BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Apr 2018, 03:23

Back in my day, television was called books. Peter Falk, as Grandpa/Narrator, in Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride (1987).

Before the television serial, there was the radio serial, and before that there was serial publication of novels (or in French, romans feuilletons). But it may have begun as a tax dodge, for the British stamp act of 1712 tempted newspapers to avoid taxes by adding enough print to become pamphlets. But there were other reasons for it, including the supply of paper, the state of printing itself, and the pocketbooks of the reading public. Serial publication became a craze in the 19th century, and its supreme practitioner was Charles Dickens (1812-1870). In a very short space of time Dickens began the serial publication of Pickwick Papers (from March 31, 1836) and Nicholas Nickleby (from March 31, 1838). And Oliver Twist began to appear in early 1837. Since by definition serial publication takes time, there was a period of 22 months when at least two of them were hitting the stationers’ shops, in installments. This astonishing output made Dickens’ reputation, and brought him the editorship of two literary journals, including Bentley’s Miscellany, for which young Charles agreed to produce at least 22 pages of text in every issue. Dickens is today widely acknowledged as a genius, but clearly “scribbler” would also fit. But he had many fellow scribblers, putting out 16- or 32-page serials, writing to deadlines, including Hardy, Balzac, and of course our very own Harriet Beecher Stowe (who outsold them all). Serials were cheap, in themselves a form of advertising, and vastly increased the reading public. Readers grew in numbers, too, as literacy spread, but serials were read to hearers, too, and not only in family parlors but in taverns and at street corners. The illiterate woman who served Dickens’ son as a maid of all work was excited to know who he was because, on the first of each month, she would gather with friends to listen to Dombey and Son. Today, some think that a return to serial publication would enable serious literature to compete effectively with, well, serial trash. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Apr 2018, 13:02

Trouble, trouble, I've had it all my days// It seems that trouble's going to follow me to my grave. Alberta Hunter, Downhearted Blues, circa 1922.

Soon after Alberta Hunter was born (on April 1, 1895, in Memphis), her father skipped town, leaving Alberta and her mother, Laura, to fend for themselves. In difficult circumstances—her mother worked as a cleaner in a brothel—they did OK, and formed a close bond that lasted until Laura’s death in 1957. At that point, Alberta, lying about her age, gained a qualification and went to work as a nurse. Before that career change, Alberta enjoyed significant success as a jazz and blues singer. She began in Chicago, aged 11, singing in Dago Frank’s brothel, graduated to saloons, then to gigs with classic bands, notably King Oliver’s, then landed permanent work as a singer at the Dreamland (a ballroom catering to a black clientele). She toured in Europe in 1917, where she gained confidence, began to write as well as perform, and came back to the US to take up contracts with several recording companies, both black and white. “Downhearted Blues” may have been her most famous song, but her agent sold it to Columbia in a deal that put all the royalties in his pocket. Nevertheless, with Laura taking over as agent and her lover Lottie Tyler usually traveling with her, Alberta’s rise continued, including performing with Paul Robeson (in Showboat) in London, recording there some big hits (including “Miss Otis Regrets”), then returning to New York to work with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. During WWII, Hunter performed for the USO in both the Asian and European theatres, The body blow of her mother’s death changed her course, and she nursed at Goldwater Memorial Hospital for 17 years before retiring at 82 (her employer thought she was 70), when, incredibly, she took up singing again, with all the success that by then came with being a rediscovered black singer of massive talent and commanding presence whether on stage or in cabaret. Alberta Hunter died in 1984, at the Goldwater, no doubt surprising everyone there at her real identity and her real age. ©

Image

Aberta as I knew her in 1980.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Apr 2018, 10:16

Most of the people who walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps. Hans Christian Andersen, giving directions for his funeral music, 1875.

There’s a dark strain in some of Hans Christian Andersen’s most charming stories, and it helps us to understand how modern biographers have found in his life an unhappy childhood (e.g. “The Ugly Duckling”) and many difficulties with unrequited loves (e.g. “The Little Mermaid” or “Poultry Meg’s Family”). These ideas were among the inspirations for a 2006 London stage play, The Andersen Project, written by Robert Lepage. But as Lepage points out, this was no debunking. Rather it was an attempt to show a rich, complicated personality whose work went well beyond children’s stories and included serious reflections on the economic and social transformation of 19th-century Europe. Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on April 2, 1806, into a poor family with aristocratic pretensions. These claims and airs didn’t help him much at the charity school he attended, where he was bullied by schoolmates and schoolmasters, and at home he disliked his mother and hated his stepsister Karen (said to be the inspiration for the rather ghoulish “The Red Shoes”). He escaped from that to be a captivating story teller in an age that found the fairy tale—not least its scary bits and its worse-than-horrid villains—to be quite fulfilling. Some of the psychological tensions that went into this rather odd life were also important themes in Lepage’s play, a play at least partly derived from Jackie Wullschlager’s 2001 biography, Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. But as Lepage and Wullschlager were at pains to point out, there was the touch of genius in this man. Not only his stories but his travel essays, his poetry, and his pan-Scandinavian outlook made him widely popular and reasonably wealthy. Whatever his hangups, Hans Christian Andersen made himself into Denmark’s “national treasure,” beloved not only by children but also by the Danish parliament, which granted him a pension for life in hopes that he would keep on telling tales. Which, of course, he did. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Apr 2018, 13:39

The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write or join in checking this mad, wicked folly of 'woman's rights' with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propr...

As women began to press for the chance to be themselves, there was no telling what might happen. One horror was that an aggressive, achieving woman might still have children, and minds boggled to think what her female offspring might be like, brought up (as they must be) to doubt the ‘cult of domesticity’ or to break ‘the bonds of womanhood.’ Take for instance Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) and her daughter Barbara Bodichon Ayrton Gould, born on April 3, 1886. Hertha was a difficult, pushy child with difficult, pushy aunts (who were friends of George Eliot, another pushy woman). The aunts ran a north London school and encouraged Hertha to work to her strengths. And so Hertha went to Cambridge to do well in maths (but not graduate, for no woman could yet do that) and then to marry an electrical engineer, to continue her science work, and ultimately to break the glass ceiling in the Royal Society. And she had a daughter, and started to fulfill the prophecies of doom by naming the girl after Hertha’s suffragist friend, Barbara Bodichon. And before you could even shake your disapproving finger at them, Hertha and Barbara became active members of the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Barbara sentenced to prison and fleeing to France (disguised as a schoolgirl!!) in 1913. In due course, militant mother and militant daughter broke with the WSPU to take leading roles in the United Suffragists, which did encourage male members (Hertha’s and Barbara’s husbands were strong supporters of women’s rights) as well as opposing violence. Moving on from the suffrage issue (after the victories of 1918 and 1928) Barbara Ayrton Gould became a leading member of the Labour Party and eventually (in 1945) a Labour MP. Oddly enough, she was especially known for her campaigns on behalf of the family and for better nutrition for children. The lives and life-works of this liberated pair, mother and daughter, suggest that the prophets of doom are not always 100% correct. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Apr 2018, 14:40

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou.

St. Louis’s very own Maya Angelou was born here—as Marguerite Annie Johnson—on April 4, 1928. We know more about her life than we know about many people, for as an adult she followed Whitman: “I sing of myself.” And as with Whitman, it might be more accurate to say we know a very great deal about what Maya thought about her life. This is not to say that she made it all up. Just partly. Of that, she was no more guilty than, say, John D. Rockefeller, and in many respects she was brutally honest: honest enough that her autobiographical works rank very high on the American Library Association’s list of public library books that have been banned or challenged. She also was honest also about her story’s artfulness, its constructed elements. Angelou believed her real life had public meaning, public consequences, and public value. That’s both faith and fact, and it’s something that many of us would do well to recover, if we’re serious about political democracy, about equality, and about communicating with each other. For Angelou, meaning began in poverty, in racism, and in being raped at the age of 9. It was a bad beginning, and Angelou made the most of it in the first of her seven (!!!!) volumes of autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), a best-seller nominated for the National Book Award. That one follows her into her late teens, and it’s one of those books whose title tells it all. She wrote it from perspective of a young woman, in her late 30s, ambitious, newly proud of herself for several important accomplishments in print, on stage, and on the streets, yet also devastated by M. L. King, Jr.’s assassination on her 40th birthday, Angelou saw in her own youth (as grim as it had been) the seeds of what she had become. Somehow, in that cage, she’d awakened, she’d learned to sing, and now she wanted to tell the world about it, and about its whys and wherefores. Maya Angelou kept on singing of herself, and finished her last volume in her 85th year. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Apr 2018, 03:08

Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture. Spencer Tracy.

Hollywood moguls of the star era and later are famed for spotting raw talent, then remaking it to conform with some mind’s eye model, for example transforming Leroy Scherer into Rock Hudson. I don’t know whether anyone tried to remake Spencer Bonaventure Tracy. Perhaps, like his Milwaukee friend William Joseph Patrick “Pat” O’Brien, or the friend he and O’Brien made in Hollywood, James Francis Cagney, Jr., Spencer was too Irish or too Catholic to stand for such nonsense. Anyway, by the time he hit Hollywood, he’d made himself ineradicably Spencer Tracy. He wasn’t all Irish to begin with. Somehow his wealthy Anglo-Presbyterian mom got mixed up with an Hiberno-Catholic salesman, and Spencer was the second issue, born on April 5, 1900. Whatever was left of his Presbyterianism, and a few other things, got knocked out of him at a succession of Jesuit schools (at one of which he met O’Brien), and when WWI rolled around he was tough enough to join the navy. Peace robbed him of that experience, so he went instead to Ripon College where he got a liberal education and deepened his youthful fascination with acting, first in college productions and then in a Ripon-based touring company, then in New York where he came to the attention of George Michael Cohan, yet another Irishman, who made Spencer into “the best goddamned actor I’ve ever seen.” Several good stage parts later, Spencer fetched up in Hollywood to become one of the best actors anyone has ever seen, in roles that began in comedy but soon ranged across the board, and brought him into a professional and romantic partnership with the love of his life, Katherine Hepburn, an altogether classier dame who’d also got a liberal education (at Bryn Mawr). They brought out the best in each other, notably in Woman of the Year (1942) and Pat and Mike (1952). The duo ended with a comedy on a touchy subject, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), finished just a couple of weeks before Spencer Tracy died, in spite of Hepburn’s best efforts to keep him alive. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Apr 2018, 13:09

Neither nations nor individuals lose by generous, courteous, and liberal dealing. Saiyid Ameer Ali.

The British and French were not the only imperial powers to arrive in 18th-century India to profit from the wealth and political disorganization of the subcontinent. Swooping from the north came the “Persian Napoléon,” Nadir Shah. Nadir soon met the fate he had doled out to others (political assassination), but he left behind him many Persians, including the noble Ali family, Shias claiming direct descent from the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah. They settled down to become landowners and professionals in Oudh and Bengal, made their peace with the British raj, and on April 6, 1849, produced Saiyid Ameer Ali. He was a younger son, and it was decided to educate him in all things English. Saiyid attended Calcutta University, performed brilliantly in history and political economy, and in December 1868 sailed to England, possessed of a Victoria Scholarship and a determination to become a lawyer. Studying at the Inner Temple, Saiyid was called to the bar in 1873. Charming and handsome, he was accepted into English society, became close to reform-minded Liberal politicians like John Bright, and later married an Englishwoman. And he was a devout Muslim who saw no contradiction between his Anglophilism and his faith. Back in India, as scholar, lawyer, judge, and politician, Saiyid advocated modernism in Islam (education in English, the end of polygamy, equal status for women) while at the very same time pushing (generally successfully) for separate communal status for India’s Muslim minority. “Separate but equal,” one might say, but in Saiyid’s mind’s eye it was always “separate but superior.” For Saiyid, Islam and Christianity were modern religions, well suited for nationalism, capitalism, liberalism, and democracy. Hinduism he thought no better than a primitive idolatry, a roadblock to the modernization of the subcontinent. Although he died (in England!!) in 1928, Saiyid was among those who laid the groundwork for the Partition of 1948—and perhaps also for the communal violence that accompanied it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Apr 2018, 14:26

Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics — but never give up. Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was born in Minneapolis on April 7, 1890, and on her 100th birthday she had a high school named after her. Since it was in north suburban Miami, she was pleased enough. Had it been built in the western or southwestern suburbs, you would have found her lying down in front of the bulldozers, for (a) she was still quite sprightly at 100 and (b) she was a stout, vocal, and effective opponent of any development that threatened the Everglades and the waters that fed or flowed from it. But this tiny woman (100 pounds when wringing wet) was much else, too, and her life defies summary treatment. Stung by two unhappy marriages (her parents’ and then her own), her love for both parents kept her going and, after graduating with honors from Wellesley, burying her mother, embarking on a writing career, and ridding herself of her con-artist husband, she rejoined her father in Miami. There she worked for his newspaper, the Miami Herald, but only after a spell as a Red Cross volunteer caring for WWI’s wounded soldiers and its starving refugees. At the newspaper, Marjory combined several tasks, a daily column, reportage on this and that, and quite a long period of freelance writing (plays, short fiction, reporting) before rejoining the paper in 1941. Along the way, she got interested in urban planning, migrant labor, art and culture, poverty, education, libraries, and in almost every one of these interests was both chronicler and activist, a tornado of energy and eloquence. When she spoke, people listened, and they watched, too, for as one reporter wrote of her, she looked “like Scarlett O’Hara as played by Igor Stravinsky.” Her greatest advocacy was wrapped up in her book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), but not summed up, for Marjory Stoneman Douglas kept going, at speed, until 1998, when she died lamented by her friends and unloved by her enemies. One can only say that the students at “her” school seem to have learned something from her life. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Apr 2018, 13:10

She put her hands on my shoulders and said how happy it made her to see that the young women of England were thinking about their rights and trying to do something for justice and freedom. Barbara Bodichon, An American Diary, on her visit to Lucreti...

Having just done Barbara Bodichon Gould (born on April 3, 1886), it’s right to do her namesake, Barbara Smith Bodichon, whose birth date was April 8, 1827. The coincidence requires recognition that when it came to radical reformers in Victorian Britain, everyone knew everyone else, and in the case of Barbara Smith Bodichon the connections went back generations and, in the Gould circle, forward into the 20th century. Barbara Bodichon’s grandfather, William Smith, was a parliamentary co-conspirator with Wilberforce in bringing about the end of slavery, her father Benjamin, alalso a campaigner (against the Corn Laws and for the emancipation of women), was Florence Nightingale’s uncle and carried his radicalism so far as not to marry his children’s mother and then, after her death in 1834, to bring the little bastards up publicly, acknowledging his parenthood and putting them in touch with a galaxy of reformers, inter alia the mother and aunt of Hilaire Belloc, the radical philosopher John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Blackwell (America’s and England’s first woman doctor), and Marian Evans (aka George Eliot). And then, on Barbara’s 21st birthday Benjamin Smith made her a woman of means, intending her to be free even of parental authority. Barbara used that freedom to marry (in 1857) an Algerian-French ethnographer and physician, Eugène Bodichon, living with him in Algiers six months of every year (he couldn’t stand England, she loved Algeria). In England, she became a painter of note (of the pre-Raphaelite group), and entirely unsurprisingly was a tireless advocate—in print, in speech, in organizing—of female liberation and female equality. Of course she wanted the vote; she also advocated freedom from corsets, but more effectively was one of the founders (and a financially generous one) of Girton College, Cambridge. One feels certain that Barbara Bodichon would have enjoyed reading Thorstein Veblen’s comments on the corset (and other restrictions on female freedom) but sadly she died in 1891 before The Theory of the Leisure Class saw the light of day. Whether she would have thought herself a member of that class is quite a different question. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Apr 2018, 13:48

I notice with astonishment // The fire of his opal eyes,// Clear beacons glowing, living jewels, // Taking my measure, steadily. "The Cat." from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal (1857)

The term “modern,” as used in cultural criticism, causes confusion (this moment is forever more “modern” than its predecessor moment) and now with “post-modernism” confusion threatens to become chaos. Nevertheless, modernism has a history, and it may have begun with Charles Baudelaire’s modernité, the idea that we must work very hard to capture and then convey the complex, impermanent, changeable realities of, well, “modern” life. Baudelaire, as poet and as critic, was mainly interested in literature and art, but “modernism” applies also to the social sciences, to architecture, even urban planning. In every field it’s produced not only a lot of depiction and analysis, but modernité has seemed also to require new formats, new techniques, new languages: think for instance of Jackson Pollock’s spattered canvases or William Faulkner’s stream of consciousness prose. So how modern was Charles Baudelaire? By the clock, these days, not very. He was born in Paris on April 9, 1821 (and baptized in Saint-Sulpice, hardly a modern setting). His aged father soon died, and his mother remarried an army officer-diplomat who in no way fitted Baudelaire’s frenetic quest for meaning, truth, and beauty, or to put it another way his flight from anything looking like a career. I remember Baudelaire chiefly for his poetry, which loomed large in Vicky Creed’s valiant attempt—over four intensive semesters at Penn—to teach me French. Even in the early 1960s it was pretty outrageous stuff. Most of what we read came from Baudelaire’s first and most famed collection, Les Fleurs du Mal (“Flowers of Evil,” 1857), wherein I learned much about symbolism and grappled with the notion that art, to be ‘beautiful,’ should strive for truth rather than comfort. Later, in a used book store in Cumbria, I had a chance to pick up a reprint copy, one of the first things published in Paris after the liberation of 1944. The Nazis would not have approved. It was printed on the cheapest possible paper, has begun to crumble away, and now resides in a sealed plastic packet deep in my filing cabinet. It should come out. Mrs. Creed would be pleased if it did. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Apr 2018, 13:37

A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. Joseph Pulitzer, 1904.

Joseph Pulitzer was born a rich Jew in Hungary (on April 10, 1847) and died a rich Episcopalian in the USA, and in between he experienced the rich variety of modern life, including periods of grinding poverty. His father’s assimilationist aims insured a good education and fluency in four languages, but not in English. In 1864, the family business bankrupted, poverty drove Joseph to accept the enlistment bounty of the Union Army and passage to America. He ended up in a New York cavalry unit (mainly German), and after the peace found a place where speaking German wasn’t necessarily a handicap, St. Louis. Here he knocked about, teaching himself English on the streets and in the Mercantile Library, before (in 1868) being hired (by the great Carl Schurz) at the German language Westliche Post. That came about because he’d written up his experiences as victim of a labor recruiting fraud. By 1872 he was part owner of that paper, and in 1878 he bought the struggling St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the rest is essential reading in the history of American journalism, leading him to ownership of the New York World, the ‘inventions’ of yellow journalism and the circulation war, and (after his death, aged 64), a benefaction that produced the Columbia University School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prizes—for journalistic excellence, of course. For it’s evident that, even in the worst, feverish excesses of his circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst’s Journal (1896-98) Joseph Pulitzer never forgot the power of the press to inform, to expose, and to reform. His other task was to continue the assimilationist trajectory of his father, but in the very American guise of a penniless immigrant made good. Among his accomplishments in that line was his success in raising money to create a suitable emplacement, in New York harbor, for Lady Liberty and her magic lamp. Without “Joey the Jew,” as he was derisively nicknamed on his own arrival, she might never have crossed the Atlantic. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Apr 2018, 13:42

A choice to change the world. Recruiting tag line for Spelman College, Atlanta, GA.

America’s “Gilded Age,” ca. 1865-1900, takes a lot of flak from historians, for it was an age of flamboyant wealth conspicuously consumed, of grinding poverty, of corrupt politicians purchased by corporate dollars, in short very unlike the US today. Even so, there were good impulses afloat, one of which produced—on April 11, 1881, in Atlanta, GA—Spelman College, an historically black women’s college and one of our leading liberal arts institutions. First, it was the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, born of the joint labors of Atlanta’s black community—recently freed from slavery—and two spinsters from Worcester, MA, Harriet Giles and Sophia Packard, who came south carrying $100 from their Baptist church and on a mission to bring literacy (and thus, they believed, self-determination) to black girls. That was all the certification they needed to be given basement quarters in the new Friendship Baptist Church, an all-black urban church, to receive donations in money and in kind from the black community, and to recruit about 80 girls into their tender loving care and strict academic regime. Since many, perhaps most students came to them illiterate, it wasn’t yet a college, but such was their (and their students’, and their local supporters’) success that when Miss Giles and Miss Packard toured the north to raise more funds they ran into John D. Rockefeller, another Baptist as it happened, but they also met his wife Laura, whose family—the Spelmans—had been militant abolitionists and station-masters in the Ohio division of the Underground Railway. And so it came about that old John D., robber baron that he was, paid off the seminary’s accumulated debts, bought it some real estate (an old Union Army encampment, fittingly), and built it a proper main building, Rockefeller Hall. Rockefeller Hall still stands, the central building of Spelman College’s Atlanta campus and conveniently located near to Giles Hall and Packard Hall, all of them together fitting monuments to the better angels of the age. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Apr 2018, 14:09

Within the England of my heart, in the whole breadth of her delight, there is no industrial city such as infests, ruins, and spoils other lands, and in this she resembles her great and dear mother Italy. Edward Hutton, 1914.

I am (part-time) in my 47th year of teaching, and have many times tried my hand at career counseling with, I hope, occasional successes. But I have never advised anyone to become a professional aesthete. There are explanations for this oversight, including my own lack of vision, but the possibility exists. Take for instance the life and times of Edward Hutton, born in suburban London on April 12, 1875. Hutton may have been predisposed. He came from a long line of silversmiths and was of the sort of temperament that made him a natural victim of schoolboy bullying. In self-defense, he withdraw into a youthful Anglo-Catholicism and a precocious absorption in classical culture, from which he emerged to become a devotee of a group that included Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. Nevertheless, he married (Charlotte Miles) in 1898, and the young couple decamped to Italy where they lived in the Casa di Boccaccio (yes, the Boccaccio) and became central figures in that odd slice of Italophile Englishness so well depicted by E. M. Forster. And Edward Hutton wrote, prolifically, about the beauties of Italian art and literature. Perhaps it was not a “career.’ He made more money from his travel books, e.g. The Cities of Umbria (1905) and A Glimpse of Greece (1928). These are now characterized as somewhat “overripe” and suffused by Hutton’s growing devotion to Catholicism. But his art works established his intellectual and aesthetic authority, and gave him central roles in the creation of Italian Studies chairs at Oxford and Cambridge and even in designing the neo-Byzantine mosaic decorations of London’s Catholic cathedral. Nor did Edward Hutton succumb to the politico-romantic delusions of Benito Mussolini, Il Duce. Instead he left for Britain and, during WWII, wrote guidebooks for British army intelligence, showing how to negotiate Italy’s difficult terrain but also, and fascinatingly, where British soldiers might find and how they might preserve its wondrous artistic and cultural heritage. So, you see, there is a career there, given right circumstances. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Apr 2018, 13:13

History says, don’t hope// On this side of the grave.// But then, once in a lifetime// The longed-for tidal wave// Of justice can rise up,// And hope and history rhyme. Heaney, "The Cure at Troy," a tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Among judgments best called “invidious” would be to rank one’s presents, gifts given over the years by family and friends with no thought but to please. Even so, among my favorites I would have to place Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation of Beowulf, which came to me, at Christmas, not only in print but in a recording. Following his text, listening to his voice, one could almost imagine being there, hearing the epic at its first rendition. Heaney’s gentle brogue strengthened one’s illusion of hearing English before it became English. And Seamus Heaney had a brogue, doubtless modified over the years since his birth in a small Northern Ireland farmstead on April 13, 1939. His was a large family in a small house, thatched, adjoining a stable and pen, and he later remembered his youth—fondly, for the most part—as “an intimate, physical, creaturely existence,” almost a hibernation in Hibernia, except for the sounds, “of the horse . . . rain in the trees, mice in the ceiling, a steam train rambling along” and Irish voices all around, every waking and many sleeping moments. In a not-long-enough life (he died in 2013), Heaney imparted immortality to those voices, in his poetry and his scholarship (Beowulf was not his only translation, nor Old English his only tongue). His genius brought him appointments at Harvard, Oxford, Dublin, and Trinity (among other places), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1995), and even luncheon at Buckingham Palace. But he was forever Irish, green not orange, Derry not Londonderry, usually gently but always insistently. So when, late in life, he was offered inclusion in a collection of modern British poetry, he poetically, yet categorically, ruled himself “other”:

Don't be surprised if I demur, for, be advised,
My passport's green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast The Queen.

As for Heaney’s Beowulf recording, I listened to it often enough to corrupt the CD. But it’s now all on YouTube, and I am sure those old Saxon bards would approve. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Apr 2018, 13:38

In a world as deeply traditionalist as that of the law, there can be no question of sudden radical change. The crucial issue is to determine the direction in which we are, or should be, traveling. Barbara Wootton, 1967.

Despite the wonders of the internet, I haven’t been able to find an old Girton College rulebook, but I will wager that when in 1917 Barbara Adam, a classics undergrad, married Jack Wootton, a graduate student at Trinity, she was breaking at least one rule. But it was wartime; the newlyweds had 36 hours together before he was shipped off to his death, in battle, only five weeks later. Barbara, 20, had already lost her younger brother to the war. She’d buried her father ten years earlier and, while at school, her best childhood friend. Certainly these deaths hurt. They also convinced Wootton that she should study what she wanted to study, and so she switched to Economics, gained First Class honours in 1919, and embarked on a career remarkable for its sheer length and its stunning variety. Her father showed the way, a farm laborer’s son who—by the time Barbara Wootton was born, on April 14, 1897—had translated into a Cambridge classicist (at Emmanuel College), but as a woman, nay a widow, with a First in Economics in 1919 (that was before Cambridge deigned to grant its degrees to mere women), Barbara Wootton had her own ground to break, to plough, and to plant. And there would be a rich harvest. Economist, criminologist, expert in social work, Wootton made the first of her many marks in the academy. She even lectured (in Economics) at Cambridge before women were able to lecture at Cambridge. But she’s best remembered for her public service, which she began by becoming a London JP (in 1926, before she had the right to vote) and continued as a leading member of four royal commissions (on pay, on the press, on prisons and punishment, and on the civil service), a Governor of the BBC, chair of the Countryside Commission, and—not least—as an active member of the House of Lords, a “totally indefensible” institution of which she made excellent use, including a period as its first female Deputy Speaker—sitting on the Woolsack for the Labour Party, of course. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Apr 2018, 12:42

"She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange . . . She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished that heaven had made her such a man." Othello, speaking of his Desdemona, in a role played several times by A. Philip Randolph.

We hear little today about one of the great men of the civil rights crusade, A. Philip Randolph. That’s “passing strange” indeed, for it was he who won some of the movement’s most significant victories, notably FDR’s “Executive Order 8802” (1941), requiring the desegregation of the defense industry. Perhaps it’s because he was a less comforting figure, one who always neglected to apologize for his socialism, his agnosticism, and his trades union roots. Asa Philip Randolph was born in Florida on April 15, 1889. His father, an AME minister, taught him that the color of one’s skin was less important than the strength of one’s character, and then gave the lesson a lie by packing a pistol to the county jail to prevent a lynching. A. Philip Randolph never forgot that night (his mom, Elizabeth, kept guard at home with a shotgun); he spent his whole life trying to make his father’s lesson become true. That effort began with education, including at Howard (where he wooed and wed Lucille Green, a widow of substance). In New York, he joined in the Harlem Renaissance (leading a black Shakespeare company) and in socialist politics. But his first real fame came with his leadership of the Pullman Porters’ union (from 1925), where he fought both the railways and other unions (those opposed to anything smacking of racial equality), finally triumphing in the 1930s with the Railway Labor Act (1934), acceptance by the AFL-CIO, and in 1937 an advantageous labor contract with the Pullman Company. It was from that base that Randolph advocated militant action to secure employment rights as the build-up to war began, and it was Randolph’s “March on Washington” plan that led FDR to do the right thing. For, as the Rev’d James William Randolph had said to his little boy, years before, this country was a place where the color of one’s skin ought not to matter. Randolph hammered away at that “ought” until he died, aged 90, a man we ought to remember “for the dangers he had passed.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Apr 2018, 12:55

"Dada is useless, like everything else in life." Tristan Tzara, circa 1922.

In his brilliant The First Moderns (1997), William Everdell shows how (before, during, and after the catastrophe of WWI) the certainties of that age we call Victorian unraveled in life and in art, in science and in industry. Everdell’s focus is on Europe. One can treat Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (2001) as a companion volume on similar trends in America. Struggling with uncertainty, most “modernists” searched for some other criterion than absolute truth to serve as their sheet anchor, whether in pragmatism (as in, “it works so it must be ok”), statistics (“you’ve got it close enough”) or quantum physics (wherein it was argued that an observed cat can be both dead and alive, or either dead or alive, and why not?). Still others decided to throw it all over to explore irrationality, or “the irrational.” These were few, but they were a memorable few, pugnacious to a fault, and (therefore) vulnerable to sectarian chaos. One sect we usually remember was “Dada” and although its origins are shrouded in mystery and clouded in dispute, one of its founders was Tristan Tzara, born as Samuel Rosenstock in rural Romania on April 16, 1896. Educated in Bucharest, “Samy” soon joined a small and self-conscious avant-garde made up of oddballs from many disciplines (he began in mathematics) to cross intellectual and aesthetic boundaries and explore new worlds of thought. Romania’s late entry into WWI forced Samy (a pacifist) to cross other boundaries, to adopt French as his language, Switzerland as his land, Tristan Tzara as his nom de guerre, and, around about 1916, to proclaim “Dada” as his creed. After the peace, Dada quickly spread, and almost as quickly smithereened (that would be a good Dada word). Having rejected the very concept of criteria, Dadaists could not identify their heresies. In 1922, Dada was pronounced dead-a, leaving Tzara (and many others) to quarrel over what it had been, or whether. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Apr 2018, 13:59

The Cicada sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek. Karen Blixen, Out of Africa.

My senior seminar paper (1965) concerned the politics of Kenya’s European “settlers” and their economic foothold, or stranglehold, in Kenya’s “White Highlands.” Then in 1987 the film “White Mischief” chronicled their sexual shenanigans, a theme my researches had not turned up. Both sides of the story were realities for a Danish woman who lived in Kenya for eighteen years. She was Karen Blixen, better known by her pen-name, Isak Dinesen. She was born on her father’s Danish estate on April 17, 1885. Her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, was an aristocrat and a sexual traveler who’d left a child with Wisconsin Chippewas and, in his own Columbian Exchange, brought home syphilis. His suicide (1895) left Karen in the care of her mother’s family, strictly Unitarian, Anglophile, and progressive. It’s hard to say whether Karen rebelled against both (or combined elements of each) parent’s values and habits, but she kept diaries and wrote short fiction under the pen name of Osceola (the name of her father’s hunting dog). Then she married (into a cousinage of her father’s family), a Swedish aristocrat named Blixen, and in 1913 the couple left for Kenya and a life of cattle ranching and coffee growing. This didn’t last long, Baron Blixen turning out to be much like Karen’s father, while Karen took care of the plantation and its largely indigenous workforce. After their separation but before their divorce, Karen took up with the big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton and that, too, ended badly. But she’d already taken up writing, and after she returned to Denmark her books and stories (written in English) made her famous, notably Out of Africa (1937) and the short fiction “Babette’s Feast” (1958). Critics are still sorting out her reputation (especially as it regards race and imperialism), but she was a remarkable writer, and a remarkable person. Karen died of syphilis complications in 1962, in her case contracted through her husband, Baron Blixen. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Apr 2018, 12:29

When April with its sweet-smelling showers// Has pierced the drought of March to the root,// and bathed every vein . . . Geoffrey Chaucer, ca. 1400.

In their apparently ceaseless quest to provide us with new perspectives, literary scholars get up to the oddest things, amongst which one of the oddest has been to provide us with exact chronologies of classic fictions. Surely in literature the imagination should trump the fact (whatever the verdict in Trumpian politics). So I can tell you that (in Pride and Prejudice) Fitzwilliam Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet on April 9, was rejected, and then (after much drama) proposed successfully the following October 6th. If you like that sort of detail, then you will be delighted to know that, much earlier than Darcy’s conquest of (or if you like his surrender to) “dearest, sweetest Elizabeth,” Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims began their pilgrimage on April 18, 1394. They gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a crusading knight, a lusty bachelor, a worldly-wise nun, a wiser wife (whose husband, luckily, stayed home), and 25 others (plus Chaucer). It was not a pollster’s sample, but a poetically drawn cross-section that gave the poet a golden chance to offer reflections (satirical and otherwise) on his society, and thus—translated from the Middle English—offers modern undergraduates a pretty clear sense of what medieval lives might have been like. But it’s a fiction, and for me it’s enough to know that it happened

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour.

And that on that day—whatever day it was—our poet lay

Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage

To Caunterbury with ful devout courage.

Courage he would need, when he heard their tales. So who cares which April day it was? But now you know it anyway. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Apr 2018, 12:27

A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people. Frederick Douglass.

The Quaker witness against slavery may have begun when George Fox traveled to Barbados in the 1670s to tell masters that their slaves were human beings and should be treated that way. But he did not then call for emancipation, and as a formal doctrine “abolition” came to various Quaker communities at various times. So when in 1764 the young Quaker Richard Humphreys (1750-1832) moved from his family plantation on Tortola to Philadelphia, he moved into an anti-slavery Quaker community. He conformed, and went one better to become increasingly concerned by the plight of free blacks in a racist society. Humphreys—who had come to Philadelphia to apprentice as a silversmith—was a true believer in the importance of education and training as the roads to success, so in his will he left $10,000 to establish a school to educate black children in “literature, Science, Agriculture, and the Mechanical Arts.” The school’s main aim, however, was to educate young African-Americans to become teachers in those fields, for Humphreys saw his $10,000 as an investment in the future, not just in individuals. The 13 Friends nominated as trustees opened the school’s doors (in Philadelphia) on April 19, 1837, and so today Richard Humphreys’ little school can claim to be the oldest historically black college in the United States. It’s a legitimate claim, although the “Institute” did not become a college until 1852, and it did not move out of Philadelphia (to George Cheyney’s farm) until 1903. There it sits today, but the private foundation has become a public institution, for in 1920, the state of Pennsylvania took over the “Cheyney Normal School” to create Cheyney State College, and by what is now seen as a natural progression the state college expanded to become Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, today celebrating its 181st anniversary and (in common with many public institutions) struggling to stay afloat. ©
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
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