Lincoln-Douglas debate, every word; the art of Beatrix Potter; future of English; newsletter, Aug. 30, 2018

September 3, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,136) on August 30, 2018

In the past few days, we’ve noted the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein‘s birth and the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter’s books (September 1, 1998). Rowling is the literary phenomenon of this generation, producing literature that set off games, fashion trends, and a new set of terms for the language.

All of which leads me to this: I recently ran across a reference to an author who was described as the J.K. Rowling of the late 19th century. I’ll have more to say about her and the extra-literary phenomena that she inspired in an upcoming newsletter.

Meanwhile, 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.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates, every word. How did that happen?

When political upstart Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic stalwart, for his U.S. Senate seat in Illinois in 1858, the campaign resulted in the Lincoln-Douglas debates — seven meetings of the candidates that became the most famous discussion in American political history. The first debate occurred in Ottawa, Illinois, on August 21, 1858, almost exactly 160 years ago.

Two days after that debate, newspaper readers were able to read almost every word that was uttered during those three hours that were given to each of the debates.

With no modern recording devices at hand for journalists to use, how did this happen?

The answer lies with three now-forgotten journalists: Robert Roberts Hitt (The Chicago Press and Tribune), and Henry Binmore, and James Sheridan (The Chicago Times). They were the pioneers of a new method of reporting called “phonographic reporting,” according to historian Harold Holzer, who edited and wrote the introduction for The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text.

In other words, the reporters used short-hand. Both sides set up a system whereby the reporters’ short-hand could be transcribed and published as quickly as possible after each debate. Holzer writes:

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were the first sustained political encounter to inspire so-called “phonographic” reporting, and in this milestone lay the key to their early and enduring fame, as well as their ultimate distortion. (p. 10)

Holzer gives credit to the reporters for being thoroughly professional and noting what Lincoln and Douglas said as best they could. But the readers of the Press and Tribune, a Republican (Lincoln) newspaper, often read a different version of the speeches from those printed in the Times and other Democratic (Douglas) newspapers. That’s because the partisanship of the editors led them to clean up the language and syntax of the candidate they favored and to leave intact the garbled ramblings of their opponent. Their actions set off a century-and-a-half debate among scholars about who said what and how it was said.

In truth, neither candidate filled the air with profound truths or soaring rhetoric, and reading through the speeches today is a hard slog. It is better to read about the debates than to read the debates themselves.

Still, we have three journalists to thank for creating a near-perfect record of this most important event in the life of the Republic.


Warming a beekeeper’s heart: Bees Swarm Times Square Hot Dog Stand 

Thousands of bees landed on the umbrella of a hotdog stand in Times Square, New York City, this week. It was enough to warm a beekeeper’s heart.

And who should come to the rescue but one of the Boys in Blue, a member of the New York City’s beekeeping squad.

The man of the hour was Officer Michael Lauriano, one of the Police Department’s beekeepers, who sucked up the insects with a large vacuum cleaner as a crowd of tourists craned their necks to see. The swarm briefly captivated Twitter in New York City, but such incidents are common enough that the Police Department keeps beekeepers on hand, who have their own verified Twitter page. Source: Bees Swarm Times Square Hot Dog Stand – The New York Times

Hives of bees are not uncommon in large urban areas such as the Big Apple.

And where you have hives, you’re bound to have swarms. That’s what bees do. Among apiarists, the term is “casting swarms.” That’s how bees reproduce.

Swarms are more likely to occur in the spring rather than late summer, but they are not unknown during this time of year. The weather has been unseasonably warm in the city.

Bees in a swarm are usually not aggressive and unlikely to sting unless provoked. The best thing to do is stay out of their way and observe one of the great miracles of nature.


Giveaways and offers

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


The scientific contributions and botanical art of Beatrix Potter

All the world knows Beatrix Potter as the author of the Peter Rabbit stories.

Some of the world knows that Potter also illustrated those stories. Probably even fewer people know that Potter was a scientist and a scientific artist, and her specialty was mushrooms.

As Maria Popova of BrainPickings writes:

. . . no aspect of Potter’s kaleidoscopic genius is more fascinating than her vastly underappreciated contribution to science and natural history, which comes to life in Linda Lear’s altogether magnificent Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature . . . — by far the best book on Potter and one of the finest biographies ever written . . . The little-known scientific contributions and mushroom drawings of “Peter Rabbit” creator Beatrix Potter

As a 30-year-old woman, Potter tried to break through the Victorian-age social norms that precluded a female from being considered adequate as a scientist. She even wrote a scientific paper on mushrooms but in 1897 was refused the opportunity to present it to London’s Linnean Society, the chief gathering of Victorian botanists, on the grounds that her ideas could not measure up to a male’s observations. Her drawings were dismissed out of hand.

Subsequent generations of scientists recognized the error and unfairness when, a century later, the Linnean Society issued an apology.

But Potter, undaunted, moved on. Four years later, in 1901, she self-published a book about four little rabbits. The next year, that book had morphed into The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which became a huge and enduring commercial success. She continued her writing and artwork, growing more famous and wealthy.

Her exquisite botanical drawings still exist, fortunately, and you can see some of them here, or take a look at Anne Stevenson Hobbs’ book The Art of Beatrix Potter.


BBC: The future of English in the U.S.?

A few weeks ago, I recommended an article where the writer claimed the English language was a “bully,” elbowing out other languages and dialects. While I don’t agree with the descriptor “bully,” I did think the writer made some interesting points and had a good take on the issue.

Here’s another article about the position of English in the world — and what effect it has on people (like me) who speak only English. Writer Bryon Lufkin, writing for the BBC website says:

. . . over the last century, the English language has been the currency of global trade and communications. A 2013 Harvard University report found that English skills and better income go hand-in-hand, and that they lead to a better quality of life. Adults and children all over the world spend years, and invest a lot of money, in studying English as a second language.

The problem for those of us who speak English from the cradle is that we forget how easy we have it. Source: BBC – Capital – What is the future of English in the US?

While most Americans have never felt a need to learn another language, the future may see something differed, Lufkin argues. The changing demographics of America will probably mean that there’s an economic and cultural advantage to those who have at least a passable understanding of something other than English.

Some companies have ramped up the search more than others – a full third of job openings posted by Bank of America in 2015, for example, were for bilingual workers who could speak languages like Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. The report noted that the fastest growth in bilingual listings were for “high prestige jobs” like financial managers, editors and industrial engineers.

Lufkin makes some other valid points that are worth considering.



Why do you buy books?
Last week’s newsletter referred to a roundup of surveys about why readers buy books, and I asked: Why do YOU buy a book? This elicited this response from Penny H.:
–Previous work
–Something catches my eye:
And this from Joy I.:
I often purchase a book so I can educate myself about a certain subject.
And this thoughtful comment from Tod W.:

I enjoyed your list of reasons one survey found why people buy books. The first three (1. The topic, subject, setting or style; 2. Read and enjoyed previous works by the author; 3. The book is available in the format I want) are not surprising. What is surprising are the low figures for seven through 17 (Recommendation by public figures and celebrities). I am not a bit surprised by #18 (Cover endorsements).

I resent space being used for various endorsements attributed to people whose names I generally don’t recognize. Endorsements don’t mean a hill of beans to many of us. I’d rather have a broader description of the story.

Regarding #7, reader book reviews, I don’t read them. If it’s a new (to me) author, it’s the thumbnail sketch or description that informs me about whether I’ll enjoy the book or not. Once I start reading, I’ve got to be hooked by the story by page ten; otherwise it gets deleted.

Thanks to everyone who had kind words to say about the dulcimers I showed in last week’s newsletter. I need to do a series of posts, with pictures, on how dulcimers are made. It’s not all that hard.

Self-publishing workshop at Blount County Public Library, Oct. 6, 2018

My duties and responsibilities as writer-in-residence at the Blount County Public Library (Maryville, Tennessee) continue to evolve. On the first Saturday of October, I will be offering a half-day workshop on getting started with self-publishing.

If you’re in the area and are interested in this topic, sign up here:

Here’s the description:

The workshop will be held Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Sharon Lawson Room. You will learn the basics of self-publishing in this half-day workshop conducted by Jim Stovall, the Blount County Public Library’s current writer-in-residence ( The workshop will cover everything you need to know about getting started in the world of independent publishing and how to make your book available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and other book-selling forums. Advance online registration is required as is a $10 registration fee which includes a box lunch from the library’s Bookmark Café. Lunch is not optional, and lunch order options are on the registration form below. Seating is limited to 30. For more details, call Adult Services (Reference Desk) at 865-273-1428 or 865-982-0981, option 3.

Remember, the $10 fee includes lunch!

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The Lincoln-Douglas debates (caricature)



Best quote of the week:

“There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.” Leo Tolstoy, author.

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: Dulcimer, Dorothy Parker, book buyers, and hot cities; newsletter, August 24, 2018



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