FDR’s wordman, an adventure into Cherokee territory, and a Mozart myth: newsletter, Aug. 30, 2019

September 2, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,680) on Friday, August 30, 2019.


My comments last week about the difficulties of traveling brought reactions from some of you, and I appreciate your responses. Many people still enjoy traveling despite the hassles. If you’ve been someplace interesting in the last few weeks, let me know. The Great American Road — and many roads elsewhere — still beckons.

My life stayed on track enough this week so that I could produce another Verse and Vision video. The painting for this one is a bit different: a caricature, which I always enjoy doing (if they are successful). I also used a recording from LibriVox.org for the poem rather than recording it myself. I wanted to see how that worked. If you have thoughts, let me know.

This weekend in America marks the unofficial end of summer with observance of the Labor Day national holiday. If you are traveling, be careful and stay in touch. In any case, have fun.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,689 subscribers and had a 32.1 percent open rate; 8 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.

Robert Sherwood, FDR’s wordman

When Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II, the words he spoke publicly took on a heightened importance and had to be weighed carefully. When he had to give a speech or a radio address, he turned to the people he trusted the most to help him weigh those words.

One of the people he turned to most often was Robert Sherwood.

Sherwood certainly knew his words.

Sherwood grew up near New York City, scion of a family deeply involved in the arts and letters. His mother was a prominent artist, and three of his relatives had been noted portraitists. Sherwood, after serving with the Canadian Royal Highlanders in World War I and being wounded, chose writing as a career.

He began as a film critic and quickly fell in with notable writers such as Edna Ferber, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. He was one of the original members of the Algonquin Roundtable, a group of prominent writers who met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City for about ten years. The group was well known for its repartee and wit.

Sherwood stood out among with group — literally. He was six-foot-eight-inches tall.

His writing was also noteworthy. His first Broadway play was produced in 1927, and his 1936 play Idiot’s Delight won him the first of three Pulitzer Prizes for playwriting. During World War II, he served as director of the Office of War Information and was often called upon by Roosevelt to help shape FDR’s ideas into coherent and inspiring sentences.

After the war, Sherwood wrote Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, which won him his fourth Pulitzer in 1949, this time for biography and autobiography. Sherwood also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, which won an academy award for best screenplay in 1949.

Sherwood died suddenly of a heart attack in 1955 in New York City. He was only 59 years old.

‘In Cold Blood’ murderers may have committed a similar crime in Florida

Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Smith murdered four members of a Kansas family — Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon Clutter — in November 1959. Their crime, for which they were both hanged in 1965, was the subject of Truman Capote‘s most famous book, In Cold Blood.

In Cold Blood became iconic because, after extensive interviews with many of the people involved in the crime and its investigation, particularly with Hickock, Capote masterfully applied many of the techniques of fiction to recounting the story. Capote called it a non-fiction novel.

It was an early entry into the writing that was to become known as The New Journalism.

After committing the murders, Hickock and Smith began a long road trip that took them to Mexico, California, Miami, and back west to Las Vegas, where they were captured. They initially denied the crime but eventually confessed.

While they were in Florida, a similar multiple murder occurred in a small town near Sarasota. Four members of the Walker family — Christine, Cliff, Jimmie, and Debbie — were killed in their home during the Christmas season. That murder has never been solved.

Were Hickock and Smith responsible for those deaths, too?

Many people believe they were, and there is plenty of evidence that points in their direction. Becky Masterson has written an article about the similarities in the two cases and the recent investigations looking for links between the crimes for CrimeReads: ‘In Cold Blood’ and the Murders Truman Capote Missed | CrimeReads

Masterson has also written a novel based on the entire scenario, We Were Killers Once: A Thriller.

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

Women and true crime: a new book examines the archetypes

True crime fascinates many of us, but are women more drawn to it than men? Yes, says journalist Rachel Monroe, who has recently authored a book examining in-depth case studies of four archetypes:

Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer.

The book is Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession.

Monroe was recently interviewed by J. Oliver Conroy for The Guardian, and the interview begins with this:

As you point out in Savage Appetites, the consumers of true crime are overwhelmingly female. Why do you think that is?
It’s complex and there’s no single, monolithic answer – in part because there’s no single, monolithic woman.
One common, overarching explanation is that true crime stories allow women to talk about and explore vulnerability. Reading a true crime story about a stalker who murdered his girlfriend might be a way for a woman to process her own anxieties. Source: Why are women obsessed with true crime? Rachel Monroe has some answers | Life and style | The Guardian

If you are a true crime fan, the interview will fascinate you and may put you on the road to reading the book.

Henry Timberlake, his adventure and his sad end (part 1)

Henry Timberlake‘s short life came to a sad end. He died in 1765 in debtor’s prison in London, there because of some unfortunate but well-meaning decisions and some truly bad luck. He was somewhere between 30 and 35 years. We’re not exactly sure when he was born.

We probably wouldn’t remember Timberlake at all except for the manner in which he tried to get out of debtor’s prison. He wrote his memoirs (The Memoirs of Henry Timberlake). And unlike some memoirists, Timberlake had an interesting and important story to tell.

In 1761 Timberlake, born in Hanover County, Virginia, was a lieutenant in the British army. He had been assigned to a company headed by Colonel Adam Stephen to venture into the Holston River valley (in what is now upper East Tennessee) to attack the Overhill towns of the Cherokee Indian tribe. The company made it to present-day Kingsport where they built a fort to serve as a base for their forays into Indian territory.

When the fort was complete and they were about to venture on, something surprising happened. Four hundred Cherokees showed up and asked for a peace treaty. Colonel Stephens obliged, and Lieutenant Timberlake served as secretary and wrote everything down. At the end of the negotiations, the Cherokees made one final request. They asked that a member of the British force come back with them to their towns and stay for a while to demonstrate the sincerity of their agreement.

Stephens was caught in a dilemma. He did not want to refuse the request, but he also did not want to order one of his men to take on such a potentially dangerous assignment.

Timberlake sensed the colonel’s quandry and volunteered to travel into Cherokee country. He did it, he later wrote, “for the love of my country” — Great Britain.

The Indians left, and a few days later — this was in late November 1761 — Timberlake and three companions — a sergeant, an interpreter, and a “servant” — got into canoes and began a cold and dangerous trip floating down the Holston River. They took 10 days worth of food and provisions. Mishaps and delays plagued them the entire trip, which took nearly twice that long as planned.

Finally, after they had floated into what is now the Tennessee River, they were met by a friendly band of Cherokees and guided into the villages that were their destination.

All that was just the beginning of Timberlake’s adventure. We’ll have part 2 of his story next week.

Mozart’s transcription genius: did he really do it?

Gregorio Allegri’s (1582-1652) setting of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, is a choral work of unsurpassed beauty and delicacy that the Catholic Church commissioned in the 1630s for exclusive use in the Sistine Chapel. It was played only once a year sometime during the Easter season. Writing it down or performing it without authorization could get you excommunicated from the Church.

So, here’s the story:

When he was 14 years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard one of the rare performances. (The work lasts about 15 minutes.) He was accompanied by his father Leopold. Later that day, they returned to the rooms where they were staying in Rome, and the young Mozart sat down and transcribed the entire piece.

He returned for a second performance two days later and afterward made some minor corrections.

His manuscript was later given to a British historian, taken to England, and published in 1771. Thus, the world got to hear the music that was once such a closely guarded treasure by the Catholic Church.

It’s a good story, and it may be true. Several of Mozart’s biographers believe it to be so, citing “family letters” that recount the incident. But other music historians are skeptical. One reason is that the “family letters” were written by Leopold, a man who recognized the musical genius of his son and never ceased promoting it.

Another reason is that transcriptions of the music were known to exist outside the Vatican for decades before Mozart supposedly heard it for the first time. It is not impossible — in fact, given its popularity and fame, it’s likely — that he had heard it previously.

Still, it’s a good story, and the music is certainly worth listening to. If you have never heard it, get yourself into a quiet place, give yourself 15 minutes without interruption, and immerse yourself in the music. https://youtu.be/nKj1iK2WKS8

Verse and Vision: Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth

One of William Wordsworth‘s most famous poems, Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby is an expressive blank verse poem published in 1798 that points to a new direction that Wordsworth and his friend and collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge were taking English poetry. I will have more about this poem and Wordsworth in next week’s newsletter. Meanwhile, take a look at the video: http://bit.ly/wordsworth-tinternabby.


To my comments last week about traveling:

Mike P.: I have purchased a 5th wheel and am using it to travel with my wife. We are retired so we have no timetable. We generally drive no more than 300 miles a day or try to stop no later than 3:30 p.m. on travel days. We want to be off the road not later then 3:30 so we can find a campground spot and be set up before dark or to find a place to boondock (camping with no hookups) and be able to relax and get good night if the next day is also a travel day. No airlines baggage hassle, time schedule, no getting undressed for TSA. That is how we travel hope it gives you some good ideals. Mike the mailman.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: William Wordsworth (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought — that is to be educated. Edith Hamilton, educator and writer (1867-1963) 

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 (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: Ken Burns, Klaus Fuchs, Wesley on money, and the time it took to write Grapes of Wrath: newsletter, Aug. 23, 2019



Verse and Vision

I am always open to suggestions about poets, poems or topics for videos. I’ve received several and would love to have more.

Meanwhile, here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth: http://bit.ly/wordsworth-tinternabby

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at http://bit.ly/longfellow-villageblacksmith.

Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson here: http://bit.ly/tennyson-ulysses

1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarushttp://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus

To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennysonhttp://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade

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

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scotthttp://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.


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