Fighting poets, the public domain, the genius behind what you read as a kid, and the American cult of ignorance: newsletter, January 4, 2019

January 7, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,940) on Friday, January 4, 2019.


For me, the new year has seen the completion of at least one project, the continuation of several others, and the beginning of a new one. Here I’ll just talk about what’s been completed.

Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.

The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.

I hope that your new year has started well and that you have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,951 subscribers and had a 30.2 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed.

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 pugilistic poets of the 1840s: Poe and English come to blows

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote of Thomas Dunn English that he is “a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind in topics of literature.” This after they had once been friends — or at least on friendly terms (although some in the Poe camp dispute even that).

In the 1840s, English was a well-known poet, essayist, and editorialist. His most famous work is a poem titled, “Ben Bolt,” written in 1843 for the New York Mirror. It was a ballad that was later set to music by Nelson Kneass, and the first stanza is this:

Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile
And trembled with fear at your frown.

The song, and the phrase “Oh don’t you remember Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt” became one of the most widely popular and sung tunes of the 19th century. It was turned into a political tune at one point and was sung nightly on steamboats and other popular venues.

Poe and English fell out with each other in 1845 when Poe was asked by a woman to return letters that she had written to him that she believed contain indiscretions. Poe said he had returned the letters, and the story is that he asked English for a pistol to defend himself against the brother. English expressed some doubt that Poe was actually telling the truth about the letters and suggested that he make a public statement about the controversy. This infuriated Poe, and the two men came to blows with Poe later claiming that he administered to English  “a flogging which he will remember to the day of his death.”

English denied that, but no hatchets were buried. English wrote a prohibitionist novel titled 1844 or the Power of the S.F., in which he included a character named Marmaduke Hammerhead, the famous author of a poem The Black Crow. It was a clear parody of Poe. After the New York Mirror published a letter in 1846 about Poe by English, Poe sued for libel and won a $200 judgment.

The two highly-strung writers had several other literary confrontations, and the feud did not end with Poe’s death in 1949. English continued to jab at Poe even though he outlived Poe by more than 50 years.

Today we remember Poe and his body of work as being among the best of American literature, and few people know of Thomas Dunn English. His Ben Bolt, which captures the romantic longing of the age, is still sung and recorded. The entire poem is below the signature of this email.

Thousands of works entered the public domain this week

The intellectual property dam that has withheld thousands of copyrighted works — books, art, plays, films, etc. — from the public domain is about to burst.

It’s about time.

Copyright is a useful concept that helps protect an author or artist from having others benefit unduly from the work he or she has created. But a creative word is not just an object. It is an idea as well.

Because of that, the nation’s founds granted to Congress the right to set copyrights “for a limited time.” The obvious idea behind that phrase is that it would not be forever, and the hope was that the “limited time” would be reasonable.

Because of intense lobbying through the decades, that reasonable, limited time grew longer. It became unreasonable in 1998 when all copyrights were extended for 20 years. The extension was passed, for the most part, because the Disney corporation wanted to maintain its money-making control over its chief icon, Mickey Mouse.

That extension expires today, January 1, 2019, and the public will benefit enormously from the expiration. Thousands of works will come into the public domain, and entrepreneurs will be able to use them at will.

Yes, there will be some misuses. But there will be some creative uses that will add to our intellectual environment. The biggest misuse — the manipulation of copyright law to benefit corporations, stockholders, heirs, and estates — will finally come to an end.

You can read more about the specifics of this issue in these two articles:

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain – The Atlantic

New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out – The New York Times

Caricature: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Scott’s most famous book, The Great Gatsby, will lose its copyright protection in 2021 because of the expiration of this copyright extension.


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


Becoming George Eliot (part 2): the progress of Mary Anne Evans

When Mary Anne Evans published her first work under the pen name of George Eliot in 1856, there is no evidence that she ever planned to reveal her identity. She was successfully hiding behind the general rumor that George Eliot must be some country parson because the next of her writings, Scenes from a Clerical Life, captured the community life of the villages of England so well.

She had adopted the name of George Eliot because

— she didn’t want the reception of her writing to have to deal with the prejudices against women writers;

— she was living with a man who was married and not her husband;

— the essay where she first used George Eliot as a nom-de-plume was titled “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.”

If no one ever knew that George Eliot was really Mary Anne Evans, that was fine with Mary Anne. Her work would be judged on its merits, not on the gender of the authors. Anonymity and obscurity were preferable to fame and recognition.

But the outcome was predictable. Her work was well-received, and the reading public became curious about this “country parson.” Some who read it closely began to guess that it might not have been written by a man after all. Some of the speculation spilled into Mary Anne Evans’ lap. She was well known in London intellectual circles, and her writing style distinct.

Then, the unpredictable happened. A man, unknown to everyone, claimed to be George Eliot. After the publication of the novel Adam Bede in 1859 and its generally glowing reviews (which brought on more speculation about the author’s identity), Liggins announced that he was the author. To Evans’ consternation, he developed a following and even advocates among London’s literary elite. Word was seeping out from people who knew who the real author was, but Evans continued to issue denials for a time.

But the denials, in some sense, were just confirmation that Liggins was the real George Eliot, and Mary Anne (or Marian, as she preferred) could not have that. She finally admitted her identity and provided proof that she was who she said she was.

That admission caused some embarrassment and some hurt feelings on the part of friends to whom she had lied. All that was mitigated by the fact that in addition to her works being well reviewed, the books were selling well, and she was making money — more than she expected. The income over the next few years provided her and George Lewes, whom she referred to as her husband, the freedom to live where they wanted to live and to travel at will.

Eliot went on to produce an impressive body of work (Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda), and to emerge as one of England leading writers of the 19th century. About Middlemarch, Virginia Woolf famously said that it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-ups.”


Edward Stratemeyer, the genius behind the series you probably read as a kid

If you were a child in the 20th century, chances are that you owe a great deal to Edward Stratemeyer.

Chances are, too, that you have never heard of Edward Stratemeyer.

But as a young person, you probably did read books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Baseball Joe, the College Sports Series, the Bobbsey Twins or any number of other series of books. They were cheap, and they were accessible. They weren’t great literature, by any means, but they taught us to love stories and to love reading.

The genius behind all of these books was Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930), a New Jersey born writer who was creative, prolific, and first-in-his-class book producer and marketer.

As a teenager, Stratemeyer had his own printing press and understood the printing and distribution process intimately. He began writing stories then but didn’t sell his first story to a magazine until he was 26. 

In 1899, Stratemeyer published the first of his Rover Boys series, which became widely popular. Stratemeyer did not invent the series formula, but he recognized its potential, and in 1905, he formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate through which he hired journalists to write stories based on his ideas and outlines. He would pay his writers a flat fee and keep the copyright for himself. Thus was born series such as The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew. 

While clothbound books at the time could sell for as much as two dollars each (a princely sum), Stratemeyer convinced his publisher to sell them for fifty cents. The profit margin on these books would be just a few pennies, but Stratemeyer was convinced that the volume of sales would more than compensate for these small profits. He was right. His books sold millions of copies and in turn made him many millions of dollars.

Stratemeyer lived a quiet life with this family in New Jersey and never sought publicity for himself. He also made a ton of money. After his death, Stratemeyer’s work continued, and his legacy entertained millions of young readers even into the twenty-first century. 

My current favorite in the Stratemeyer series is Baseball Joe (although I was awfully was awfully keen on Nancy Drew when I was a kid). I am going to have a special announcement about that series in next week’s newsletter.

Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Isaac Asimov  



Best quote of the week:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — 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 ( 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.


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: More literary deceptions, Artemus Ward, and JFK on open government: newsletter, Dec. 28, 2018



Ben Bolt

Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile
And trembled with fear at your frown.

In the old church yard in the valley, Ben Bolt
In a corner obscure and alone
They have fitted a slab of granite so gray
And sweet Alice lies under the stone.

Under the hickory tree, Ben Bolt
Which stood at the end of the hill
Together we’ve lain in the noonday shade
And listened to Appleton’s mill.

 The mill wheel has fallen to pieces, Ben Bolt
The rafters have tumbled in
And a quiet that crawls ’round the walls as you gaze
Has followed the olden din.

And don’t you remember the school, Ben Bolt
With the master so cruel and grim
And the shaded nook by the running brook
Where the children went to swim.

Grass grows on the master’s grave, Ben Bolt
The spring of the brook is dry
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then
There are only you and I.

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