This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,381) on Friday, March 19, 2021.
The phrase “spring planting” denotes more than just an activity for me. It’s a season. Lots of things happen. Yes, I get to literally dig into my garden with unbounded ambition that should be tempered by experience — but rarely is. More importantly, “spring planting” means the earth undergoes this marvelous transformation from the solitary browns and grays of winter to the all-inclusive yellows and greens of a new season.
As I am doing my spring planting, I never fail to be impressed with what is happening around me. The hay in the pasture is turning green. The trees are leaving out with a bright hue that will last only a few days until the dust of the ground dulls it. The bushes on the fencerow are visibly gaining strength.
Nature is telling me that it’s a great time to be alive and that I’m lucky to be here. Wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: the great poetic influencer of the 19th century
Since the early 19th century, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), has remained one of the most honored, discussed, and beloved poems in all of English literature. (Here I am excluding the feelings of most high school sophomores who when faced with reading the poem find it daunting, dreary, and dense.)
The poem tells the story of an old sailor who is compelled, again and again, to relate the weird happenings that occurred on a long voyage when he was a young man. The poem contains a number of famous and quotable lines, most notably:
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The poem deals with many parts of the human condition, but one of the overarching themes is the power of a story to hold our attention, especially when told by a master storyteller. The setting of the poem occurs when the ancient mariner buttonholes a man on his way to a wedding. At first, the man tries to get away, but eventually, he is captured by the story the sailor is telling.
The story of how Coleridge came to write the poem and the way in which it defined the rest of his life is also interesting and instructive.
Coleridge was born in 1772 the 10th of 10 children, and his father died when Coleridge was just nine years old. Coleridge was sent to a boarding school in London and for the rest of his childhood was essentially cut off from his family. He rarely made visits home even during holidays. But he was a precocious child and an avid reader, and during his late teenage years, he secured a university place at Jesus College, Cambridge.
Coleridge loved poetry and wanted to be part of a new movement of poets that was forming toward the end of the 18th century in England. He befriended other young poets such as Robert Southey and Charles Lamb, and in 1796 he published his first volume of poems. He also attempted to edit and publish a new journal, the Watchman, but that attempt failed after only a few months.
In 1795, Coleridge met William Wordsworth, and they formed a friendship that would have profound effects on the lives and the poetry of both. At Wordsworth’s suggestion, they made plans to jointly write a long lyrical poem. Wordsworth was reading a book, A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726) by Captain George Shelvocke, and he suggested that as their inspiration. Coleridge jumped on the idea and began work, but Wordsworth, who was more interested in landscapes than the human condition, soon felt out of place in the project.
For Coleridge, however, the idea was exactly the one that he should be pursuing as a poet, and he did it with great vigor.
The poem was first published in 1798 in a book of poems, Lyrical Ballads, that contained works of both Wordsworth and Coleridge. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner appeared as the first and the longest poem in the book, and it was the one that received the most attention, much to Wordsworth’s annoyance. Most critics were confused or put off by the poem, but a few, such as Coleridge’s friend Charles Lamb, recognized its genius from the very beginning.
Coleridge was never satisfied with the poem and continued to revise it for the rest of his life. The poem grew in significance and influence as more and more people read it, thought about it, and were mesmerized by the poet’s mastery of the language and its poetic forms. Its expanse in terms of themes and ideas exerted a major influence on every significant British and American writer who came after its publication.
An excellent podcast on the poem can be found on the BBC’s long-running In Our Time here.
Many experts believe that the poem should be heard rather than read. LibriVox has several versions, including this one.
Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting
My latest literary and artistic efforts have come to fruition with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book is now in paperback and ebook form, but also accompanied by something else: a podcast series.
The book contains many caricatures and stories that you have seen and read in this newsletter, plus some that have not made it here yet.
The podcast is me talking about some of the people that I have written about and caricatures that I have drawn. The podcast can be heard almost anywhere that you can find podcasts (like here on Apple podcasts), and the podcast website is this: heads-and-tales.simplecast.com
This week’s episode is about G.K. Chesterton and his enormous genius
The book is currently on Amazon and can be accessed with this link: http://bit.ly/headsandtales.The book is on sale through February for $14.99, which is about 25 percent off of its intended price. The price will go up to $19.99 around the first of March. The ebook is $9.99.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Warren Hastings, the guy caught in the middle
What do the British East India Company and the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump have to do with each other?
To answer that question, we need to take a quick romp through 500 years of history with a short side trip to Boston. The man caught in the middle of all of this is a fellow named Warren Hastings, but we will get to him in a moment.
The British East India Company was formed in 1600. It was a group of investors who decided that there was money to be made in overseas trade, particularly in commodities such as salt, ivory, silk, spices, opium, and slavery. The company received generous monopoly powers from the British monarchy and returned a great deal of wealth and goods to government coffers and to English society.
But to do this, the company’s methods were often harsh, and as the power of the company grew, its methods of procuring trade and goods became increasingly unsavory. This was especially true on the Asian subcontinent of India. The company had formed and funded its own private army, and that army was often ruthless in subjugating the people it wanted to be its trading partners.
By the middle of the 18th century, there were growing doubts within the British government and throughout the British Empire – which included the American colonies – about the British East India Company and its methods. In America, there was a widespread and not unfounded fear that the British East India Company could do to Americans what it had done to the native peoples of India.
In the 1770s, one of the favors that the company had been granted by the British crown was something close to a monopoly on the importation of tea to America. It was to protest these conditions that a group of American patriots, supposedly disguised as Native Americans, boarded a ship loaded with British East India tea in 1773 and tossed the tea overboard. This incident we know today, of course, as the Boston Tea Party. It was as much of a protest against the British East India Company as it was against King George III.
One of the last great administrators of the British East India Company in India was a man named Warren Hastings. Unlike previous administrators, Hastings was genuinely interested in India and Indian culture. He learned the native language, and he preserved and used Sanskrit and Arabic texts. Where he could, Hastings attempted to minimize the conflict between the native inhabitants and the company. He also integrated native Indians into the administration of the company and the country. By most accounts, Hastings did what he could to govern India honestly and reasonably.
Hastings was not a perfect administrator, however. He used his position to enrich himself, something his predecessors had always done. And he made enemies. His chief antagonist was Philip Francis, a man with whom he had fought an inconclusive duel and someone who had influence in Parliament back in London.
The stories of the atrocities and other misuses of power had left a stench on the reputation of the company that Hastings could not avoid. Hastings resigned his position and returned to London in 1785. He expected he would be criticized but believed this criticism would die away. Philip Francis would not let it do so, and he had the ear of members of parliament such as Edmund Burke. By 1787 Hastings had been brought before Parliament on impeachment charges.
Impeachment was a rarely-used process, but the charges against Hastings gained a worldwide audience. Part of that audience was in America, which at that point was forming and debating a new constitution. Political leaders in America took a keen interest in what was happening in London.
One of the early issues the parliament dealt with was whether or not Hastings could be impeached in light of the fact that he had already left office. Parliament decided that Hastings could be impeached even after leaving office.
While the impeachment of Warren Hastings generated great excitement initially, that excitement died away because the trial lasted much longer than anyone had anticipated. Hastings was finally acquitted of all charges by the House of Lords in 1795.
Now, we fly over two centuries and land in 2021 with the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
Trump’s supporters argued that he should not be impeached because he had already left office. The prosecutors countered with the precedent set by the impeachment of Warren Hastings, and the trial continued. Although there was a bipartisan majority of senators who voted to find Trump guilty, that majority fell short of the two-thirds vote necessary for conviction.
From the archives: The practical, victorious, but less-than-glorious fight for women’s suffrage
This post appeared in the newsletter a couple of years ago. Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to re-post it before the month slips away from us.
We are entering a period when, for the next year or so, many Americans will be celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide.
The history of the ratification fight is often presented as glorious and ultimately victorious, a great confirmation that sometimes our political system can in fact get it right.
Casey Cep has an article in the New Yorker magazine that outlines and explains some of these details — particularly the attitude of most suffragists, who were white and middle-class, to the idea of including black women in their cause. They were, for the most part, against it.
. . . suffragists expressed pragmatic concerns that any federal enfranchisement would be seen by Southern states as an effort to undermine Jim Crow, the appallingly successful new strategy for preventing black men from exercising their rights. Suffs, as the women called themselves, had long disagreed about whether to pursue a national or a state-by-state strategy, in part because of the racism of some of their own white members, who opposed voting rights for African-Americans—not to mention Native Americans and, later, Asian-Americans—and so wanted individual states to determine for themselves who would, or, rather, would not, have the right to vote. Source: The Imperfect, Unfinished Work of Women’s Suffrage | The New Yorker
The suffragists of the time were being practical. To have embraced the rights of black women would have strangled their cause in its cradle, particularly in Southern states where Jim Crow laws had been carefully constructed to prevent black men from voting.
Suffragist leaders — Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, and many others — gave sugared assurances that granting them the right to vote would not necessarily mean black women had those same rights if states wanted to prevent it. They were accurate in their assessments as well as practical in their politics.
A few suffragists overcame the racism of the times and argued for truly universal suffrage. Prominent among them was Inez Milholland, a New York attorney who rode a white horse as the herald of the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, which set the suffrage movement onto its winning national strategy. Milholland was a member of the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Unfortunately, Milholland died in 1916 of pernicious anemia, and her influence on the movement was lost.
Cep’s article is an excellent summary of the events and issues that drove the ratification fight to its final battle in Nashville in 1920.
Pictured above: Inez Milholland about to set forth leading the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, which is the cover of my book on the event: Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effects on the American Political Landscape
Best quote of the week:
Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid. H.W. Fowler, lexicographer (1858-1933)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Spy novels with a dash of humor and irony, an advocated of racial equality in the 19th-century, and the results of denying readers: newsletter, March 12, 2021
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