Andrew Rothovius' Home Page
STOLEN ELECTION OF 1876
November 4, 1976
The Peterborough Transcript
Andrew E. Rothovius
Exactly a century ago this week, the men whose portraits you (don't) see above - Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York and Gov. Thomas A Hendricks of Indiana - were elected President and Vice-President of the United States, by a majority of 300.000 popular votes out of 8.3 million cast; and by an electoral vote of 206 to 163.
They were never inaugurated, because the will of the majority was negated and the highest office in the land was stolen by a political conspiracy that still ranks as the most flagrant of any in our history, Watergate and the Kennedy election of 1960 notwithstanding.
And while the beneficiaries of this fraud, Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and Rep. William A. Wheeler of New York, inaugurated in consequence of it as President and Vice-President on March 4, 1877, were themselves men of personal probity and reasonable competence in public affairs, they nevertheless did not disown the plot that raised them to power or refuse to accept the high posts so questionably acquired.
That the nation acquiesced in this blatant theft of a Presidential election was due principally to two factors, the overconfidence of Tilden that the process of law would secure him his victory, an attitude that played into the hands of the opposition schemers and kept public opinion lulled until it was too late; and an overwhelming reluctance to resort again to civil conflict only 12 years after the country had been torn apart by the struggle of 1861-1865. (A pledge by Hayes not to seek reelection also helped.) Thus the result wrongly attained was allowed to stand, and a precedent was set that may yet prove catastrophic in some future crisis.
The "big steal" of 1876 has been largely glossed over in history textbooks, and thus the vast majority of Americans are not even aware, or only dimly so, that it ever happened.
It is true that in the last few months, Gore Vidal's best-selling novel "1876", which was constructed mainly around the purloined election has made it known to thousands previously ignorant of it; but still the percentage of readers of serious novels is very small in relation to the public as a whole, and the sad point is that this week we went into an election that bore some disturbing resemblances to 1876, without any general realization of what had been done to thwart the popular will, and what it would even now be possible to do tward a similar end.
This ebing written eight days before the election, and I have no special knowledge of the outcome, beyond the same poll reports that are available to everyone. You who read this know how it came out - at least I trust that you, and the nation, will not have been condemned to an agonizing wait of weeks for the final decision to be made by Congress or the courts.
All that I can say by way of forevision, is that if the balloting proved as close as the polls suggested, and the determination of the winner depended on the electoral votes of a few states where the margin was razor-thin either way, it is to be hoped that the dirty tricks squad supposedly de-activated after Watergate does not pop up and go to work again.
Anyway, here is the story of how the 1876 steal came about. Ulysses S. Grant was completing his second term as President, having headed an administration that for sheer raw corruption has never been equalled in our history, not even by the Harding and Nixon-Agnew regimes. (Curious how all three were Republican - I can say that, now, since it won't appear til after the election, without fear of being accused of trying to influence the voting.)
He had been elected in 1868 on the strength of his being an all-popular war hero, over Horatio Seymour, a reform Democrat of New York; and re-elected in 1872 over the futile opposition of the aging Horace Greeley, who vainly urged a return to morality in government.
For the mystically-minded, this continued the curious parallelism that began with Kennedy's election in 1960 on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's entry into the White House. Both won very close races; both became involved with the upward aspirations of American blacks; both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson, both former Senators.
Both Johnsons failed even renomination in 1868 and 1968 and in each case the succeeding administration was remarkably corrupt.
To carry on the parallel: Grant in 1968 beat Horatio Seymour; Nixon in 1972 beat Mc Govern, a moralist who didn't stand a chance of winning. The parallel breaks down a bit with the resignation of Nixon to escape impeachment; it was not Grant but his predecessor, Andrew Johnson, against whom an impeachment was brought - but history, it is said, does not always repeat exactly.
Grant was a complex character, far more so than he comes across to us in most textbook biographies. He does not seem to have personally profitted, or at most very slightly, from the venality of his administration; but there is little doubt he knew of what was going on, and when some of the more notoriously corrupt were accused and put on trial, he promptly sprang to their defense with statements that still echo like phonograph record in our own time: "I have every confidence in the integrity of so-and-so... so-and-so has been an able and trustworthy public servant..." and so on.
It might be argued that Nixon was not a war hero and therefore Grant was not his parallel counterpart; but again keeping in mind what was said above about history not always repeating exactly. Nixon's earlier association in the public mind with Eisenhower who was a war hero may be considered to have had something to do with his winning over Humphrey in 1968.
And just as Nixon's first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, had to resign when found to be implicated in corruption. Grant's first Vice-President, Schuyler Colfax, departed under a cloud when found to be implicated in th Credit Mobiler railroad-graft scndal; however, since he was near the end of his term of office. Colfax instead of resigning simply declined renomination.
Grant's second Vice-President, Henry Wilson, a Horatio Alger type from New Hampshire who had been adopted into a well-to-do family, somewhat like Gerald Ford, died in office, in 1875; so that the mantle of succeeding Grant as Republican standard-bearer passed to the already mentioned Gov. Hayes of Ohio, regarded as safely conservative and bland, as well as personally honest.
(Portraits of the bearded Hayes are readily available in reference books; you might be startled to discover how much, when you cover up the beard, Hayes facially resembled Gerald Ford.)
Not, however, that Grant was all that anxious to be succeeded; again, in keeping with the complexity of his character we have already noted, while he does not seem to have been a reacher for power for its own sake, or greatly interested in the exercize of i, he did enjoy the trapping and Perquisites of the Presidency, and it took more than a little persuading by the party chiefs to convince him that the public was now thoroughly fed up with the corruption he had permitted in Washington, and that he could not be elected to a third term, against which there was no Constitutional prohibition.
It can also be pointed out that just as Grant's dedication and single-minded devotion to duty in the leadership of the Union armies have never been questioned, so too Nixon did have his higher nobler qualities; as for instance his refusal to challenge the Kennedy victory in 1960, which rested on the shakey grounds of suspect returns in Illinois and Texas, and may well have been an election steal second only to the one in 1876 that we are now discussing.
The Democrats who had been out of the Presidency for 16 years in 1876, scented a golden opportunity to regain it on the issue of restoring honesty and competence to Washington. They nominated Tilden, the reform governor of New York, who had won his fame by breaking up the Tammany Hall ring of grafters led by the notorious William Tweed )who, however, is about to be partially rehabilitated in a forthcoming book by Prof. Leo Hershkowitz of Columbia, who argues that "Boss" Tweed was more sinned against than sinning, and that the Republicans egged on the prosecution of him to distract attention from the far worse peculations in Washington.)
A self-made millionaire, from his services as a corporation attorney for railroads, Tilden was impeccably honest personally, shy and self-effacing, still a bachelor at 61, a collector of literature and art. He seemed a shoo-in, even though he was hardly on speaking terms with his running mate, Gov. Hendricks of Indiana, who favored an easy-money policy of overcoming the economic depression in which the nation had been mired since the crash of 1873 (another parallel, even to the exact year '73 with our own time) while Tilden supported more conservative financing. (Just as in this year's campaign, the Democrat's No. 2 man, Mondale, was well to the left of the No. 1 man Carter.)
As the campaign wore on, however, Hayes, even though colorless and hardly arousing enthusiasm, drew away some of the support of the Democratic nomineee, whose pronouncements often left his hackers puzzled for his meaning (Sound familiar?)
Nevertheless, on Election Day, Nov. 7, dark and wet and dismal in the East, but sunny and brisk over most of the rest of the country, the Democratic ticket, as stated above, triumphed nationally by a significant though not preponderant margin.
On the morning of the 8th, the major newspapers all trumpeted the event in their headlines: the New York Herald, "Complete Democratic Victory"; the Chicago Daily News, "Tilden by Wide Electoral Margin"; the Chicago Tribune, "The Country Lost to Tilden and Tammany." (That paper seems to specialize in wrong election headlines, as witness Dewey's 'victory' in 1948.)
Only the New York Times, then a staunchly Republican sheet, featured a discordant note, "The Election in Doubt." Editor John C. Reid had spotted the crucial fact that Tilden's lectoral margin rested on three states, Louisiana, Florida and South Caroline, where the election boards were staffed by Republican carpetbaggers installed in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Reid's editorial hint - (it was no more than that) - suggesting these boards might find ways and means of disallowing the Democratic popular majorities in those states, was immediately picked by some GOP national compaign managers, including one William Chandler from New Hampshire, a fact I'd like to keep in the dark.
These 'dirty tricksters' went to work and in a campaign of incredibly devious machinations and manipulations succeeded in thwarting the will of the majority and in getting Hayes declared winner on March 2, just two days before the inauguration. In a later column I'll analyze the details of this most shameful chapter in our national political history.
STOLEN ELECTION WET INAUGURAL
January 20, 1977
The Peterborough Transcript
Andrew E. Rothovius
Last week I told you about how the election of President Thomas Jefferson to his first term was not finally confirmed until 15 days before the inauguration in 1801, and how the young nation was almost rent apart by disputed balloting and the threat of civil war.
Today, if you can spare a few moments from watching television the commencement of the Southern Baptist and blue jeans era of our national history, I'd like to tell you a story of how the inauguration of 1877 - just 100 years ago - installed a President who wasn't officially declared a winner until three days before his term began; and only the general public decision to acquiesce in what was actually a blatant steal saved the country from a second civil war, 12 years after the end of the first one, which might have undone the Union for all time.
In addition, I'll take a quick look at how the weather has on many occasions dealt malevolently with the inaugural ceremonies, with sometimes fatal consequences, once to the principal participant; suggesting that we suffer from a strange lack of common sense in insisting that the inauguration and its attendant ceremonies be held outdoors at a season of the year when nature is usually harsh and inclement.
First, however, to the theft of the Presidency for Rutherford B. Hayes by a parcel of schemers, both Republicans and derelict Democrats, after he had been clearly defeated by Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York in the election of 1876; as narrated in the column of a few months back.
Hayes, who was governor of Ohio, did not have sufficient strength of character to refuse the nation's highest office thus fraudulently obtained for him, though it must be noted that he did not initiate the machinations that deprived Tilden of victory, and at first tried to discourage them; but he did have enough integrity to pledge that in view of the circumstances of his succession to the White House, he would not seek reelection, and would carry out most of Tilden's program of cleaning up the corruptions of the Grant Administration and ending the Federal military occupation of the South. He kept those promises too.
It was this attitude of Hayes, in addition to his general personal rectitude, which made the nation accept the wrongful verdict in his favor; despite the danger of the precedent thus set. (Mrs. Hayes, by the way, was a staunch teetotaler, who banished all alcoholic drinks from the White House during her tenure there; being dubbed "Lemonade Lucy" in consequence. It was at least a salutary change from what had prevailed under Grant, who was so tipsy on one occasion he put the lighted end of his cigar in his mouth, suffering severe burns.)
Tilden had wonby a margin of 300,000 popular votes out of 8.3 million cast; his electoral margin was 203 to 166. The problem, which the political schemers seized on, was that 19 of Tilden's electoral votes came from Orgon, South Caroline, Lousisiana and Florida, each of which states also claimed by the Republicans to have gone to Hayes. If those 19 votes were taken from Tilden and given to Hayes, the latter would be the winner by a single electoral vote, 185 to 184.
All four disputed states would, however, have to be lost by Tilden for this to happen. If he could salvage even one of the four, he would still be the winner. In the end, the decision hinged on Louisiana. The Democrats conceded Oregon early, their case being shakey there at best. They gave up soon after on South Caroline, where a bitted campaign had also been waged for Governor with the racial factor uppermost.
Several armed clashes, including one in October that for three days assumed the proportions of open guerilla war between whites (mainly Democrats) and blacks (mainly Republicans). The GOP agreed in exchange for the Democrats' not contesting Hayes' narrow and questionable majority in the state, that they would not challenge the election of Wade Hampton, the Democratic candidate for Governor, even thoughhis margin would have been wiped out by the thousands of black voters his followers had intimidated from going to the polls.
Scratch South Carolina, then. The battle was now narrowed down to Florida and Louisiana. In both states, the Returning Boards, who would have to certify the popular votes, were made up of Republican carpetbaggers, venial and corrupt. The four members of the Louisiana board were to be indicted within a year on charges of bribery and extortion. Even though an observer sent by the outgoing President Grant reported that Tilden appeared to have carried Florida by an indisputable majority of 92, the Board manipulated the county totals to make Hayes the winner by 900.
Tilden's majority in Louisiana, however was over 6500 votes, surely not even the corrupt Board could overthrow that kind of margin? They most certainly did, throwing out enough Democratic votes to give the state to Hayes by 4800. That was too much even for Grant, who of course wanted his fellow Republican Hayes to win. Grant proposed that the Louisiana returns be thrown out altogether, and the state simply not be counted.
Since that would leave both Tilden and Hayes short of the electoral majority (185 votes) necessary to win, under the Constitution, the election would be decided in the House of Representatives. But since that was controlled by the Democrats, Tilden would win; so the Republican stage managers of Hayes' bid would have none of Grant's solution either.
Instead they proposed that Congress set up a special agency to resolve the question of the disputed states. This was the point at which Tilden and his campaign manager, Abram Hewitt, should have appealed for support to the people at large, who had elected Tilden as their President. Congress had no authority under the Constitution to set up such an agency; to accept its establishment was to play the game of the Republican manipulators. Tilden could also have personally requested Hayes to disavow their maneuvers.
He did virtually nothing, simply allowing events to drift. Apparently his reliance on the processes of the law was so great he simply could not conceive of the election being stolen from him under color of legal procedure. There were many of his supporters who lacked faith in the law's providing justice; they were ready to stage a great protest march on Washington to demand Tilden's immediate inauguration.
Others started mobilizing militia units of Civil War veterans; "Tilden or Blood" was the motto strung up over many streets in both North and South in that strange, suspenseful winter. Indiana's newly elected Democratic Governor, Jame "Blue Jeans" Williams, a 70-ish dirt farmer who wore overalls to the State House in Indianapolis (verily Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun), declared his readiness to lead, along with Col. Henry Watterson, Louisville newspaper publisher, 100,000 Tildenites to the steps of the Capitol to see their man installed in the office he had been elected to.
All of these efforts Tilden squelched; he would have nothing that smacked of violence or overreaching. Let Congress set up its Electoral Commission, he said; there could be no doubt it would recognize his having won Louisiana, if not the other states in dispute, fairly and squarely, and thus put him in the White House.
At the end of January, with only five weeks to the inauguration, Congress set up the Commission, with five members of the House, five from the Senate and ive Supreme Court justices. The 10 House and Senate members were evenly split, five Democrats and five Republicans; so also were four of the Justices. The controlling vote thus lay in the fifth Justice, David Davis of Illinois. The Tilden people were confident that Davis would vote on their side; but before the Commission could meet, the Illinois legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate, and in consequence he declared he could not serve on the Commission.
To this day, no one really knows what finaglings were made behind the scenes to get Davis out; almost certainly he would have voted to accept the original Louisiana returns, and thus seat Tilden as President. As it was, to replace him, Congress named another Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Bradley of New Jersey, a Republican but allegedly "open-minded". Bradley may have been so in the beginning, but not after a delegation of moneyed Republicans, largely from the railroad interests who had no desire to have Tilden start an investigation of their steals during Grant's tenure, visited him and for a bribe said to have been in the vicinity of $200,000, convinced him to vote to accept the returns as doctored by the Returning Boards in Louisiana and Florida.
The Commission went through the elaborate farce, which took the whole month of February, of pretending to examine the conflicting sets of returns from each disputed state. Since each time the vote was on straight party lines, 8 to 7, to accept the Republican set, the final result was a foregone conclusion. Yet it was not until 4:00 in the morning of March 2 after an 18 hour session full of confused oratory, that Congress finally declared Hayes elected by a 185 to 184 electoral count. This was just 80 hours before he was to take the oath of office at noon on March 5, a Monday, March 4 falling on Sunday that year.
From that shabby episode, marking the lowest point - unmatched even by Watergate - in our public morality, it is a relief to turn to the vagaries of nature in Inaugural Days; with the persisting severity and savagery of the present winter, one can only hope at this writing - a week before the event - that the Carter Inaugural will not be hit by weather vileness such as has befallen this occasion many times in the past.
Curiously enough, the record for at least half-way endurable weather on Inaugural Days has been rather better since the date was chaged from March 4 to January 20; this reflects, probably, the traditional storminess of March. The early inaugurals were all held indoors, but in 1817 it was decided to hold Monroe's first inauguration outdoors to coincide with a military parade hailing our victory over British invaders at New Orleans two years previously. That March 4 happened to be a warm, sunny, and perhaps thus beguiled the powers-that-be into decreeing that all future inaugurals should also be outdoor events.
Monroe's second inaugural in 1821 was on a cold and snowy day, and John Quincy Adams' in 1825 was drenched with a cold rain, but the tradition of outdoor swearings-in persisted as an ideal, even though those particular ones were shifted indoors at the last moment. From 1829 through 1837, good weather favored the occasions; but in 1841, William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a raw, cloudy day, which he defied by standing bare-headed to deliver the longest inaugural address on record - 7000 words, practically a small book.
At 68 the oldest man to enter the Presidency, Harrisons's physique was not equal to such an ordeal. He came down with pneumonia and died just one month later. One wonders whether several of his audience did not share the same fate. The Polk inaugural in 1845 was a travesty in which a pelting rain drumming on thousands of umbrellas drowned out every word of the inaugural speech. Pierce in 1853 was sworn in during a momentary lull in a blizzard, only to have his audience desert him when he went on with his speech as the storm resumed.
Abigail Filmore - wife of the outgoing President, was one of those who stuck it out, but paid the price by succumbing to pneumonia within the month. Grant's second inaugural in 1873 was staged in Arctic conditions with the temperature at 16 above and a howling wind creating a chill factor well below zero. Scores of West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen suffered severe frostbite in the parades. The inaugural ball was held in an unheated building erected for the purpose - it had thought it would be uncomfortably warm for the thousands of expected dancers, if there were any articifical heat. The few who showed up went home after trying a few steps in overcoats and mufflers.
Other horror stories about Inaugural weather could be told, including the icy deluge that drenched FDR's second one in 1937. Let's see however what 1977's Inaugural weather fare is.
THE BOYNE WATER
Thursday, July 12, 1990
Andrew E. Rothovius
Today is the tercentenary anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, the event that continues to divide the people of Northern Ireland, in an unending chain of mutual hatreds and mistrust. Almost certainly the day will be marked by yet another outbreak of bombings and arson and bloodshed, thatwill flit across the evening newscast screens under the caption of "sectarian violence" -- and then be swept under the rug again.
Perhaps however if the truth were to be faced up to, by all concerned, that it is not antipathy between Protestants and Catholics that lies at the root of the perennial turmoil in Ulster-- though it has been made to take a leading role -- but rather a question of nationalities, we might start to arrive at the beginning of a solution.
The fIght on the Boyne Water , three hundred years ago today -- it was July 1 by the unreformed calendar then still in use, July 12 by the corrected computation -- was over a political and not a religious issue. It did not even seal with finality, as is claimed by the Ulster Protestants who will be marching under their orange banners today,the English domination over Ireland. That was not accomplished until at Aughrim and Limerick a year later, and the outcome remained very much in doubt in the interval. The old ballad that the victors at the Boyne would sing in recollection of their hard-won triumph, commemorated a gaining of what to them was political and not religious freedom:
Let man with man, and kin with kin
Contend through fields of slaughter;
Whoever fights, shall freedom win
As then, at the Boyne Water
That freedom was soon co-opted and turned into economic oppression by the imperial interests in London, for whom the battle had been fought and won. In a travesty of even-handedness, this was supposedly justified at the same time by breaking the promises made to the losers on their giving up the fight at Limerick, and imposing on them a yoke of calculated and devious cruelty. Religion was made use of, as a cover for these political outrages; it had little to do with their substance, which was the throttling of Ireland as any sort of rival to the British economy and industries.
Ireland had been trampled under for more than a century before the Boyne, under the jackboots of the armies of the Tudors and the Stuarts and Cromwell's Roundheads. It was the first Stuart on the British throne, James I, who in 1607-- the same year that the first permanent English colony here was planted at Jamestown in Virginia - - settled thousands of Lowland Presbyterian Scots in Ulster, expecting they would eventually outbreed the native Irish and take over the whole island. That did not happen, but it is the descendants of those Scots who today are the unreconstructed and irreconcilable Protestant majority in Ulster, forever carrying a chip on their collective shoulder and daring the natives to knock it off -- which such hardliners of the opposite camp as the IRA are only too happy to do.
It was the later Stuarts, the first and second Charles, who eased up on the Irish, seeking them as allies in their political struggles with the English and Scottish Parliamentary factions. Small though their gains were from this easing, the Irish nevertheless felt they had more to expect from helping the last Stuart, James II, to regain the throne he had been knocked off from by his Dutch son-in-law William of Orange, than from siding with the latter.
Had this second James been a straightforward person capable of winning trust and affection, he might well have succeeded in his purpose of using Ireland as the springboard to win back England and Scotland. He was however far too crafty for his own good. He made all kinds of promises of toleration and free elections, that nobody really believed. Even his greatest ally, Louis XIV the Sun King of France, hesitated to gamble much on supporting him. And though James was a professed Catholic and claimed he was fighting to restore freedom of worship for his faith in Britain, the Pope -- Innocent XII, an Italian of long experience in the convoluted politics of that country -- saw through his duplicity and turned a deaf ear to his calls for Papal backing.
In addition, James was shilly-shallying and indecisive in his military strategy. More than a year after he landed in Ireland on March 12, 1689, from his brief exile in France, with a small force lent him by Louis XIV, he had made no real progress toward enforcing his authority. He had allowed the siege of the Presbyterians in Derry, who had been ready to yield on fair terms, to drag on until it became a Protestant epic of heroism that today still continues to be a source of antagonism and division in Ulster. And when William himself landed in Ulster in June 1690 with a force far larger and better armed than his own, James could only dither about whether to make a stand or retreat into the western wilds beyond the Shannon.
Finally when the Orange army lined up along the Boyne, the last river barrier in front of the Irish capital of Dublin, forty miles to the south, James had to make up his mind. He decided to fight. And had he been capable of any sort of effective generalship, he might have won.
He had about 25,000 men against William's 35,000, and only about one-fifth as many cannon.; but he had the advantage of a strong natural barrier in the Boyne, and the bulk of his forces were Irish strongly motivated to resist the Dutch invader and his motley army of English, Dutch, and a medley of Scandinavian and German mercenaries, plus French Huguenot exiles. The Ulster Presbyterians were a relative handful in that army.
In addition, Admiral Tourville's French fleet had just gained a shattering victory over the English and Dutch fleets at Beachy Head. Naval command of the English Channel had thus passed at least momentarily to James' French allies. Were he victorious in the impending battle on the Boyne, James could have re-entered England without any naval resistance of note. That he did not know yet, of course: it would take a week for the news of Beachy Head to reach Dublin. But even had he known it, he probably would not have been inspired to any better effort than what he showed in his encounter with William.
The Dutch prince -- William III of England as he now was, in right of his wife Mary, James' daughter -- made the first move, crossing the Boyne to the left and above James' forces. It was only a feeler, but James took it for the main assault amd shifted all his troops to the left. That opened up his front and William thrust directly into and through it. Even then, it was a near thing; the loss on both sides was about equal, but James lost his nerve, deserted his men and skedaddled through Dublin and back to France, leaving behind the derisive nickname by which the Irish still refer to him, Seamus a Chaca in Gaelic , in English James the ---- (four-letter word unprintable here.)
At Limerick a year later, the Irish -- only then finally defeated
-- were promised certain minimum religious and political rights. But when a little later the imperialists in London decided to crush the linen industry of Ulster and drive its people into exile in America (as our "Scotch-Irish"), to make it look less one-sided the promises of Limerick were broken.
A LIGHT IN DARKNESS
Thursday, April 1, 1993
Andrew E. Rothovius
As he has been doing, from time to time over the past two decades, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recently emerged once more from his self-chosen obscurity in the Vermont hills, to deliver a searching and accurate observation on the steepening decline of Western society. The occasion was the award to him of the National Arts Club's medal of honor for literature; and though Solzhenitsyn did not himself attend the presentation which took place in New York City, his acceptance remarks were read on his behalf by his son Ignat.
In them, the Russian master called attention to one of the most disruptive of the factors that in this century have brought about the fall of civilization into a new Dark Age, which the vast majority do not yet fully recognize as such; having been conditioned to believe that we have attained to new heights of progress. This factor has been the erroneous extension of a premise correct in itself -- namely, that every truly great and creative work of art is an original, an absolute unique blending of personality., traits and experience -- into the belief that this meant a cutting adrift and separation from all predecessors.
The result of this wrong-headed and now almost universally prevalent notion has been the loss of the priceless heritage of the Western cultural past, from its classical Graeco-Roman and spiritual Judeo-Christian foundations, to the first third or so of the present century. In place of that heritage and the shared majestic vocabulary it gave to all its inheritors, there has grown up a relentless cult of novelty. We are deluged with sham and tawdry concoctions claiming to be art or literature or music, but having no substance nor any link to the great chain of true creativity that had extended -- never wholly broken even in the first Dark Age after the fall of Rome -- through thirty centuries.
It is only under such a perversion of the human creative instinct, that such monstrous tyrannies as those of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Dze-Dong and their swarm of smaller but equally depraved successors, could have come into being or have survived as long as they have. Only in a civilization stood on its head, as that of the modern West has been by this idolatry of the rootless new, would such abominations as the Nazi Holocaust, the Soviet Gulag, the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, and the horrors of the Serbian "ethnic cleansing" now being perpetrated under our very eyes with hardly a ripple of revulsion, be either conceivable or tolerable.
Yes, there are still the interludes of shock, when the realities of novelty are suddenly dragged out of where they have been hidden in our indifference to them; but these do not last long. They are soon shrugged off with the "too bad but we can't help it" attitude that is the current norm. (The shoulder shrug has in fact, as you have probably noticed, become the most common reaction -- especially among the young -- to just about anything these days.)
Solzhenitsyn's exposure of the calculated destruction of the intellectual and spiritual capital of Russia by the Stalinist regime in its hideous network of forced-labor camps, in his two-volume "Gulag'", was an overnight modern classic; but almost equally soon, one of those honored in mention but not in the actual reading. Any public library worthy of the name has the "Gulag" volumes on its shelves, but rarely if ever are they checked out by any one.
That is why no more than the merest handful, in the midst of the deepening night of our Dark Age of the mind and spirit, any longer recognize the name of Paul Florensky -- now revered as a saint and "New Martyr:" in the revised (1981) canon of the Orthodox faith -- as that of "perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag", in Solzhenitsyn's phrase at the beginning of the two pages he devotes to him. At the time -- some 20 years ago -- that they were written, relatively little information on Florensky could be found even by Solzhenitsyn's meticulous research. More has come to light since then, more than justifying his evaluation.
Florensky combined in himself, as no one since the High Renaissance has done, the qualities and attributes of sanctity, scholarship and science. He was a master mathematician who wrote out the concept of computer cybernetics nearly a generation before the West's discovery of it; a proficient and noted astronomer, physicist and electrical engineer; a highly competent poet, musician and historian of art; an original thinker in theology and metaphysics. He spoke, or read, every major European language, as well as the classic Greek and Latin; and was in fluent in the myriad native tongues of the Caucasus, India and Iran.
The son of a Russian engineer and an Armenian mother, Florensky was born in 1882 in the the Caucasian nation of Georgia, then under Czarist domination. After displaying unusual aptitude in science and math in the Georgian secondary schools, he was sent to the University of Moscow, from which he graduated in 1904 with degrees in physics and mathematics. By that time, however, he had developed a profound religious vocation, and decided to seek entry into the Orthodox priesthood instead of into a scientific career.
At the Moscow Theological Academy (seminary) in which he enrolled, he was persuaded by his advisers to become a teacher and scholar, and not a cloistered monk as he then wanted to be. In 1908 he commenced teaching philosophy at the Academy, but
soon fell into a deeply depressed state. He found the structure and observances of the Orthodox Church as it then existed , to be largely formalisms that were totally at variance with the beliefs that were at its heart and had sustained it through centuries. After much soul-searching and inner struggle, he finally resolved his questionings into a book-length statement of personal faith in a universal verity, published in 1914 under the title "The Pillar and Foundation of Truth." It has never been fully translated from Russian, and Florensky himself in later years dismissed some of it. especially a section that verged on pantheism, as unrepresentative of his fully matured thought.
However that may be, many of those acquainted with the book in the language it was written in, consider it to be a master summation of philosophy and religion, the greatest since that of St. Thomas Aquinas seven centuries ago, and quite possibly the last for many dark centuries to come. In essence, what Florensky does in it is to investigate the whole of reality, from differing planes or levels, that do not deny each other but are mutually enriching. The result is a perpetual dialectic of thought, an exchange of planes of observation, while at the same time viewing the universe as a whole. (This is paraphrased from Florensky's own words, written in the Solovetski concentration camp in 1937.)
While he was still writing "The Pillar and Foundation of Truth", Florensky was finally ordained an Orthodox priest in 1911; and about the same time he married a peasant girl. (His world view saw no incompatibility between marriage and spirituality.) He now accepted a position as editor of a religious magazine, and pursued intensive studies in his many fields of interest.
The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 ended the magazine and Florensky's editorship, but he was able to continue most of his other activities for sixteen years under Communist rule. His scientific and technical capabilities were too valuable to the Soviet regime struggling to establish itself, for him to be immediately done away with . He refused however to renounce the priesthood, despite repeated demands that he do so. Indeed, he insisted on wearing his priestly cassock and hat, with a shining pectoral cross hanging around his neck, to Soviet scientific conferences and while delivering his lectures as a university professor. After 1927 and until he was finally sentenced in 1933 to ten years in the labor camps, he was repeatedly imprisoned for these acts of defiance.
Under the Soviets, he wrote an electrical engineering textbook that remained standard for thirty years, developed an advanced technique of perspective in painting, wrote pioneering essays on astronautics and computerization, and invented a superior machine lubricating oil. Nevertheless, when Metropolitan Sergius of Moscow in 1927 declared it to be the policy of the Orthodox Church to co-operate with the Soviet authorities, Florensky would not go along. From this time on he was harassed and restricted, then sent to the Siberian Gulag in 1933. He was transferred from there by 1937 to the infamous Solovetski camp on a barren island in the White Sea, that had originally been a particularly austere Orthodox monastery.
On the approach of the German and Finnish Armies to the White Sea in 1941, the Solovetski inmates were sent to the dreaded Kolyma camp in sub-Arctic eastern Siberia. Florensky is stated to have died there on Dec. 15, 1943, aged 61; whether from ten years of abusive treatment, or executed, is not known. Even in the camps he is said to have kept on studying plants and rocks.
A CENTENARIAN DEPARTS
Thursday September 2 ,1993
Andrew E. Rothovius
On May 9th, a little more than three months past her 100th birthday, there passed from this world Freya Stark, the last and one of the greatest of the English literary travellers who have left so priceless a legacy in the writings that record their journeyings and their impressions of far places and distant peoples. A child of Dartmoor, who acquired in its solitudes a lasting love for the uncommon and the wild, she died at the villa that for over a half century had been her home, at Asolo on the Venetian fringe of the Alps, in the Trevisan countryside beloved of Robert Browning.
The place, she liked to say, had been the refuge of the 15th Century exiled last Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, whose friend Cardinal Bembo had assured her that there she could be assured of "asolare", a word he invented to denote the leisurely and agreeable passing of time, unburdened by any pressure of purpose. Hence the name Asolo; and whether that etymology be correct or only a legend, the concept of "asolare" largely defines what Freya Stark lived for and what she achieved.
She did not lack a larger purpose in her life, nor was she in any way a trifler or an idler. A throwback however to an earlier age when daily existence was not limited by deadlines and bottom lines, and today or tomorrow made little difference so long as lasting value was gained from them, Freya Stark decided it was her business to explore, as much without company as was possible, the antique lands of the Middle East before they were irretrievably caught up into the cacophonic whirl of the modern world. Hers was the vision that James Elroy Flecker -- at whose residence in high Lebanon she sojourned for a while -- caught in verses that rarely find an echo today:
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand
In literalcy of fact, Freya Stark did not arrive at storied Samarkand until in her 80's and then only as a tourist by the grace of the dying Soviet regime that was losing its grip on the Central Asian lands where the faith of Islam and the Tartar nomads had for centuries contended for supremacy. Long before either, Greek civilization had been carried there in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great; and the following of the still surviving traces of this far-spreading wave of Hellenistic culture, became for Freya Stark the principal motive for her travels, even more than the quest of the Arab past that had at first drawn her.
She was in her mid-30's, already in some measure a cosmopolite, before she was able to shake loose from family, personal and business commitments, and embark on the life of solitary travel in ancient realms, that had been her goal from her early teens. Most of her money went to learning Arabic and Iranian; equipped with those keys to the Islamic world, she set out late in 1927, basing herself first at Flecker's former home in Lebanon and then in Baghdad, where a British high commissioner still shared the rule of reborn Iraq with its first monarch, Feisal.
By 1931 she had completed three dangerous treks into the wilderness of western Iran, in parts of which no Westerner had ever been before; and had located the long-fabled Valleys of the Assassins (hashish-eaters). Her resulting book brought cash and fame, and grants from the Royal Geographical Society to pursue further explorations. During the 1930's she penetrated the hinterland of southern Arabia, where only a handful of Western explorers had previously ventured and then never as far or as widely as she went. She determined the identity and routes of the great incense trade of the classical world, anticipating by five decades the recent discovery and excavation of the metropolises of this incredibly rich commerce, right where she had said they would be found.
During the Second World War , Freya Stark was influential in persuading the Arabs to remain allied, or at least neutral toward the British Empire when its hold on the Middle East was endangered by Rommel's tanks and swarms of Nazi agents. In Iraq they had done their subversive work too well for her to counteract; but she remained at her post in the beleaguered British embassy in Baghdad during the four perilous weeks of Rashid Gailani's pro-German uprising in May 1941, and afterward was effective in regaining the allegiance of many in the Iraqi army and government.
Long before the war ended, though, she saw all too clearly the West's loss of belief in its own heritage; and that this would entail the forfeiture of the respect which the Muslim peoples had long had for the West and especially the British. Actually this rupture went back to the First World War and the breaking of the promises then made to the Arabs. The setting-up of Israel was in Stark's view a final act of folly which made inevitable the decades of unending conflict and terrorism that have followed. The West sought to absolve itself of the crime of the Holocaust, in which America and Britain were as much accessories as the Germans were principals, by giving the Jews a country already inhabited by another people. Two wrongs have never yet made a right, and what once might have been a solution on the Swiss cantonal model, has been made virtually impossible by the accumulated hatreds and atrocities of half a century.
After 1945, therefore, Freya Stark no longer participated in political activities, but devoted herself to writing -- her calm, measured, stately prose had already won a following -- and to retracing Alexander's march of conquest through the western half of the Persian Empire of his time. Since much of his route nlay within the present bounds of Turkey, she had to learn Turkish to be able to roam freely there. This she did by learning the vocabulary through reading Turkish translations of English detective stories she was familiar with, and then picking up the pronounciation, for which she had a quick ear, from restaurant waiters and store clerks in Turkey.
Freya Stark was already in her sixties when she made the journeys along Alexander's route from which resulted what many consider the three greatest of her many books of travel -- "The Lycian Shore", "Ionia: A Quest", and "Alexander's Path." In them she explores, not only the roads by which Alexander and his soldiers marched, but the the lyric miracle of the Hellenic civilization that had flowered on these Asian shores three centuries before him, and that he was to carry into the heart of the continent. So fully does she enter into the reality and spirit of this civilization, the ancestor of our own, that the reader almost expects to see her come riding around a Lycian headland, on horseback beside the dynamic young conqueror and his Macedonian comrades, Parmenion and Nicanor and the rest, as well as Aristander the Lycian and Nearchus the Cretan; with the Macedonian broad helmet ("kausia") pressed as firmly on her curled head as it was on theirs.
For to her it was the constant insecurity of life in the lands where the Hellenic civilization arose, with its marvelous poetry and philosophy and scientific reasoning already mature at birth as it were, that was the impulse from which it sprang and that sustained it. The same factor of insecurity, she felt, was behind the glories of the Renaissance. As she watched the ever-growing emphasis in the post-World War II West, on security against even the most remote and unlikely hazards, it seemed to her that we were collectively losing the zest for living and for finding, settling always for the second best because it was safer, instead of striking out for the best, even at the risk of missing it.
"Second best and safest", she wrote, "was never the way of Hellas, nor is it the way that Augustine and Bunyan trod for us to the City of God. . . . Risk is the salt and sugar of life."
Freya Stark's supreme literary and scholarly achievement was her masterly "Rome on the Euphrates", an examination of the Roman Empire's inheriting of the Hellenistic mantle in the Middle East. Three years in the writing, it appeared in 1966 when she was already 73. It would bring her a royal accolade, in the form of her designation by the Queen as a Dame of the British Empire, in 1972.
To undertake such physically demanding explorations in remote and dangerous terrains, would seem to require a rugged physique; but that she did not possess. Her journeys often exhausted her and several times she was seriously ill and at the point of death, in places where no modern medical care was obtainable. Once she was saved only by being picked up and flown out by a Royal Air Force plane landing on an airstrip more imaginary than real. That, she always felt afterward, was a blot on her record, of avoiding officialdom instead of being obligated to it. She treasured as the greatest compliment she ever received, a British official telling her that "you really saved us a lot of trouble when you went into forbidden areas. . . you just went and did it, and told us afterward. That way we didn't have the bother of warning or chasing you."
THE VARIED LIFE OF CADFAEL'S CREATOR
Thursday, January 11, 1996
Andrew E. Rothovius
Some weeks ago I told in this column about the richly varied literary output of Edith Pargeter, who died last Oct. 13 at the age of 82, and who under the pen-name of Ellis Peters was the creator of the immensely popular Brother Cadfael series of twenty mystery novels centered around the Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury on England's Welsh border, in the 12th Century. I also called attention to the nine major historical novels she had also written, under her Pargeter name, set in that same countryside of the Welsh border and in the same mid-Medieval time period as the Cadfael stories.
And in addition I promised to tell, in a follow-up column, something of the astonishingly varied life of Pargeter/Peters, and of her other literary creations less well known on this side of the Atlantic. Today I will attempt to make good on that promise.
Edith Pargeter was born Sept. 28, 1913, in the village of Horsehay, in the Severn Valley where it starts to become more English than Welsh. There was an older brother, Ellis, and an older sister, Margaret. Her father was the head clerk at the local ironworks -- only a few miles away, the Industrial Revolution had commenced in the 18th Century with Abraham Darby's smelting of iron with coke, and Telford's bridging of the river with the world's first iron span. Her mother, also Edith, ran a household that had no running water, gas or electricity, but she found time to play the violin, write poetry, and interest her children in the scenic and historic wealth of their surroundings.
Very early, that landscape impressed itself so firmly in young Edith's mind that later she was able to set the incidents of her stories in it with a minute accuracy that hardly ever needed checking on a map. She excelled in English, Latin and history at school, and at 15 saved up the money to buy the standard two-volume history of Shrewsbury. By that time she knew she was going to be a writer, and would need those volumes for background and plotting. They remained on her shelf, often consulted, to the day of her death, nearly seven decades later.
Graduating from high school in 1930, at 17, with Britain sinking into the depths of the Great Depression, she found it hard to land a job of any sort. Finally she was hired as assistant by a druggist -- or "chemist" as they are called in England -- and held that position for seven poorly-paid years; but from that experience she gained the knowledge of medicines, poisons and first aid that would later be so helpful to her in describing Cadfael's methods as a monastic physician.
And`also during that period, Pargeter wrote and published her first six novels, under various pen-names. They were standard light-fiction potboilers, deservedly forgotten, but they were the necessary apprenticeship for her craft. In those days, it was still possible for young writers to get started in this way, often by serialization in regional newspapers -- all of those six made their first appearance in that fashion -- and also through small-edition book publishing. Neither authors nor publishers ever profited much, but it was a valuable nurturing-ground of new talent.
Then in 1939 came the war, and Edith -- then 26 -- enlisted in the Womens' Royal Navy Services, being posted to the Western Approaches Command at Plymouth, which was transferred in 1941 to Liverpool where it was almost wiped out in a heavy bombing attack. . As a teleprinter operator, she monitored the routing of trans-Atlantic convoys and attained the rank of Petty Officer. In 1945, on V-E Day, she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her "wholehearted devotion to duty."
From that wartime experience came the semi-autobiographical novel "She Goes to War", a minor classic of its sort, first published in 1942 and still in print. And from the numerous encounters and conversations she had with military and naval personnel, during her war service, Pargeter acquired the background that enabled her to write her astonishing trilogy of novels -- "The Eighth Champion", "Reluctant Odyssey", and "Warfare Accomplished" -- that chronicle the adventures of a British soldier, Jim Benison, through the entire sweep of the war, from Dunkirk to North Africa and Singapore and Normandy.
Written while the war was still in progress, and published soon after its close, in 1945-47 -- they also still continue in print -- these novels aroused general disbelief that a woman who had never seen an actual battlefield could describe the experiences of men in combat so accurately and truthfully. That she was able to do so, was due to her remarkable imaginative capability of entering into what other persons -- either real or her creations -- had felt and done.
By one of those stranger-than-fiction coincidences, the one British soldier of World War II whose actual experiences roughly paralleled those of Pargeter's Jim Benison -- Brig.-Gen. Aidan McCarthy -- died suddenly, listening to a BBC radio show about himself, on October 11, two days before Pargeter's own death. He was 83, a year older than her. There was no way she could have known about him when she was writing the novels, for he did not return from a Japanese prison camp until 1946. Later however after he himself and other writers published accounts of his real-life odyssey of war, many readers remarked in astonishment at the resemblances to the one Edith Pargeter had created for Benison. Not that they were similar as characters; McCarthy was an Irishman and a medical officer, Benison from the English Midlands and a soldier in the ranks.
After the war, during which her father had died, Edith returned to Shropshire to live with her mother -- who would die in 1956 -- and her brother Ellis, six years her elder, with whom she had always had a close bond. Neither would ever marry, and after their mother's death they shared a household, continuing to associate in the many activities in which they had a common interest. Among those the strongest was the fascination and love they came to have for Czechoslovakia, which they first visited in 1947, while that nation was enjoying its brief taste of freedom from the six years of Nazi occupation, before the Communist take-over in the following year placed it behind the Iron Curtain.
Even after that unhappy event, Edith and Ellis Pargeter continued to make annual visits to Czechoslovakia for twenty years, until the Red Army invasion ordered by Brezhnev in 1968 virtually closed the doors to all but official contacts with the West. During those two decades, Edith -- who had painstakingly taught herself to read and write Czech, a most difficult language to learn -- translated and published in English a total of sixteen works of Czech literature, ranging from centuries-old classics to current best-sellers. English readers were thus given access to valuable insights into Central European culture, that had hitherto been unknown to them. Perhaps had Pargeter's translations been current already in the England of 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would not have so scornfully dismissed the Czechs as "a far-away people of whom we know little or nothing" -- and therefore expendable to appease Hitler with.
Twenty-one years after the Soviet invasion in 1968 ended her annual visits to Prague, the "Quiet Revolution" of November 1989 opened Edith's way there again. "Nunc dimittis!" she exclaimed in joy and gratitude, saddened only by her brother not being able to share her happiness -- he had died in 1984, at 77. Edith herself , at 80, sat in a Prague bookshop in the summer of 1993, signing copies of Czech translations of Brother Cadfael stories. She had just come back from even deeper behind what had been the Iron Curtain, supervising the filming in Hungary for British and American TV, of four of those tales.
But we have got ahead of our own story of Edith's life. In the post-war 1940's and 1950's, she turned to the writing of the Inspector Felse mystery novels, and others in mainly contemporary settings. Most of these came out under the pen-name she had chosen, of Ellis Peters -- compounded from her brother's first name and that of a Czech woman friend, Petra. Edith counted on the sale of the Felse stories for income while she researched and wrote the great historical novels of the Welsh border, that she wanted to be remembered by. These started appearing, under her Pargeter name, in the 1960's -- the Heaven Tree trilogy in 1960-62, "A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury" in 1972, the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet in 1974-77, and "The Marriage of Meggotta" in 1979. The last is, for some reason not known to me, the only one of these not in print at present in the United States.
As Edith was finishing the Gwynedd quartet, she felt the need of using her vast accumulation of Welsh Border medieval lore, for a lighter tale, and produced in 1977 the first Cadfael story, "A Morbid Taste for Bones." Once out of the stable, there was no bridling that horse. Before she fully realized what was happening, she had embarked -- in her late 60's -- on a wholly new career, of turning out Cadfael stories for a decade and a half, at the rate of better than one a year.
THE REAL BRAVEHEART
Thursday, April 4, 1996
Andrew E. Rothovius
Now that "Braveheart" has won the Oscar for the best film of last year, this would seem the right moment to set the record straight on the historical facts in the life of its Scottish freedom-fighter hero, Sir William Wallace of Ellerslie. That the movie departed very considerably from these facts, was generally admitted by the reviewers. They gave only sketchy corrections, however, if any at all, and so the vast majority of the viewing public was left with only a hazy and romanticized notion of who Wallace was and what he did to gain Scotland's liberation from English domination and oppression.
He did not achieve it single-handed; in fact he did not really achieve it at all, for he died horribly at the hands of the English King Edward I's executioners, with Scotland still in chains. Wallace did nevertheless create a national resistance movement that eventually enabled Robert the Bruce to assume the vacated Scottish crown and win a decisive victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314.
Wallace had been dead almost nine years by that time, but he had lit a flame in the hearts of the Scottish people that could not be stamped out. For centuries afterward, even after English gold had in 1707 regained the domination of Scotland that English steel had not been able to sustain, Wallace's name and feats have been kept alive by poets like Robert Burns --
Scots wha ha'e wi' Wallace bled. . . .
and story-tellers such as Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter; whose "Scottish Chiefs", with Wallace the foremost, was the favored reading of Victorian-era Scots children.
Memories are long in the British Isles, as the continuation of the four centuries old feud between Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics attests nightly on our TV news screens. Seven hundred and ten years after the fatal event of King Alexander III riding off a cliff on the North Sea coast of Fife, to his death on the rocks below, the people there still show visitors the exact spot, called the KIng's Crag; and repeat the lament that with him died the Golden Age of medieval Scotland, opening the door to the English usurpation of power. Alexander had indeed reigned prosperously and victoriously, for almost four decades(1249-1286.) In 1263 he had defeated at Largs on the western coast the last of the Norse invasions that for five centuries had repeatedly brought ruin and devastation to the British coasts; and had won the cession of the Hebrides islands from their Norwegian overlords. Commerce, agriculture and learning had flourished under Alexander, with Scotland south of the Highlands acquiring a level of civilization it had not previously known. Alexander though was unlucky in that his children all died before him, from one cause or another; so that his unexpected death left his nation leaderless, with a power vacuum that England's ruthless Edward I was quick to move to fill.
Lack of an assured succession to headship was always a recurring and serious problem in monarchies where all or nearly decision-making power was vested in one person at the top, and was transmissible only by inheritance -- most often, strictly through males. All too frequenty, the inheritors were incompetents or weaklings or mere children over whose custody and upbringing a swarm of regents would fight and bring the realm into disorder and uproar.
So it was in the case of Alexander III of Scotland not being careful to watch where his horse was stepping on a seashore cliff in the gathering dusk of a March evening. His only direct heir was his little three-year granddaughter Margaret, the child of an already deceased daughter who had married the Norwegian king, Eric II. There were three nobles with remote collateral kinship, enough for each to make a plausible claim to Alexander's crown, but for the moment they grudgingly agreed to accept the Maid of Norway, as she was called, as their sovereign Queen in her own right. It was decided to leave her with her father in Norway until she was a little older.
Edward I of England now offered to have his still very young son, the later Edward II, marry the child Queen and thus link the English and Scottish royal houses and kingdoms in family ties. This sort of dynastic child marriages, unconsummated until the parties reached a proper age somewhere in their teens, were quite common in Medieval Europe and sometimes worked out pretty well.. This one never got off the ground, as the Maid of Norway - a puny child, as she was turning out to be - fell sick and died in the Orkneys, on her way to Scotland, at the age of seven in 1290.
Having got his foot inside the Scottish door with the marriage proposal, Edward pushed himself further in. Since the Scots lords had agreed to have his son marry their child Queen, Edward argued, now that the poor girl was dead he obviously had the right to decide which of the collateral claimants should become King of Scotland. To the Scots it wasn't obvious at all that they had devolved any such power on Edward, but still it seemed better to have him select their King, rather than have the claimants fight a civil war that would ravage the land.
Edward's choice was John Balliol, whose father had been an English nobleman married to a third cousin of Alexander III. Half-English thus to begin with, John Balliol as King proved to be an accommodating toady of Edward. English garrisons were stationed through all southern and central Scotland. English laws and taxes were imposed. The vast majority of Scots, peasants and nobles alike -- all but the few who were getting rich by serving as Edward's henchmen -- grew ever more dismayed as they watched their national independence slipping away. Yet none had the courage and audacity to strike out against this creeping seizure and oppression. None, that is, except one aggressively extrovert young man of about twenty, named William Wallace, son of what would now be called a well-to-do middle class farmer at Ellerslie, in Renfrewshire near Glasgow.
There is very little authentic documentation for any of Wallace's exploits and arousal of a people's war of resistance to the English occupation, as it had become. The hero's deeds grew in the telling and were retold from generation to generation in stories and ballads that contain numerous implausibilities and anachronisms. Outside of two chronicles, by a monk and a priest, neither of which has survived, nothing of Wallace's life is known to have been written down for almost two centuries, until in 1488 a folk poet named Blind Harry compiled a metrical narration of over 11,000 lines, titled "The Life and Acts of Sir William Wallace of Ellerslie." It was not published until 1521.
Though based on the folk tales and ballads, Blind Harry's account still appears to incorporate reliable material from those two now lost chronicles, which the poet may have read before losing his sight. With caution, the general outline of Wallace's career can be put together from Blind Harry, but many of the details and specific incidents will always remain doubtful.
Wallace's father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, is said to have been killed by an English officer, probably in 1295, in some dispute over taxes. His relations, who included two influential churchmen, were fearful that young William - already known as headstrong and physically robust - would seek to avenge the murder and thus bring Edward's wrath down on them all; and accordingly they tried to get him to hide out in the dense Ettrick and Selkirk Forests that then still covered much of southern Scotland. Before long, though, William was encountering roaming bands of English and killing many of them. A price was placed on his head as he attracted followers who soon amounted to a guerrilla army of several thousands, mainly from the peasant and laboring folk.
For the most part they employed hit-and-run tactics, that were atrocious enough in many cases, as in the grisly massacre long remembered as the Barns of Ayr, in which hundreds of English soldiers were burned to death when Wallace trapped them in their newly-built, barn-like barracks. It is a characteristivc of national resistance wars that they become breeders of atrocities on both sides, as has been exemplified many times in our own century. William Wallace's war of vengeance on the English oppressors of his country was no exception. He saw the Barns of Ayr as tit-for-tat for Edward's three-day rampage of murder, looting and rape on the Easter week-end of 1296 at
Berwick, which had dared resist the English. The English in turn avenged the slaughter at Ayr by killing Wallace's pregnant wife -- or girlfriend; Blind Harry is not clear on the point. Wallace then stalked the killer and stabbed him in his bed. So it went on, until after a victory in an open battle at Stirling in 1297, Wallace's still undisciplined army was routed at Falkirk a year later and he became a hunted guerrilla again. He appears to have got away to France, where he vainly sought the help of King Philip the Fair-haired, who was more interested in cracking down on the wealthy Templar Knights.
Returning to Scotland , Wallace was eventually betrayed to and captured by the English. Edward had him cut into four pieces while still alive, before a cheering crowd in London on Aug. 23, 1305. The fight for Scotland's freedom was then at last taken up by the nobles, like Robert the Bruce, who had held back from aiding Wallace because he was in their eyes too much a man of the common people.
CECILIA BEAUX, PREMIER PORTRAITIST
Thursday May 9 , 1996
Andrew E. Rothovius
During part of the past winter, though overshadowed and hampered by the Federal Government shutdowns, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC presented the first exhibition in nearly seven decades of the work of Cecilia Beaux who a century ago and for twenty-odd years thereafter, was the foremost portrait artist in this country and had very few if any peers elsewhere. The exhibit later moved to the Westmoreland Museum of Art in Greensburg, Pa., where after a nine-week run it closed last week-end.
Perhaps some of my readers were among the viewers of this exhibit; regretfully I was not one. That it should have taken three generations to bring back into some degree of public notice the paintings of Beaux, is indicative of the deepness of the cultural blight of Western civilization over that span. It may be however that this blight is finally starting to lift; the Beaux revival is one of a number of recent signs of hope.
In her time, Beaux was judged the equal of John Singer Sargent; and that she was thought not quite in the rank of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer, was due probably more to her handicap of being a woman, than to their handling wider fields of subject matter. Beaux also failed to gain the public's esteem to the same extent as Mary Cassatt, the only other American woman artist of prominence in that era. This preference for Cassatt came from her association with the French Impressionists who were in the news; while Beaux was not linked to any art movement, her genius being totally independent.
Independence was indeed the distinguishing characteristic of her entire life of 87 years. She came of sternly self-reliant ancestry; her grandmother, Cecilia Leavitt, of Connecticut Puritan stock, had reared into cultivated adulthood a brood of eight childrren after their New York father's once prospering business failed. Her mother, also Cecilia, had married a Provencal Frenchman, of persecution-resistant Huguenot descent, who came to Philadelphia to start a silk manufactory. When it did not thrive. Whrn his wife died in giving birth in 1855 to the third Cecilia, who would become the painter, he threw up his hands and went back to France. Cecilia and her older sister Ernesta were brought up by their grandmother, helped by a Philadelphia uncle of the Biddle family.
Cecilia and Ernesta thus did not grow up exactly in poverty, but luxuries were few, and they were expected to apply their minds to acquire a level of culture that would enable them to find husbands of prominence and merit. Ernesta achieved that goal, marrying into the Drinker family with holdings in the Lehigh Valley coalfields. A daughter of hers would be the famed scholar and biographer, Catherine Drinker Bowen, and a son would invent the iron lung that kept alive thousands of polio victims in the days before the Salk vaccine. Ceciilia, though, decided early that she would make her own way and not owe her sustenance to marrying anyone. She turned down Henry Drinker when he courted her, after which he married her sister instead.
Nevertheless, Cecilia did not readily envision herself as an artist.. She was unsure of her talent, though on her late teens and early twenties she started to earn a modest income from sketching fossils for the U.S. Geological Survey, and painting portraits and still lifes on porcelain plates. Finally she took professionl training in painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and at 26 opened a studio where she did portraits.
It was not until she was 30, in 1885, that she attempted a full-scale canvas, for which her sister -- holding her three-year-old son -- was the model. With a French title that translated as "The Last Days of Infancy", it won favorable notice at some exhibitions, and a friend talked Cecilia into sending it to the Paris Salon of 1887. Though it did not win any prizes, the art critics of the Paris papers gave it admiring mention. That determined Cecilia to embark at 33, in midwinter -- January 1888 -- on enrolling in the famous Academie Julien in Paris, then considered the essential stepping stone to any serious career in art.
That first trip to Europe, as Cecilia described it more than forty years later, in her autobiography "Background With Figures" which she wrote at 75, was an adventure of a sort hardly imaginable by today's Atlantic-crossers jammed like sardines into overcrowded aircraft that land them groggy with jet lag and their luggage mislaid. Cecilia went on the little Dutch passenger steamer "Nordland" -- it carried sails to conserve on coal; the era of palatial ocean liners was still a decade away -- the cheapest ship she could find. It took ten days to crawl from New York to Antwerp in Belgium, over a foggy winter ocean, and for the first five days she was miserably seasick and wanted only to die and get it over with. But then she got her sea legs and had a marvelous time walking the length of the ship's desk, meeting new people, gazing at incredibly bright stars that shine through holes in the fog.
Then the flat coasts of Holland and Belgium, and the soft-edged European skies, so different from the sharp outlines of American landscape. . . . a few days in Malines, and her first encounter with the Flemish masters of the Early Renaissance; never dreaming that 31 years later she would be back to paint the official portrait of Cardinal Mercier, hero of Belgium's World War I resistance to German occupation. .. . and then to Paris to shiver in an unheated garret because she could not afford charcoal, but her heart and mind warmed by her daily attendance at Julien, where her progress was rapid.
That summer she went to Concarneau in Brittany, then still a mecca for American artists, and there her skills ripened still further. A visit to Italy and its wealth of art, later that year, completed her apprenticeship. She returned to America with a confidence in herself and her abilities, that led her to seek and obtain portrait commissions, at steadily higher prices, among the highest levels of American society. She summered with them at Dublin Lake, swimming in the mornings, painting in the afternoons, attending Joe Lindon Smith's Outdoor Theater -- is there any reader who remembers it and can tell me more about it? Henry James, Augustus St. Gaudens, Mark Twain, and others like them were her friends and subjects. So too was Richard Watson Glider, poet and editor of Scribner's and Century Magazines, whose farm in the hidden valley of Tyringham in the Massachusetts Berkshires was one of her retreats for working. In the empty, leaking barn she would paint until it got too cold in October to hold a brush in her stiffening fingers any more. One of her masterpieces is of Glider's two daughters dancing on the barn floor.
The first winter (1901-2) of President Theodore Roosevelt's occupancy of the White House, Beaux was summoned there to paint his wife and daughter; and the First Family was charmed with her cultured personality and conversation. By that time she was independently wealthy, charging -- and getting -- up to $5,000 a portrait. The fluency, immediacy and strength of her painting was universally recognized. One French critic declared she surpassed every European portrait painter then living. She won awards and medals almost beyond counting -- "I need a whole shelf just to store them", she quipped.
In 1906 she built a house on Eastern Point, between Gloucester and Cape Ann; hidden inside thorn thickets, it became her home and workplace, where she could escape from the bustle of the world. There her beautiful young niece Ernesta Drinker came to be for a few years her companion and favorite model, until she left to marry the diplomat William Bullitt and go on to wartime adventures in Central Europe. As for Cecilia Beaux, though she adhered to her teen-age decision never to marry and be dependent on some one, she came to attract a succession of male admirers. The principal use she made of them was to drive the expensive cars she bought; she did not much enjoy driving herself.
In the wake of the Allied victory in World War I, Beaux was given the commissions to paint the official portraits of Cardinal Mercier, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, and Britain's Admiral Sir David Beatty, the victor of Jutland. It took her a year and a half to complete them; she was now in her mid-60's and no longer had all her earlier energy. Then, at 71 in 1926, she broke her hip, shortly before being awarded the gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the only major recognition she had not yet received from the art world.
The year before, she had done the self-portrait to hang in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, that the Italian Government had requested.
With that, her active career ended. She spent most of her time in seclusion on Eastern Point, preparing her autobiography, with annual visits to New York art shows and to her sister's family in Philadelphia. The last visit there was in October 1938; still attractive at 83, she was driven from New York in her newest car, by her latest male admirer. A few days after her arrival, she came down with pneumonia. Everybody expected` her to die; the doctor held out no hope. How stubborn old Aunt Beaux refused to die, forms an amusing chapter in Catherine Bowen's autobiographical book "Family Portrait." Aunt Beaux survived and lived four more years on Eastern Point, before she finally did die in 1942, forgotten by a world no longer valuing her achievement.
THE WISDOM OF BEN SIRA
Thursday, September 19, 1996
Andrew E. Rothovius
A little over just one hundred years ago, in the spring of 1896, two unusual Victorian ladies -- twin sisters, in fact -- through a combination of persistence and luck, made one of the most significant discoveries up to that time, in the field of Biblical research. "Unusual" is perhaps not the right word to apply to the pair, for a surprising number of Victorian-era women were anything but the submissive doormats that current ideology makes them out to have been; still, Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson would have stood out from the ordinary run of people, in any epoch of time or society.
Not too much information is locatable about them. They appear to have been born in Scotland, to a prominent family that gave them a classical education, and got them married to wealthy husbands who let them pursue their intellectual interests without interference, while also providing the necessary funding.
High among those interests was searching for original manuscripts of Biblical and related writings, a pursuit that had acquired a tone of fierce competition among scholars over the course of the Nineteenth Century, as the Middle East became more accessible to Western researchers. By the 1890's, when the Scottish twin ladies became serious participants in this hunt, most of the finds were mere fragments, retrieved by peasants and hole-in-the-wall dealers in antiquities, from scrap heaps and excavation sites. It was getting harder to find anything that was reasonably complete or really important,
A few decades later there would come the great discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi gnostic manuscripts, but anything like that was no longer thought at all likely, in that closing decade of Victoria's reign.
Thus when Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson returned in May 1896 to the university town of Cambridge in England, where they were then residing, from a three-month foray into Egypt, Palestine and the Sinai Desert -- enduring hardships of travel few modern tourists would survive -- they counted themselves fortunate in having come back with a 5th Century fragment of the Gospels and a heap of scattered remnants of Hebrew texts, mostly from the genizah (storage room) of the seven-centuries-old Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo.
Sorting out this heap in the home they shared, which had the Scottish name of Castlebrae, the twin sisters identified most of the fragments as texts of the Hebrew Old Testament. The rest they assumed to be from the Talmud or other post-Biblical writings, and invited their friend Solomon Schechter, the Cambridge University expert on the Talmud, to come and examine them. He did so and quickly confirmed the Talmudic provenance of the remaining fragments -- all but one scrap.
That vastly excited him. It was, he declared, from the original Hebrew text of the 39th chapter of the Book of the Wisdom of Ben Sira -- "Ecclesiasticus", i.e. the Church Book, as it was titled in the Engllish translations of the Apocryphal section of the Old Testament. No Hebrew text of the book had survived, it was known only from Latin and Greek versions that the translators had relied on. But now this fragment raised the possibility that at least part of the Hebrew text of Ben Sira could be retrieved from the Cairo synagogue's genizah, if that was where it had come from. The sisters were sure of it -- and then just six weeks later came startling confirmation.
Professor A.H. Sayce, the renowned Oxford scholar, reported that he had just purchased from a Cairo dealer nine leaves in good condition, of Ben Sira in the original Hebrew. The section followed that of the fragment the sisters had obtained, and obviously had also come from the synagogue genizah. Schecter decided that an all-out effort had to be made to acquire for Cambridge the genizah's entire contents. For decades the synagogue had been gaining a steady income by selling bits and pieces at a time to the antiquities dealers. In the process, irreplaceable material was being lost, crumbled, or falling into hands that did not appreciate its value.
With funds from the university library and scholar friends., Schechter went to Cairo in December 1896 to lay siege to the synagogue's chief rabbi. It took weeks of persuading, but finally Shechter was able to acquire all that remained in the genizah -- a total of 140,.000 fragments, that filled thirty large bags.
Schechter spent most of the rest of his life sorting out those fragments, and many finds of importance were made among them. None, however, was as significant as the discovery of enough pieces of the Ben Sira text, to put together seven more leaves, amounting in all -- along with the earlier finds -- to about two-thirds of the entire book. That this was an accurate medieval copy of the original Hebrew, dating from the 2nd Century B.C., was confirmed 70 years later, when the Israeli archaelogist Yigael Yadin found in the ruins of Masada leather fragments on which were inscribed seven columns of the Ben Sira text, written in the 1st Century B.C. These were identical with the Hebrew of the text recovered from the Cairo genizah. Two Ben Sira fragments found in the Dead Sea scrolls, and also dated to the 1st Century B.C., are likewise textually identical.
The rabbinical tradition that the Wisdom of Ben Sira was written by a sage of Jerusalem about 180 B.C. thus stands vindicated, but the book itself remains strangely unknown to the vast majority of both the Jewish and Christian communions. It was never accepted into the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, even though it is frequently quoted in the Talmud -- and the author, Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira, cites every book except Daniel in the canonical Old Testament. St. Jerome in the 5th Century AD, translating that canon into the low Latin or Vulgate version which was the standard Bible of the Middle Ages, included two of the apocryphal books -- Tobit and Judith -- but not Ben Sira's. Nevertheless it got included, in a translation by some one else, in the Vulgate Old Testament as it was finally put together about 600 AD, and remains to this day in the Roman Catholic Bible, as well as in those of the Ethiopian and Coptic churches.
Readings from it, under the title of the Book of Sirach -- the Greek variant of Sira -- appear in the Catholic liturgy several times in the course of the yesr, though the average parishioner would be hard put to it to identify the book or its author, beyond the mere name. The average Protestant has probably never even heard of it, though it was included -- as noted above -- as "Ecclesiasticus" in the Authorized (King James version) English Bible of 1610, and in Martin Luther's German Bible some decades earlier. Gradually however it was dropped, along with the other Apocryphal books, from Protestant Bibles. (They are however all included in the New English Bible that was produced in 1971 by a consortium of the major Protestant denominations, but are practucally never read from, in church services.)
What is probably needed is for someone to publish the Wisdom of Ben Sira as a separate book in its own right -- it's long enough, 51 chapters in all -- so as to bring its eminently practical insights and observations on the conduct of everyday life, into the hands of people who will read and apply it as a handbook still every bit as useful as it was over 2100 years ago.
Hidden away as it has continued to be, in the Apocryphal limbo between the Old and New Testaments, it will never get any wide readership and acquaintance with its down-to-earth wisdom. And that's a real loss, for wherever one opens its pages, some common but often neglected truths stand out on them, like dandelions in full bloom on a green lawn. Many of them have become familiar phrases in our language, with their source forgotten. How many, for instance, realize that James Agee took the ironic title of his film epic of Depression-era Southern sharecroppers, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", from the first line of Ben Sira's 44th chapter?
I have no room here to cite more than a mere sampling of the riches of good common sense with which all of Ben Sira's book is strewn. "Be quick to listen, but take time to answer. . . .don't argue with long-winded people. . . . don't be too clever for your work. . . . when the rich stagger, their friends help them, but when the poor fall, their friends disown them. . . . better a slippery floor than a slippery tongue . . . . fools laugh loudly, the wise smile quietly. . . . start an argument and find a man's faults. .
fools make a joke of the worst vices. . . . birds of a feather roost together. . . . . give no one power over yourself, if by any means you can avoid it. . .. omens and dreams are all futile. . . .don't bother consulting cowards about war, merchants about bargains, or casual workers about finishing a job. . . look after your parents in their old age; even if their minds fail, make allowances. . . ." He is, to be sure, rather hard on women, whom he sees as largely setters of traps for unwary men, but that was the fault of the culture he lived within.
But don't just take my word for the depth of Ben Sira's wisdom. Get hold of a Bible that contains it, stick a bookmark in his pages, and turn to them whenever the TV gets too silly to stand.
THE BURNS-FRANKLIN CONNECTION
Thursday, January 23, 1997
Andrew E. Rothovius
This is the season of Burns Nights observances among the many in our midst who are of Scottish descent, in honor of Robert Burns, pre-eminently the national poet of Scotland, born on the 24th of January in 1759 and destined to a short life of scarcely over 36 years. Yet in the multitude of accolades spoken and sung in praise and remembrance of his genius , it can be safely said that very few -- if indeed any -- will note how fervently Burns opposed the British caste system that in both Scotland and England kept the vast majority of people in a condition of lifelong poverty, from which even the most talented found it difficult to escape. He himself was a prime example.
Even more safely can it be said, that Burns Night celebrants will not -- because the biographies and history texts all scant it -- be talking about Burns' keen interest in and support of America's Revolutionary War for independence from British rule. Similarly, the dense network of contacts between the American and Scottish patriots of that period, a network that linked Benjamin Franklin with Burns (though they never personally met), is not a topic of general knowledge or discussion, whether at Burns Nights or any other occasions.
Yet these links are a fascinating subject, that in my limited space I can sketch only in broad outline. It will help to first establish the premise that though Benjamin Franklin came eventually to be one of the foremost framers of American independence, and a shaper of the Federal Constitution, he would have preferred -- and long sought -- a free and equal union of the Thirteen Colonies with the British mother countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Such a union, Franklin realized, could only come about and endure, if on both sides of the ocean there was a scrapping of the outmoded institutions of the past and a turning to wider political and economic freedoms. In particular he believed that those freedoms had to be based on a wider availability of solid education, and on developing the new principles of mechanical and electrical science that were coming to be understood and applied. Franklin had in fact been the first to identify electricity with lightning, and one of the first to grasp its potential usefulness. He had pioneered the use of cast-iron cook stoves, as a far more economical use of fuel than the open hearths that had been the rule.
While he endeavored to lay the foundations of an informed public opinion in the Colonies, through such seminal beginnings as his founding of the Philosophical Society discussion group on Philadelphia, and his advocacy of a political union at the Albany Conference in 1754, Franklin knew that his greater vision had to be initiated in the more advanced conditions in Great Britain. Specifically, as he came to understand, it was in Scotland that the most favorable conditions existed. He made his first visit there in 1759 -- the year of Robert Burns' birth -- two years after he arrived in England, in an official capacity as the Provincial Agent of Pennsylvania, but also with the aim of expanding his circle of British contacts sharing his views.
In Birmingham, Franklin had visited the famous printer and typeface-founder John Baskerville, and met Matthew Boulton who with James Watt from Scotland would perfect the steam engine and commence the Industrial Revolution. Around these men would coalesce such other pioneering figures as Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, John Wilkinson and Joseph Priestley, in the grouping called the Lunar Society because they met on nights of the full moon when it was easier to find their way on streets that were still unlit.
The Lunar Society would be disrupted in 1791, and its members silenced or exiled, by the British Government's paranoid reaction to the French Revolution. That was still a generation away in the future, when Franklin inspired the Society's inception; but already he sensed that the Birmingham cluster of enlightened innovators was an anomaly in a still largely hide-bound England. In Scotland, he felt, he would find a wider base of support for his ideas.
Already in Philadelphia he had encountered and befriended several Scots of perceptive minds, such as James Alexander (whose son would be a general in the Continental Army), William Small who tutored the teen-age Jefferson in science amd math, Andrew Hamilton the architect, and Franklin's print-shop partner David Hall. In London he frequented a coffee-shop run by a Scotsman, where he met such eminent Scots as the historian William Robertson and Dr. David Andrews of the faculty of St. Andrews University. He was confident of meeting more such people, when he left London on Aug. 8, 1759 for Edinburgh. Nor was he disappointed.
Among the new friends Franklin made on this, the first of his two visits to Scotland, were Sir Alexander Dick whose hospital was setting new stanbdards of competence, that Franklin would adopt for the Pennsylvania State Infirmary; Rev. John Witherspoon, who would become president of Princeton and a signer of the Declaration of Independence; and the lawyer James Wilson, who would sign both the Declaration and the Federal
Constitution, of which he was a principal drafter, and later be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the first appointed by President Washington. So impressed was Franklin with what he found in Scotland, that on his return to London he wrote that his six weeks there had been the happiest of his entire life, and that were the choice wholly his, he would live in Scotland the rest of his days.
In 1761, Franklin returned to Philadelphia, but late in 1764 was sent again to London as the Agent for Pennsylvania. He brought with him William Small, who joined with Boulton and Watt to develop the first efficient steam engines, which went into production in 1774. Small died mysteriously early in 1775, shortly before Franklin sailed hurriedly for America to escape perhaps a similar fate, or at least arrest. It is known that the British Government went to great and often unscrupulous extent to prevent technological know-how from reaching the Colonies.
Matters had not yet reached the point of open hostilities when Franklin made his second visit to Scotland, in the fall of 1771. This time he went to the Carron Iron Works, that had been set up on the Forth above Edinburgh in 1760, and had quickly become the most advanced iron smeltery and casting factory in the world at that time. One of its first products had been the cast iron cook-stoves introduced by Franklin. Later, its small cannons, the "carronades", famed for their range and accuracy, were smuggled by the hundreds into the rebelling Colonies during the Revolution, for arming naval craft. Still later, the Carron works produced the world's first steam-powered tugboat, in 1802, the model for Robert Fulton's full-size steamboat in 1807.
The Carron works and its skilled ironmasters typified the sort of emterprising technology Franklin wanted to foster in both Britain and America, but the oligarchy in London did not want the Colonies to have any of it. Hence the war that soon broke out, compelling the abandonment by Franklin of his dream of a trans-Atlantic union. Even so, he continued to cultivate through correspondence the intellectual and cultural contacts he had made in Edinburgh, then rising into its brief eminence as the "Athens of the North."
One of those contacts, Rev. Thomas Blacklock, still a noted scholar and encourager of new writers even though he had lost his eyesight, saved Robert Burns from fading into obscurity after the poet's first collection of his verses had appeared from the rural Kilmarnock press and failed to gain either notice or sales. Burns, then (1786) already in his late 20's and at a loss for any profitable employment, had decided to emigrate to Jamaica and work on a sugar plantation -- which would in all likelihood been the end of his literary prospects. He had already sent his box of personal belongings to the pier at Greenock from where he would sail, when a letter from Blacklock made him change his mind.
A copy of the KIlmarnock poems had come to the blind scholar's notice and he hailed it as the greatest thing of its kind ever attempted, bringing the riches of Scotland's traditional ballads and folk poetry into literary form. Would Burns be interested in coming to Edinburgh and arranging for a new and expanded edition?
Burns was indeed very much interested and he immediately cancelled his passage to Jamaica and hastened instead to the Scottish capital. There he was feted, wined and dined, and treated to a tour to the Highlands, in the course of which he visited the Carron works. Their manager, Franklin's friend Patrick Miller, who owned property in the area of Burns' native Ayrshire, arranged to lease a farm there to Burns and for him to obtain a job as exciseman (customs inspector) on a coastline rife with smuggling.
I am running out of space to tell about how Burns fell out of grace with the British social and cultural establishment, with his poems in praise of democracy and its rise in America. Perhaps for next year's Burns Nights. . . . For now, with this account of his Franklin connection, I commence my 41st year of writing in the Transcript.
SHADOW OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN
Thursday, October 9, 1997
Andrew E. Rothovius
Rarely has any novel succeeded in recreating the reality and nuances of a past historic time and locale, so totally and accurately as the recently published "Montenegro", by Starling Lawrence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23.00)
Its very perfection in those respects may however keep readers who do not possess Mr. Lawrence's deep acquaintance with Balkan history, from fully grasping the book's value as a key to a pattern and sequence of events that may seem remote and yet continue to affect the lives of millions both there and here.
The author himself is not as yet a well-known figure on the literary figure. He is described in the jacket blurb as an editor with the William Morrow publishing firm - which did not bring out the book. The name Starling Lawrence has a British sound to it, and the chief character in the novel is a recognizable British type of the Edwardiian era. So we may perhaps safely assume that he is English by either birth, education or residence. He has previously published a collection of short stories, titled "Legacies", which I haven't seen.
"Montenegro" is the Italian version of the Serb "Crna gora", i.e., 'black mountain", the name of a region in the southwest part of what used to be Yugoslavia . It is still the junior partner in the surviving truncated remnant of that ill-fated federation. The novel is set in the first half of the year 1908, when Montenegro was an independent principality of some 3500 square miles, less than half the size of New Hampshire.
Sparsely settled, without railroads or easily traversable roads, with access to the outside world only through a seaport it did not own, Montenegro was considered an incongruous remnant of barbarism in a Europe thst prided itself on its cultured civilization. The Montenegrin people were looked down on as brigands, almost wholly illiterate, and of use only as pawns for the Great Powers in their competition to pick up the pieces of the decaying Ottoman Turkish empire, which had ruled in the Balkans for five centuries.
At the fatal battle of Kossovo Polye -- the "Field of Blackbirds" -- on June 28, 1389, the Turks had shattered the powerful Serbian kingdom that the Nemanjid dynasty had built up over the preceding two hundred years. Most of the remaining Serbian population was pushed out of its mountainous ancestral homeland of Rashka, adjoining what is now southern Bosnia; into the lowlands along the Danube to the north. It was there, in the early 19th Centuiry, that the Serbs began to regain their freedom in a series of bloody revolts against the Turks who had so long mercilessly ground them under heel.
A small remnant of the Serbs who escaped from the slaughter of Kossovo, fled westward into the remote mountains near the Adriatic coast. There, in the nearly impassable fastnesses of the "black mountain" -- so called, it is said, from its dense forest cover that by 1908 had been mostly cut down, leaving a bare harsh limestone -- this little pocket of fiercely defiant Serb warriors gained a foothold that by the mid-18th Century had developed into a tiny state, ruled by an Orthodox bishop who took the title and style of a Prince. It was inherited from uncles to nephews, the bishops being barred from marrying.
Little of the splendid medieval civilization, deriving from the Byzantine, that the Nemanjid kings had created in Serbia, survived in the bleak surroundings of the Crna Gora. Little, that is, except a steadfast devotion to the Orthodox faith and its three great Serbian saints -- Simeon who was also the founder of the Nemanjid state in the late 12th Century, his son Sava the First, and the latter's cousin Sava the Second. Sava the First was venerated in all the Serb lands as an invincible, sword-wielding angelic warrior, something like St. James the Moor-Slayer -- Santiago Matamoros -- in Spanish devotion through nearly ten centuries.
Probably none of today's Spaniards any longer expect to see St. James come out of the clouds,. lopping off Moorish heads with his sword; but to the Serbs, St. Sava the First has remained a present reality, even under Communism. For a decade, an enormous cathedral in his honor has been under construction -- held back by lack of funds -- on the hill in Belgrade where the Muslim Turks in 1595 burnt his body, reportedly still incorrupt 350 years after his death. In the "Montenegro" novel, St. Sava intervenes in June 1908, in the shape of a violent earthquake to punish the Austrian perpetrators of crimes against the Montenegrins. The reader, by that point in the story, finds no difficulty in accepting that as factually real, after what the preeding chapters have revealed of the mentality of the isolated Serbs of the Black Mountain.
That mentality was given its fullest expression in the remarkable epic poem, "The Mountain Wreath", written in 1820 by the greatest of the Prince-Bishops, Pietr Njegos. It is of very high literary quality -- some critics place it on a par with the Iliad, which also came out of a warrior society -- but its ethic is one that we today find disturbing.
Said to reflect a real historical event -- or process, that went on through a generation or two, rather than the single horrific massacre it is presented as -- in the late 18th Century, the poem narrates the hunting down and cold-blooded murder of all the Montenegrin Serbs who under pressure or for economic reasons had converted to Islam. All, the poem claims, were slain, women and infants as well as the men. Ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.
This epic all dwellers on the Black Mountain henceforth learned by heart, and sang on every public occasion -- and by themselve when alone. Its viewpoint was bluntly stated to the English visitor in the novel, when he asked what would happen to the Muslims in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, a wedge still held by the Turks between Montenegro and Serbia, when the Turkish rule finally ended.
"We will kill them, of course", the Englishman was told. " Except any who might convert back to the Orthodox faith, but that's unlikely."
In 1908 the specter of a war that would infect the world with that bloody credo, was looming on the Balkan horizon. That was why the novel's British main character was sent to Montenegro, to spy out what part -- for all its tiny size, it had a highly strategic location -- it might play in the approaching conflict. The Austrian Habsburg Empire, then still the master of Central Europe, was planning to annex Bosnia which it had administered since 1878 as a surrogate for the Turks. That could provoke Serbia and Montenegro, which regarded Bosnia as a Serbian land, to go to war, if Russia supported them -- but Austria counted on Russia being too weak, after its defeat by Japan in 1905, to intervene. That is how it turned out, in that ominous year 1908. What had not been foreseen, was the Young Turk rebellion against the corrupt and incompetent old Ottoman Sultanate.
The Balkan states were quick to take advantage of the ensuing disarray of Turkey's armed forces. In 1912-13 they seized all but a small piece of the remaining Turkish holdings in Europe, then fell to quarrelling over the division of the spoils. Serbia and Montenegro - both more than doubling in size -- were the major gainers.; but the other enemy, Austria still blocked theit access to the sea.
"Montenegro" tells us of the formation of the "Black Hand", the Serb terrorist cell that in 1914 would murder the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo and plunge the world into a war that in a sense has never ended. The Serbs have twice, in both World Wars, undergone martyrdoms of defeat, massacre and epidemics, even more terrible than that which followed Kossovo. The iron has entered ever deeper into their souls; they have, as our TV newscasts keep telling us, become still more ruthless and pitiless. "Montenegro" asks the question that Washington -- and the American public -- are trying to evade:
What price must we pay, or will we pay, to dispel the shadow that the Black Mountain still casts over the world?
AN AULD SCOTS HALLOWE'EN TALE
Thursday, October 30, 1997
Andrew E. Rothovius
Probably no country has a greater treasury of traditional folk tales of Hallowe'en hauntings, than Scotland, with its Celtic origins and the survival among its rustic glens of age-old customs and observances. Among these, the last day of October -- the day on which the cattle were brought in from the summer pastures where they had been since the first of May -- had a pre-eminent importance, as being also the day on which the veil between the worlds of the flesh and of the spirit thinned, and for a brief while it was possible to traverse from one to the other and back.
Ballads, which could be memorized and handed down from one generation to another, became the principal means of transmission of the stories that sprang up about the eerie happenings that took place on Hallowe'en. One of the most famous of these ancient Scots ballads of strange Hallowe'en doings, is the one called "Tam Lin"; it goes back to at least around 1500 and may well be two or three centuries older. The version usually found in ballad anthologies is that set down by Robert Burns in 1792. It appears to have originated in southern Scotland -- Burns' home area -- on the basis of place names, and of an Earl of Roxburgh figuring in it. Recently, in 1990, a children's version of "Tam Lin" -- for ages 4 to 8, according to the jacket blurb --was done by Jane Yolin and may have been seen by some of my readers.
The story of Tam Lin is based on the ancient belief that the fairy folk -- usually invisible, except on occasions like Hallowe'en -- can kidnap humans and keep them in captivity, unless some spell is said or done to free them. In Scottish folklore, the fairies abide inside the prehistoric earth mounds usually called barrows, but "haughs" in the Scots lowland dialects. Tam Lin, a winsome youth, was held captive at such a mound, called Carterhaugh, to entice unwary maidens into being made fairy prisoners along with him.
The ballad thus begins with a warning:
Oh, I forbid you, maidens all,
That wear gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there
A lassie named Janet is heedless of this caution, wanting to see what sort of lad Tam might be; so she
. . . .kilts up her green skirts
A little above her knees,
And she braids up her yellow hair
A little above her brow
And she's off to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie
There she finds Tam Lin who asks
Why comes thou to Carterhaugh,
Withouten my command?
Quick is her retort:
Carterhaugh it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I'll come and go by Carterhaugh
And ask no leave of thee
What follows was not in the tots' version:
He took her by her milkwhite hand
And by her grass-green sleeve. . .
and so on, leading to the inevitable outcome at her father's castle, where
Four and twenty ladies fair,
Were playing at the ball,
And out then came the fair Janet
As green as any glass --
in an unmistakable fit of morning sickness; which an old knight noticing, says
. . . alas, fair Janet,
But we'll be blamed all
She tells him it's none of his business:
Hold your tongue, ye ill-fared knight
Some ill death may you die,
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I'll father none on thee
Then her own father
. . . . .spake meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet. . .
I think thou goes with child"
Undaunted, she replies,
If that I go with child, father,
Myself must bear the blame. . .
My love were nae earthly knight
For he's an elfin gay --
a word that then still had its original meaning. Janet tells further that
The steed my true-love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
With silver he is shod before
With burning gold behind
And off she hies to Carterhaugh,
. . . .There she found his steed standing
But away was himself . . .
. . . . up started young Tam Lin
to ask whether she meant
. . . . .to kill the bonnie babe,
That we got us between ?
A medieval pro-lifer, Tam would seem. Janet evades his question by asking one herself:
Oh tell me, tell me, Tam Lin
For His sake that died on tree
If ever ye was in holy chapel
Or Christendom did see?
Tam responds by telling how he came to be a fairy prisoner:
Roxburgh he was my grandfather
Took me with him to bide. . .
And once it fell upon a day,
A cold day and a bitter
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell
The Queen o' Fairies she caught me
In yon green hill to dwell
And pleasant is the fairy land. . . .
Every seven years, however, he goes on to explain, the fairies have to give up a victim to Hell, and since he is "so fair and full of flesh", he fears he may be the next sacrifice. Not to worry, though, for
. . . . tonight is Hallowe'en, lady,
the morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, if ye will
For well I know ye may
For at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride
And they that would their true-love win
At Miles Cross they must bide
Tam further instructs Janet to let a black and a brown horse with their riders pass by; he will be on the third horse, a white one. She is to throw her green mantle over him, and hold him fast in her arms, no matter what the fairies try to turn him into -- a snake, a bear, a lion, a red-hot iron bar, a handful of glowing embers. . . .
But hold me fast and fear me not,
As you shall love your child,
Hold me fast and fear me not,
I'll do to you no harm
That final transformation into hot embers she is to throw into a well, from which he says he will
. . . .rise your own true-love
I'll turn into a naked knight
Then cover me out of sight
Thus admonished, though
Gloomy, gloomy was the night
And eerie was the way
Fair Janet in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did gae
Promptly at Hallowe'en midnight, the fairy procession rides up, and Janet throws her mantle over Tam on the third horse. He turns into all the things he had warned of, but she holds him fast and finally plunges the glowing embers into the roadside well, from which he emerges in his proper human form. Away they run toward her father's castle, while behind them the Queen of Fairies, balked of rendering her tribute to Hell, vents her wrath:
. . . . . an angry woman was she,
"Had I known, Tam Lin," she says
"What now this night I see,
I would have taken out thy two gray eyes
And put in two wooden eyes"
-- with which he could not have beheld Janet's beauty and been enticed by her away from the fairy realm.
SHE HIT THE JACKPOT -- SORT OF
Thursday, January 8, 1998
Andrew E. Rothovius
Though she has not retained a hold on readers in our time anywhere near the dimensions of that still enjoyed by Jane Austen, Mary Russell Mitford continues to have a devoted if relatively small following, who find in her word-sketches of English village life in the 1820's a charm and fascination that grow ever stronger with each re-reading. And to those who know something of the adversities despite which her creativity still functioned so extraordinarily well as it did, she has the added interest of being herself a personality of a kind rarely found in any era or culture.
She was advantaged far above the average woman of her time, she was a first-prize lottery winner when money had far more real worth than now, she was gifted with keen observation and a talent for setting down what she saw and experienced, with verve and accuracy. She made friends easily, in all social classes, and kept them. Had that been the totality of Mary Mitford's life, there would be nothing surprising in her success. But all these favorable aspects were more than offset by the misfortune of having been born to a father so feckless as to make Dickens' Mr. Micawber a model of responsible behavior in comparison. The society of her time offered Mary Mitford very few channels of escape from her prison of circumstance. The principal one, that of marrying to get away from home, was closed to her by her plainness of looks and her not having the sort of money which would overcome that handicap in suitors' eyes.
Since she could not really escape, she set herself to doing the next best thing -- accepting her situation and making the best of it. How her predicament came about, and how she coped with it, would make a powerful novel -- but it was lived out in reality and handled by her in a way that neither sought nor attracted public notice, other than the all- important one of her writing earning the money to keep her household from falling off the cliff-edge of disaster. It teetered on that brink continuously , through much of her adult life.
Mary's father, George Mitford, was a doctor by profession, though there is doubt as to whether he ever really gained an M.D. degree. Certainly he never seriously exerted himself to gain a living from practicing medicine. He sought money in easier ways, either by marrying it or winning it in gambling. In both he succeeded, but squandered all that he gained, leaving it to his accomplished daughter to maintain him.
Mitford -- he was apparently related distantly to the noted Mitford family of Yorkshire, which produced several persons of eminence through three centuries, including one of Britain's first envoys to Japan -- settled in Hampshire in southern England in 1785, and promptly married an heiress ten years older than he. She brought him an estate of 28,000 pounds, or about $140,000 in today's money -- and money went a lot further then. He should have been comfortably set for life, but it took him only a little over a decade to get rid of all that money, mostly at gaming tables. By that time he had a ten-year- old daughter, Mary, his only child, fated to save him from destitution by one fantastic stroke of luck, and to keep on saving him through a lifetime of dedicated effort.
On Dec. 16, 1797, Mitford -- only days away from arrest for debt -- went to the London office of the Irish National Lottery, to stake his last shillings on it.. He had Mary -- it was her tenth birthday -- with him; and seized by a sudden inspiration, he asked her to pick a number. She picked 2224, and it won the first prize of 20,000 pounds, about $100,000 today. Prizes in the millions had not yet been dreamed of.
Mitford returned to Hampshire and`with his winnings built a big house and lived in high style for some years, having Mary educated at one of the finest girls' academies in London. By her late teens, the Mitford household was again sagging under a load of debt. Her mother was a totally ineffectual person, unable to keep a rein on her wastrel husband. To keep the roof over their heads, Mary started writing plays for the London stage. These were moderately successful, and for a decade or so, she was getting royalties of about $2500 a year, on which the family struggled along. By 1820, however -- Mary was 33 by then -- they could no longer keep up the big house. Selling it, they moved into a cramped little cottage n the village of Three Mile Cross, south of Reading.
To survive even in that, with her father's propensity for wagering away every penny, meant Mary had to write still more -- but to what market? She knew by then that drama was not what she did best; already her earnings from play-writing were tailing off. She started a novel, but was unable to finish it. Then she tried writing lively impressions of life in the village around her, for the first of the women's magazines then starting publication. They were instantly popular, from the very first one in May 1821. The circulation of the Ladies' Magazine went up ten-fold, on the fame of her pieces in it.
She would keep on writing these for the next ten years, about two every month, along with the other writing -- plays, reviews, etc. -- she kept on doing. It meant having to stay awake late at night, carefully crafting her finely textured paragraphs, in a tiny longhand that was often the despair of typesetters. The magazine came to pay her well -- $50 a piece, high by the standards of the time -- but often she never saw the money, as her father would go to the publisher's office and collect her fee, gambling it away before he got home.
Somehow Mary found the strength to put up with this behavior. She drew a curtain of silence around it, never criticizing him in public, speaking of him only in the highest terms. When he, along with her mother, became old and disabled, she cared for them at home until their deaths, while continuing to write, to pay the bills and keep food on the table. Sales, commencing in 1824, of book-length compilations of her village pieces -- there were eventually five volumes in all -- helped; but finances continued to be touch and go. Not until she was in her fifties -- she lived to 68 -- was life easier for her.
Until then, as she stated in a rare confession to a pen friend, "ever since I was very young, I have never -- though apparently in affluence -- been without care over money; it has pressed on me the last thing at night, and woke me in the morning with a dreary, heavy sense of pain."
That sense does not weigh on her village word- pictures. They are honest, they depict her neighbors with warts and all, but never with malice and always with understanding. They express a satisfaction and fitness in lives lived within what today would be thought very narrow limits. Masterful however though Mary Mitford was at grasping and describing human character, she was an even keener observer and analyzer of nature in all its aspects, from insects and herbs to clouds and seasonal changes. As such, she stands worthy to be ranked close to her great contemporaries, Gilbert White and Luke Howard.
It is though in the unlikely role of sports reporter, that Mary Mitford excels most. She had an abiding passion for the English game of cricket, and her accounts of the matches between teams from rival villages reveal both her thorough understanding of its rules and of the motivations of those who played it. At that time, cricket as a village sport in England had a social role much like that of baseball in small-town America three generations later -- but here we had no woman reporter of it, at all comparable to Mary. There are numerous editions of her collected "Our Village" essays, still available through libraries and book shops. I recommend them as an unsuspected treat.
A PURGATORY IN SICILY
Thursday, January 22, 1998
Andrew E. Rothovius
Like a bear stirring uneasily in its winter sleep. Mount Etna heaved and rumbled last week, and spouted a fountain of red-hot lava from its upper flank. The early indications were that this, the 209th recorded outburst of the 10,900-ft. volcano that towers over eastern Sicily, would be among the lesser ones in that catalog spanning 3500 years, and nowhere near the intensity of the eruption s of 1250 and 1631 that wiped out several towns.
Still, any activity by Etna is not only a reminder of its central location on the deep fault line that runs some 500 miles from south of Sicily to north of Naples, and which has caused numerous volcanic and seismic catastrophes from ancient to modern times; it also epitomizes the fiery human history of Sicily, that has ranged from highest culture to deepest cruelty. And we may also look on it as a reminder of that strange purgation of body and spirit that John Henry Newman underwent in the shadow of Etna, 165 years ago this coming spring and early summer.
Newman -- better known to most as Cardinal Newman, the reviver of the Catholic faith in Britain after three centuries of eclipse -- was then, at 32, still in the early formative stages of his later eminent career as poet, educator, writer on social issues and churchman. He was conscious of his talents and abilities, but torn by self-doubts and uncertain of direction. At 24 , after an impressive undergraduate showing at Oxford, he had been ordained into the Anglican priesthood, but found little satisfaction in it. Lacking in fervor, in zeal and` charity , it seemed to him hollow and pretentious.
Scholarly friends, and he had many, persuaded him to find outlet for his energies in writing a history of the fourth-century Ariam heresy, and he had done so -- it is still rated as one of the best studies of the subject. The labor involved had wearied him, however; and when in the fall of 1832 -- while the book was awaiting publication -- his young friends the two Froude brothers, later eminent as engineer and historian respectively, asked him to join them on a family excursion to the Mediterranean, Newman eagerly accepted.
He had not been out of England and had lived a retired, bookish life. Seeing the vastly different, colorful cultures of the Mediterranean lands aroused his curiosity and interest. Sicily in particular fascinated him. A stop at the capital of Palermo on the north coast, and a jaunt inland to the ruins of Segeste, stirred in him in an irresistible longing to explore the wild island on his own. The Froudes tried hard to dissuade him. Sicily, they said, had lapsed back into feudal barbarism after emerging briefly under British occupation during the Napoleonic wars. Brigandage and murders were common. There was much for Newman to do at home, in the movement to reform the Church that was getting underway. He was unused to rugged living on the road, he did not even know the odd dialect that passed for Italian in Sicily -- and even in standard Italian, Newman was not fluent. He would be robbed and fleeced by innkeepers and servants. If he escaped murder, he would fall ill in the fierce summer heat and probably die, uncared for.
And so on. None of this shook Newman's strange resolve, that even to himself he could not really account for. Until now he had always governed his life by duty and circumstance; now for the first time -- and indeed for the last time -- he would be acting on an urgent wish of his own. At Naples in mid-April 1833 he parted from the homeward- bound Froudes, and sailed for Messina at the northeast tip of Sicily. He had been lucky in hiring an Italian servant, Gennaro, who had served under Wellington in Spain and been with one English family for 16 years. He thus spoke and understood English well, but he had never been to Sicily. He was also a bit of an alcoholic.
In spite of those failings, it was owing to Gennaro being with him, that Newman came back alive from his Sicilian expedition which turned into a searing purgatory. At Messina they hired a pair of mules and riding on them, made good progress down the east coast to Taormina. Newman was enchanted with the scenery -- "I never thought Nature could be so beautiful, " he wrote home. The next day, spent in riding in baking heat across shadeless fields of hardened lava, was less entrancing ; and looking up at the snow on Etna, he decided against climbing to the summit crater, as he had intended. At Catania he made a side-trip to Syracuse by boat, from which he returned seasick and exhausted, though with a head filled with edifying meditations on Thucydides and Archimedes, whose haunts he had now actually seen.
He now decided to head straight west across the heart of Sicily to the tremendous ruins of Acragas -- which he was fated never to see -- and then north to Palermo, where he could find a ship for home, From Catania he proceeded as far as Leonforte, on the southern flank of Etna, before having to stop and rest for a day. He was now ill and feverish, and only some chamomile tea prepared by Gennaro revived him enough to enable him to get to Etna, the legendary site of Proserpine's descent into the underworld, from where she annually returns for half the year.
Etna now is however hardly pastoral or idyllic, being surrounded with grim 13th Century fortress walls. Inside them Newman collapsed into an inn bed , in a fevered delirium that lasted ten days. The precise nature of his illness continues to puzzle his biographers. Most presume it was malaria, then endemic throughout Sicily, but the sequence of his symptoms does not fit the usual course of malaria. Nor did he ever have recurrences, which are common with malaria sufferers. Some think it was typhoid fever, then very common because of lack of proper sanitation -- but he had intestinal pain, a usual symptom, only briefly. Most of the time, whenever he was conscious, he was ravenously hungry and kept Gennaro on the run trying to find him something palatable. Gennaro also nursed him patiently, and did his best to follow the directions of the local doctor who obviously had little expectation of his patient surviving.
Survive he did, however. On May 19, he remembered it was his mother's birthday, and from knowing that he knew the crisis was past and he would recover. His mind was clear again, though he was dreadfully weak in body. Gennaro supported him down the stairs from his bedroom and into a chair in the garden. Each day he grew a little stronger, and he turned over and over in his mind what he could recall of what had seemed in his delirium to be a soul-searching dialogue with God.. The gist of it , he thought, was that he had been told he must overcome his self-will and intellectual pride. Only then could he undertake the work of church reformation he wanted to do. And he would have to learn to do it step by step, not always thrusting forward further than he could see clearly. Or so to him it appeared, that he had been counseled in spirit, while his fever-racked body interposed no bar to the communication.
By May 25, he was able to start for Palermo, in a carriage Gennaro had hired. It took them three days over very rough roads, to cover the hundred miles to Palermo. Everywhere people stared at Newman as at a living ghost, he was so gaunt and pale, the skin peeling from his face and hands. But instead of murdering or robbing him, the Sicilians treated him kindly. At Palermo, where he had to wait two weeks for a ship, his poetic ability returned, more competently than ever. He started writing a set of verses each day, and on the way home -- June 16, 1833, in the strait between Sardinia and Corsica -- he penned the lines dear ever since to all Christians and even to many of other or no belief:
Lead, kindly Light
Lead Thou me on, Keep Thou my feet,
I do not ask to see the distant scene
One step enough for me
For Newman, purged of self-pride by his Sicilian ordeal, the next step was the founding of the Oxford or Tractarian Movement to reform the Anglican Church. And when eleven years later that seemed to him to have reached a dead end, he took one further step, into the Catholic fold.
THE GREATEST NATURE STUDENT
Thursday, April 23, 1998
Andrew E. Rothovius
Earth Day was with us again this week, to the accompaniment of the usual over-hyping about saving the planet from the horrors of global warming and other media-inflated alarms. Since it was first inflicted upon the American public -- especially the younger and more impressionable part of it -- in 1970, Earth Day has cast into the shadows the older and more logical Arbor Day, that was once a legal holiday in several states and widely observed in all by the planting of trees, mostly by school children.
Not that Arbor Day has disappeared , any more than the concept of proper cultivation and care of trees and woodlands, that moved the prairie legislator J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska to initiate it in 1872. There is still a flourishing National Arbor Day Foundation; and while there are no longer any state holidays for tree planting, a National Arbor Day continues to be observed by numerous local groups annually on the fourth Friday in April. This year that's tomorrow, April 24.
It gets little notice though, in either the press or the electronic media, which find Earth Day with its pseudo-apocalyptic overtones much more headlineable.. And in all the Earth Day publicity, nature study in its truest sense -- that of developing the ability to observe and evaluate every facet, from the smallest to the largest, of our living natural environment -- gets hardly a mention.
Very few in our day are familiar with the self-taught genius of Jean Henri Fabre, who may be said to have been the father of nature study, making of it through his own example a serious as well as a fascinating pursuit. Darwin, though disagreeing with him on evolution, hailed him as "an incomparable observer," whose patient and minute study of the life processes of insects revealed astonishing facts never known before. Victor Hugo called him "the Homer if the insects", for the epic and poetic style in which he wrote of his discoveries.
Circumstances and character kept Fabre from making a political issue of nature, and from starting any conservation or environmental movement. Struggling to raise a large family, on meager incomes from teaching and writing, he was in no position to become a propagandist for a cause, and temperamentally he was not fitted for it anyway.
What he did do was to popularize the study of nature, in a way no one had ever done before. He explained it, on every level from his own specialty of entomology -- the study of insects -- up to the realms of geology and astronomy, in clear and simple terms that every school child could understand, through sixty-odd books he wrote. They had a wide circulation in hos native France and in many other countries including America, being translated into several lamguages. He did not make much money from them, for copyright laws were weak in his time and many of the translated editions were pirated ones. Publishers also were niggardly with royalties, since to increase sales to school libraries they kept the prices low.
At the beginning of this century, the name of Fabre was familiar in millions of households with children in school, around the globe; and continued so, well into the 1930's. Sixty-seven years ago next Monday, April 27, being then eight years old, I took out my first library card, and the first book I borrowed was one of Fabre's texts on the world of nature.
Then, gradually at first and then with precipitous rapidity as the mid-century approached, Fabre was cleared out of the schoolrooms and libraries. It was not simply that entomology and other sciences of nature had progressed well beyond their state in Fabre's time, and his books were thus becoming dated in their factual content. Several would still have been worth keeping in print for their clarity of style and breadth of viewpoint. Fabre's questioning of evolution and his insistence that the instinctive actions of even the smallest life forms could not have evolved, but had to have been implanted, were however enough to place all his work under the ban of being hopelessly obsolete.
Even so, there has persisted among a few, an appreciation of Fabre's literary quality and the dedication to accurate observing in adverse conditions that it reflected. In one of Jane Langton's deservedly popular Homer Kelly mystery novels, titled "Natural Enemy", she depicts a high school senior discovering one of Fabre's books on insects, and having it shape his whole life and outlook for better. Might there be more than just happenstance in "Natural Enemy" being the only one of the Kelly stories that has been allowed to go out of print?
The last biography of Fabre in English appeared in 1921, and after the 1950's he disappeared from mention in encyclopedias. He was born in September 1823, in the small town of Saint-Leon in the mountainous Aveyron district of southern France. His parents were desperately poor peasants, who resorted to a variety of ways to make a living. Among them was duck raising, which gave the very young Jean who had been giving the task of shepherding the birds, his first acquaintance with aquatic life forms.
His more formal education had its start in the tiny parish school, although the alphabet he had already learned from a wall poster his father bought for him, that showed a different animal for each letter, further stimulating the interest he was already showing in every aspect of nature. At the age of ten, Fabre moved up to a secondary school, but in his mid-teens he went for some years without further schooling when his parents could no longer pay the tuition fees or even afford to keep him at home any more. After a period of wandering as an itinerant farm worker, he succeded in gaining a scholarship to the Normal School at Avignon, which trained teachers.
It was a very limited training, that produced only the poorly paid teachers of village and parish schools. To attain a higher level of pay, as a secondary schools instructor or a professor in one of the small provincial colleges, Fabre had to go through rigorous self-training in chemistry, math and geometry, subjects he had no previous acquaintance with; as well as a grounding in the Latin classics. He thus gained an ability for meticulously accurate research in his own favirite field of entomology, in which there was yet no specialized instruction available; and also the capability for presenting his findings in "a lucid and ordxerly manner", as he phrased it.
By the early 1860's, after a professorial stint in Corsica, from where the endemic malaria drove him out, he had gained some degree of notice with his articles on insects in scientific journals. Louis Pasteur consulted him on silkworm disease and wine preservation, and Napoleon III presented him with an award. It still amounted to little in the way of the money he needed for his family of five children, and he was finding the next level of teaching -- the universities -- blocked by his lack of the then necessary "old school tie" connections.
Then his attempt in 1870 to start a science school for girls brought on him a storm of condemnation -- "women had no brains for science!" -- and dismissal from his professorial post in Avignon. He retreated to a small cottage in an arid part of Provence, where with the aid of his wife and children he continued his researches and wrote his books, on whose meager royalties they lived.
Finally in 1910, when he was 87 and in failing health, the French Government and scientific and literary luminaries of the country staged for Fabre a Jubilee of recognition. He lived for five more years, dying at 92 on Oct. 11, 1915, saddened and heartbroken by the devastation of World War I. War had always seemed to him the worst of human follies and crimes.
Margaret's Home Page