Bernard Cornwell, James Whitcomb Riley, and eulogy virtues: newsletter, November 19, 2021

November 19, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

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The idea of individual freedom lies at the heart of America, and it was the main motivation for those devoted to “The Cause” that became the war for independence from Great Britain. It wasn’t about taxes or representation. It went deeper than any of that. Joseph Ellis, one of the major historians of the American revolutionary period, puts forth that thesis in his latest book, appropriately titled The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783.

The English argument was that ultimate power lay with Parliament. Parliament could do anything it wanted to do. Americans, led by Samuel Adams, disagreed and made the argument that ultimate power should lie with the individual. He was not the only one to do so, of course, but his voice was one of the most forceful and strident. In an amazingly short amount of time, that idea coalesced in the minds of a majority of the colonists. After that, Ellis argues, the British had not a chance at winning back the hearts and minds of Americans. They also had no chance of winning any military conflict, no matter how many troops and ships they sent.

Ellis’ argument is an intriguing one and may help explain some of what is happening today.

Have a wonderful and literate weekend.


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Bernard Cornwell: “Don’t worry, darling. I’ll write a book.”

When Bernard Cornwell followed the woman he loved back to America from his native Great Britain and married her in 1979, he asked the U.S. government to grant him a Green Card so that he could be employed. His request was denied.

“Don’t worry, darling,” he told his wife. “I’ll write a novel.”

More than 40 years later, he has more than 50 novels to his credit and is still writing. All but one are historical novels full of action, conflict, and adventure—perfect for television and movies, of which there have been several.

Cornwell’s chief creation is Richard Sharpe, a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars who sees action on almost every front, even the naval battle of Trafalgar. Sharpe first appeared in 1981 in two novels published that year, Sharpe’s Eagle and Sharpe’s Gold. In all, there are currently 24 novels in the Sharpe series. A new one hasn’t been published since 2004. Cornwell has recently let it be known that he is thinking about bringing Sharpe to life again.

The Sharpe character received widespread fame in 1993 with the airing of the ITV series Sharpe. The main character was played by Sean Bean. At first, Cornwell had doubts about whether or not Bean could portray the character as Cornwell had envisioned him, but he soon realized that Bean was the perfect fit for his character. In fact, in subsequent Sharpe books, Cornwell said he envisioned Bean playing the character as he was writing them. (Several seasons of the Sharpe series are available on BritBox.)

Inspired by C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels which he enjoyed as a young reader, Cornwell was surprised to learn that no one had written a similar series about the British Army. He decided to fill that gap and worked for the next two decades to do it.

Cornwell was born in London in 1944 and was adopted by an Essex family that was part of an obscure religious sect. He was a history major at University College London and began teaching after graduation. He tried to join the British armed forces but was rejected because of his near-sightedness. He then worked for the BBC in their news department, was married and divorced, and while on assignment in Edinburgh met Judy, a visiting American. 

They fell in love, but she could not immigrate to Great Britain. She had three children by a previous marriage.  So, Cornwell went to America but was denied a Green Card. Writing novels, he reasoned, didn’t require a work permit, so that’s what he did.

In addition to his Sharpe series, Cornwell has written the Warlord Chronicles, a trilogy of books set in the Britain of King Arthur; the Grail Quest novels, set in the 14th century during the One Hundred Years Wars; the Saxon Stories, set in the 9th century during the time of Alfred the Great; and the Starbuck Chronicle, a set of four novels about the American Civil War. In addition, he has a modern thriller series that all have a sailing theme.

Cornwell’s one non-fiction book is Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, which came out in 2014 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the battle. Three of his early novels, Coat of Arms, Fallen Angels, and A Crowning Mercy, were co-written with his wife Judy. Since being denied his Green Card, Cornwell’s books have sold well over 30 million copies. Now in his late 70s, he is still writing and still planning new works.

The resume virtues or the eulogy virtues

David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, wrote a column several years ago titled The Moral Bucket List. In it, he said this:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? The Moral Bucket List

The whole column is well worth reading.


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


James Whitcomb Riley, poetic humor and personal tragedy

Few poets in the history of American literature have matched the fame and acclaim of James Whitcomb Riley. His interest in poetry began as a child, but it matured in, of all places, the newsrooms of Indiana.

Riley’s poetic sense captured a vision of rural America that rang harmonic bells within the hearts of many Americans. The first stanza of one of his most famous poems, “The Days Gone By,” is a perfect example:

O the days gone by! O the days gone by!

The apples in the orchard, and the pathway through the rye;

The chirrup of the robin, and the whistle of the quail

As he piped across the meadows sweet as any nightingale;

When the bloom was on the clover, and the blue was in the sky,

And my happy heart brimmed over in the days gone by.


Riley was born in 1849 and grew up as an indifferent student. After quitting school, he worked in a variety of jobs including selling Bibles and sign painting. Finally, in 1874, he got a job as the associate editor of the Greenville News, and the next year, he had his first poem published in Hearth and Home magazine.

He quit newspapers for a while but returned in 1877 as assistant editor of the Anderson Democrat. There, he began to realize the magic of the newspaper newsroom. After that, he got a job with the Indianapolis Journal writing book reviews, editorials, and poetry.

“The world with its excellence and follies flows through the reportorial rooms,” Riley remarked in The Maturity of James Whitcomb Riley. “Thus, I was brought into contact with all phases of life. My journalistic work gave me an insight into human nature, which I could have acquired in no other way.” (The Poetry Foundation – James Whitcomb Riley)

Riley went onto the lecture circuit and drew large audiences with his recitations and his imitation of rural Indiana accents.

Riley was a prolific poet with a huge following. Over the next four decades, he published 50 volumes of poetry, much of which celebrated America’s small town and rural life and the joys of childhood. Despite the whimsical and humorous nature of his poetry, Riley was a deeply troubled man, suffering severe bouts of depression and alcoholism.

By the turn of the century, Riley’s poetry was the subject of collegiate courses throughout the nation, and Riley received honorary degrees from universities such as Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Indiana University.

Riley fought off illness for the last two decades of his life and in 1910 suffered a debilitating stroke. While he recovered some of the use of his ability to walk, the stroke effectively ended his production of poetry. He died in 1916 in Indianapolis.

The third volume of Vietnam Voices is now available

Vietnam Voices, the project of the Blount County Public Library with which I am associated, now has its third volume of interviews in both print and ebook form.

Vietnam Voices: Stories of Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 3) is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats and on Barnes & Noble in hardback and ebook formats.  These books are a part of the Vietnam Voices project that has sought to interview local residents who served in the armed forces in the Vietnam region. The project has conducted more than 50 interviews, and these unedited interviews can be heard on the library’s website at this link.

Volume 3 contains edited transcripts of 15 of these interviews. The Amazon page has this description:

This third volume of Vietnam Voices continues the quest of the Blount County Public Library to record and archive the memories of those who served in the military in Vietnam during that conflict a half-century ago.

Much has been written about the war in Vietnam. At home, it was politically and socially divisive, creating fissures in American society, some of which have never been healed. Many volumes about the history, strategy, tactics, and effects of the war have been published in the years since the conflict ended.

Relatively little, however, has been written about the war from the point of view of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who served there. The reasons for that are many and varied. Chief among them is the fact that when servicemen returned to the United States, they rarely wanted to talk about their experience there. Most simply wanted to get on with their lives, which they felt had been interrupted by the conflict.

A related factor in this silence is the fact that the servicemen were not invited to talk about what had happened. The society to which they returned was too divided to discuss the war rationally. A strong current feeling that blamed the soldiers for the war ‑ rather than the politicians ‑ had gripped the thinking of many Americans.

Consequently, a silence enveloped any discussion of the war with veterans. That silence has prevailed for much of the last 50 years.

The Vietnam Voices project, then, is an effort to break that wall of silence and to give the veterans who served in Vietnam a chance to tell their stories.

A fourth and final volume of Vietnam Voices is now being edited.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Gary T.: Thank you, Jim, for the reference to the instrumental (literally) role WSM played in the history of country music. 

For 47 years, the announcer on that program was Grant Turner—a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. And, for many, he was the voice of the Opry. He had the requisite deep voice, with an accent that had Texas roots, but Tennessee burnish. To call it unique is an understatement.


One of the Opry’s sponsors was Martha White Flour. But to this listener, at least, when Grant Turner did the requisite plug, the product came out with one syllable, approximating “flahr.”


Not too long ago, I met a new co-worker—one Grant Turner. So I asked, “Have you ever heard of the Grand Ole Opry?”.


“No,” he said, “but my parents did—it was their favorite program. That’s where I got my name.”


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Lost in the book

Best quote of the week:

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will have truly defeated age. Sophia Loren, actor and singer (b. 1934)

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: Susanna Centlivre, literary football, country music, and reader reaction: newsletter, November 12, 2021



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