Jean Ritchie and the dulcimer revival — and much more; your pet peeves about English

December 4, 2017 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter, Women writers and journalists.

This newsletter was sent to those on Jim’s email list (4,189) on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.


Last week’s entry about America’s first published poet, Anne Bradstreet, brought this from one of our newsletter readers, Robin K., who has done a good bit of genealogical research on her family:

I thought that name looked familiar – I’m into genealogy. Anne Bradstreet was my 10th great-grandmother on my mother’s side. And technically, there WERE no “Americans” before 1776 – at least that’s what the others I know who also work on genalogy say. Just my small “claim” to fame! 

Thanks, Robin.

OK, folks. Are the genealogists right? Were there no Americans before 1776?

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Jean Ritchie, First Lady of American folk music

If you have ever played, heard, or seen a dulcimer, you have Jean Ritchie to thank.

But the revival and expansion of knowledge about the dulcimer is only the beginning of the contributions this remarkable women made to American music and culture. For more than 60 years, Ritchie gave us her knowledge, understanding, and research of the music that came from Appalachia where she was born. Her beautiful singing voice and pitch-perfect demeanor on and off stage inspired thousands to fall in love with folk music and follow it back to its Scottish and Irish roots.

Ritchie left Kentucky in 1946 to work in a Lower East Side settlement house in New York City. She took along her dulcimer, a musical instrument that most people there had never seen, and a vast quantity of music that she had learned during her childhood. The instrument and the music struck a chord, literally and figuratively, with her New York audiences, and the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960 began in earnest.

Ritchie died in 2015 at the age of 92. Next Friday (Dec. 8) would have been her 95th birthday.

Read more about this extraordinary woman — and listen to some of her music — here on

True crime podcasts (continued): True Crime All the Time

True Crime All the Time is a podcast hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby.” Mostly, it’s these two guys talking, but they present some fascinating cases, and they are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. This podcast has a large and loyal following. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)

Here’s what else we’ve recommended so far:

Real Crime Profile was last week’s true crime podcast recommendation. The three hosts and heir discussions of criminal cases are riveting and insightful. The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)

Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”

Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. It was an hour well spent.

Do you have any true crime podcast recommendations to share with fellow readers

Misspelling can be expensive (continued); or Other Crimes Against English

Reader Robin K. (see above) writes:

I wanted to comment about from this week’s epistle – spelling. People rely completely in the automated spell check and don’t proofread. A word could be spelled correctly, but it’s the WRONG word – there, they’re and their for example. That’s one of my pet peeves. 

What’s your pet peeve about English, its use or misuse?


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.

More from The Devil’s Dictionary

More entries from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, these from the letter E:

EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

ELEGY, n. A composition in verse, in which, without employing any of the methods of humor, the writer aims to produce in the reader’s mind the dampest kind of dejection. The most famous English example begins somewhat like this:

The cur foretells the knell of parting day;

The loafing herd winds slowly o’re the lea;

The wise man homeward plods; I only stay

To fiddle-faddle in a minor key.

(Note: This is, of course, a take-off on Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The real poem is included here below the signature of this email. Thanks to the Poetry Foundation,

EVANGELIST, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

You can get a free copy of The Devil’s Dictionary in a variety of formats through Project Gutenberg.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

My copy of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson arrived this week. (I purchased it from Amazon. The hardback book was less expensive than the Kindle version. Go figure.) I am going to give this well-reviewed book a very slow read, so it will probably carry me through the New Year. Just a few pages into the book, Isaacson makes a major point about Leonardo’s personality: He was insatiably curious. He wanted to know everything about everything.

I’ll keep you posted.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Jean Ritchie

Ritchie’s contributions to American music were enormous. This watercolor is part of my tribute to her. Read more about her on

Best quote of the week:

Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best. -Henry van Dyke, poet (10 Nov 1852-1933) 

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.Keep reading and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter



5-star review: I this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I loved this book! Its plot and characters are quite realistic. Having been a high school teacher I felt the voices of the teens were correctly written. It is a great read!

Kill the Quarterback

5-star review: I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by this author. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but I thought I would read a few pages and then bam! I was hooked! Excellent writing. Excellent story. I could not figure out whodunit and that’s the best kind of mystery. I can’t wait until the next book comes out!

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, 
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 
Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight, 
And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight, 
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r 
The moping owl does to the moon complain 
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r, 
Molest her ancient solitary reign. 
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, 
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, 
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn, 
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed, 
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn, 
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn, 
Or busy housewife ply her evening care: 
No children run to lisp their sire’s return, 
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. 
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, 
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; 
How jocund did they drive their team afield! 
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! 
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil, 
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile 
The short and simple annals of the poor. 
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, 
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, 
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour. 
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault, 
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise, 
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault 
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 
Can storied urn or animated bust 
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, 
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid 
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d, 
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre. 
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page 
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll; 
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage, 
And froze the genial current of the soul. 
Full many a gem of purest ray serene, 
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen, 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. 
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast 
The little tyrant of his fields withstood; 
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, 
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. 
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command, 
The threats of pain and ruin to despise, 
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land, 
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes, 
Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone 
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d; 
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne, 
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind, 
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide, 
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride 
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame. 
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, 
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life 
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 
Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect, 
Some frail memorial still erected nigh, 
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d, 
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse, 
The place of fame and elegy supply: 
And many a holy text around she strews, 
That teach the rustic moralist to die. 
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey, 
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, 
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day, 
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind? 
On some fond breast the parting soul relies, 
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries, 
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires. 
For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead 
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate; 
If chance, by lonely contemplation led, 
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, 
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, 
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn 
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away 
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 
“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech 
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, 
His listless length at noontide would he stretch, 
And pore upon the brook that babbles by. 
“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn, 
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove, 
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, 
Or craz’d with care, or cross’d in hopeless love. 
“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill, 
Along the heath and near his fav’rite tree; 
Another came; nor yet beside the rill, 
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; 
“The next with dirges due in sad array 
Slow thro’ the church-way path we saw him borne. 
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay, 
Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.” 
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth 
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, 
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere, 
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear, 
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend. 
No farther seek his merits to disclose, 
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 
(There they alike in trembling hope repose) 
The bosom of his Father and his God. 

Unsubscribe | 2126 Middlesettlements Road, Maryville, Tennessee 37801 

Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback

Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.

Powered by ConvertKit

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.