Julia Ward Howe’s visions of glory, the fountain pen, more about libraries: newsletter, June 14, 2019

June 17, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, Civil War, journalism, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,775) on Friday, June 14, 2019.


Beans on the stand, tassels on the corn, blooms on the cucumbers, tomatoes on the vine — the garden continues to amaze us with its seasonable miracles. The months of planning, planting, watering, weeding, and watching are being rewarded with fruits and vegetables that will not only fill our tables but grace our minds and hearts. There is nothing like a garden.

And there is certainly nothing like getting mail. I have gotten plenty of it during the last couple of weeks from you newsletter readers, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for it. Many of you have written about your library experiences, and I have included a couple of those in this week’s newsletter. Others have written recommending books or even poems and poets on which I should consider doing videos. I welcome all such suggestions.

So, it is with special feelings of gratitude that I wish you all a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,781 subscribers and had a 29.6 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each month during 2019 will be published in the first newsletter of the month. Look for it in the July 5 newsletter.

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 personal civil war of Julia Ward Howe

We remember Julia Ward Howe for her genius in composing the lines of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In the history of the English language, few poems have been repeated and sung as much this one — and perhaps none has generated so many book titles.

But Howe is far more than the author of this great piece of poetry.

She was a poet of extraordinary range, as well as a social and political thinker who was far ahead of her time.

She was also a Victorian wife and mother who battled her own demons and at times her husband to find her place in the world.

Howe was born in 1819 and raised in New York City. In 1843, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, a physician and reformer, and the Howes became prominent abolitionists. They had six children, the last born in 1859. The marriage was never a particularly happy one, but Julia hid her unhappiness by concentrating on her children and on her writing.

She wrote plays and a novel, but her first published work was Passion-Flowers, a book of poetry, that was published anonymously — and without her husband’s knowledge — in 1853. Many of the poems dealt with the mid-19th century’s limited roles for women and the way that marriage suppressed women. Her husband, when he discovered her authorship, was enraged.

As Elaine Showalter, Howe’s biographer, writes:

He felt that she had betrayed and humiliated him, and he viewed Passion-Flowers as obscene. He threatened to divorce her and take custody of the two older children unless she agreed to his terms. First of all, she was to cut the verses that particularly offended him in a final third edition, and then abandon the book. Second, he ordered her to stop writing personal poems. Finally, he insisted that they resume their long-suspended sexual relationship. Howe capitulated.

Or so it seemed. She continued to write and even published another set of poems, this time covering her voice so that her husband would not know that she was the author.

In 1861, she went with her husband to Washington, D.C., to review some medical facilities, and it was there, after visiting some of the troops, that she composed the lines of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She sent the poem to The Atlantic, and months after its publication, it became highly popular in Union Army camps.

The legend of Howe’s poetic creation became part of American literary history. But like all legends, it leaves out and obscures many elements of the full truth. Only a few people close to Howe knew that she was also fighting a civil war at home, struggling to assert her rights to independence, creative expression, and a public voice. The publication of the “Battle Hymn” was a turning point in her life. The song’s renown gave Howe fame and the power to emancipate herself from Chev’s control. It restored her literary confidence in herself, although, ironically, it came to overshadow all of her other writing. Everywhere she went until the day she died, audiences sang her poem to her, or demanded that she sing it to them in her trained contralto. She came to dread the sound of the band and chorus striking up as she entered the room. Source: Whitman, Melville, & Julia Ward Howe: A Tale of Three Bicentennials | by Elaine Showalter | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Despite the poem’s popularity and success, Howe wasn’t finished with her writing career.

Next week: Before and after the battle hymn.

How important is education, particularly higher education?

If we know anything from the last century of social science research, it is that education, particularly higher education, is pretty important to a person’s life. And if it makes a difference to an individual, it can certainly make a difference to a community.

This is the point that David Leonhardt, opinions editor for the New York Times, made in his daily briefing newsletter recently.

He reviews some of the recent journalism that looks at why some small and medium-size cities prosper. There is one factor they seem to have in common: they are the locations of a college or university.

When people with education and dedicated to education gather together in a community, everyone does better — even those who do not have degrees.

But those who do have degrees get special benefits, as Leonhardt point out:

Not only do people with college degrees earn more and live longer, happier, healthier lives on average, but the home regions of universities receive big spillover benefits — which help people who don’t have college degrees. All of this suggests that state governments should be investing more money in higher education, rather than cutting budgets, as they have been over the last decade.

A college education is not for everyone, of course, but the advantages of having a degree-granting institution in a community are obvious and should be recognized as such. It’s a pretty simple concept — something that even the know-nothings in a state legislature should be able to understand.

Here’s the link to Leonhardt’s column: https://static.nytimes.com/email-content/TY_14148.html?campaign_id=39&instance_id=10092&segment_id=14148&user_id=20ccd0bfab8bfde97565f31829b838c7&regi_id=2603008

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

The fountain pen – the first portable writing instrument

For the first time in many months, I decided last week to make a fountain pen — not a ballpoint, which is what I usually do — on my lathe. During much of my working life, I used a fountain pen because I liked the feel of it and because I felt the writing was more legible.

But what I liked most about a fountain pen is the look.

A well-designed fountain pen is a small piece of art that you can carry around in your pocket.

I found some spalted maple when I picked up a small limb that had fallen from a tree in our yard. You never know how wood like that is going to hold up on the lathe since turning a piece of wood on the lathe puts a lot of pressure on it.

Fortunately, the whole project turned out well, as the accompanying pictures will attest.

Then, a few days later, I found an article by John Kelly, a local columnist for the Washington Post, who visited a small shop on F Street in D.C. that deals almost exclusively in fountain pens.

I went to Fahrney’s Pens on F Street NW last week expecting to find cobwebs and tumbleweeds. I mean, come on. Fountain pens? They’d be better off selling buggy whips and whale oil, right? Wrong.

The place was packed. It was one of Fahrney’s biannual pen fairs, and sales reps from two dozen of the world’s leading writing implement companies were displaying their wares to crowds of eager pen lovers.
Spread out on the counters before them were pens in a rainbow of colors, each a tiny magic wand looking for its perfect owner. Source: Believe it or not the fountain pen is back. – The Washington Post

Kelly quotes one of the store’s employees, who was showing off one of the first modern fountain pens, a 1901 Crescent Filler, as saying the fountain was the first portable writing instrument. With a fountain pen, you no longer had to carry a bottle of ink around with you.

“It was the first pen that could go with you,” (Ross) Cameron said. “It was basically the iPhone of its day.”

Interesting point.

Verse and Vision: Julia Ward Howe’s The House of Rest

Another video has been added to the Verse and Vision series this week.Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvellhttp://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowhttp://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/NPM-Poe-AnnabelLee

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grayhttp://bit.ly/gray-elegy

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browninghttp://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/poe-theraven

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespearehttp://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18

And more are on the way.

More reactions concerning libraries

Dan C.:  When researching what the original purpose of a public library was I came across an interesting page: http://www.sturgislibrary.org/history/oldest-library/

As you can see, US membership libraries were some of the first to open their doors (including Ben Franklin’s). The term “public” must also be differentiated from “municipal.”  Also one must look at the Carnegie libraries that were founded because as a poor youth someone had lent Andrew a book and he did not want other poor youths to be unable to read because they could not afford to buy a book. I don’t know if Carnegie rationale is as important now as it once was. 

Growing up I used the well-stocked school libraries instead of the municipal ones. As I got older I would go to Goodwill and other thrift stores and pick up cheap novels and then go to two-for-one paperback exchanges to keep myself in books.
Personally, the children’s library at the county library is all my family has used the last two years (for my four-year-old granddaughter). I have not gone to one since I began using a Kindle for all my reading in 2012. I did get a library card in 2008 in California to see what poker books I could get to research my own book, so I did not have to buy them. I also know that my local library has a kindle section that is tied into libraries all over the country and that could see the end of brick and mortar libraries as it has decimated the brick and mortar book stores.

A.J.N.: Thank you for yet another interesting newsletter! I LOVE my local library, and wish it could be open 24 / 7, although in our small rural community, that is just not practical. 

Don’t care what anyone says about ebooks, I really prefer to read from a printed book!  I have over 8000 ebooks available to me, on 2 laptops, and usually will be in the process of reading one, but I still prefer printed books and LOVE to go to my library and browse to see what is available.

A library is a wonderful, peaceful oasis of quiet and calm in our hectic world.  It is a place where one can find new authors, new ideas, even new genre – whole categories of books that one might never consider searching out on the internet.

Libraries should be open to all, and especially should be available free of charge to people who cannot afford to buy books and pay user fees.  In the “bad old days,” only the wealthy could own books. Andrew Carnegie and others like him built libraries to put books (and new ideas, and the opportunity for a better education) in the hands of working-class people, poor and even homeless people.  One of the major goals of any public library should be “to make information available to all without charge.”

Those who can afford to help support the library can and should join the Friends of the Library organization, which in my county requires a $10 per year membership fee.  It is NOT necessary to be a member to check out books, or to use the library in any other way … but many of us choose to join.  We also buy books that have been removed from circulation, and books that have been donated, to help fund the library and encourage new book purchases.

While it might be a good idea to open “satellite library” locations in shopping malls, or position a Bookmobile in a mall parking area, small towns do not have malls, and even a town which has a mall would do well to have a separate library location, with plenty of free parking.  Many of us who are older would NOT want to fight “mall traffic,” cruise endlessly for a parking space near the proper door, or walk a mile through a crowded mall, to get to our library!

Use a library for social functions?  Spill food and drink on the books?  Have people standing in the aisles, leaning on the bookcases?  My library does not have open floor space for dancing or banquet tables.  There are far better choices for corporate party locations.  Let’s leave our libraries as they are, please!

More reactions on libraries and other topics next week.

Kitty G.: I really enjoyed your watercolor painting and rendition of Lochinvar. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The House of Rest
Watch this watercolor being painted with a voiceover of me reciting The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Best quotation of the week:
Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry. William Butler Yeats, writer, Nobel laureate (1865-1939) 

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 (UMCOR.org) 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: Walt Whitman chases fame, Verse and Vision, libraries, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, June 7, 2019






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