The father of modern education, the thrill of the night sky, more on Shakespeare, and giveaways galore: newsletter, June 24, 2022

June 24, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,464) on Friday, June 24, 2022.

Summer arrived officially this week, although in my neck of the woods, we have already had several spells of pretty hot weather. The same thing happens at the end of the year when winter officially begins after there has been freezing weather and possibly even a snowfall or two. Depending on the sun to announce our seasons means that we will be perpetually behind the times, which is a fairly consistent personal condition.

Another interesting phenomenon of the skies these days is what skywatchers call a “conjunction” of the planets. Where I live, during the next couple of weeks, you can see as many as five planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—in the predawn eastern sky. These planets are joined by the moon, just to add to the thrills.

You may or may not be thrilled by any of this. So be it. When I was a child, I looked at the night sky with little understanding but with awe and wonder. I was thrilled to see what I could see. Today, many years later, the level of understanding hasn’t increased much, but the thrill remains.

Have a thrilling weekend.


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Johann Amos Comenius, founding father of modern education

The name of Johann Amos Comenius rarely echoes through the halls of modern academe, but his ideas about how we should educate ourselves remain alive, and his influence continues.

For instance, the American educational system of kindergarten, elementary, junior high, and high school levels is an idea that originated with Comenius. His influence runs far deeper than just the structure of a system, however.

Comenius was a Moravian writer, pedagogue, philosopher, and religious leader who lived in the 17th century and who developed ideas about education that today we would consider “natural” but during his time were thought to be “radical.” Comenius was born in 1592. His family was part of a religious sect known as the Unity of the Brethren, a Protestant denomination that had begun challenging the practices of the Catholic Church more than 100 years before Martin Luther famously did so. He was orphaned at the age of 10, but through good luck, he found adult mentors and was able to gain an education and graduate from the University of Heidelberg in 1613.

He was a deeply religious man who believed that human beings were made in the image of God. Those human beings could become more like God as they educated themselves about the world around them. Doing so would demonstrate to them the universality and harmony of God’s creation. In other words, Comenius believed that people were basically good and that education would make them better.

The belief in the goodness of mankind was not one that was strongly accepted during the era in which Comenius lived. In fact, many of the prevailing educational efforts consisted of practices designed to beat, often literally, the evil out of children. Comenius’s philosophy grew to strongly oppose such actions. 

Comenius believed in the following concepts:

–That formal education should be available to everyone without regard for gender, nationality, religious faith, or race;

–That learning should be incremental, beginning with simple concepts and moving to more complex information as the simple concepts are understood;

–That parents should begin teaching their children about the world from birth;

–That education should be a life-long process;

–That the language of education, which was Latin, should be used to teach about objects and concepts; at the time of Comenius, the teaching of Latin grammar was emphasized; Comenius also thought that local languages should be used along with Latin to help a child learn;

–That education should be fun and enjoyable;

–That rote memorization was far less effective than the learning of ideas and concepts;

–That pictures should be used to help children learn;

Each of these ideas (except for teaching in Latin, which we have totally discarded) seems obvious and “natural” today, but many of Comenius’s contemporaries found them shocking and dangerous. Yet, during his lifetime, there was an intellectual ferment developing across Europe that opened up consideration of new ideas such as those of Comenius.

Comenius carried on an active correspondence with many of the leading intellectual lights of Europe even though, politically and religiously, times were turbulent. On a number of occasions because of his religious beliefs, Comenius found himself in opposition to local political and religious authorities and had to go into hiding or flee to friendlier territory.

Wherever he was, he continued to write and develop his ideas. He produced a mountain of books and materials to help educators and promote his ideas, including:

The Great Didactic – his magnum opus that became popular throughout Europe and contained many of his major ideas;

The School of Infancy, a book instructing mothers on how to begin teaching their children about the world;

Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Visible World in Pictures), published in 1658 and thought to be the first textbook to use pictures to help students understand what they were learning; the book was translated into many languages and used for the next two centuries throughout Europe.

Comenius died in 1670 in Amsterdam, where he lived for the last 14 years of his life. His ideas about education came under attack by the humanists of the Enlightenment, especially René Descartes, because they were so deeply tied to his religious philosophy. Comenius fell out of fashion, and while his contributions to pedagogy were often adopted, he was generally forgotten.

His fame and reputation were revived beginning in the 19th century in Germany. Today he is thought of as a founding father of modern educational systems.

Illustration: Two pages from Orbis Pictus


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


The authorship of Shakespeare’s plays: a response

Bill Gathergood, a friend and faithful newsletter reader sent in this response to my musings a couple of weeks ago about the possibility that William Shakespeare might not be the author of all the plays attributed to him.

I spent 31 years teaching a Shakespeare seminar and have conducted many international projects based on Shakespeare’s works. I have often dealt with skeptics who asked the same question you have asked. So let me present the evidence I have accumulated over the years.

The most important evidence is the period between when the plays were written. We know that his first play, HENRY VI, was presented on the stage in 1594, about 18 months after he arrived in London. One of his last plays was THE TEMPEST, which is placed sometime in 1611. We know this because it was based on writings by Sylvester Jourdain who, in October of 1610, published his account of having been stranded on an island near Bermuda. His account became the basis for Prospero and his daughter being stranded on an island. So anyone else writing Shakespeare’s plays would have to be active in London from 1594 – 1611.

So let’s eliminate the first two obvious ghostwriters. Christopher Marlowe was a successful playwright in London, but he died on May 3, 1593, a year before Shakespeare’s first play was written. Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford, gets a lot of press, but he died in 1604, just as Shakespeare was putting out his big four, HAMLET, KING LEAR, OTHELLO, and MACBETH. Some have even implied that Elizabeth I wrote the plays, but since she died in March 1603, she can’t be considered.

Sir Thomas North falls into the same category as the above people. North died in 1604, about the time Shakespeare was writing his big four plays. Because North was educated at Cambridge and did a major translation of Plutarch’s Lives, he is considered an upperclassman that the elite could accept as a genius. Because Shakespeare used his material when developing all his Roman-based plays, I can see how some would think there is a connection, but Shakespeare also used Hollingshead’s History, which he studied in his six years as a student in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Now to people who lived long enough to do it, Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh. We can eliminate Raleigh because, while most of the plays were being written, he was in Virginia, establishing colonies for the Queen. Francis Bacon was in London for the entire period in question, but he was serving in several important government posts and was also writing many essays on philosophy. He could hardly have spent the long hours writing plays and also working with the actors to polish and re-edit his work. Remember these plays were written with a quill pen and bottled ink. Just the process of writing the play down for the first time takes many hours. Bacon was far too busy producing his own work and helping run the government to take on such a daunting task.

But there is one even more important piece of evidence that explains why people over the years have questioned the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. There is a form of study called “literary forensics.”  It is the idea that an individual’s writing leaves a fingerprint that is recognizable. A perfect example is a play that Christopher Marlowe began writing but died before it was finished. It was the play, EDWARD III.  

After long years of study, the play has been recently added to Shakespeare’s canon. It seems Shakespeare finished writing the play because Marlowe had written EDWARD II, and EDWARD III is a bridge play to Shakespeare’s RICHARD II.

When I was teaching an advanced Shakespeare seminar, I had my students read Shakespeare’s RICHARD II, then read Marlowe’s EDWARD II.  I then invited them to read EDWARD III and determine what was written by Marlowe and what was written by Shakespeare.  All of them independently agreed with the experts, who said that Marlowe only wrote the first act and Shakespeare wrote the last four acts.

So all of Shakespeare’s plays have his writing fingerprint, implying that the same person wrote all the plays, hopefully someone who arrived in London in 1592 and wrote the plays between 1594 and 1613.  All researchers who are not prejudiced against the common classes accept that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

England has always supported a class system that implies that the upper classes produce everything important and the lower classes serve in menial tasks. So over the centuries, there have been people in England who believe that a lower-class Stratfordian who only attended school for six years and whose father declared bankruptcy, couldn’t possibly write the greatest plays in the English language. But here in America, we have always believed in people’s ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do great things. We believe a man can be born in poverty in a log cabin and still rise to the presidency of the United States. (Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton.) So it is not surprising to us that genius can come from anyone. If the English class system is correct, then how could a child like Mozart accomplish so much before he was 16? 

The bottom line is that questions about the authorship of Shakespeare come from an antiquated class system that tries to keep people artificially down or up.


The Battle of Midway (part 2) has been delayed and will appear in next week’s newsletter.


Group giveaways

Kill the Quarterback is part of a group giveaway, June’s Mystery Giveaway, a BookFunnel giveaway that runs through the month of June. This giveaway is exclusively for all sorts of crime-related books and novels.

The giveaway includes more than 40 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway is

A second giveaway also includes Kill the Quarterback. This one is the Summer Reads Giveaway. There are more than 50 books in this one, so it is well worth the look. The link for this giveaway is

Finally, a third giveaway that you might be interested in is the Thrillers for FREE, also from This giveaway has more than 40 books in this genre, so have a look and download anything that looks interesting. Remember: they’re all free; the price is your email address. The link for this one is

All of these giveaways are open through the month of June. It helps me if you use one of the links above to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books.


Check out last week’s newsletter 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: USS Hammonn

Best quote of the week:

A house is no home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. Margaret Fuller, author, critic, and women’s rights advocate (1810-1850)

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: Making women legally visible, the Battle of Midway, the lethal nature of heat, and reader reactions: newsletter, June 17, 2022


Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing

The father of modern true crime writing is back.

William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.

His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.

Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.

The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include

Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contain

We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.

We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.

During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.

Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.

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