This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, February 11, 2022.
A glitch in my email reception system—entirely my fault—prevented me from seeing the emails that many of you newsletter readers sent during late December and January. I have recovered them and am working my way through all of them.
As usual, you had some great comments and insights, and I do not want other readers to miss them. So, in the next two newsletters, I’m going to play catch-up. Thanks, always, for writing to me, and forgive the recent delays in my responding to you.
Have a great weekend.
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Arthur Conan Doyle to Edgar Allan Poe: a debt paid with the compliment of imitation
In the opening paragraphs of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, you can find these lines that describe the initial impressions of the narrator to his newly-made friend, detective Auguste Dupin:
At such times I could not help remarking and admiring (although from his rich ideality I had been prepared to expect it) a peculiar analytic ability in Dupin. He seemed, too, to take an eager delight in its exercise—if not exactly in its display—and did not hesitate to confess the pleasure thus derived. He boasted to me, with a low chuckling laugh, that most men, in respect to himself, wore windows in their bosoms, and was wont to follow up such assertions by direct and very startling proofs of his intimate knowledge of my own. His manner at these moments was frigid and abstract; his eyes were vacant in expression; while his voice, usually a rich tenor, rose into a treble which would have sounded petulantly but for the deliberateness and entire distinctness of the enunciation. Observing him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupin—the creative and the resolvent.
And then there is in the next few lines a description of Dupin’s ability to discern what the narrator is thinking without a word being said between them.
We were strolling one night down a long dirty street, in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both, apparently, occupied with thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once Dupin broke forth with these words:
“He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Théâtre des Variétés.”
“There can be no doubt of that,” I replied unwittingly, and not at first observing (so much had I been absorbed in reflection) the extraordinary manner in which the speaker had chimed in with my meditations. In an instant afterward I recollected myself, and my astonishment was profound.
“Dupin,” said I, gravely, “this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of ___ ?” Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.
Recall then the beginning of The Adventure of the Dancing Men in which Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson what he has been thinking about and what conclusion he has come to without a word passing between them:
Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull grey plumage and a black top-knot.
“So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”
I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.
Holmes proceeds to explain to Watson how he came to know what he was thinking, and it all sounds very plausible both to Watson and to the reader.
Arthur Conan Doyle owes an enormous debt to the fevered imagination of Edgar Allan Poe, as we all do.
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Oblivion, Observatory, Obsessed, Obsolete
OBLIVION, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame’s eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory without an alarm clock.
OBSERVATORY, n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the guesses of their predecessors.
OBSESSED, p.p. Vexed by an evil spirit, like the Gadarene swine and other critics. Obsession was once more common than it is now. Arasthus tells of a peasant who was occupied by a different devil for every day in the week, and on Sundays by two. They were frequently seen, always walking in his shadow, when he had one, but were finally driven away by the village notary, a holy man; but they took the peasant with them, for he vanished utterly. A devil thrown out of a woman by the Archbishop of Rheims ran through the trees, pursued by a hundred persons, until the open country was reached, where by a leap higher than a church spire he escaped into a bird. A chaplain in Cromwell’s army exorcised a soldier’s obsessing devil by throwing the soldier into the water, when the devil came to the surface. The soldier, unfortunately, did not.
OBSOLETE, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer’s attitude toward “obsolete” words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.
OBSTINATE, adj. Inaccessible to the truth as it is manifest in the splendor and stress of our advocacy.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Sebring 1971 by Chris Wohlwend
The article below is by my friend Chris Wohlwend. Chris is a magazine writer and editor and author of the memoir Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia. The article below is about one of his experiences pursuing the worldwide field of auto racing.
The glass of champagne wasn’t something I had planned, or even cared much about. But I was standing beside Dick Smothers – half of the Brothers comedy team – and I was not supposed to be there, having crashed the VIPs-only scene. And that made me the envy of my traveling companions, therefore drawing a chuckle at the memory a half-century later. The place was Sebring, Florida, and the year was 1971.
While my knack for gaining entrance to places where I am not welcome is handy when you’re in the news business, I had actually been swept along to the champagne by circumstances . . . .
Amy L.: At your suggestion, I’ve been listening to pray-as-you-go fairly often as I sit down to do the Daily Bible Reading with my church people. It’s so wonderful! 😊
Vic C.: Zane Grey’s full name was Pearl Zane Grey and, though best known for his stories set in the old American West, he also wrote stories that were not Westerns (including romances). Many of his creations were novels (including several series) but there are a bunch of short stories, too. Beyond that, I suspect that few people know that he wrote several non-fiction books, specifically about fishing. Grey had two sons, Romer and Loren, who were authors in their own rights, and they published using their father’s first name as their middle names: Romer Zane Grey and Loren Zane Grey. So, when people refer to “Zane Grey,” they may very well be referring to someone other than Pearl Zane Grey. While Romer seems to have written solely under his own (sic) name, Loren often collaborated with his father. No matter which is named, they produced a large volume of works and, as you’re no doubt aware, many of them were adapted to cinema and TV.
Marcia D.: I agree that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds would have received fame in their baseball careers without using substances banned by Major League Baseball. We will probably never know why they chose to do this. Their decision to use these substances will be a part of their legacy forever.
Responses to the January 28, 2022 newsletter:
Elizabeth F.: Great issue! As a Minnesotan and one very aware of the ways of other states and countries from having toured and/or lived in them, and with the George Floyd trials, first of the officer responsible for the demise of Mr. Floyd and the current trial of the three officers on-site at the time, my area, Metro Minneapolis-St Paul has struggled with all aspects of justice and prejudice in our midst. Recent City elections balloted for changes in policing, with some citizens and politicians calling for disbanding the police force. Today we are in a countrywide search for a Supreme Court Justice and one Minnesotan, a Federal judge, has been mentioned. I appreciate the information provided, from the experience of Rockwell, global prison statistics, professors as expert witnesses, and the wit of the lawyers who found a way to protect this useful tradition. As to Sorel, I ordered the book.
Chuck C.: Nice one, Jim. I especially liked your piece on Rockwell. You know I met him and hung out in Stockbridge and spent time with him in his studio in ’69 after I had been up to Woodstock studying with John Pike for the summer. He was a wisened gentleman who gave me some wonderful advice most of which, unfortunately, I did not take. He was working on a large canvas of Audubon that appeared in Look. He was so warm, gracious and giving of his time to a young art student and confirmed my belief that famous celebrities are just people too.
Mike C.: Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your article about UF and Judge Walker. I couldn’t agree more. Of all the places to try to muzzle free speech, an institute of higher learning should never be one of them. I live in Florida but had not heard of this until you brought it to my attention. Thanks for that! My youngest sister graduated from UF!
Dan C.: You are right about the problems within our judicial system. Where I am conflicted is not in how we treat our offenders, but what can be done to keep them from offending. In 99+% of criminal cases, to paraphrase, “if you don’t commit a crime, you won’t do the time.” So the question then goes away from why are so many incarcerated to why are so many committing crimes. We are supposed to be “The Land of the Free,” but does that mean “Free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want?” For a “Free Society” we have a lot of ways to lose that freedom.
Is it the American revolutionary spirit coming through when so many are revolting against the laws of the land? There are some laws I can see changing, such as the legalization of marijuana. A lot of people are in jail for minor drug offenses. We can start using the same guidelines for ALL offenders, making sentences equal no matter your skin tone or social strata. We can also go towards a system that relies more on rehabilitation and less on retribution. Rely more on punishment for when people are hurt, not when property is.
Vic C.: Re: imprisonment, both wrongful and justified, and about the “right to bear arms” and having apparent implied addendum of the “right to use them anytime I damn well please.” I wonder what will push the American democracy over the edge first: loss of a credible electoral system fomented by the elected, open warfare between citizens exercising their “rights” or something else. The rapid destruction of our ecosphere is almost certain to eliminate most (if not all) life on the planet with no meaningful penalties for the perpetrators. I doubt that there will ever be a general agreement about imprisonment and we will keep barreling along, destroying ourselves until there’s no one left. We’ve no need for a “zombie apocalypse” because we’re perfectly capable of eliminating each other with Macbeth’s utterance holding forth: “Lay on…and be damned he who first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’
Finally . . .
This week’s pen and ink: Martello Tower, Ireland’s Eye
Best quote of the week:
“I think there are more good sportswriters doing more good sportswriting than ever before. But I also believe that the one thing that’s largely gone out is what made sport such fertile literary territory — the characters, the tales, the humor, the pain, what Hollywood calls ‘the arc.’ That is: stories. We have, all by ourselves, ceded that one neat thing about sport that we owned.”
—Frank Deford (1938-2017) American sportswriter, broadcast commentator, sports historian and author
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: The Gilded Age, humans and horses, and baseball’s Hall of Fame debate: newsletter, February 4, 2022
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