Ulysses S. Grant: triumphs, defeats, and a final conquering
Ulysses S. Grant lived a life of devastating defeats and mind-boggling triumphs. As such, he gives biographers a rich mine of material to work with. The latest biographer, Ron Chernow, seems to have done fairly with the material of Grant’s life, according to the book’s critics.
One such critic is David Blight, an American History prof at Yale University who in a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, The Silent Type, writes of Grant:
In the end, he ruthlessly crushed the experiment of the Confederacy and became a national hero. He has variously been considered a military icon who won a total victory; a presidential model for overcoming his own considerable flaws and a tragic weakness for scoundrels to achieve fame and glory; a literary phenomenon who crafted the most famous deathbed writing in American letters; and a celebrity who was a paragon of humility and modesty.
And he writes of Chernow’s book:
Chernow is one of Grant’s affectionate biographers: it is hard not to love a soldier on the right side of a just war who drinks too much, smells perpetually of cigars, rarely wears uniforms of his rank, is expressionless and tough, and who, as Lincoln put it about his military leadership, “makes things git!” Chernow gives us a troubled, humble warrior, a man lost and yet found through amazing feats if not grace.
Blight saves his highest praise in his essay for The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition, edited by John F. Marszalek, with David S. Nolen and Louie P. Gallo (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 784 pp.) Of that volume, he writes:
. . . John F. Marszalek, and his colleagues at the Grant Papers at Mississippi State University have brought together a wealth of helpful information for all future readers and researchers on Grant, his two wars, and his era. The notes are a scholarly achievement, and they could have helped Chernow craft part of his military narrative. Grant probed deeply into his memory and his documents while enduring unbearable pain from throat cancer, which rendered him near the end unable to speak or eat. He settled a few scores, put a few myths to rest, described campaigns and battles with his distinctive clarity, defended himself, hid many elements of his life, and told his favorite stories with an abiding humility.
I have written before about Grant and the writing of his memoirs at the end of his life. It was indeed a triumphal way to exit this existence.
7 errors grammar checkers usually miss
If you use an electronic grammar checker to help you with your writing, this is a good list: 7 Errors Grammar Checkers Miss | Alliance of Independent Authors: Self-Publishing Advice Center.
The seven errors: cliches, homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently), redundancies, readability scores, repeated words and phrases, sentence length, and vague words.
And, as a former writing teacher, I can’t resist adding to the writing no-nos list: word inefficiency – using too many words. Edit, edit, edit. Look for words and phrases and see what you can cut without losing information or meaning.
Solon – an ancient sage and a synonym
If you read the quotations from the speeches of John F. Kennedy in my post about them or in last week’s newsletter, you might remember one of his references to someone named Solon, whom he identified as an Athenian lawmaker.
Solon (638-558 BC) was more than that. He is listed as one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity.
Solon was indeed a lawmaker, but he is credited with many of the ideas and law that established Athenian democracy. Solon proposed a number of reforms that generally expanded the government to include more than a few elites. He also had ideas about economic reforms that would be of benefit to the general public.
Solon was a poet who was concerned about the greed, arrogance, and general moral decay of the Athenian citizenry. He also formalized sexual mores of his time.
I first encountered the word “solon” early in my journalistic career. Headline writers, searching for a shorter word than “legislature” or “lawmaker” would sometimes use “solon” as a synonym. The problem was that newspaper readers did not know what this odd word meant, and thus confusion abounded. Solon became one of the words we were taught NOT to use in a headline.
Now that I know where the word originates, I think it said that we had to discontinue its use.
And more on the Seven Sages of Antiquity later.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Ulysses S. Grant (caricature)
I had a lot of fun doing this caricature and took some caricaturist’s license in some of the exaggerations, particularly the beard. Also, I’ve never seen a picture of Grant in that kind of cap, although he was famous for dressing below his rank. I was inspired by some of the reading on Grant I had been doing this week. The pen-and-ink next to the item on Grant above was one of the preliminary drawings I did for this caricature.
Best quote of the week:
“Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.” Alfred Whitney Griswold (1906-1963), historian and president of Yale University, 1959.
Helping those in need
This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 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: Louisa May Alcott, The Times of London, Dostoyevsky, and a few presidents here and there: newsletter, June 1, 2018
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