The timely deaths of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot; Sargent, the combat artist; a forgotten American we should remember: newsletter, Aug. 10, 2018

August 15, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,200) on August 3, 2018

A wide variety of responses to items in last week’s newsletter poured over the email transit this past week, and they have kept me busy with information, ideas, and points of view. I’ve included many in this week’s newsletter, and they are worth a few minutes of your time. Route 66 and the idea of the American Road continues to fascinate me and others, and you will see more about that in the coming weeks.

I promised a big woodworking announcement a couple of weeks ago, but I am going to hold off on that for another week. Meanwhile, tomato season is about finished on the farm, but we are still getting peas and a couple of other things. My gardening partner John has some beautiful sweet potato plants, and our hope is that he will share when the time comes.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week and are looking forward to a great weekend.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


John Pendleton Kennedy: Edgar Allan Poe’s guardian angel

John Pendleton Kennedy is a man who lived in the 1830s in Baltimore, and chances are, you have never heard of him. That’s okay, but without Kennedy, who acted as a lifeline — a literary guardian angel, if you will — you might never have heard of Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe lived a scant 40 years (1809-1849), and for most of that time he was unwell, usually physically and sometimes mentally. He was also poverty-stricken, constantly asking friends and family for support and constantly unable to lift himself out of his penurious state. And he constantly complained about it.

His life, in other words, was not a happy one; it was, rather, a series of low points.

One of those low points was in 1834 when Poe found himself in Baltimore but, as usual, without money or means. Poe was trying to make a living with his writing and having little success. He had managed to win a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for his story “MS. Found in a Bottle.” One of the editors of the publication was John P. Kennedy, who took an interest in the young writer and invited him to dinner.

Poe declined — for the very good reason that he had nothing to wear. He had one dark suit that he wore for all occasions, and that was the extent of his wardrobe. When Kennedy found this out, he sent him clothing and expanded his invitation. Poe could come to his house and dine at any time. Kennedy, a man of means,  even lent Poe a horse so he could get around an exercise.

Kennedy took his kindness to another important level. He wrote Poe a letter of introduction to Thomas Willis White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia, and recommended that he accept Poe’s articles. Poe sent White a story, which he promptly accepted. Thereupon, White and Poe entered a correspondence that so impressed White that he offered Poe a job as assistant editor of the journal in June 1835. Poe accepted and moved to Richmond.

Poe’s time in Richmond was not altogether a happy period for him, but his job did give him the stability and support to continue his writing. He later credited Kennedy with saving his life.

Kennedy got involved in politics and carved out a distinguished career for himself. He served as both a representative and Senator in the U.S. Congress and as Secretary of the Navy under President Millard Filmore. He led the effort to end slavery in Maryland and was instrumental in founding some of Maryland’s most important and longstanding institutions, such as St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the Peabody Library and Conservatory of Music (now part of Johns Hopkins University).

While in Congress in the 1840s, Kennedy was a strong advocate for the U.S. government investing in the telegraph and his efforts led to a $30,00 grant for its development.

In addition to his political and public service pursuits, Kennedy was also a novelist. His most famous work is Horse-Shoe Robinson, published in 1835, which delighted Washington Irving so much that he read parts of it aloud to his friends. Kennedy had a wide circle of literary friends that included Irving, Poe, William Makepeace Thackeray, and James Fennimore Cooper.

This remarkable man has been largely forgotten, but a new biography by Andrew Black (John Pendleton Kennedy: Early American Novelist, Whig Statesman, and Ardent Nationalist) has been published by the LSU Press. Let’s hope this gives him the attention he deserves.


Five Books: the best books on everything

Here’s a website for us bibliophiles who also love lists (and who doesn’t?): Five Books.

Here’s what it’s about in their own words:

We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.

This site has an archive of more than one thousand interviews, or five thousand book recommendations.

We publish at least two new interviews per week.

Source: Five Books | The best books on everything

I have looked at some of the lists and read some of the interviews. They’re fascinating on both counts.

The Five Books folks even invite you to create your own lists, which many of you will be able to do because of the genres you love. So, take a look, join up, and start on your list.


Giveaways and offers

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

Independence Day Celebration — Books about Freedom. This Instafreebie group giveaway has some fantastic books by an excellent group of independent authors (including . . . ahem . . . me). You will find something to add to your summer reading stack.


The deaths of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, foretold

When Agatha Christie was living in London during World War II, she wasn’t sure she was going to survive. The Blitz by the German air force had inflicted heavy damage on London’s capital city, and thousands of people had died. Christie believed she might eventually be among them.

She was famous, and so were her characters, Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. So, she did something odd.

She wrote a final book for each, one for each character, and in both books, the main character dies. Then Christie locked them away in a bank vault. One book was for her daughter; the other for her husband. In case she died during the Blitz,  each would have something of hers.

The books showed how much Christie has mastered her form and her characters. She did survive the war, of course, and she went on to write many more books about both Poirot and Marple. But she always knew how they would end.

Christie lived for more than 30 years after the war. Poirot lived for almost that long. His final mystery, Curtain, the one in which he dies, was published in 1975, about six months before Christie’s death in January 1976. When the book was published, Poirot was given a front-page obituary in the New York Times — the only obituary the Times has ever run of a literary character.

The final Jane Marple mystery, Sleeping Murder, came out a few months after Christie died.


John Singer Sargent, combat artist

In 1918, John Singer Sargent, 62, was a world-renowned artist, a man famous for his vision, technique, and talent. He could easily have turned down the request from the British government that he go to France and to produce a piece of artwork that would commemorate the alliance between Britain and America that would eventually end The Great War, now known as World War I.

But Sargent did not turn it down. He went to war.

Sargent had already been deeply affected by the war. In March 1918, a favorite niece had been killed in France from German shelling while working as a nurse. Her husband had died on the front a few months before that.

Sargent’s very public response to the war incorporated associations of his personal grief and loss. Months earlier, his beloved niece (and frequent model) Rose-Marie Ormond had been killed in the bombing of the church of Saint-Gervais in Paris on Good Friday. Only 24 years old at the time of her death, Rose-Marie had worked as a nurse treating blinded soldiers after her husband, Robert, died fighting for France in October 1914. Sargent likely associated the wounded soldiers in Gassed with her role in the war effort. Source: John Singer Sargent and World War I: Public Art and Personal Loss | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sargent spent several months at the front and found it deeply unsettling and unsatisfying as an artist. His commission was to paint a mural for a planned Imperial War Museum — a painting that would show the cooperation of the British and American forces in 1918. Sargent tried to fulfill that mission, but there was little that he saw that inspired him.

The landscapes were bleak, and as he got closer to the front — and the real drama of the war — the fewer people he saw. Sargent produced a number of oils and watercolors of merit — and he executed many sketches — but he finally abandoned the idea of depicting American and British troops together in some sort of heroic pose.

What Sargent decided to show instead was the universal suffering that the war had caused. The subject presented itself in the form of victims of a gas attack toward the end of his stay in France. Gas had been used as a weapon throughout the war, and its effects were well known to the public. Toward the end of his stay at the front, Sargent visited a medic station where gas victims were gathering. There he saw soldier being led in — unusually in groups of six — by an ordering; each soldier had a had on the soldier in front of him to stay with the group.

The scene impressed Sargent, and he did a number of drawings and studies on the spot and later that day.

The result was Gassed, a large, classical frieze composition showing a line of blindfolded soldiers as they make their way through the chaos of wounded and dying soldiers. The landscape is bleak, without many features.

The painting now hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London, the work of the Great War’s most famous combat artist.


A definition of retirement

Hal M., a friend of longstanding, a newsletter reader, and an all-around good guy, passed along this definition of retirement in an email exchange we had this week:

Retirement is when every evening is Friday night, and every day is Saturday.

Hal and I go all the way back to our high school days at Maplewood High School in the early 1960s. Hal played the trombone in Maplewood’s marching band, and I played the flute. Hal was a year ahead of me (Class of ’65), but his sister Susan was in my class (Class of ’66). Both Hal and Susan were good friends and two of the people who made high school so enjoyable. I never think of either of them without smiling.



Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone

Helen P.: I read the Moonstone as a required summer reading book for freshman year. That was back in the mid-60’s. To this day anytime a moonstone is mentioned, whether advertising jewelry or as adornments in a book, it gains my attention.

The decline of jury trials
Jim S.: I read your section on innocent people accepting a plea to a lesser crime to avoid being judged guilty of a greater one. There is an element in there that I would like to address. This element applies even though a person may be guilty. That element is the enormous cost of mounting a defense. I need to make a comment up front. I am in favor of police. My sister was a policewoman in Los Angeles, California, and I know she and those she worked with cared very much about the people they served. . . .
For the rest of Jim’s reaction — it’s a compelling story — check below the signature of this email.
The American Road

Brennan L.: I especially enjoyed your piece about the little motel on Route 66.  In 1950, my parents built a 10 unit motel on Highway 11 a few miles outside of Birmingham.  I have attached a picture of it.  The house had two front doors, one for our living room and one for the motel office, which was adjacent to our dinner table!  Because the great sovereign state of Alabama was late getting interstate highways, the motel enjoyed a number of years of success.  My folks finally sold it in 1978, several years after the interstate had bypassed our section of road. 
Does anyone else have any memories of U.S. Highway II?

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: John Pendleton Kennedy

Best quote of the week:

The world is changed not by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves. P.D. James, novelist (1920-2014)

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 ( my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), 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: The classic locked-door mystery in real life; more on Route 66; English as bully: newsletter, August 3, 2018



The remainder of the email sent by Jim. S. in reaction to last week’s item on the decline in the number of jury trials.

. . . 

One evening, a friend of mine was having tremendous difficulty going to sleep and he had to work the next day. He was still awake into the early hours of the morning. He felt he had to take something so he could sleep. He made the mistake, and admits it was a mistake, of taking two Ambiens rather than one. He did not think one would get him to sleep.

When his alarm sounded, he got up, dressed, had breakfast and left for work. He was so out of it he didn’t realize the complete fog he was in. He ran into a car. He tried to clear his head, but he was very woozy. He got out of his car and was standing unsteadily. A police officer came, took his arm and pulled on him. He didn’t know what was happening so he shook the hand off his arm. He was much bigger than the officer. The officer fell.

They took him to jail. He says he can’t remember getting up, getting ready and driving his car.

He was charged with trying to throw a police officer into traffic.

At his first trial, ten or twelve of us showed up in his defense, without him asking us. Although most of us did not know one another, we all had similar stories of how this man had a huge heart and would go out of his way and was willing to be inconvenienced to help another person. One story I related was about an evening he and I were playing a card game. A friend called who was having difficulty with his AC. We stopped the game and I went with him and watched him repair the AC. No charge of course. The others had similar stories of his selflessness.

He was sentenced to some jail time, which he served. Then he went to his probation trial. That judge was very pro-police. He found out before he went to court that he didn’t have a chance of a reduced probation, which, in my opinion, the extenuating circumstances should have provided. He spent thousands and thousands of dollars in his defense, to no avail. 

This is a little frightening. If I were to get into trouble, I do not have thousands of dollars to defend myself. The state has much more money and power to prosecute me.

I believe we have a good system of justice but the playing field in court needs to be leveled somehow, on both sides. It should not matter whether the defendant is a billionaire who can outspend the state or a pauper that the state can stomp on.

I’ve thought about this and I can only think of one solution. That is for the state to provide attorneys for both sides, as well as money for specialists to testify. Of course, there are problems with this solution. I know the billionaires would still hire their own attorneys to assist the defense lawyers the state provides. Also, the state might still side with the prosecution in providing a less qualified lawyer to the pauper.

Beyond this solution, I am out of ideas. The thought of being charged with something I didn’t do scares me. I don’t dwell on it because I am a very boring person and don’t foresee myself getting into trouble. However, if I did, there is no way for me to mount a defense. Guess I better stay out of trouble.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. Hmmm.

Blessings, Jim




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