Quote of the moment: Reorganization creates illusion of progress, and demoralization – Charlton Ogburn

May 31, 2013

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

This quotation is often misattributed to one Greek philosopher or another, or to the Roman Petronius.

Cover of "The Marauders"

Cover of The Marauders

Ogburn’s magazine article became the basis for his book, The Marauders. In turn, that was the basis for a movie, Merrill’s Marauders.  In the book, the quote is different:

As a result, I suppose, of high-level changes of mind about how we were to be used, we went though several reorganizations. Perhaps because Americans as a nation have a gift for organizing, we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at the mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

  • The Marauders (1959), chapter 2, page 60 (attributed)

My old friend Frank Hewlett had been a correspondent in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, including Burma, during World War II.  Frank told me that he had been the first to call the American group “Merrill’s Marauders” in a war news dispatch on the progress the group made.  He did not get any credit for the book or movie title, but he said it was great that any group of soldiers that worked that well got popular attention for their work.  I’ve never found Hewlett’s dispatches from that period, but I’ve never found anything else he told me to be inaccurate.

In serious corporate reorganizations, or in corporate culture change operations, this quote is usually trotted out in opposition to whatever the proposed change may be.  Generally reorganizers will dismiss the thing as fictional, in at least one case claiming that renegade corporate leader Bob Townsend made it up.

In our work at Committing to Leadership at American Airlines, CEO Bob Crandall actually read the full quote (misattributed at the time), and observed that it was probably true — but not a good reason to stop a needed reorganization.  Crandall pointed to the last sentence, and said that a good manager’s job is to make sure that reorganization creates real success, not just an illusion of action, and that any good manager will recognize that reorganizations offer the danger of demoralization and confusion.  Those are problems to be managed, Crandall said, not fates that cannot be avoided.

Do you find Ogburn’s snippet of wisdom to be true? So what?

More:

Merrill's Marauders (film)

Advertising poster for Merrill’s Marauders; Wikipedia image


So-called conservatives out of their minds — still, but moreso: 3 reasons not to fear ‘Brave New World’

April 11, 2013

You can’t make up this kind of crazy.  This guy’s been Tweeting this to everyone he can find on Twitter:

Seriously?  Hatcheries for children?

Isaac Asimov‘s great off-the-cuff essay one why 1984 wouldn’t be like 1984 is sort of a prototype of the sort of take-down of dystopias one finds in literary and historical circles.  (Once I had a link to a version of the essay, but it’s buried in the bowels of the internet now.)

First edition cover

Is this where we are going, so rapidly in this handbasket? First edition cover, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – Wikipedia image

But it never makes the true crazies see the light.  They can’t see contrary evidence.

Asimov’s essay noted Orwell’s lack of foresight in simple things, and human things.  In Orwell’s Big Brother dystopia, Winston Smith couldn’t get razor blades or shoe laces, indicators of the economic failures of Big Brother.  Asimov wrote that, in reality,  he used an electric razor, and wore slip-on shoes.  Blades and laces were foreign to his world, too, but not evidence of dystopia; instead, they were evidence of changing fashion and innovation. Orwell thought Big Brother would watch everyone with electronics.  We learned that people as a mass, who use phones, especially cell phones, and the internet, put out too much information in total for a Big Brother to make sense of it, absent other indicators — and that even when hints of wrong-doing turn up, the bureaucracies tend to prevent quick action, or any action at all.  (See the report of the 9/11 Commission.)

One wishes Asimov were alive to do a take-down of the Brave New World fears.  One also suspects those living in fear of Huxley wouldn’t understand the takedown.

Huxley himself gave it away.  Nothing in scientific discoveries has altered Huxley’s errors of prediction (if he was “predicting” and not simply fantasizing).

So, here are three reasons a rational human should not fear we are on the verge of Brave New World, as Huxley scared us all:

  1. Huxley’s dead, and out of date.  Huxley died 50 years ago (on November 22, 1963, coincidentally enough — Sam Theissen with find some omen in that; superstition can’t be stamped out of those who refuse to learn).  Huxley’s premises, his assumptions about society, don’t work in a modern world.  Huxley’s imaginings were almost pre-modern science.  His story doesn’t imagine electricity on the Navaho or Hopi or Apache reservations.  He didn’t foresee Interstate Highways, nor even Route 66, and America’s love affair with travel and the automobile.  He didn’t see the rise of broadcast television and radio, nor rock ‘n roll, nor especially did he see the cultural effects of popular radio on U.S., British or world politics.  Huxley assumes a Soviet-style dictatorship can work.  We know better.  We have Solzhenitsyn.  We had Sakharov protesting in the Soviet Union, and Oppenheimer protesting in the U.S.  That should also remind us that Huxley missed nuclear power.  Huxley simply missed most of the technology and especially culturally-affective technology that makes a Brave New World impossible.
  2. Human hatcheries don’t work.  Hatcheries work for fish; we’ve been unable to make them work for most birds.  Critically, they don’t work for humans, nor for any other complex mammalian — nor chordate, in the ways Huxley describes the embryoes being programmed for certain kinds of intelligence and physical traits.  Oddly, that seems to be the focus of Thiessen’s fears — but the technology simply doesn’t work.
  3. Sex is fun. Huxley’s story required that sex and procreation be done away with.  Oh, there was some sex — but procreative sex is presented as a shameful character flaw, like patricide, embezzling or drug dealing.  Brave New World is frustrated, in the 20th century, by the backseats of cars and the simple fact that sex is so much fun.  Raising kids is fun, too, and valued by adults the world over, a value that got much more expression after World War II.

It’s difficult to imagine kids in high school reading Brave New World without giggling, and without noting the difficulties of the story now (try to get a high school kid to believe Superman used phone booths . . .).

Sam Thiessen is convinced civilization will collapse — he’s written books about it.  I wonder about people who miss the ultimately fatal flaw of Huxley’s story, that humans love one another, and humans like to have sex.  Those who fear Huxley’s book is a forecast, I think, either don’t get enough sex, or don’t know how.

The things are going with current witch hunts, Texas teachers who use Huxley’s book should look out — Thiessen and his fellow travelers will soon accuse them of indoctrinating students in the stuff, instead of warning them against it.  After all, Thiessen seems to have missed the warnings himself.

I’d wager that in other rants, self-titled conservatives and libertarians like Thiessen rail at the usual-suspect decline in morals, including a lot of actions shocking to them, caused by the fact that most people find sex really fun.  Does it not make sense that they’d take a step back, and see that the behavior they claim disgusts them, also makes possible the broken future they fear?

Oblivious to this odd balance of freedoms, they then campaign to end the immorality they see, never thinking that by doing so they advance the dystopia they claim to fear.  What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to misperceive.

More:

A note about the title of the book:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

  ♦ William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I; spoken by Miranda


Quote of the moment: Neil Gaiman, on what keeps civilization from barbarism

February 19, 2013

Found it on Facebook.

Neil Gaiman:

Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism.

Looking for the citation of where Gaiman wrote that; probably here.  Gaiman is a contemporary British author of short stories and other works.

No credit line appears for the photo of the library, nor for the design of the quote on the photo.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen.

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Phillis Wheatley: Poem for Presidents Day (2013)

February 18, 2013

What is a good flag flying occasion without some inspiring poetry?

Get your flag up (if it’s not up already), and read some poetry from a remarkable woman, in this encore post.

From the Poem-a-Day folks at the American Academy of Poets:

His Excellency General Washington
by Phillis Wheatley

George Washington

George Washington, as he appears on the one-dollar bill.

 

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!

The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or think as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honors—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! Cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine.

American Poet Phyllis Wheatley, detail from the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Ave.

American Poet Phillis Wheatley, detail from the Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Ave.

Who was the inspiring woman, Phillis Wheatley? Read her biography at the Academy of American Poets site.

Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in America to publish a book. She was born around 1753 in West Africa and brought to New England in 1761, where John Wheatley of Boston purchased her as a gift for his wife. Although they brought her into the household as a slave, the Wheatleys took a great interest in Phillis’s education. Many biographers have pointed to her precocity; Wheatley learned to read and write English by the age of nine, and she became familiar with Latin, Greek, the Bible, and selected classics at an early age. She began writing poetry at thirteen, modeling her work on the English poets of the time, particularly John Milton, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope. Her poem “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” was published as a broadside in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and garnered Wheatley national acclaim. This poem was also printed in London. Over the next few years, she would print a number of broadsides elegizing prominent English and colonial leaders.

More, at the AAP site.


Query: Who wrote this first? Two novels that change a 14 year-old’s life, Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged

February 7, 2013

Eye of Sauron, or John Galt?

Lord of the Rings features a time when evil almost wins. Atlas Shrugged celebrates such dystopia.

I first heard this within the past couple of years.  As with too many really good lines that get passed around the internet, it came to me first with no source listed.

It’s rather brilliant.  To whom do we properly give credit for its invention?

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Update:  In comments, Ellie and Liam both point to John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey, March 19, 2009.  Sounds good.  Can anyone pin it on anyone else, earlier?

More:

 


Typewriter of the moment: Mark Twain’s Hammond

December 5, 2012

Still hoping to find a photo of Samuel Clemens at work on a typewriter.

But until then, this one will have to do:

Mark Twain's Hammond typewriter, Jerry J. Davis photo

A Hammond typewriter that once belonged to Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain. Photographed by Jerry J. Davis, in an unstated location, probably Hannibal, Missouri

Other photos of Twain’s typewriter must exist; and since we know of at least two such machines, there must be some photos of each of them, no?  I wish museums and historians would consider the value of images of some of these objects, and make high quality photos of some of these famous machines.

Twain’s fascination with technology shines clearly in his work.  From his earliest writings we get lyrical and accurate descriptions of the mechanical workings of Mississippi riverboats, for one example.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court paints a long paean to technology of the late 19th century, transplanted in the tale several centuries earlier.

Some accounts claim The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be the first manuscript completed by typewriter — this one, perhaps? TwainQuotes.com features what may be a description of this history:

…I will now claim — until dispossessed — that I was the first person in the world to apply the typewriter to literature…The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects — devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or two I found that it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells…He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.

- “The First Writing Machines”

As a publisher and investor, Twain pushed the development of automated typesetting machines to quickly publish the memoirs of former President Ulysses S Grant.  Though the books were set quickly, and the best-selling memoirs provided an income for Grant’s widow, the technology was still balky and cost Twain his own fortune.

Mark Twain's Hammond typewriter - TwainQuotes.com

Twain’s Hammond at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. Image from TwainQuotes.com. Is this the same machine pictured above? There are similarities, but differences more than just the angle.

We shouldn’t be surprised with his acerbic comments on the machines; Twain’s caustic humor targeted everything in modern life.  TwainQuotes.com notes a fraction of a letter to his longtime friend:  Twain’s Hammond at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. Image from TwainQuotes.com

The machine is at Bliss’s, grimly pursuing its appointed mission, slowly & implacably rotting away at another man’s chances for salvation.

I have sent Bliss word not to donate it to a charity (though it is a pity to fool away a chance to do a charity an ill turn), but to let me know when he has got his dose, because I’ve got another candidate for damnation. You just wait a couple of weeks & if you don’t see the TypeWriter coming tilting along toward Cambridge with the raging hell of an unsatisfied appetite in its eye, I lose my guess.

- Letter to William Dean Howells, 25 June 1875

Were things really so bad?

I regret to note that in our visit to Hannibal last June I did not encounter any typewriters.  Clearly, I’ll have to go back.

Tip of the old scrub brush to OObjects.

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Rachel Carson biography, On a Farther Shore, one of best books of 2012

December 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews listed as one of 2012’s top 25 books William Souder’s biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore.

William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore. MPR  image

William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore. Minnesota Public Radio image

Rachel Carson often gets credit for starting the modern environmental movement.  In highly cynical political times, Carson is under cruel smear attack from people who wish the environmental movement did not exist, and who appear to think that we could poison Africa to prosperity if only we’d use enough DDT, contrary to all scientific work and medical opinion.

Souder’s book, issued on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carson’s best-known book, Silent Spring, lays out the facts.

Nice to see that book lovers like Souder’s work, too.  Carson’s work was painstakingly accurate as science, but also a wonderful read.  Silent Spring has a larger following among lovers of literature than science, a tribute to her writing ability.  Souder’s book plows both veins, science and writing.

Cover of On a Farther Shore, by William Souder

Cover of On a Farther Shore, by William Souder

In circles serious about science, the environment, human health, and literature, Souder’s book is the book of the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring.  There is irony there.  Pesticide manufacturers mounted a campaign against Silent Spring and Rachel Carson calculated to have cost $500,000 in 1962, when that book was published.  Souder’s book fights propaganda from Astro-turf™ organizations like Africa Fighting Malaria, a pro-DDT group that collects money from chemical manufacturers and anti-environmental political sources for a propaganda campaign that costs well over $500,000/year.  Despite all the paid-shill shouting against Rachel Carson and her work, it is the voice of On a Farther Shore that stands out.

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Twain aboard ship – 1896 photo, 1897 etching

December 1, 2012

One of my favorite images of Mark Twain I found several years ago.  It’s a photograph of Twain, with a genuine smile of some contentment, seated in a deck chair on a ship, feet on the rail, gazing out to sea.

Correspondent J. A. Higginbotham tracked down the origin of the photograph through the Gutenberg Project, and found a nice etching from the photograph at twainquotes.com, with sleuthing by Barbara Schmidt, the curator of that site.

Here’s the photo, from the Gutenberg Project’s version of the 1898 American Publishing Company edition of Following the Equator:

Mark Twain, aboard ship, 1896; photo by Walter G. Chase of Boston

Mark Twain, aboard ship in 1896. Photo by Walter G. Chase, of Boston. This photo provided the frontispiece for the 1898 American Publishing Company edition of Following the Equator.

Who was Walter Chase?  So far as I have found, he was a Boston-based photographer.

Samuel L. Clemens, the man behind Mark Twain, undertook a world-wide speaking tour, to restore his fortune after bankruptcy, and to take his mind off the death of his daughter Susy, in August 1896.  At the same time, there was demand for newspaper columns and books on travel.  The resulting book, Following the Equator in the U.S., ended the series of travelogues Twain wrote.  Columns and the book covered his and his family’s adventures in 1896 and 1897; this photo must have originated in late 1896, in the early part of the tour.  We know from Chapter 1 that the land part of the trip, by train, “westward out of New York,” took 40 days.  Twain wrote that it took seven days to get to Hawaii.  We might be safe in saying the photograph shows him gazing at the Pacific.

Without knowing more, we might be tantalized by the prospect that Chase accompanied Twain on much of this tour, and took other photographs.  Twain wrote about games played among the travelers aboard ship, with notes indicating a key player was someone named “Chase.”  We have a photo of Twain posing for a sculptor in Vienna, from this trip. Somewhere, there may be a trunk of photographs . . .

According to Barbara Schmidt’s sleuthing, William Henry Warren Bicknell created the etching from the photograph, for the 1899 uniform edition of Following the Equator.  Bicknell was one of several illustrators used, including Boy Scout founder Daniel Beard.

Mark Twain in the Pacific, etching by W. H. W. Bicknell, from 1896 photograph by Walter G. Chase,

W. H. W. Bicknell’s etching from the 1896 Walter G. Chase photograph of Mark Twain, aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean.

Schmidt uses a colored version of the etching on her website’s own frontispiece.  No doubt she describes it in more detail, but I have not found that description.

A color version of an etching of Mark Twain, based on Chase's 1896 photograph.  Image via twainquotes.com, Barbara Schmidt's site.

A color version of an etching of Mark Twain, based on Chase’s 1896 photograph. Image via twainquotes.com, Barbara Schmidt’s site.

A fitting way to end a day of commemorating Mark Twain’s birthday, to discover the origins of one of my favorite images of the man.

New question:  With the exception of the color image, each version includes Twain’s autograph, “Be good & you will be lonesome,” with his signature.  Was this an autograph done solely for the book, or was it an autograph to the publisher, editor, or photographer?

Tip of the old scrub brush to correspondent J. A. Higginbotham.

More:

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – Another, earlier image of Twain, origins to sleuth down!


Birthday of Twain and Churchill: Happy Whiskey and Cigar Day 2012!

November 30, 2012

Mark Twain, afloat

Mark Twain aboard a ship, somewhere. Place and photographer unknown (at least to MFB). Young Samuel Clemens apprenticed to be a Mississippi river boat pilot, and held a fascination for water-going vessels his entire life. His pilot years are documented, and analyzed, in Life on the Mississippi.

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

In 2012, we have the benefit of having had a couple of years to digest Twain’s Autobiography, and we have the benefit of new scholarship and a major new book on Churchill, William Manchester’s and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion.

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

- Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow; Twain did not win a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win, in 1953.

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine. Churchill’s career was built much on his work as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he took in 1911.  While he was the goat of the Battle of the Dardanelles (and had to resign as a result), his earlier work to switch Britain’s Navy to oil power from coal, and to use airplanes in combat, kept the British Navy as an important and modern military organization through World War II.

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both of them rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember, or doesn’t know, who actually said it.

Both men are worth study. And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, in The World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49. (Obviously, and sadly, Churchill was wrong — twice wrong.)

Image of Twain aboard ship – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

Yeah, mostly this is an encore post from past years.

More, contemporary reports from 2012:


Ready for November 30? Humidor set? Liquor stocked?

November 29, 2012

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens), and of Winston Spencer Churchill.

A good study of American history could be achieved merely in studying the chronicle of the lives of these two men, even though Churchill was British.  A good study of American history, or world history, cannot be had without familiarity with both of them, and why they are important.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the &qu...

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the “Victory” sign to crowds in London on Victory in Europe Day. Wikipedia image

Both were writers, of travelogues and geographical romps, of history, though Twain is chiefly known as a fiction writer.  Both were great humorists, often funny, often sharply witty with bon-mots that shone a highlight on some human foible or forgotten-but-shouldn’t-be point of history.

Both of them loved good whiskey, and a good cigar.

(I should have more to say about each of these men, especially having visited with Churchill in Wisconsin, Fulton, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., and with Twain in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., in the past few months.  But I also will attend a funeral for a friend, and I will get a good night’s sleep; get a shot of whiskey, a good cigar if your cardiologist lets you have one on occasion, and toast them whether I write any more or not.)

So, how will you celebrate the anniversary of the births of Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, on November 30?

I wonder how they celebrate in Hannibal, and in Fulton?

Twain in Old Crow ad

Mark Twain was featured in an ad for Old Crow Whiskey, unknown year. Twain wrote, “Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.” (Autograph inscription in album to Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, reported in The Washington Post, June 11, 1881)

More:


Two Alcotts, and the Concord transcendentalists – November 29

November 29, 2012

April is the cruelest month, and November the most disagreeable.

Students of literature might recognize something in that sentence.

English: Headshot of Louisa May Alcott (Novemb...

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888), American novelist, at age 20 – image from Wikipedia

Interesting coincidence:  Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832; her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was born on November 29, 33 years earlier.

Do high school literature students find them interesting, even? Or do the students learn about transcendentalism only because they know “it’s on the test?”

American Memory at the Library of Congress holds history for each day of the year.  The entry for November 29 notes and chronicles the dual births of the Alcotts, and discusses the transcendentalist movement — with a lot of good links for teachers or students.

My hope is that more teachers of history will use more literature in their courses.  While Texas standards on history say little about transcendentalism, the reality is that it is difficult to understand America and its development from 1800 to the Civil War, without understanding transcendentalism.  Would America have gone to war over slavery and states rights, but for this movement in literature and social theory?

What can students learn about life in America from reading the Alcotts’ books?

Cribbed entirely from the American Memory LOC site, this is a self-contained literature and history unit by itself [links in the text all from the good people at the Library of Congress]:

English: Photograph of American educator and p...

American educator and philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), father of the literary Alcott girls. From the NYPL Digital Gallery via Wikipedia

Daughter of the Transcendentalists

“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

“That’s the reason I was born in it,” observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

“If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month,” said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.

“I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this family,” said Meg, who was out of sorts….

“My patience, how blue we are!” cried Jo…. “Oh, don’t I wish I could manage things for you as I do for my heroines!…I’d have some rich relation leave you a fortune unexpectedly….”

“Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all. Just wait ten years, and see if we don’t,” said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud pies, as Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and faces.   Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Chapter 15

Louisa May Alcott, the second daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott, teacher and transcendentalist philosopher, and Abigail May, social worker and reformer, was born in the “disagreeable month” of November, just like her literary creation Jo March, the rambunctious heroine of Little Women.

On November 29, 1832, Amos Bronson Alcott wrote his mother of his joy in “the birth of a second daughter on my own birth-day.” Convinced of the importance of early childhood, Bronson Alcott continued to keep a regular journal of each of his four daughters’ growth and activities. Shortly before her second birthday, Louisa’s father wrote of her:

Louisa…manifests uncommon activity and force of mind at present…by force of will and practical talent, [she] realizes all that she conceives.…Bronson Alcott, November 5, 1834.
The Journals of Bronson Alcott, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1938), page 47.

During Louisa’s early years, her father’s innovative Temple School in Boston failed, as did the family’s experiment with communal living with a group of transcendentalist mystics at Fruitlands, an early eighteenth-century farmhouse.

A happier time began after the family settled at Hillside House, later Nathaniel Hawthorne’s residence, which he renamed the Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts. There, the Alcotts found a sympathetic community and like-minded friends. Louisa and her sisters were always welcome to participate in the conversations of the poets, philosophers, and reformers that made up their parents’ circle.

Bridge surrounded by trees
The Old Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts, 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

The Alcott girls enjoyed the natural beauty of Concord, boating on the river, ice skating on Walden Pond, and running free in the surrounding fields and woods. Henry David Thoreau was one of Louisa’s instructors when she was a young girl. In one of his fanciful lessons, he taught her that a cobweb was a “handkerchief dropped by a fairy.” As a teenager, Louisa enjoyed borrowing books from Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s collection and delighted in conversing with the “sage of Concord.”

For the most part, the Alcotts taught their daughters at home. Daily journal-keeping formed a significant part of the home curriculum. Louisa and her sisters each wrote a weekly journal in which they recorded family events and published their literary and artistic endeavors. The girls and their neighbors formed a dramatic society, and the Hillside barn became the local theater where they performed the Louisa’s melodramatic plays.

Although their home and community life was rich, the family remained financially impoverished. Of necessity, all family members pitched in to support the family, with the daughters working as teachers, companions, and domestics. Besides their paid labors, they contributed their time and talents to the abolition movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and to the relief of those poorer than themselves.

Louisa resolved early on to earn money to relieve the hardship of her mother’s life. Gradually, she began earning a reliable income from stories and sketches published in and from dime-novel thrillers, including published under the pseudonym “A. M. Barnard.” Her first book of stories, , was published in 1855.

View of a hospital ward
Patients in Ward K of Armory Square Hospital,
Washington, D.C.,
August, 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865

During the Civil War, Louisa served as a nurse at a Union Army hospital in Washington, D.C. There, she kept careful journals which she published later as Hospital Sketches. A severe bout of typhoid fever brought her home to Concord an invalid. It is thought that she was treated with mercury for her fever, as were many others who became ill during this period. Mercury poisoning was apparently the cause of the slow debilitation that led to her death twenty years later.

In 1868, at the suggestion of her publisher, Louisa wrote a “story for girls” that was to bring her lasting fame, Little Women; or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, based on the experiences of her own family. Little Women was an immediate success. It was followed the next year by a second volume with the same title, subtitled, “Part Second,” and in subsequent years, by two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

During the 1870s, Alcott and her mother were deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement, canvassing door-to-door encouraging women to register to vote. In 1879, Louisa registered as the first woman to vote in the Concord school committee election.

Suffragette in a group of men
Help Us to Win the Vote, 1914.
By Popular Demand: “Votes for Women” Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

Louisa’s later years were financially secure and her family was able to live comfortably and pursue their many intellectual and artistic interests at their second home in Concord, Orchard House. Her last years, however, were shadowed by the deaths of two of her sisters and her brother-in-law. As the sole support of her parents, sisters, and her nephews and niece, she became overburdened with work and ill health. Louisa May Alcott died, two days after her father, on March 6, 1888, at the age of fifty-six.

House nestled in an orchard
The Orchard House, Concord, Home of the Alcotts,
Concord, Massachusetts, 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Father of the “Little Women”

Woman…is helping herself to secure her place in a better spirit and manner than any we [men] can suggest or devise,…it becomes us to take, rather than proffer Consels [sic], readily waiting to learn her wishes and aims, as she has so long and so patiently deferred to us.Letter from A. Bronson Alcott to Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Concord, Massachusetts, May 4, 1869.
The Letters of A. Bronson Alcott (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1969), p. 471.

On November 29, 1799, Amos Bronson Alcott, educator, philosopher of American Transcendentalism, and father of the original “Little Women”—Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May Alcott—was born in Wolcott, Connecticut. The son of a poor flax farmer, Alcott was almost completely self-educated. As a young man, Alcott worked as a peddler, handyman, and gardener, pursuing a self-selected course of readings in English and German literature and philosophy.

In 1830, Alcott journeyed to Boston to attend a series of lectures on abolition. There he met Samuel Joseph May, Unitarian minister, and his sister Abigail “Abba” May, a teacher and social worker. On May 23, 1830, Alcott and Abba May were married. During the next several years, the Alcotts were forced to move several times, as Bronson’s experimental schools were abandoned as financially unsuccessful.

During this period, the couple’s four daughters were born and Alcott continued to develop his lifelong habit of journal-writing, chronicling the daily events in the development of his children. At the basis of his educational theory was his belief that “early education is the enduring power” in the formation of the imagination and moral life of the human being.

Exterior of Tremont Temple
Tremont Temple,
Boston, Massachusetts,
c 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

On September 22, 1834, Alcott opened his famous Temple School, located in the Masonic Temple on Tremont Street in Boston, where he put into effect many of his innovative educational theories. His assistant, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, who went on to found the first kindergarten in the United States, published the plan of the school the next year in her book Record of a School.

Alcott believed that learning should be a pleasant experience for children, and that the classroom environment should be beautiful. He built the classroom furniture himself and allowed the children to decorate the room with pictures and plants and to arrange their desks in a manner pleasing to themselves.

Alcott emphasized the cultivation of the virtues of self-discipline, self-expression, and charity. A form of democratic classroom government was instituted. His curriculum included physical education, dance, art, music, nature study, and daily journal-writing. He acquired a juvenile library and also encouraged the children to read classic adult works such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

The school was, at first, very successful, and attracted a number of well-connected students. However, Alcott’s inability to compromise on his ideals eventually led to its failure as well. In 1835, the last remaining pupils were withdrawn from the school due to Alcott’s insistence on permitting the attendance of a black child.

Exterior of a house
Wayside, the Home of Hawthorne, Concord, Massachusetts, [formerly Hillside, home of the Alcotts], c1901.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

With the financial assistance of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts moved to Hillside House in Concord, Massachusetts. Emerson also paid for Alcott’s trip to England to visit a school founded upon his theories. Alcott returned with a new friend, Charles Lane, a mystic transcendentalist, with whom he embarked on a new experiment, that of communal living at the farm they purchased, Fruitlands, an early eighteenth-century farmhouse.

The experiment in communal living was Alcott’s least successful adventure and proved a great hardship to his wife and children. The experience was later satirized by his daughter Louisa in her story, “Transcendental Wild Oats.” After the farm’s complete failure, the Alcotts returned to Concord, where the family renewed congenial friendships and developed a happy family life, in spite of their constant struggle with poverty.

I have had some faithful readings, during these January days—all of Carlyle including his translations—all of Goethe that came within my reach…. I have found refreshment, too, in Conversing with some little Children who pass the day in my study.… there is begotten in me the liveliest sense of my…duty of Teaching again.A. Bronson Alcott, Letter to Charles Lane, January 1846,
The Letters of A. Bronson Alcott, (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1969), 124.

A path into a grove of trees
Path to School of Philosophy,
Concord, Massachusetts,
c[between 1910-20].
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Always notable for his humility, modesty, and his serene and happy spirit, Alcott continued to develop his educational ideas, teaching his children at home, and giving occasional “conversations.” These talks were directed parlor seminars in which he led a Socratic form of dialogue, in return for a small stipend. Eventually, Alcott’s seminars gained a popular following. They were especially well-attended on his tours in the West.

Exterior of the School of Philosophy
School of Philosophy,
Concord, Massachusetts,
c[between 1910-20].
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In his later years, Alcott’s daughter Louisa’s financial success as a writer enabled the family to purchase not only necessities, but a few luxuries as well. The family moved to Orchard House where Alcott established the Concord Summer School of Philosophy in a converted barn on the property. Alcott’s School of Philosophy was a gathering center for the Transcendentalists and flourished until shortly after his death in 1888.

Discover more about Alcott and the Concord Transcendentalists in American Memory:

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Poems for an American election day

November 5, 2012

Do you get the newsletter from the Academy of American Poets?

"The Avenue in the Rain," oil on can...

“The Avenue in the Rain,” oil on canvas, by the American painter Childe Hassam. 42 in. x 22.25 in. Courtesy of The White House Collection, The White House, Washington, D. C. Image courtesy of The Athenaeum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday’s newsletter included this list:

Poems of American Experience

People in some states complain that the liquor stores and bars won’t open on election day.  So, try the next best thing, or the better thing, and read some poetry.

What works of poetry, or literature, or visual arts, strike you as appropriate for the U.S. election day?  Which works would be most useful in school classrooms, to teach our young people about voting, how to vote, and why it’s important?

More:

 


Still quote of the moment, one more time: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

August 21, 2012

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 – Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here in February 2011, and August 2011.

800px-Martin_Niemoeller


August 13, 1923: Hemingway’s first book

August 13, 2012

Cover to Hemingway's "Three Stories and Ten Poems," published August 13, 1923 - Wikipedia image

Cover to Hemingway’s Three Stories and Ten Poems, published August 13, 1923 – Wikipedia image, from University of Delaware

Do you subscribe to Today in Literature?  Perhaps you should.  Today we learn:

On this day [August 13] in 1923 Ernest Hemingway published his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems. This was an edition of 300 copies, put out by friend and fellow expatriate, the writer — publisher Robert McAlmon. Both had arrived in Paris in 1921, Hemingway an unpublished twenty-two-year-old journalist with a recent bride, a handful of letters of introduction provided by Sherwood Anderson, and a clear imperative: “All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

More about Hemingway, much more about literature, at Today in Literature.

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Quote of the moment: Hemingway, writers need “shock-proof, [excrement] detector”

July 30, 2012

Ernest Hemingway and cat Cristobal, Cuba; JFK Library collection

Ernest Hemingway with his cat, Cristobal, at his home, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.  Date unknown (circa 1955?) Photo from Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. (Copyright status unknown)

Was Ernest Hemingway the greatest writer in English of the 20th century?  Fortunately we don’t have to choose.  We can read Hemingway, and Faulkner (with whom he had a few bones to pick), and Hammett, and Parker, and Feynman, and Vonnegut, Bellow, Morrison, dos Passos,  Shaw, Kipling, Ford, Conrad and a dozen more, enjoying each for the gifts she or he demonstrated so well on a page.

Any way you stack it, though, Hemingway was a great one.

In an interview with George Plimpton, published in the Paris Review in 1958, Hemingway talked about what it takes to be a great writer.  Maybe it’s something one needs to be born with:

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.

If we could make a machine to substitute for that, a solid-gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector, we could improve writing, politics, government, business, and a hundred other fields of endeavor.

If we had a just and appropriately skeptical world, everyone would have one, a “solid gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector.”

What an enormous If.

Also at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


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