I hope that everyone in America (and elsewhere) is having a happy Fourth of July and its aftermath. In America, we celebrate with fireworks, ice cream, baseball, cherry pie, cookouts, and just about anything else we can think of — all with a feeling that something very special happened in this place more than 240 years ago. The legacy we have as Americans is by no means spotless, and we do ourselves good when we look at it clearly and honestly — but also with deep-felt gratitude.
As I send this newsletter out on Friday, we will be extracting the honey from our beehives, and I will report the results to you next week.
Meanwhile, have a great weekend, stay safe, and write — early and often.
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Francis Scott Key: his words shaped our image of America
In just a few masterful lines of poetry, Francis Scott Key in 1814 put together the words that helped define our nation and shape the way we think of ourselves. Despite all of our current differences and disputes, we still believe that we are the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave.”
Key’s words did not come at a triumphal time in American history. The War of 1812 had been a bloody and confusing conflict with battles on several fronts. The British Army and Navy had demonstrated their might by invading the Chesapeake Bay, landing in Maryland, defeating American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg, and burning and sacking the nation’s capital city. Even the White House had not escaped the fires that the British had set.
The key target, however, had been Baltimore, a city that was heavily fortified and defended, and there the British invasion stalled. Naval units bombarded Ft. McHenry for 25 hours trying to support the land forces, which had encountered difficult opposition. The bombardment did little damage to the fort, and the British forces withdrew, ending that part of the war.
Key and a companion were on the British HMS Tonnant, negotiating for the release of an American prisoner of war when the bombardment began. Key was a lawyer practicing in Frederick, Maryland, at the time, and he was prevented from leaving the ship because the British feared that he might know too much about their positions and strength. Thus, he could do nothing but watch the battle from the deck of the ship.
The night had been a dark one because lights at the fort and in the city of Baltimore had been extinguished. At “dawn’s early light,” however, Key caught sight of the American flag at Ft. McHenry still atop the flagpole, and when he returned to Baltimore, he was inspired to write the lines of a poem he titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”
The poem was published the next week in the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, a Baltimore broadsheet. Key later set it to the popular patriotic tune, To Anacreon in Heaven, and the song grew into a favorite with the public as the Star-Spangled Banner.
Key himself continued to practice law and had an active public career. He was a supporter of President Andrew Jackson, who appointed him a U.S. attorney — a position he held from 1833 to 1841. In 1835 he prosecuted Richard Lawrence, who unsuccessfully tried to kill Andrew Jackson on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — the first attempt in the nation’s history to assassinate a president.
The watercolor caricature of Key shown here is part of the Verse and Vision series. A video of the painting along with a recitation of the Star-Spangled Banner can be seen at http://bit.ly/key-starspangledbanner.
Oliver Twist becomes Oliver Twiss. An angry Dickens sues – and loses
Book counterfeiting is a centuries-old activity (as we pointed out in a post last week) and takes many forms.
Edward Lloyd, one of Great Britain’s most important 19th-century newspaper publishers, got his start by ripping off Charles Dickens.
Here’s how he did it: Lloyd would take a popular novel by Dickens (caricature at the right), rewrite it to some extent, change the names of the characters, and give it a title close to the one Dickens had given it. Thus, Oliver Twist became Oliver Twiss.
And Lloyd’s novels would be cheap. Oliver Twist cost a shilling, while Oliver Twiss cost a penny.
As Allison Flood writes in an article about a new book about Lloyd in The Guardian:
Oliver Twiss was one of many plagiarisms of Dickens published by the press baron Edward Lloyd, with Barnaby Budge, Martin Guzzlewit, The Penny Pickwick and Nickelas Nickelbery also hitting shelves in the mid-19th century. Dickens loathed the rip-offs, and went to court to have them banned. The judge refused, ruling: “No person who had ever seen the original could imagine the other to be anything else than a counterfeit, bearing no resemblance to the thing it was intended to imitate.” Source: Oliver Twiss and Martin Guzzlewit – the fan fiction that ripped off Dickens | Books | The Guardian
Lloyd’s efforts brought much literature to the less-well-off masses and gave us Sweeny Todd (part hero, part vampire) and the “penny-dreadful.”
Lloyd eventually gave up his plagiaristic career to become an innovative and super-rich press baron. He loved technological innovation and was the first on Fleet Street, in 1856, to employ a Hoe rotary press — a highly efficient improvement on what was then being used. He also put into effect the idea of producing his own paper, which gave him complete control of the printing process.
His Sunday-only Lloyd’s Weekly was the only newspaper to reach a million in circulation in 19th century Great Britain, and later his Daily Chronicle was renowned for its broad coverage of world events.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Will McTeer and his Civil War memories
Will McTeer was one of more than two million soldiers who fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War years of 1861-1865. He was not looking for a fight. He did so because he loved his country and what it represented and because he feared the Confederacy – an idea with which he, his family, and his community disagreed.
McTeer grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, a state that seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, although it did so reluctantly. McTeer might just have easily sided with the rest of his state, put aside his allegiances, and cast his lot with the Confederacy. Many others did.
McTeer did not. In 1862, when McTeer made his way past Confederate patrols, traveled to the Cumberland Gap, and joined what became the Third Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, the end of the war and its outcome was by no means certain. Had the Confederacy prevailed, he might have become an outcast – or even a traitor – unable to return to his beloved mountains. McTeer took that risk, as did many other sons of the South, and the nation owes all those like him a huge debt of gratitude.
The Blount County Friends of the Library is about to publish McTeer’s account of his war experiences in Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will McTeer. McTeer first wrote about his Civil War memories in 1879 in a series of articles published by the Knoxville Chronicle.
We owe McTeer our gratitude for looking back on his experience and recording it for us. As Ed Caudill points out in his excellent introduction to this edition, McTeer’s memoir is a welcome antidote to the Lost Cause palaver that flowed out of publishing houses and into the nation’s brainwaves during the first half-century after the War is in no way glorious and can be justified only by the contemporary intentions of those who conduct and fight it.
McTeer gives us what we find all too rarely: a detailed, exciting, but modest account of his actions and his reasons for taking those actions. He remembers his friends and neighbors with whom he fought. Many of them returned home to live active and productive lives. Many of them did not. McTeer does not dwell on justifications or rationalizations. The reasons he gave three years of his life to his country are self-evident to him, and he assumes, rightly so, that they should be self-evident to others.
Verse and Vision
We take up a patriotic theme this week — it being the week of July 4 and all — with a caricature of Francis Scott Key and one of the most famous, and most repeated, poems in America, The Star-Spangled Banner. Let we get too serious about it, however, I tried to put Key into a caricature mode. That may or may not have worked; you be the judge: http://bit.ly/key-starspangledbanner.
Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace (painting shown here): http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: http://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade
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 Marvell: http://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 Longfellow: http://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray: http://bit.ly
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: http://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly/poe-theraven
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: http://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18
And more are on the way.
Jennifer S.: I have a poem suggestion — if you’re not Tennyson’d out? “Ulysses.” I wonder how you’d do the visuals? But it’s a wonderful poem, and the final passage is one of my most favorite bits of verse of all time: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides….”
Note: Watch for it!
Dan C.: Your blurb on Book Counterfeiting at Amazon reminds me of what happened at Amazon a decade or so ago. One day, in as an Orwellian action that could have occurred in “1984,” Amazon deleted the book “1984” from its marketplace and went a step further and deleted it from the Kindle readers of all of the users that bought it and refunded their money and took a huge hit in doing so. (Thank you, Ernest.) It turns out the seller did not have the rights to sell the book so Amazon rectified the situation by removing the evidence that it sold the book at all. After the user outcry, they now remove a counterfeited book from the site but leave it on the user’s device. It just was another example of the power Amazon welds on our lives.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Guard within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness. George Sand [pen name of Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin], novelist (1804-1876)
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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Hemingway on writing, Fraser at writing, counterfeit books, and a podcast: newsletter, June 28, 2019
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