This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, November 4, 2022.
Growing up in the pre-Ice Age (that is, the 1950s and the 1960s), we looked upon Halloween as a small blip on the fall calendar that presaged the coming of Thanksgiving (a few days off from school) and eventually Christmas (The Big One!).
Halloween took up, at most, a day and a half. You might plan and design your costume the evening before, and you might even map out your route through the neighborhood—with parental approval of course. The next evening as darkness began to fall, you would don your costume, practice the words “trick or treat,” and set out on your journey to fill your container, usually a paper bag, with as much candy as possible. In those innocent times, the acts of vandalism were confined to kicking over a few flower pots along the way. The gathering of candy was the main point, and the bragging rights among siblings was the reward for getting the most.
Halloween has certainly changed from those distant times. Elaborate costumes can be purchased online. Scary yard decorations proliferate through the neighborhood. And no one seems to take any pleasure in kicking over flower pots anymore. You don’t even hear the words “trick-or-treat” very much.
The biggest change, however, is that adults are now heavily involved. This past Halloween I have seen more adults decked out in their costumes than children.
None of these observations means that I am against what is happening now. As in the days of old, people have a lot of fun at Halloween, and that is how it should be. It’s just that the children these days have to share it with adults. When I was young, it would be like having to share your candy with your mom and dad. That just didn’t happen.
Have a great and literate weekend.
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The first of the great American novels
American literature is littered with “great American novels.” It would be impossible for any two or three people to agree on which one is “the” great American novel.
The Spy was published in 1821 and was actually the second novel that Cooper had written. His first novel, titled Precaution, was set in the year 1815 in Northamptonshire, England. It was published anonymously and credited to an English woman, and it was, in the words of Cooper, “a crude effort to describe foreign manners.”
What Americans really wanted was an American novel, set in America and with characters who were American.
Cooper was born in 1789 and literally grew up along with the new Republic. When he was only a year old, his family moved from New Jersey to Cooperstown, New York, a community in western New York founded by his father.
Cooper enrolled in Yale University at the age of 13 but was expelled during his third year because of a series of pranks that showed he was not really a very serious student. He signed on with a merchant vessel at the age of 17, and by 1811 he had obtained the rank of midshipman in the United States Navy. His officer’s warrant was signed by none other than Thomas Jefferson.
The future author did not remain in the Navy long after that. He had met the woman that he wanted to marry, Susan Augusta de Lancey, and he returned to his hometown seeking some satisfactory employment. One evening in 1820, when reading a novel to his wife, she complained about how boring it was. Cooper believed he could write one that was more interesting and decided to give it a try.
His first novel was heavily influenced by the novels of English mannerisms written by Jane Austen and others. It did moderately well with the public, but Cooper was not satisfied.
As with many of his fellow countrymen, Cooper believed that the literature of the new Republic should finally separate itself from the mother country.
His second novel, The Spy, was set during the time of the American Revolution and was inspired by a story related to him by none other than John Jay, a family friend and one of the great leaders in the formation of the Republic.
The story revolves around a man named Harvey Birch, a peddler who is openly sympathetic with the British. Birch is really a Patriot and is working as one of George Washington’s informants. As such, he is exposed to great dangers and has some dramatically close calls.
The composition of the novel has an unusual story behind it. Cooper, as he was writing the book, had selected a printer for its publication, and he began sending the initial chapters to the printer to be set in type. The printer became concerned that the novel might grow to such a length that it would be unprofitable to publish.
To allay that concern, Cooper wrote the last chapter of the novel and sent it to the printer. It was then set in type along with the page numbers to assure the printer that the book would not exceed a certain length. Then Cooper wrote the intervening chapters to fit the number of pages that were left.
“This circumstance, while it cannot excuse, may serve to explain the matter in which the actors are hurried off the scene,” Cooper wrote.
The novel was a great public success. The original print run of 1,000 copies sold out within a month, and another 600 copies sold within the first year of its publication. These sales convinced Cooper that life as an author could be financially viable.
The book was also a critical success, welcomed by publications such as the Literary World which stated:
Before ‘The Spy’ we believe there is scarcely to be found a book from an American pen, in which there is an attempt to delineate American character or scenery, or which selects the soil of the United States as the field of its story.
Cooper went on to be one of the first great figures of American literature. Cooper showed that American writers could write about the land and its people and could make those stories interesting and compelling. Twenty-first century readers may find Cooper’s novels to be difficult going, but Cooper and his contemporaries established the American character as one of literary value.
Cooper was popular not only in America, but his fame and popularity spread throughout the world. His efforts were an important part of the story that America had to tell about itself as it established its place among nations.
The Hippocratic Oath is not what we think it is—nor is it where we think it is
Just about everybody (he said with confidence) knows what the Hippocratic Oath is, right?
Of course we do. It’s the oath first used by Greek physicians and begins with something like, “first, do no harm.”
And every physician, in order to get his or her license to practice, swears by that oath, right?
Wrong on just about all counts.
So explains Lydia Dugdale in her interesting and eye-opening article on Plough.com. In this article, “Bring Back Hippocrates,” she says:
The truth is that the Hippocratic Oath does not say the doctor should “first, do no harm.” (That phrase appears in a different Hippocratic text, ‘Epidemics I.’) The myth of Hippocrates is more prolific than his oath.
But what Dugdale has to say about modern medicine is much more disturbing than the fact that we have gotten something about the Hippocratic Oath wrong.
In contrast with its historic significance and use, today no American medical student is required to take the Hippocratic Oath. Almost all medical schools administer some sort of oath, yet they share no consensus on a single text, and many select and revise their oath each year.
These facts indicate the uncomfortable state of modern medical practice. It seems to lack a common moral basis for its existence.
If you visit almost any medical practice these days, you are struck by the absence of any “patient first” printable that underlies your treatment. In too many cases, those of us who are all outside the medical profession looking in see doctors and practices that are far more concerned with seeing as many patients and charging as many fees as possible between the hours of their opening and closing.
Dugdale does not address that issue specifically, but her article is perceptive and revealing and well worth the short time it takes to read it. Dugdale is a physician and ethicist at Columbia University in New York City and directs the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
All Quiet on the Western Front: the book, the movie, and the phrase
“All quiet on the western front” has become, for those speaking English, a catch-phrase that means “nothing much has changed” and can refer to just about any context. A new version of the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, recently released on Amazon Prime, gives us the opportunity to recall the origin of the phrase.
It is the title of a remarkable book, All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book was published in 1928, a decade after the war had ended but not so long as to make it fade from the memories of those who were there. Remarque had led a troop of young Germans, imbued with the idealism of their country, into the trench warfare that scarred their views of the world for the rest of their lives.
The book sold 2.5 million copies and was translated into 22 languages during its first 18 months in print. Eventually the book and its sequel, The Road Back, published in 1930, became offensive to the Nazi regime and achieved the honor of being burned by the Nazis.
In 1930 the book was adapted by Hollywood into an Academy-Award winning film of the same name. It was directed by Lewis Milestone. A second adaptation occurred in 1979, a television film that starred Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine. Now we have the Amazon Prime version.
The original title of the book was Im Westen nichts Neues, which might be translated from the German literally as “Nothing New in the West.” The English translation by Arthur Wesley Wheen reformed the title as All Quiet on the Western Front. The phrase refers to an official communiqué that comes at the end of the book.
Soon after the Nazis came to power in Germany, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels condemned the book as unpatriotic. The book was banned from libraries and eventually landed on the Nazis’ burn pile. Remarque left Germany to live in a villa in Switzerland, and there he came under increasing attack by the Nazis. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Remarque and his wife left Switzerland for the United States where they became naturalized citizens.
During the war, Remarque continued to write about Germany while he lived in New York City. Unknown to him at the time, his youngest sister Elfriede Scholz, who stayed behind in Germany with her husband and two children, was arrested and tried by the Nazis as a traitor. She was found guilty and beheaded in 1943. Remarque later said that his sister had been involved in anti-Nazi resistance actions.
In 1948 Remarque returned to Switzerland where he remained and continued to write until his death at the age of 72 in 1970.
Group giveaways for November
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 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.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Tennessee-Georgia-2022
The Tennessee-Georgia football game on Nov. 5 has emerged as the premier regular season contest in this year’s Southeastern Conference. The winner is likely to appear in the SEC championship. The teams are two of the best in America.
This 10×14 watercolor was created to commemorate this game and the season for both teams and as a fundraiser for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Prints of this watercolor will be available only through Sunday at FineArtAmerica: https://fineartamerica.com/…/tennessee-georgia-2022-jim…
All of the proceeds from the sale of this print and its original will be donated to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org).
If you do not want the print, I urge you to give generously to UMCOR or the charity of your choice.
Best quote of the week:
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. Desiderius Erasmus, philosopher, humanist, and theologian (1466-1536)
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.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
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: Ignatius Sancho, jettisoning bad behaviors, local authors follow-up: newsletter, October 28, 2022
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