Charles Dickens, Parliamentary reporter; Antonio Vivaldi, and wide-ranging reader reaction: newsletter, October 22, 2021

October 23, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, reporting, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, October 22, 2021.

We live about five miles outside a small town on a winding road in an area that would definitely be termed as rural. Last Friday night, the weather permitted me to sit outside on my back porch and listen to the broadcast of a baseball game. I could hear the game fine on my tablet but also quickly realized how much noise I was hearing from other sources: motorcycles on distant roads, dogs barking incessantly, police and ambulance sirens, airplanes overhead (we live near an airport), and the like. Just the traffic up and down our road makes a lot of noise.

My Friday night experience is far different from the one I have every morning. I’m usually awake and up by 5 a.m., and again, weather permitting, I sit outside on my back porch. Things are much quieter then. There is still noise from the planes or the dogs or the traffic, but it’s not as loud or consistent as my evening experience. I look forward to getting up in the morning and enjoying the relative quiet.

The world, I believe, has become a noisier place than the one I remember when I was growing up. I don’t know exactly what to make of that or what conclusions can be drawn. I do know I much prefer the quiet to the noise. But, maybe that’s just me.

Have a wonderful and literate (and quiet) weekend.


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The Parliamentary reporting career of Charles Dickens

Where and how did Charles Dickens learn to write like he did?

Dickens is acknowledged to be one of the greatest writers in the English language, and he was certainly the most popular author of the 19th and early 20th centuries. So how did he learn to speak with so many different and distinctive voices, to build and sustain consistent characters, to set believable scenes in both rural and urban areas, and to weave plots together?

Part of the answer, of course, lies in his own talent and determination. He knew from fairly early in life that he wanted to be a writer and that he wanted to work with words in some form. He knew that being a writer was hard, physical labor, and he didn’t shrink from it. But those factors don’t give us the complete answer.

A big part of our understanding of Charles Dickens the writer comes from the fact that, as a very young man, Dickens was a journalist. A working, day-in-day-out journalist. Writing constantly. Interviewing all sorts of people. Traveling around the country. Observing people in various venues and situations. Writing about them accurately. Meeting daily deadlines.

And then waking up the next day and doing it all over again.

Before he had the opportunity to get into journalism, Dickens had thought seriously about going into the theater and had shown some talent as a mimic. In later life, Dickens was a highly popular lecturer who took on the voices of many of his characters, so the talent was definitely there. But circumstances prevented him from pursuing the theater career before other opportunities to earn money—which he desperately needed to do—presented themselves. Dickens worked for a time as a law clerk, but he found the work repetitive and boring.

During his law clerk days, however, he did learn one very valuable skill: shorthand. Dickens also saw the inner workings of the British legal system, something that would show up many times in his later works of fiction. He was also writing, submitting reports on court proceedings. Most importantly, Dickens was growing a confidence in his ability that would serve him well throughout his career. He began submitting stories to various magazines that gained him publication credit but little money.

In 1829, Dickens got a job as a freelance reporter for Doctors’ Commons with the responsibility of reporting on sessions of Parliament. The House was undertaking some mighty debates at the time with regard to the slave trade, Catholic emancipation, and how society would deal with poor people. Dickens found these debates, and some of the people in Parliament, fascinating, and he developed an enthusiasm for the work. In 1831, he started reporting for The Mirror of Parliament, and from 1832 to 1834, he reported for The True Son.

Each of these positions was a stepping stone to the next and eventually to a regular reporting job in 1834 for The Morning Chronicle. Among Parliamentary reporters, Dickens was considered one of the best—universally thought to be “the rapidest and most accurate shorthand reporter in the gallery,” according to one colleague. He was often consulted by other reporters when a matter of detail or accuracy needed clarification.

The Morning Chronicle job gave him a chance to travel around England in addition to covering Parliament itself. He covered election campaigns, speeches, and rallies. He attended banquets and dinners, often rushing back to London and writing while traveling. It was the life for an energetic young man, and Dickens was showing himself to be up to the task.

Along the way, Dickens picked up the pen name of Boz for the fictional “sketches” that he was submitting that were outside of his Parliamentary reporting. A collection of the Sketches by Boz was published in 1836 to good reviews and popular acclaim. This led publishers Chapman and Hall to offer Dickens the opportunity to write text for illustrations about London life by Robert Seymour. Dickens accepted but soon made it clear that the illustrations would accompany his text, not the other way around. That text, published in monthly episodes, eventually formed what became Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers.

At first, the episodes were not all that popular, but the fourth installment contained a Cockney bootblack named Sam Weller, a character that showed Dickens’ comic genius and that became hugely popular with the public. The final installment sold more than 40,000. Nothing like that had ever happened in publishing before.

Dickens learned the writing trade as a reporter, but it left him with little love for Parliament itself. In David Copperfield, Dickens offered what could have been a partial review of his own Parliamentary reporting career:

I have tamed that savage stenographic mystery. I make a respectable income by it. I am in high repute for my accomplishment in all pertaining to the art, and am joined with eleven others in reporting the debates in Parliament for a Morning Newspaper. Night after night, I record predictions that never come to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that are only meant to mystify. I wallow in words. Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape. I am sufficiently behind the scenes to know the worth of political life. I am quite an Infidel about it, and shall never be converted. David Copperfield, chapter 53.


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


Baroque composers: Antonio Vivaldi

The names that dominate Baroque music (readers will know that this is one of my favorite genres) are all male: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, etc. But not every composer in that genre or era (1600-1750) was male. Not by a long shot. This post is part of a short series that will introduce baroque music composers, both male and female.


When a guy like Johann Sebastian Bach transcribes your concerti into keyboard compositions because he admires their form, you ought to know that you have accomplished something. Bach’s admiration is not the only measure that we have of Antonio Vivaldi’s musical greatness, but it is a pretty good indicator.

He was known as the “red priest” because of his red hair and his preference for crimson vestments. Anyone serious about music today knows the work of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741) because of his wide mastery of musical forms, his creativity and innovation, and the sheer energy that his music imparts.

Vivaldi’s first music teacher was likely his father, a well-known violinist in Venice where Antonio was born in 1678. Vivaldi, who was to become one of the most celebrated violinists of his day, made his first public appearance with the instrument in 1696. Despite his talent, he trained for the priesthood and was eventually ordained. For some reason—possibly an asthma condition that historians have speculated about—he left the active priesthood after only about a year.

He became what was known then as a “secular priest,” and joined Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphaned and abandoned girls, one of several such institutions in Venice. He was the violin master there, and his teaching duties offered him the perfect opportunity to explore musical forms, teach his young and talented students, and create his many compositions.

Vivaldi held several positions with the Pietà: violin master, director of instrumental music, and paid external supplier of compositions. He stayed with the school for most of his career, but it was never an easy relationship. Vivaldi found himself constantly in disputes with the school’s directors, and he never had more than a one-year contract, which was continually under review.

Despite those disputes, the school gained an enviable reputation for the music that its students produced, and that reputation was due mainly to Vivaldi. He published his first compositions in 1705, two years after he joined the school, and for the rest of his life he turned out compositions at an almost unbelievable rate.

While Vivaldi remained based in Venice, he traveled widely through Europe and had many friends and patrons to whom he supplied music. He wrote sonatas, solos, choral works, concertos, and operas that found adherents and audiences everywhere. He wrote more than 500 concertos, nearly 50 operas, and at least 90 sonatas for individual instruments. He is credited with developing and popularizing the standard concerto form of three movements: fast – slow – fast.

After his death in 1741, interest in Vivaldi’s music declined (as did that of many other Baroque composers), and in the 19th century it was rarely practiced or played. Much of it was thought to be lost. The 20th century musicians took a renewed interest in Vivaldi, and major discoveries of his musical manuscripts were made in the 1920s and 1930s. Those discoveries continue even into the 21st century.

Today, Vivaldi is honored along with Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, and George Frederick Handel as among the giants of Baroque music, and his compositions are a part of the standard repertory of many musical organizations.


One of Vivaldi’s most famous works is his Four Seasons concerti, which you can hear at this link.



Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729)

This week’s bandsaw box 

I have taken a week or so off from building bandsaw boxes to work on a couple of other woodworking projects. The plan is to be back next week with one.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Anne and Dennis VC.: Thank you SO much for bringing to light the amazing lady Fannie L. Hamer.

Such courage and strength are beyond imagination and she certainly needs to be remembered as a Hero. We looked her up and were able to watch her entire speech she made at the convention. She certainly serves as an example for us to follow in our current day.

Jim D.: Kudos on this week’s newsletter, Jim. Because of your wide-ranging interests and erudition, I learn something new every week when I read it, but I especially appreciate your focus on the distaff side this week. I knew the name Fannie Lou Hamer but knew little about her. What a brave woman, and what a valiant fight she led! And while I’ve always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, I never knew of her address to the nation nor that it preceded the more famous address of FDR. 

Vince V.: Although Franklin rose mightily to the challenge, I sometimes wonder if Eleanor would have made the better president. Same with Bill and Hillary. As long as I’m wondering, maybe Fannie Lou Hamer should have been given a shot.

Becky A.: I love your comments about the audiobooks.  Indeed, my Dad read books to me long before I could read something other than Dick and Jane.  

Vic C.:

  • Over the years, I’ve collected quite a number of audiobooks and have been unable to enjoy them as much as I do reading books I can hold.  As it happens, I’ll get another chance to try them since I’ll be having my third (yes, count ’em, three) partial corneal transplant (DSAEK) so I can get rid of the patch I’ve been wearing for a couple of months.
  • This is a segue for me to comment on one of my favorite authors: Clifford D. Simak. Dyed-in-the-wool science fiction fans know his name though, unfortunately, we are becoming fewer and fewer.  His style of writing was singular because he used the language of his prose in a near-poetic form.  Even though I know his novels and short stories well from having read them so many times, his voice is truly memorable.  He was, among other things, a journalist and teacher and, if you’ve not read any of his works, I would heartily recommend that you try any of his short stories.
  • As a fan of Dixieland music, Sidney Bechet has been a part of my music collection for many years.  The number of more famous musicians with whom he played and the songs he wrote are wonderful.  I remember when Pete Fountain released “Petite Fleur” in the early 50s and how the opening 4 notes were a source of fascination to me especially when compared to the openings of the big band music to which I was (and still am) addicted.
  • Regarding banned books, how many more will fall into that black hole when the books on critical race theory and systemic racism become more prevalent.
  • There’s nothing more to say about your jigsaw boxes other than that they are a pleasure to behold and I congratulate you on your skill and execution; I can almost feel them.  I wish I could do the same.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Early morning catch

Best quote of the week:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. general and 34th president (1890-1969)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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: Baroque composers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and yet another bandsaw box: newsletter, Oct. 15, 2021



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