This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, January 21, 2022.
To simply know how something happens, or that it will happen, is not to understand it. That’s the case whenever I walk into the very generous garden that I have been blessed with. Come spring, something will happen, and I know a bit about how it will happen. Things will start to grow. Do I understand it? Not a chance.
Instead, I am filled with a sense of awe. I was reminded of that this week as I was reading an excerpt of Thunder In the Soul: To Be Known by God by Abraham Joshua Heschel. The excerpt is in Plough.com and contains this:
Reverence is one of man’s answers to the presence of the mystery. This is why, in contradistinction to other emotions, it does not rush to be spoken. When we stand in awe, our lips do not demand speech; we know that if we spoke, we would deprave ourselves. In such moments talk is an abomination. All we want is to pause, to be still, that the moment may last.
Now, in midwinter, are the days to look for the things that inspire awe. Don’t look for the words, just the feeling. Whatever you are looking at these days, have a wonderful and enjoyable and literate weekend.
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Anna Katharine Green, the ‘mother of detective fiction’
With the publication of the stories of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe is deservedly labeled as the “father of modern detective fiction.” Unfortunately, he died too soon to develop that genre. That became the task of others.
One of those authors, now long-forgotten, was Anna Katharine Green. She is credited by those who remember her as “the mother of the modern detective novel.”
It is from her that we get an expanded concept—Poe had the idea first—of a series of stories that use the same detective but vary in circumstance and technique. We also get from her writings other standards of the modern detective novel, such as:
— innovative plot design and innovative plot devices
— complex puzzles
— legally accurate investigations
— dead bodies in libraries and other unlikely places
— “clews,” such as newspaper clippings and other things distributed throughout the text
— the coroner’s inquest
— expert witnesses
In addition to all of these items, Green created characters for her books that anticipated Nancy Drew, the young society female who solves murders, and Miss Marple, the elderly spinster who is sometimes interfering but seems to see things that other characters miss.
Most importantly, Green popularized detective fiction with her 1878 publication of the book The Leavenworth Case, an immediate and runaway bestseller. The book appeared a full decade before the debut of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. That book and the subsequent novels that Green published had a profound influence on the likes of Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Dorothy L. Sayers, among many other authors.
So who was Anna Katharine Green, this author who most of us have never heard of?
She was born in 1846 in Brooklyn, New York. She wanted to be a writer, but her first ambition was to be a poet, and to that end she corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some of her poetry was published, but it failed to achieve the recognition that she had hoped for. In 1878, she published The Leavenworth Case, and that book broke new ground in the genre of detective fiction. It was praised by none other than English mystery writer Wilkie Collins, and it made her famous with the reading public.
Green’s lead detective in the book was a man named Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force. Gryce normally worked with some kind of assistant. Those assistants changed from book to book. One was a nosy society dame named Amelia Butterworth. Eventually, Amelia Butterworth got her own novels from Green.
Another of her characters was Violet Strange, a debutante by day and a sleuth by night.
Green died in Buffalo, New York in 1935 at the age of 88. By then she had published 40 books and numerous short stories. Most were detective fiction, but occasionally she strayed from that genre into suspense.
Her books were so legally accurate that at one point they sparked a debate within the Pennsylvania State Senate about whether or not the book could “really have been written by a woman.”
Agatha Christie, in her autobiography, was unstinting in her praise of Green. She credited her interest in detective fiction to reading Green’s books early in her life.
While Greene made women the central characters of many of her books, in her real life she was no pioneer for women’s rights. In fact, she declared herself against women’s suffrage, and that is possibly one of the reasons why we hear so little of her today. Her fiction was truly groundbreaking, and the fact that she has been obscured—and that her work is noted so infrequently—equates to a literary tragedy.
Audio of several of her books and short stories is available here at LibriVox.
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Brain, Hand, Heart
MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with. From the Latin mens, a fact unknown to that honest shoe-seller, who, observing that his learned competitor over the way had displayed the motto “Mens conscia recti,” emblazoned his own front with the words “Men’s, women’s and children’s conscia recti.”
MINISTER, n. An agent of a higher power with a lower responsibility. In diplomacy an officer sent into a foreign country as the visible embodiment of his sovereign’s hostility. His principal qualification is a degree of plausible inveracity next below that of an ambassador.
MIRACLE, n. An act or event out of the order of nature and unaccountable, as beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with four aces and a king.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
How baseball’s western move sank with the ships at Pearl Harbor
The owners of major league baseball teams in 1941 had a radical plan to change the game. It was not a rule change. Baseball rules have been in place for more than four decades, and they seem to be working well.
For all of its existence major league baseball teams resided in the eastern United States. It had tiptoed early on across the Mississippi river to St. Louis, but that was as far west as it had gotten. St. Louis, in fact, had two major league baseball teams, but by the 1930s the St. Louis Cardinals had won the hearts and minds of most of the city’s residents.
The other was the St. Louis Browns. That team had struggled for most of its existence. It had never been very good, and it had never had much of an audience in St. Louis. Still it hung on.
In 1941, in early December, the owners had decided that it was time for a change. Transportation of teams to and from the West Coast to play their games was one of the big problems. But that problem had been solved by the railroads and also by the possibility of air travel. It was time for major league baseball to claim the West Coast.
The plan was to move the St. Louis Browns into the Los Angeles area. There had been a lot of difficulties to overcome with this plan, but the owners—understanding the revenue potential of baseball fans on the West Coast—worked through those difficulties. It was then time to announce the plan.
The announcement was scheduled for Monday, December 8, 1941. There would be a press conference, and the owners would tell the public that western audiences would finally be able to enjoy major league baseball games in person, not just on the radio.
But then, December 7 happened. It was to become, as Franklin Roosevelt stated, a date that would “live in infamy.” With a surprise attack, Japanese bombers flew into Pearl Harbor with the intent of destroying the U.S. naval fleet, which was anchored there. Their actions drove the United States into World War II.
With that event, major league baseball owners canceled their press conference and canceled their plans to move west. This was not the time.
It would be 16 more years, long after World War II had ended, before ownership had gotten their act together to move west.
As much baseball history as I have read—and I have read plenty—I had never heard this story before a few weeks ago when I read an article about it by Joseph D’Hippolito in The Guardian, a British publication/website that pays scant attention to baseball. Here’s a portion of the article:
One day after the attack, Major League Baseball’s owners were expected to approve the move of the American League’s St Louis Browns to Los Angeles for 1942 – 16 years before Walter O’Malley’s former Brooklyn Dodgers played their first season on the West Coast. The Browns felt so confident that they even scheduled a press conference in Los Angeles to announce the move on the afternoon of Monday 8 December 1941.
The article is How Pearl Harbor stopped the birth of the LA Browns and changed baseball history and is well worth reading.
A different view of the first president
Have you ever had the feeling when you were reading about George Washington that you might not have been getting the full story? Is this guy really as good and perfect as American mythology makes him out to be?
George Washington was certainly essential to the founding of the United States. He gets a lot of credit for seeing his Continental Army through the seven years of the Revolutionary War. He also gets a lot of credit, as he should, for stepping away from power when it was offered to him, first as a king (or some sort of monarch) and later as a president who refused a third term. Those were precedent-setting actions that have stood in good stead for more than two centuries.
But there are other parts of Washington’s legacy that may not be so bright and shiny. Historian Alexis Coe has delved into those with her new biography of Washington titled You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington. It is “irreverent.” That’s a term that Coe seems to relish because she believes that for far too long we have been far too “reverent.”
The book is not so much a taking down of Washington as it is a setting of his actions into the context of the times.
For instance, Washington was not a great military commander. He lost more battles than he won.
What he was, and what he recognized himself to be, was a great symbol for the country— someone who could unify people and around whom people would forget their differences.
Washington understood the value of intelligence, of what the enemy was doing. Washington knew how to gather intelligence. In the last few years we have learned much about his spy networks through the good work of some excellent historians. Washington also knew how to use that intelligence against the enemy.
Washington, unlike his British counterparts, also understood the value of propaganda. He consistently sought to turn incidents of war into British atrocities that would preclude people from supporting them.
What Washington failed at, however, was the day-to-day understanding of politics. Washington stood aloof as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton argued about how the country should be run and was loath to take a stand. What that fostered, according to Coe, was a partisanship that we are still living with today. When he finally left office, she says, the country was “in a mess.”
I’m not sure that all of that can be laid at Washington’s feet, although her point is well taken. So is her book, which has received critical praise since it was published last February.
Coe talks about her approach to the first president and some of her research findings in a HistoryHit podcast. She is interviewed by the originator of the HistoryHit.tv website, which has a host of podcasts and documentaries geared toward those of us who can’t get enough of the past.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: The solitary reaper
The Solitary Reaper
Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
Best quote of the week:
I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. Rebecca West, author and journalist (1892-1983)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. 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 (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: A novel archeologists argue with, a couple made for caricature, and the Devil’s Dictionary returns: newsletter, January 14, 2022
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