edinburgh Review, admitted that he “had received so much pleasure from this book, that we think ourselves bound in gratitude . . . to make a public acknowledgment of it.”

Over the next century, however, the reputation of the book diminished, and by 1912 literary historian William B. Cairns would write that “only ‘The Stout Gentleman’ approaches in popularity” the more famous stories of The Sketch Book. Fifty years later, in his 1962 study of Irving’s writings, literary critic Edward Wagenknecht would likewise single out “The Stout Gentleman” for praise. (In our opinion, Bracebridge Hall includes a number of other stories ripe for rediscovery, including “Dolph Heyliger,” “The Ghost-Ship,” “Annette Delarbre,” and “The Student of Salamanca.”)

While in England, Irving became close friends with Charles Robert Leslie, a British painter who had spent his childhood years in Philadelphia. In a memoir published in 1860, the year after both men died, Leslie fondly recalled their friendship and described how “The Stout Gentleman” came to be written. During a pleasure trip in the summer of 1821, the two men spent a night at an Oxford inn:
The next day it rained unceasingly, and we were confined to the inn, like the nervous traveller whom Irving has described as spending a day in endeavouring to penetrate the mystery of “the stout gentleman.” This wet Sunday at Oxford did, in fact, suggest to him that capital story, if story it can be called. The next morning, as we mounted the coach, I said something about a stout gentleman who had come from London with us the day before, and Irving remarked that “The Stout Gentleman” would not be a bad title for a tale. As soon as the coach stopped he began writing with his pencil, and went on at every like opportunity.

We visited Stratford on Avon, strolled about Charlecot Park and other places in the neighbourhood, and while I was sketching, Irving, mounted on a stile, or seated on a stone, was busily engaged with “The Stout Gentleman.” He wrote with the greatest rapidity, often laughing to himself, and from time to time reading the manuscript to me. We loitered some days in this classic neighbourhood, visiting Warwick and Kenilworth; and by the time we arrived at Birmingham, the outline of “The Stout Gentleman” was completed.

Notes: An upper Benjamin (page 62) is a type of overcoat. The word ycleped (p. 63) is an archaic word meaning “named” (e.g., a cat ycleped Whiskers), while slammerkin (p. 65) is an old slang word for a slattern. Belcher handkerchiefs (p. 67) were multicolored neckerchiefs named for the boxer Jim Belcher. The phrase sworn at Highgate refers to a popular custom at pubs in the village of that name, where travelers would swear nonsense oaths (such as “I shall not drink small beer while I can get strong”) while holding a ram’s horn attached to a five-foot pole.

*   *   *
It was a rainy Sunday, in the gloomy month of November. I had been detained, in the course of a journey, by a slight indisposition, from which I was recovering; but I was still feverish, and was obliged to keep within doors all day, in an inn of the small town of Derby. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Notes on War Experiences

Eddie Rickenbacker (1890–1973)
From Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight

First Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in his Spad plane near Rembercourt, France (October 18, 1918). Courtesy of the National Archives.
When Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died in 1973, a laudatory obituary in The New York Times covered at length his extraordinary achievement as the president of Eastern Air Lines. In 1934 General Motors had assigned him the task of turning its troubled air transport division around.
In its first year under his management, Eastern turned in a net gain of $350,000—the first profit in the history of the airline industry. The second year he doubled the profits. By the third year, when the Government ordered G. M. to sell its airlines or get out of aircraft manufacturing, a banking syndicate offered more than $3 million for Eastern.

Mr. Rickenbacker pleaded with his employers for an equal chance to “save the airline for the boys and girls who helped build it.” He received 60 days to raise the money and was told the company would be his for $3.5 million. The night before the option expired he got his final commitment, and the next day, March 2, 1938, he owned Eastern Air Lines. . . .

For 25 years under Mr. Rickenbacker’s guidance—from 1935 to 1960—it earned a profit every year.
In spite of this impressive business triumph, the Times admits that “in the long run it will not be his material successes that will be remembered. Rather, he will be recalled as a larger-than-life figure cast in the same mold as legendary folk heroes of the past.” Rickenbacker’s name will forever evoke both his early fame as a record-shattering World War I ace pilot and his survival for twenty-four days adrift at sea on a life raft in 1942, after the plane carrying him and seven others crashed into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Rickenbacker’s personal papers are held at the Library of Congress and include his typed notes from late 1918, describing his very first flight as a World War I pilot. Published for the first time in the Library of America collection Into the Blue, this straightforward yet riveting rough draft was rather freely transformed by the ghostwriter of Rickenbacker’s 1919 memoir Fighting the Flying Circus into a folksy, melodramatic first chapter, with a opening sentence that reads “After days of schooling and nights of anticipation, I woke up one morning to find my dreams come true.”

*   *   *
It was on March 6th, 1918, after several days awaiting the weather to permit several of the boys, who were at Paris, awaiting to take back planes which would be used in our long expected and anticipated flight over the front.. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Aufenthalt in Rosenheim

Vincent Sheean (1899–1975)
From Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938–1944

A burning synagogue in Hanover, November 9–10, 1938. [DPA Archiv via Basische-Zeitung]
This month [November 2013] marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht—literally “Night of Crystal,” but more often “Night of Broken Glass.” On November 9–10, 1938, the German Nazi Party carried out a pogrom, during which ninety-one Jews were killed, 26,000 men were sent to concentration camps, and the confiscation of Jewish property was accelerated. Over 250 synagogues were destroyed, many burned to the ground. The name of the tragedy came from the shattered glass from homes and Jewish-owned businesses that littered city streets.

Ostensibly in response to the assassination of a German official in Paris, the attacks were launched by Joseph Goebbels when he announced the news during a speech at a dinner commemorating the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch (Hitler’s first and unsuccessful attempt to seize power in 1923). Party leaders understood Goebbels’s message as a command: “Comrades, we cannot allow this attack by international Jewry to go unchallenged. . . . The Führer has decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized by the Party; but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are not to be interfered with either.” *

Although Kristallnacht is regarded as the most dramatic turning point yet toward the horrors to come, the carnage was long in the making. One American observer, the journalist Vincent Sheean, was in Europe when France, the United Kingdom, and Italy agreed to the September 29 Munich Pact, ceding to Germany the Sudetenland, the name for the Czechoslovakian borderlands inhabited primarily by German-speaking residents. During the month that followed—but before Kristallnacht—Sheean traveled around by train and car and wrote “Aufenthalt [Delay] in Rosenheim,” describing the dismay he felt as a witness to the increasing persecution of Jewish residents throughout German-occupied territories.

The following year, Sheean published his moderately successful book Not Peace But a Sword, in which he anticipated Europe’s unstoppable march to another world war. One chapter warned that “the whole machinery of a mighty state is thus set in motion to crush its Jewish subjects not because of anything they have thought, said or done, but simply because they are Jews,” and he remained baffled about how—and why—so many Germans had rallied so readily behind such animosity:
Somewhere in the mystery of mass suggestion the answer could be found, and can someday be analyzed upon dead material by the psychologists of the future. Now that the material is living, it is almost impossible to trace the process of transformation.
*   *   *
* Nuremberg Document 3063-PS (Walter Buch, Nazi Party Supreme Court chief, to Hermann Göring, February 13, 1939).

Notes: On page 11, Sheean summarizes from memory passages from the memoirs of Bernhard von Bülow, the German imperial chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1900–09. On the last page, he recalls a day in early October, after the Reichswehr (the word used until 1935 for the German armed forces) had occupied the “third zone”—one of four zones in the Sudetenland ceded to Germany by the Munich Pact.

*   *   *
The car broke down not far beyond Siegsdorf on the Reichsautobahn to Munich—the great Reichsautobahn which is the most beautiful of all German motor roads, since it leads to the home of the Führer. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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