Sir Walter Scott writes himself out of debt, more on libraries, competing definitions of journalism: newsletter, May 31, 2019

June 3, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, watercolor, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, May 31, 2019.

For the past six or seven weeks, we have left our beehives alone. This is the main honey-making season, and we did not want to do anything to disturb them. That changed this week when I opened them to make a brief inspection and to see if there was a possibility that we could harvest some honey.

I’m happy to say that the signs at this point are good. This has been a good spring bloom-wise, and there was honey in the hives. There are still a few weeks to go in the blooming season, but the hives have plenty of bees, and other signs within the hives indicate the colonies are healthy. I’m including here a picture of a frame that is full of capped honey — which is exactly what we want.

Honey harvesting will take place in about four weeks, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I hope that you have had a great week and are beginning a wonderful weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,800 subscribers and had a 30.8 percent open rate; 7 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

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.

Overcoming debt and grief, Sir Walter Scott wrote – and wrote some more

Despite fame and great fortune, Walter Scott found himself in 1826 at a low point in his life.

The year before, a banking crisis had plunged the nation into a depression, and Scott went from being a man rich with assets to a man with 130,000 pounds of debt (the equivalent of 10 million pounds today). His publishing business has gone bankrupt, and he had many creditors. He could no longer afford to maintain two houses, one in Edinburgh and one in the country — a large house he named Abbotsford.

In 1826, Charlotte, his wife of nearly 30 years, died, and grief added to his burdens.

Scott gave up his Edinburgh house and put Abbotsford into a trust for his creditors.

To dig himself out of his grief and his debts, Scott did what he had always done. He wrote. He wrote prodigiously.

In the next six years, he produced six novels, two plays, two short stories, 11 works and nonfiction, and many other unfinished works. In addition, he kept a journal that would be published many years after his death. His nonfiction works included a life of Napoleon Bonaparte, a history of Scotland, and a book of essays on ballad poetry — something that had made him famous to begin with.

Scott’s health began to fail in 1832, and he died in September of that year, but the profits from his writing eventually retired his debts soon after his was gone.

Today Walter Scott (1771-1832) stands in the center of the pantheon of Scotland’s greatest writers — between Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. Scott’s day job was as an attorney and public official, but he seems to have spent every waking moment writing. He is given credit for developing the modern historical novel, and many of his novels and poems are still ready and studied today.


The painting video features Scott’s poem Lochinvar that accompanies a watercolor of an ancient castle in the West Highlands:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed.” Or maybe not.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” 

This quotation is currently surging around the web, especially on Facebook, and it is being attributed to the writer George Orwell.

The quotation has various iterations — such as “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” — and its origination has been attributed to people like William Randolph Hearst and Lord Northcliff (a.k.a. Alfred Harmsworth, the British publishing magnate of the early 20th century).

A discussion of the quote’s possible sources can be found here: Talk: George Orwell – Wikiquote

Beyond the source, how useful is the sentiment expressed in this bromide? Does it do a good job in defining what is and isn’t journalism?

I don’t think it does.

Yes, there are certainly things that people — particularly those in power — want covered up, and those things should be exposed. That is part of the journalist’s job, and in that sense, the quotation appeals to the anti-authoritarian in all of us.

But I am hesitant to say that this is what journalism is all about. To me, journalism is telling ourselves about ourselves — and doing it with accuracy, clarity, and efficiency. Sometimes that will include items that some people want covered up, but it doesn’t have to in order to qualify as journalism.


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

What good are libraries? How should they be run? A reader (and librarian) responds

Last week, after my rant about the possibility of our county government shirking its responsibilities in not adequately funding our excellent local library, I included some provocative questions about libraries from newsletter reader Frank C. You can read those questions in this separate post.

I invited you to respond, and many of you did. Below is the response from Jennifer S., a faithful reader and good friend. I will include more responses next week.

I’m writing in response to Frank C.‘s provocative questions in this week’s newsletter. Full disclosure: I am a librarian at the Blount County Public Library, the one whose struggles inspire your remarks last week, so I’m hardly a disinterested party. In this, as in so many things, there are probably not very many parties who are truly disinterested, however!

I will start by observing that Frank C. has likely not been inside a library in a very long time, or surely not inside this particular library (which is not as atypical as one might suppose). His emphasis on the idea of a library as a place lacking “foot-traffic” and serving as a repository of the written word, is extremely outdated. This library has between 800 and 1,200 visitors EACH DAY. I shudder to think of the demands on staffing (maintenance/custodial alone!) of a greatly increased amount of traffic! And while we do, of course, have many thousands of books, they still do get consistent use. Many people, including my 19-year-old daughter, simply prefer to read physical books over electronic databases. Notwithstanding this preference, our library — like most — provides far more than books, including DVDs, audio books and ebooks. Indeed, in my department — the Children’s Library — our DVDs are in constant demand, especially during the summer months. The turnover is dizzying, as folks take advantage of the relatively generous checkout period (one week) and cost (free for county residents), over such services as Red Box and streaming networks. A library card entitles patrons to use a wide variety of digital materials from home, or anywhere else, without having to visit us in person at all; those materials include not just books, but also research databases.
This, of course, raises Frank C.’s first question: What if people simply paid for these services? I must say that I object in the strongest possible terms to the idea that only things with assigned monetary value have any value at all. From institutions like education and city parks to the basic human interactions of love and friendship, this assumption about value is patently untrue. So I take issue very heartily with the underlying premise of this question.
But so as not to seem to shirk the literal question, let me suggest that many people are willing and able to pay for these services, and good for them. But we also serve many people who simply do not have the resources to pay for these services. Those services include things like computer use and access to scanning that are flatly not available free of charge anywhere else in this county. Others, like use of a notary and use of small rooms for meetings and study, are available only for a fee (or only to customers or members of the businesses that provide them). I would not want to live in a county where only the affluent could use these services! 
This library, like some (but perhaps not most) libraries, does have some services that we charge for. Organizations may pay to promote their events or services on our in-house screen advertising. Individuals and organizations may rent the large meeting rooms (including a tech-equipped lab and various other technical amenities, like microphones and projection screens). And the in-house cafe does a brisk business in coffee, baked goods, and lunches. The income from these services offsets a noteworthy chunk of our budget.
 As for his suggestions about private funding and volunteer work, I point to the many thousands of dollars that our hard-working Friends of the Library group already spends to provide materials and programs, enriching our service to the community far above normal budgetary strictures. They also provide dozens of volunteers to help with the mundane tasks of shelving and dusting and the more fun tasks of running arts, hobby and enrichment programs. I don’t know off the top of my head how many hours the Friends volunteers spend at work here each week, but I know that I see several volunteers hard at work every day I’m here. Just an hour ago, in our Processing room, two volunteers were busy repairing books, a very specialized expertise.
 I hope that this incomplete reply to Frank C. will serve to show that antiquated ideas about 21st libraries are just that — antiquated. Our library is a vibrant community center that is quite literally irreplaceable. If the only thing we did was provide a safe, warm (or cool) place for those folks who have no where else to go, it would be worth it for them to have the opportunity to rest, read the paper or a book, and connect with other people. One of my coworkers, who is relatively new here, told me the other day that she was reduced to tears by an elder patron who confided to her that on the days the library was closed, she did not see or talk to another person at all. We are her second home. There is no way I can put a price on that. 

Poems and Paintings — the videos

This is the final week that I will ask for suggestions for a “brand name” for the poetry/painting videos that I have been producing for a couple of months. I got a few more suggestions this week, in addition to a few emails expressing a preference for a particular name on the list. Below is the complete list of suggestions. Let me know if one strikes your fancy.

Visions & Verses

Cadence & Canvas

Poetic Paintings

Music and Rhymes

Colorful Rhyme

Painting with Poetry

Illuminated Poetry

Poetic Watercolors

Of plume and brush

Poems for the Palette

Poetry in Paintings

Cadence & Canvas

Pens & Paints

Rhyme & Vision

Pens & Brushes

Verse & Vision

Keep sending me your suggestions, and let me know if any on this list appeal to you. This is the last week to do so. The top three suggestions will receive a small gift from me — a hand-turned wooden pen like the ones pictured here.

I have added another video this week: Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar. Listen to the poem and watch the painting here:

Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott:

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner:

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson:

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

And more are on the way.

Briefly noted: Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday

Friday, May 31, 2019 (today) is the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birthday. Whitman, to my mind, is one of the three great 19th-century American poets — the others being Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’ll have more to say about Whitman in the coming weeks.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: West Highlands castle
Watch this watercolor being painted with a voiceover of me reciting Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott:

Best quote of the week:

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. John F. Kennedy, 35th US president (1917-1963) 

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: What good are libraries, The Winds of War, and getting away with murder in the U.S.: newsletter, May 24, 2019






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