BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Aug 2017, 13:28

Henson must go all the way. I can't make it there without him, Matthew Peary, April 1909.

As terra incognita shrank, the polar regions became the focus for men seeking new horizons and new knowledge but also thirsting for fame. European expeditions tended to travel light (none lighter than the tragic Scott dash for the South Pole). Not so the 1909 American north pole expedition of Commander Robert Peary and his “first man,” Matthew Henson. They’d been before, lived with the Inuit (indeed fathered Inuit children), and reckoned that the locals best knew how to deal with the locality, so in 1909 they set off with 50 Inuit and 246 Inuit sled dogs, needed because they also took about 100 tons of whale and walrus meat and blubber and tons of other supplies, to lay for themselves a safe route to the Pole. Matthew Henson, born in Maryland on August 8, 1866, would live just long enough to see the modern civil rights movement and a changing racial consciousness that would eventually make him the more interesting of the duo, the one born in a sharecropper’s cabin who went to sea at 12. Virtually adopted by his ship’s captain, young Henson learned to read, write, and figure and then, at 23, was engaged by Peary for a Nicaraguan survey. So well did the two mesh that they became virtual partners in several arctic explorations, culminating in their 1909 expedition. They returned to a hero’s welcome, but the preferred hero was the white one. Henson did write a memoir and was respected in the black community, but worked for decades in the obscurity of customs offices. In his old age, however, as his nation fought a war against racism and then confronted its own past, Henson became more heroic. He was honored by the war office and then by presidents (Truman and Eisenhower) and made the subject of a well-regarded biography, Dark Companion.. In 1988, 33 years after his death, Henson was reinterred at Arlington, quite close to the Peary monument. So once again they found each other. Yet it seems certain that in 1909, despite all that blubber, they had missed the pole by miles. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Aug 2017, 13:25

I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing. Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler.

Peter and Andrew, fishermen brothers who famously became fishers of men, are today listed as patron saints of all who cast baits or nets in pursuit of the finny one. But we anglers have a modern patron, too, one Izaak Walton. He was probably not born on August 9 (that was the date he began writing his will), but today we will give him August 9, 1593, in Stafford, England. Whenever it was, Izaak’s birth was humble yet respectable (his parents were innkeepers), and he was able to land a good apprenticeship in London, where he became a leading parishioner, friend, and biographer of the reverend poet John Donne, married well (twice, both wives related to bishops of the Church of England), and married his daughters off to prominent churchmen, too. So we can assume he was religious, probably a High Church royalist. King Charles’s defeat at Marston Moor (1644) discouraged Walton who retired (he had become a prosperous draper and a freeman of the Ironmongers’ Company), bought a farm near Stafford, and settled down with his trout. There he wrote The Compleat Angler (1653), a book that would go through several revisions in his long lifetime and today (more cited than read) is probably the most famous Anglophone book on the noble pursuit of a noble fish. I say more cited than read because the book makes quite clear that Walton was no “flie” fisherman. He understood the great satisfaction that comes from landing a trout with your own feathery creation (and I learned how to tie my flies at the Izaak Walton League in Des Moines, IA), but Walton wanted to catch his fish, not just admire them, and he was a live bait angler. Late in life Walton returned to church affairs, living in the bishop’s palace, Winchester Cathedral, from 1662 to 1683 and visiting eminent clerical fishermen. His “August 9” will left his country property in Stafford to the support of the poor of his home parish. The farm house is today a museum. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Aug 2017, 10:50

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class, it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity. Anna Cooper. You will find this quote on pp. 24-25 of your new American passport.

On the Haywood plantation outside of Raleigh, NC, Anna Cooper and her elder brothers were favored slaves, the offspring of the master-owner, George Washington Haywood, or possibly his brother Fabius (life imitating art: in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses, the McCaslin brothers, “Uncle Buck” and “Uncle Buddy,” didn’t know which one of them fathered the slave girl Fonsiba). At any rate, Anna Cooper, born on August 10, 1858, did not have to endure many years as a slave, and when liberation came Anna, aged ten, won a scholarship to a local Episcopalian school for freedmen, where she had to fight several other struggles to free herself, the first being that she was expected to take the less academically demanding “ladies’ course.” Having won that battle (to the extent of becoming a school tutor in several of the more difficult subjects), she then hazarded all by marrying and having a daughter (married women, white and black, north and south, were generally barred from teaching). But Anna’s husband died before any action could be taken. Anna the widow then went on to Oberlin College and an MA in mathematics (she refused the ladies’ course at Oberlin, too) and moved to Washington, DC, where she taught at the famous M Street High School, becoming its principal in 1901. But through her memoir-essays A Voice from the South (1892) Anna Cooper became more famous as a public intellectual than as a school principal, a sought-after speaker, essayist, and activist on civil rights and women’s rights. And her education continued. After abandoning her PhD (in medieval French literature) at Columbia—because she took on the role of mothering her dead brother’s children—she moved her studies to the Sorbonne, Paris, where, in 1924, just before her 66th birthday, Anna Julia Haywood Cooper became only the fourth American woman to earn a PhD. And then she kept going. Anna died, aged 105, in 1964. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tripps » 10 Aug 2017, 12:48

Very timely. I'm reading a book called 'King Cotton' by one Thomas Armstrong - written in the 1940's but covering the Victorian period. It's a monster of a book (over 900 pages), and the detail is impressive.

At the moment a visiting cotton broker's clerk, from Lancashire is in South Carolina, before the Civil War (1861 - 65). Whilst discussing slavery with the plantation overseer, he is told that not all owners are harsh with their slaves, and a well treated one, despite having no freedom, has a better quality of life than a worker in Lancashire. Having read Engels on Manchester in the same period, and having some knowledge of Ancoats, Collyhurst etc, I think he may have a point.

I'm sure each author had an agenda, and it is massively over generalised, but is there any truth in this assertion?
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Aug 2017, 02:45

It's all comparative David, but overall, whilst there could be some truth in the statement in individual cases, both groups were slaves to their masters. The blacks got emancipation, we got the unions!
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Aug 2017, 10:40

A fact will fit every other fact in the Universe, because it is the product of all other facts. A lie will fit nothing except another lie made for the express purpose of fitting it. Bob Ingersoll, "Some Mistakes of Moses," 1879.

One of my more intriguing gift books in recent years was a modern biography of Robert G. “Bob” Ingersoll, born on August 11, 1833, and destined to become the Republican Party’s most famous orator and the country’s most popular lecturer on, well, just about everything. His “plumed knight” speech (nominating ‘James G. Blaine of the state of Maine’) at the Republicans’ national convention of 1876 became famous, as did, 16 years later, his homily at Walt Whitman’s funeral. Today, if perhaps he’d have to learn brevity, he’d be a TED talker, but oratory was then a popular entertainment, and Bob Ingersoll was (aside perhaps from Mark Twain) the nation’s most popular public speaker, and Americans paid good money to hear him even in the smallest places. And it’s good to remember, in a time when Donald J. Trump can be hailed as God’s angel (surely a case of mistaken identity!!??), that Bob Ingersoll was an atheist. And not a private one, either, he was—and gloried in—the sobriquet of “The Great Infidel.” Other than the sanctity of family life (he was happily and faithfully married to Eva Amelia Parker and devoted to their two daughters) and Shakespeare’s genius, his ‘routines’ on unbelief were his most popular efforts. But give Ingersoll a topic, and he would study it up (he was a voracious reader, afflicted with a photographic memory), write it up, and then deliver it as a speech without notes. Inter alia he spoke in favor of Darwin and science, women’s rights, civil rights for African-Americans (he had commanded a cavalry regiment in the Civil War), and of course politics (for Ingersoll, the Republicans were almost always right). He was also a successful trial lawyer. Ingersoll’s time was (as Susan Jacoby has argued) the Golden Age of Freethought, and even before Bob Ingersoll took to the lectern there was another Illinois lawyer, also an agnostic, who achieved professional and popular success—and moral leadership: Abraham Lincoln. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Aug 2017, 14:04

We, the people of Mississippi, in Convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work, do ordain and establish this Constitution. Preamble to the 1890 Mississippi constitution.

Throughout US history, suffrage law (amendments and statutes) increased voter participation to give political substance to the notion that “all men are created equal,” a truth not fully self-evident in 1776. First, property requirements were eased and began to disappear. The Civil War brought the federal government into the business with amendments that extended the vote to African-American men. The big advances of the 20th century came for women and for army-aged young people. But today one of our political parties aims to restrict suffrage, claiming that “fake votes” occur in their millions. But it’s nothing new. There was another time when many states worked against the American grain to take the vote away from citizens, and it was on August 12, 1890, that the Mississippi state constitutional convention met. It’s well known that the convention aimed to deny black people the vote. However, voter restriction had broader aims. A long agricultural depression had raised common feeling among blacks and poor whites, sharecroppers, smallholders, small town mill workers who thought government should help them. not secure the wealth of the rich. In 1892 its expression nationally would be the Populist Party. In the south it had materialized as “Farmers’ Alliances,” black and white. The 1890 convention met to counter the threat, and it knew very well that its poll taxes and its literacy test could be used to disenfranchise poor whites as well as blacks. Just to make sure, Mississippi redistricted to take legislative power from its northern counties, heavily white and desperately poor. The “Mississippi Idea” took hold, and by the 1910s voter participation was sharply down in every southern state. And while very few blacks indeed could vote, poor whites were also massively disenfranchised. But the best measure of intent in the 1890 constitution was that, by design, it was not submitted to the voters for ratification. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Aug 2017, 12:00

There are two kinds of people. Those who want to do things, and those who think of reasons why they can't be done. Allan John Sainsbury, quoted in his obituary, 1998.

Today we’ve learned that inheriting a big family firm doesn’t always prepare one well for the real world; it can create instead an alternate reality of sycophancy and make-believe. But there is no “rule”. Take Allan John Sainsbury, British grocery magnate, born to wealth on August 13, 1902. His grandfather’s firm was thriving, and when Allan Sainsbury was 20 formed itself into a family corporation. By that time Alan had gained real world experience, having left school early to work in a Christian mission in London’s notorious East End. This gave him a taste of poverty that never left him and a political sensibility that led him into the Liberal party, then Labour, and finally (1982) to the Social Democrats. Meanwhile, he joined the firm, starting as counter boy (British groceries were then not self-service affairs) at the shop in Boscombe, then moving into HQ on the retail management side. Meanwhile he ran for parliament as a Liberal, then served the ‘National’ government during the war and (in peacetime) the Atlee government (Labour) on various food, nutrition, and rationing boards. (He would later, as Baron Sainsbury, ‘take the Labour Whip’ in the House of Lords). In 1949, a trip to America made him a devotee of the self-service supermarket. By 1969, this revolution had not yet arrived at Oxford’s Sainsbury’s on the High Street. There a green American fresh off the boat provoked amused irritation among customers at the cheese stall by moving right to the counter to order some cheddar. Gently admonished by the counter boy (could it have been Mr. Allan’s grandson?), I discovered the queuing principle and apologetically joined the queue: satisfaction all around. Allan became Sainsbury’s CEO in 1956 but soon retired to be chairman of the board and become, in the House of Lords, an advocate of consumer rights, good nutrition, and civil liberties and, in his private life, a generous donor to all three causes and to several more. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Aug 2017, 14:07

They [the Forsytes] took precautions against [death], the instinctive precautions of highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their property. John Galsworthy.

Galsworthy House, once called Parkfield, still stands on Kingston Hill in Surrey, not quite in splendid isolation but its front overlooking a large public park. It’s a pleasing mansion, a suitable setting for the machinations of Soames Forsyte and his pampered daughter Fleur. Fleur grows up, more or less, and falls in love with her second cousin Jon Forsyte, only to find—dramatically—that the cousin is really a half-brother, forbidden fruit, the product of a secret marriage between old Soames and Irene Forsyte (now married to Jolyon Forsyte). It’s a central confusion of The Forsyte Saga, the BBC’s successful drama series (1967 et seq), and ultimately the product of John Galsworthy’s fictional trilogies. It’s also a case of art (almost) imitating life, for Galsworthy himself was engaged for a decade in a fairly bizarre secret affair with his cousin’s wife, the oddly named Ada Nemesis Galsworthy. Once Galsworthy’s father died, the affair became public, there was a divorce, and the couple married in 1905. It issued in no child, however, and was apparently a happy union. John Galsworthy was born in Parkfield House 150 years ago today, August 14, 1867 and (after Rugby and Oxford) destined to join his father as a barrister, but had already (anonymously) begun to write when he fell for Ada. By the time they married, he’d also made his scribbling habit public and was known as a successful playwright, but he turned increasingly to fiction and found his métier writing about his class (middle, but emphatically upper) in its high Edwardian summer and then as its world began to fall apart in a century for which it was not made. Galsworthy had a certain sympathy for Soames and his brethren, but a critical distance too, and sympathy and distance worked together to bring critical acclaim, a large readership and, a year before Galsworthy’s death, the 1932 Nobel Prize. His dearest Nemesis, Ada, lived until 1956, almost long enough to see the saga on TV. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Aug 2017, 14:12

We are called upon at the beginning of the twentieth century to decide the question propounded in the Sermon on the Mount, as to whether we will worship God or Mammon. Keir Hardie, speaking in the House of Commons, 1901.

My great-grandfather Hugh Kerr worked as a craftsman in the coal fields of Ayr and Lanark only because he had offended his Dalry kirk and his gentleman farmer father, and when he left to seek a better life in Illinois, his children carried with them a generous trust fund for their education (Hugh’s kids did well). Elsewhere in the coal fields, Mary Kerr was not so lucky. An unmarried farm servant, she birthed a boy on August 15, 1856, and called him James Kerr. No educational trust for James, but in 1859 Mary married David Hardie, and the little boy became Keir Hardie. Humble beginnings, but Keir Hardie did well, too, learning to read, write, and speak with panache (and with fire and fury), taking as a pen-name “Trapper” (from his dangerous job as a child laborer in the mines). As a youth Hardie converted to a warm-hearted Christianity (one that would not have excommunicated Hugh Kerr), led strikes in the shipyards, and ran for parliament (from Mid-Lanark) in 1888. He got only 617 votes, but those “noble 600” (as he called them) were encouragement enough for Keir Hardie. He moved to London in 1892 and stood for West Ham South as an Independent Labour candidate, and won. Subsequently his career as a parliamentarian had its ups and downs, but in 1900 Hardie and others, working closely with unions, formed the Labour Representation Committee (Hardie was general secretary), and this group, in 1906, became the modern Labour Party (Hardie as parliamentary Leader). It was a fractious group, with some support from Liberals and more from Socialist groupings, at once fiercely proud of and uneasy in its close relationships with a pretty broad span (politically speaking) of trades unions. Keir himself moved towards a more eclectic leftism, embracing women’s suffrage (and, very likely, Sylvia Pankhurst), peace, and internationalism. The war broke him, it is said, and he died of pneumonia, aged only 59, in 1915. ©

GENEALOGICAL CORRECTION.

Hugh Kerr, who died in Edwardsville, IL, circa 1875, was not my great-grandfather. I’m pretty ancient but not that ancient. He was my great-great grandfather. Hugh’s father, Daniel Kerr of Kersland, cut Hugh out of the estate (the farmhouse still stands though no Kerrs have lived in it for 100 years) but left an educational trust of £2,000 –then a considerable sum—for Hugh’s children, then insured that the capital was kept in Dalry so Hugh couldn’t get hold of it. As it happened, Hugh’s eldest daughter, Anne Kerr, died at sea (off Jamaica) on the voyage (1841), so the trust income was split between Daniel Kerr the younger and his sister Mary. Daniel attended an academy in Decatur, IL, then graduated from McKendree College (in the year Keir Hardy was born), then apprenticed in the law to the (then) governor of Illinois, then joined the Union army (117th Illinois Volunteers) and fought down the Mississippi, finishing up at Montomery, Alabama. Mary Kerr attended the Alton Female Academy where she was very well educated (by abolitionists). I am transcribing and lightly editing their correspondence, or rather the 600 surviving letters of their and their families’ correspondence, circa 1820 to 1916 (when Daniel died).
The record of Hugh’s expulsion from the Dalry Kirk is in the church records. No reason was given but other evidence (surviving letters from Hugh’s sister) suggests that alcohol may have been involved. Hugh’s great-grandson, Daniel Kerr (my mother’s first cousin), returned the favor by preaching at Dalry Kirk as locum during the time he, Daniel, was earning his D.D. degree at Edinburgh. That was in the early 1950s. That Daniel was a Presbyterian minister, and a teetotaler. Indeed, Hugh’s habit (if such it was) made both his children into fierce teetotalers. Most of their children were also down on the demon rum, but in my mother’s (and Daniel Kerr’s) generation, the prohibition wore off.

Cheers. Bob Bliss
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Aug 2017, 13:47

In science, credit goes not to the man who finds a grain of new and precious quality but to him who sows it, reaps it, grinds it and feeds the world on it. Francis Darwin, 1914.

“Like a chip off the old block” is rarely accurate but at first glance Francis Darwin’s life seems eerily like his father’s, save perhaps for the birth date. Francis was Charles’s and Emma’s seventh (of ten) children, and he was born on August 16, 1848, at Downe House. He did have an unusual education in that his grammar school headmaster later became Oxford’s Savilian Professor of Astronomy but, like dad, he did study at Cambridge, did intend to be a medical doctor, and did (instead) become a distinguished scientist, albeit in botany and not quite as distinguished a scientist as his father. Nevertheless, Francis’s scientific career (largely at Cambridge) was successful enough to become a fellow of the Royal Society (1882), the recipient of one of its highest honors (oddly enough, the Darwin Medal, in 1912), and a large clutch of honorary degrees (from universities in five countries). Sir Francis Darwin, then, like his father, was no slouch. He was instrumental in moving botany away from its historical obsession with taxonomy and into the laboratory and then the field, pointing the way to make those connections with his Practical Physiology of Plants (1894). His was a life of university research and university connections, unlike Charles’s, and he did survive three wives (two lost in childbirth). These differences aside, he seems to have taken pleasure in his connections with his father, serving as Charles’s scientific assistant for many years (1874-1882) and then writing what have become classic (and dependable) critical and biographical studies of Charles Darwin’s life and works (a three volume Life and Letters in 1887, and then scholarly studies in 1903 and 1909. Unlike dad, he was offered and accepted a knighthood but it was in the course of and in honor of a life quite as long and in some ways more productive than that of Charles Darwin. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Aug 2017, 13:48

Facts can be realigned, but fiction never lies. V. S. Naipaul.

In Wikipedia, there’s a magical picture of Seepersad Naipaul, vintage 1930s, looking uncomfortably but indubitably proud of his Ford Prefect, somewhere on the streets of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Seepersad was the protagonist of his son’s finest novel, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961). People don’t get Nobels for just one book, but this cruel comedy (for it is, magnificently, both cruel and comic) might have justified literature’s highest honor. The author, V. S. Naipaul, was born in rural Trinidad on August 17, 1932, and his first writings (a collection of sketches and two proper novels predated Biswas) were clearly drawn from his life in Trinidad and his translation to being an immigrant in Britain. Biswas took its toll. Naipaul has written about his own work, strikingly honest (except for the large exception of leaving his wife Patricia Hale out of the picture), and has said at several points that Biswas nearly destroyed him. Certainly he rarely wrote about Trinidad again (his fine, poetic history, The Loss of El Dorado, 1969, is one of several partial exceptions), “unwilling,” as he wrote 20 years later, “to expose myself again to the emotions that lay below the comedy.” So he wrote about other things, Africa in particular and the third world in general, and has been roundly criticized, by some, as endorsing the imperial-colonial line on non-western cultures. I think it’s a fair point, and one might add to it his treatment of women (not just Patricia). And as long as you want your great novelists to be good people also these flaws will leave Naipaul out of the running. But for his earlier works, in particular A House for Mr. Biswas but also others, and for his insightful criticisms (including of himself), he remains for me one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. But given that picture of his father, I wonder that he did not call it “a Ford for Mr. Biswas.” Pick up the novel, get 50 pages into it, and I dare you to put it down. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Aug 2017, 08:57

Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy. Marshall Field.

I have often used as a textbook in American Studies, Thomas Augst’s The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in 19th-Century America (2003). It focuses on boys becoming men at a time when economic change (a crowded countryside, burgeoning cities, etc.) forced them away from the family farm and cast them alone, on the urban shore, away from family, home, and church. Searching for moral compass, many found it in the idea of the “self-made man,” not a story of rags to riches, to excess wealth and indulgent pride, but as rules for a better life, diary keeping, introspection, invention of new constraints in the absence of old ones. Just such was Marshall Field, born on a Massachusetts farm on August 18, 1834. With no hope of the farm, he moved first into town (Pittsfield, MA, 1851) and employment, and then on from town to town, fetching up in Chicago in its boom town days, living with his elder brother and meeting other young men making themselves better. Field went to work for Potter Palmer, then another firm where he formed a partnership with another young man, Levi Leiter, and began the ascent that would make him rich and make the Marshall Field department store a landmark for Chicago and, indeed, the whole Midwest, the acme of quality for my grandmother and her sisters in Grundy Center, IA. But he was, after all, Marshall Field from that Massachusetts farm, and having reformed himself he reformed his business, abandoning caveat emptor and instituting guarantees, free returns, unconditional refunds, and instructing his clerks never to sell merchandise that people did not need or could not afford. And he remade his city, too, with many benefactions including the magnificent Field Museum of Natural History and, for good measure, the land for the new University of Chicago, whose press, in a different age, would produce Tom Augst’s book on young men and how they made for themselves a moral life. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Aug 2017, 09:52

Rose Heilbron spoke up for a woman’s right to achieve what men take for granted - a fulfilling career and a normal family life. Cherie Blair, 2005.

While Rose Heilbron’s challenges as a woman are easily understood in disparate cultures, her spectacular successes in overcoming those challenges don’t translate well (to American English) because of the peculiar structures of the British legal system. So I’ll just name them and leave the translations to readers. Rose Heilbron was born on August 19, 1914, in Liverpool, in fairly humble circumstances. Still her parents saw to her education, which issued in a First Class Honours degree in law in 1935 and being ‘called to the bar’ at the beginning of WWII. Despite ingrained prejudices against women barristers, she made much headway (partly, she later mused, because many male barristers were away at war), and made a considerable reputation as a defense advocate. Even her failures became famous. In 1950 she ably defended George Kelly, wrongly hanged for a murder he did not commit, and lived long enough to see that verdict reversed (in 2003). Her advocacy in cases involving murder and civil rights is particularly notable, and in 1949, only months after giving birth to a daughter, Heilbron “took silk,” the youngest person (male or female) to become king’s counsel since 1783. Then, in 1956, she became the first woman (of any age) to be appointed a judge in England where, again, her career was marked by many distinctive and precedent-setting verdicts. She ascended with all deliberate speed to the high court bench (1974) and then to the top of her profession as Treasurer of Gray’s Inn (1985). With all that, Heilbron was also a popular jurist, notably in her home city (her mellifluous voice always retained a trace of Merseyside) and a happily married woman. Her husband, Dr. Nathaniel Burstein, is as far as I know still alive. Their daughter Hilary became a distinguished barrister and Queen’s Counsel, the 29th woman to “take silk.” Madam Justice Heilbron died, full of years and showered with honors, in 2005. ©

[If I remember aright she was once a Recorder in Burnley. Is that right?]
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Aug 2017, 11:41

There live not three good men unhanged in England: and one of them is fat. Falstaff, in King Henry IV, Act II.

On Friday, dining in a Kentish pub (the excellent George & Dragon, a 16th-century hostelry in Speldhurst), we sat opposite Sir John Gielgud. Well, of course not. Gielgud is dead. But it could have been his double (save perhaps that he was married and eating a large steak), and it set us to talking about the golden age of the London theatre: Gielgud, Guinness, Richardson, Olivier. But there was an earlier golden age, another century’s middle and end, the 18th, the age of David Garrick and Sarah Siddons. And today is the birthdate of the man who brought them together, Thomas King, born on August 20, 1730. Acting tended to run in families, then, and King broke that mold by being born a wealthy merchant’s son, in London, but redeemed himself by running away from Westminster School at age 14 and joining a touring troupe in deepest Kent (actually, just over the hill from the George & Dragon). There his talents were noticed, and brought to the attention of David Garrick, who auditioned King in London. But there was a further seasoning of tours in the West Country and Ireland before Thomas King became known as the finest comic actor of his time, married (faithfully) to a theatre dancer, Mary Baker, Garrick’s go-to man for supporting roles and classic comic parts, and in the end to become Garrick’s assistant impresario, his agent, his scout (sent to Bristol to report on this wild young talent Sarah Siddons), and his close friend. It is said that Thomas King may have had too long a nose to be a great tragedian, a pity in an era of Shakespeare revival, but his nose, his manner and, later, his girth, served him well as Malvolio, Bottom, and Falstaff—but also as a great lead in the classic comedies of his own time. Meanwhile, King was by many marked out as a gentleman among players, not least by Dr. Johnson and his Boswell, who found him very pleasant and quite polished. And Thomas King was, after all, a gentleman become a player. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Aug 2017, 10:39

I have always had a dread of becoming a passenger in life. Princess Margaret.

From Victoria on, many of the British royal family’s women have had longish lives, and the current queen (Elizabeth II, aged 95 and regnant since 1952) may outdo her mother, aka Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York, then Queen, then Queen Mother, indomitable—gin and all—until she was nearly 102. And Elizabeth II has already outlasted her great-great grandmother, Victoria, who only managed 81 years, reigning 64 of them. If it’s a puzzle, you might well offer “it’s a soft life” as a solution, and you’d be right, but it has its duties and (apparently) its sadnesses and strains. One Saxe-Coburg-Windsor woman who didn’t stand up quite as well to the duties, sadnesses, and strains was Elizabeth’s kid sister, the Princess Margaret, born on August 21, 1930 when her father, the Duke of York, was not the heir apparent. Margaret’s first years were gay enough, moving from royal apartment to this or that castle (for holidays with The Family), but then her uncle Ed abdicated and her dad became king, and suddenly her older sister was heir apparent, and was getting a good deal of the limelight and at least a reasonable education. Indeed Margaret always resented her mother’s purblind views on women’s education. The Queen Mother believed that all a girl needed was a good marriage, at its very best a gambler’s view. But Margaret’s good marriage (to Group Captain Townsend, 14 years her senior) was denied to her by her ‘royal’ situation, her minority (she was her sister’s ward until she would become 25), and her religious principles. Her bad marriage, to a society photographer (later ennobled as Earl of Snowdon), didn’t do her any good, and her vivacity and native wit found insufficient release in such royal duties as she undertook despite her £55,000 Civil List income. Margaret lived long enough to help celebrate her mother’s 101st birthday, but she scraped only 71 years, succumbing to the chief of her bad habits for, like her beloved father, she was a heavy smoker. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Aug 2017, 05:54

The propensity of weak and empty people to follow a leader into the darkness from which there is no return is still flourishing. Mary McGrory, 1993.

One might find a grain of truth in D. Trump’s “fake news” refrain, but he utters it so often it loses force; he sounds like a feckless shepherd’s boy trying to make a name for himself. Still, American journalism has suffered ‘fake news’ scandals in the last few decades, right, left, and center. One journalist who stood out as a truth teller was Mary McGrory, in her prime a writer for the Washington Star and then in her pretty sharp old age for the Washington Post. It was while she worked for the Star, a fairly conservative rag, that President Nixon (our previous worst modern president) put her on his infamous enemies list. She thought that Johnson and then Nixon had lied through their teeth to get us deeper into Viet Nam, and then keep us there, and she was not reluctant to say so, citing chapter and verse and digging up original documents to prove her case. All that began back in Boston when Mary McGrory was born into a stoutly Catholic Irish family on August 22, 1918. Her father didn’t like bullies and didn’t like ignorance, so he brought Mary up to have a backbone and a good education (starting at Boston Latin for Girls), and she took both brains and backbone into publishing and then journalism (her main ambition) where she found her gender a handicap. It took her years to get out of producing book reviews and cake recipes, but when the Star finally let her through the glass ceiling she landed smack dab in the middle of the Joe McCarthy era, identified him as just another Irish bully, not worth worrying too much about, and (after the Star died) she kept that up through Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. It was, she said, much “like toiling through Gaul with Julius Caesar.” As her century turned, Mary McGrory dropped to three columns a week, not bad for an 85 year old, before a stroke stilled her pen forever. One wonders what she would have made of a president who couldn’t tell the truth. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Aug 2017, 06:11

The science of medicine is founded on conjecture, and improved by murder. Astley Paston Cooper.

In early modern Britain surgery was not a highly regarded profession. This owed partly to a poor track record and to the pain involved given the absence of anesthetics. Although there were amazing advances (John Locke’s famous 1668 surgery on his patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury, for example), surgery was too much a “last resort” to be a sought after solution for health problems. That began to change in the 18th century, and the rising status of surgery was symbolized by the creation, in 1800, of the Royal College of Surgeons. In this much was owed to several surgical pioneers, notably Astley Paston Cooper, born on August 23, 1768, and only a youngster in 1800, but already well known, well-married (he secured a £14,000 dowry through his 1791 marriage), and with a rapidly-growing income. Operating (of course) without anesthetics and not a great deal of attention to cleanliness, he made important advances in surgeries of the breasts (for cancer), of the sexual and urinary tracts in both men and women, broken bones, the aorta, and eyes (!!), and in 1811 he operated successfully on the Prince Regent for a brain tumor. This won him a baronetcy and undoubtedly set him on his way to his own princely income of nearly £25,000 annually. While not a founder of the Royal College, he was important in its early development and served as its president. Astley Cooper was also a member of several important scientific societies, though perhaps more for his anatomical studies than his surgeries, including London’s Royal Society, which made him a fellow in 1802. A mere prankster in his youth (he was, after all, a clergyman’s son), and afflicted with childhood tuberculosis, Cooper nevertheless lived long enough and sawed bones energetically enough to serve as Queen Victoria’s surgeon and to figure prominently in the history of surgery. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Aug 2017, 06:19

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. The Witches, in Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

In Common Sense (Philadelphia, January 1776), Thomas Paine weaned Americans from their British allegiances but also from any remaining affection for kingship. The history of kings, Paine wrote, was one of usurpation, murder by many means, and then rapine. Paine covered the whole history of kingship, but concentrated on its English chapters. He could have been talking about Scotland, though, and it was with every awareness of the dangers of violent usurpation that King William the Lion called to Stirling Castle his principal nobles and burghers and required them to swear allegiance and fealty to his son, which they did on two occasions, in October and December 1214. Thus the boy (he was born on August 24, 1198) became King of the Scots, Alexander II, on December 5, 1214. He would reign skillfully until his own death (in 1249), but would always be aware that Scottish kings had more than their share of those problems Tom Paine would later list. The kingdom might be ruled by the Scots (Anglo- with, now, a bit of Norman French), but the Scots had their jealousies (think Macbeth), and then in the far reaches of the realm there were the old Norse and Gaelic tribalisms to contend with. So young Alexander had his work cut out for him, starting with a war with the English (ostensibly about disputed feudal rights in the borderlands). The treaties and diplomatic marriages that concluded the three-year fracas led to a century of peace, the start of which was presided over by Alexander, aided first by his English and then his French wife. Alexander also may be said to have laid the groundwork for the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France, that served the northern kingdom as counterweight in its troubled relations with England. Coming to the throne as a boy, Alexander’s accomplishments were surprising (certainly they would have surprised Tom Paine), and help us to understand why so many Scots are called Alec. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by plaques » 24 Aug 2017, 07:28

Just finished a book 'The Black Douglases' by Michael Brown. A book so full of detail that it is really a Phd study of the infighting in Scotland 1200- 1450, In fact I found it almost impossible to keep track of the intrigue, land grabbing, intermarriages that turned you against the Monarchy system altogether. Bearing in mind he was only writing about Scotland the same thing was going on in England and the rest of Europe. The game of Thrones has nothing on this lot.

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Aug 2017, 04:17

I have a suspicion that I am related on the Scottish side to the Douglasses and also the dreadful Claverhouse of Dundee.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Aug 2017, 06:12

Suspicion is the mother of invention. Walt Kelly, The Jack Acid Society Black Book, 1960.

In pre-internet, indeed pre-xerox days, professors rarely explained assignments, so when (in 1962) Provost E. Sculley Bradley assigned a term paper on “a living writer” (we’d been studying dead ones in his course), I seized the opportunity to write up a storm on Walter Crawford Kelly, then certainly living (he was born on August 25, 1913), but probably not a writer within Bradley’s definition. But to me, Kelly was a writer (he “wrote”), even though he was in the main a cartoonist of the comics page variety, the inventor of the daily strip “Pogo.” Kelly’s world, into which I had entered at my father’s urging, was the Okefenokee Swamp, his characters Pogo (a possum), Albert (an alligator), Howland (an owl), Churchy La Femme (a turtle), Miss Mamselle Hepzibah (a skunk), and a host of others, ranging from heroic to villainous. Some of the villains were ridiculous, others sinister, and among the latter (appearing first in 1952) were Simple J. Malarkey, a trigger-happy bobcat drawn after Senator Joe McCarthy, and Malarkey’s sidekick, Sarcophagus J. Macabre, a vulture of disgusting dietary habits. Kelly was indeed one of the first to call foul on McCarthy’s shenanigans (which led to Pogo being banned by several newspapers), and that was why dad thought that Kelly would be good for my mental and moral health. So, full of sophomoric arrogance and hope, I produced an Ivy League term paper on Walt Kelly, “living writer.” Provost Bradley (who graded all our papers and was undoubtedly expecting something on Saul Bellow or Katherine Porter or Norman Mailer) responded with what I have since regarded as wondrous tolerance, almost miraculous, making some positive comments on my critical abilities and providing me with the vast encouragement (for he was known as a hard grader) of a B+. I was not then a good student, and my grades did improve thereafter, but my Pogo B+ from the university provost was some sort of acme. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Aug 2017, 05:25

Be it known that I, Stephen McCormick, of Fauquier county, in the State of Virginia, have invented, made, and applied to use a new and useful Improvement. Patent declaration, 1826.

In American agricultural history, the names John Deere and Cyrus McCormick rattle down the ages. Deere’s steel plow (1837) pierced the Midwest’s prairie sod, while McCormick’s mechanical reaper (1842) empowered fewer men and horses to harvest the greater rivers of grain that poured forth from the black earth as the frontier moved westwards. Both men moved west too, and ended up in Illinois, captains of industry and apostles of progress, but there was another McCormick who invented an equally ingenious plough. This plow was made for a different, less fertile terrain, and its inventor enjoyed less fame and fewer riches. This McCormick was named Stephen, born just a few miles from Cyrus’s birthplace, in the Shenandoah Valley, on August 26, 1784. His father, a miller, wanted Stephen to take up the law and move out of the valley and up the social ladder, but Stephen spent his life tinkering up local improvements, first a better design for his father’s nether millstones (this as a teenager). He then turned his attention to making a plow that would better cut and turn not prairie sod but the valley’s clay and stone soil. He took out his patent in 1819, then improved it in 1826 (you can still see it on line), and he used what was to hand, so he didn’t use steel but forged iron, and he was less interested in the cut than in the power, so his plow was designed to be pulled by three horses. It was successful, and it made for Stephen a long and prosperous life, but the plow’s scope, and Stephen’s, were constrained by the Appalachian ridges. He never moved away, buried all but one of his sons in the Shenandoah, and became a bit defiant about it in his old age, as Union troops invaded ‘his’ valley. It might have turned out differently. In 1824, during the revolutionary hero’s grand tour of the USA, McCormick gave a version of his plow to General Lafayette, who took it back to Paris and won a plowing competition with it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Aug 2017, 06:13

This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free, but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Goodnight. Robertson Davies.

The severe temptations and deep needs we now associate with wealth do not normally include the desire to become a first-rate novelist. Robertson Davies intended making fiction from an early age, and as he was never poor he could work on it off and on. He intended for quite some time, during which he took notes (for his novels abound with references to his early life). Born on August 27, 1913 into an educated, wealthy, and eccentric Canadian family, Davies became educated, wealthy, and eccentric as soon as he could manage it, added to the family’s publishing empire in Ontario, administered some of it, wrote for other bits of it, became an academic, and every once in a while published a brilliant, erudite, and eccentric novel, three times in trilogy form. There are also singles and an entrancing set of academic ghost stories, High Spirits (1982). The first of the trilogies, the Salterton (1951-58), won a prize for humor but had other virtues. The second, the Deptford (1970-75), took a wing shot at traditional Canadian anglo-conservatism (aka united empire loyalism) but did not wound it fatally. Better yet, it introduced Dunstan Ramsey, the academic priest who through his thirst for knowing things gives us Davies’s masterwork, his Cornish trilogy (1981-88). In the Cornish trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus), a host of richly drawn characters (among them a deformed child, a hunchbacked undertaker, a couple of daemon angels, a Canadian gipsy, Dunstan of course, a sullen female musical prodigy, and the title character Francis Cornish, probably Davies’s alter ego) weave in and out of several stories about art, music, drama, and performance. The whole Cornish trilogy, it might be said, turns on a fake that is not a forgery, and if you haven’t read it yet, you need to, and so join Robertson Davies’s ironic quest for greatness in Canadian literature. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Aug 2017, 09:30

I ought to warn you that my verse is of no interest to people who can think. John Betjeman, 1973.

Among London’s Victorian treasures, King’s Cross Station is the most famous, thanks to the addition of Platform 9¾, from which (somewhat randomly) chugs forth the Hogwarts Express. But Ms. Rowlings might have chosen St. Pancras for her wizards’ departure point. Insofar as “Victorian” has degrees, St. Pancras is Victorian to the nth, and in it there is a magical statue, larger than life, of a portly gent who might be your kindly grandpapa, or more likely your generous godparent, windblown, holding on to his trilby, and looking up to admire the higgledy-piggledy excesses of Victorian brick- and ironwork. The statue draws admiring children (perhaps looking for sweets) and not a few adults who want to be pictured with John Betjeman’s joyful monument as if it were the man himself. John Betjeman, poet laureate (1972-84) and the lion of London preservation, was born on August 28, 1906, into Edwardian comfort, educated at Highgate School, then Marlborough, then Magdalen College Oxford by (inter alia) T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis (neither of whom much liked him, an attitude he returned with interest) and befriended by fellow student (and, later, living legend) Maurice Bowra. Betjeman failed to win an Oxford degree but he learned to craft verse that, whatever else you might say about it, is more accessible than Eliot’s, gentler, more musical, often funnier, indeed more like what the Victorians thought poetry should be. Betjeman also acquired a robust affection for London, its people, its “leafy suburbs,” and especially its buildings. This is why Betjeman stands yet in St. Pancras, for as founding president of the Victorian Society he led the fight for the station’s preservation. It’s good to think, though, that he would have embraced the notion of adding a new platform, 9¾, for the Hogwarts train. As it is St. Pancras must rest content with the more modern but still magical Eurostar. ©
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