This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, April 7, 2023.
I am fascinated by what I sometimes call the “miracle of growth.” It is something of a cliche to say that a tiny acorn can turn into a giant oak tree, but it is also literally true. A kernel of corn can become a seven-foot stalk that bears multiple ears of corn, each with hundreds of kernels.
We know a great deal about the miracle of growth. Biology textbooks of all specialties are filled with detailed explanations and drawings. But our knowledge, for me at least, in no way dispels the magic of the fact that the acorn becomes the oak. It is a miracle.
During the past week, we started our annual garden, planting beans, okra, and corn. Tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, and others will follow. Each item we plant will demonstrate again and again the miracle of growth. To see it, and to contemplate it, causes me continual amazement.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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F. Tennyson Jesse: The ‘Mother of True Crime’
Three decades after William Roughead began his ground-breaking true crime writing, centered on murder trials in Scotland and England, F. Tennyson Jesse produced a seminal work to the true crime genre. Jesse authored a book titled Murder and its Motives, published in 1924.
She was undoubtedly familiar with Roughead’s work, as well as the true crime writing of others, and her book states clearly and succinctly that there are six distinct motives for murder: gain, jealousy, lust for killing, revenge, and conviction.
She devotes a chapter to each of these motives, and writes a thorough case history of a true crime event that demonstrates how these motives work.
Fiction and non-fiction writers have been using the ideas and information she outlined so clearly for nearly a century.
In her introduction, Jesse writes that everyone is fascinated by murder. In fact, she says, the world can be divided into two classes of people: those who admit their fascination, and those who do not. “The person to whom the very word murder does not give a certain not unpleasing thrill is so rare, that he may be ruled out for the purpose of discussion …”
She also makes an important and rarely observed point about the act of murder and about those who commit murder. “Murder is the most curious of all phenomena, because it is the one which shows the most distorted point of view in the perpetrator.” The objective of a murderer is usually “ludicrously paltry” when compared to the enormity of the act itself. In other words, a murder is a difficult thing to commit, it carries enormous cost, and it is a difficult thing to get away with. The benefits of murder for the murderer rarely match the efforts, physical and psychological, that it requires.
Jesse did not start out to be a true crime journalist, but she was indeed interested in crime from a very early age. One story from her childhood is that she entertained the girls at her boarding school after their mandatory lights out by reciting, sometimes verbatim, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
Jesse was born in 1888 in Chislehurst, England. Her father was a clergyman in the Anglican church but was never considered to be very successful in his career. His uncle was the famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Later in her life, Jesse changed part of her name to include the name Tennyson, of which she was very proud.
Jesse was often left alone as a child. Her parents traveled extensively, but they rarely took her with them. She attended a boarding school in Paris and then studied at art school in Cornwall, England. In addition to artistic endeavors, she began to write. She discovered writing to be more enjoyable and fulfilling than her artwork.
As a young adult, she worked as a reporter for a couple of British newspapers, and wrote book reviews for the English Review, which published her first short story, titled “The Mask.” The positive reception for that short story led to the publication of her first novel The Milky Way in 1913.
It also resulted in a collaboration with playwright Harold Marsh Harwood. The two adapted the story for the stage and later became husband and wife.
When the Great War broke out in 1914, Jesse persuaded the editors of the Daily Mail to send her into Belgium to cover the German invasion. As such, she was one of the first women to serve as a modern war correspondent. The British Ministry of Information took an interest in her work and asked her to report on the Women’s Army. The non-fiction book The Sword of Deborah: First-hand Impressions of the British Women’s Army in France brought even more attention to her in her writing. The book turned her into a voice for modern feminism, and throughout her life, she advocated for reform of divorce and abortion laws.
She married Harwood in September 1918 just before she left for a posting in Syria. Her marriage appeared to be loveless at the time, but the two stayed together, both as collaborators and as spouses, and eventually there was a genuine deep affection that bound them together.
She continued writing fiction and published novels regularly throughout the 1920s. Her most lasting work, however, was Murder and Its Motives. That book resulted in an invitation from the editors of Notable British Trials to become a contributor. She eventually wrote several excellent articles for that series.
A modern reader of Jesse should be forewarned about one aspect of her thinking. She was virulently racist, more even than was normal for her time, and her occasional descriptions of people of color are offensive to those who do not share these views.
A good example of Jesse at her best writing is the short story “The Railway Carriage,” a 1948 work that has been anthologized in several places. You can also listen to an audio reading here at ListenNotes.com. Her best novel is thought to be A Pin to See the Peepshow, published in 1934.
When Jesse died in 1958, Rebecca West wrote that she was “a skillful, amusing, clandestine sort of feminist, never tired of getting in an adroit plea for the dignity and independence of womankind.”
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: The Union says farewell to its veterans: the Grand Review, May 23-24, 1865
It was a parade to end all parades.
The nation had never seen anything like it, but then, the nation had never felt anything like what it was feeling in May 1865. Four years of bitter, internal fighting had ended during the previous month. But just as the Union was ready to celebrate, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and instead of celebration there began a period of deep mourning.
Lincoln’s funeral train had made its slow journey west to Springfield, Illinois, and people across the East and Midwest had said goodbye to their fallen leader.
Now in May, the nation was in a less somber mood, and it needed to say another goodbye—to the Army that had saved the Union. On May 10, the new president, Andrew Johnson, declared an official end to the hostilities and announced that there would be a formal review in Washington, D.C., to honor the troops.
Two weeks later, that review occurred. It took two days.
The first day, May 23, General George Gordon Meade led his Army of the Potomac down Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol building past a reviewing stand at the Treasury Building where President Johnson, Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, their wives, and other dignitaries sat. A crowd of more than 250,000 lined the avenue and cheered repeatedly as officers, enlisted men, horses, and artillery passed by. It took six hours for the 80,000 troops of Meade’s army to pass the reviewing stand.
The next day, General William Tecumseh Sherman took the same route as Meade, leading 65,000 men of the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Georgia past the same reviewing stand. Sherman’s ragtag armies presented a stark contrast in appearance to Meade’s spit and polish troops that the crowd had seen the day before. They had not been paid, their uniforms were the same as they had worn on recent battlefields, and they were hungry. Still, they marched, and the crowds—bigger than the day before—cheered them on.
Within two weeks, all of the armies had disbanded, and the weary veterans headed home to their families, farms, and businesses. They carried with them their experiences, their scars, and their memories—and the knowledge that they had saved the Union and that, at least for that moment, the nation was grateful.
The photo above was one of a number taken by Mathew Brady. They can be seen in a collection on the Library of Congress website.
Group giveaways for April
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.
Lenten devotional: Love your enemies
For these weeks of Lenten, I have recommended a devotional series written by the laity of 1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, TN (see below). The following is my contribution to that series.
But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
In reading this verse alone, without the context of the surrounding verses, I am at first reminded of the time, later in Luke (Chapter 10), where Jesus is questioned by a lawyer about the greatest of all commandments. Jesus asks the lawyer what he thinks. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Correct, says Jesus. But then the lawyer asks, “But who is my neighbor?” That question provides Jesus with the opportunity to relate possibly his most beautiful parable, the Good Samaritan. In this passage, no one asks, “Who is my enemy?”
We don’t have to ask. Many times in our lives, enemies surround us. We have no trouble identifying them. And therein lies the problem. We can, indeed, identify our enemies.
Jesus calls us not only to action but to “listen” and think deeply about what he is saying. If we do that, we may discover a hidden but essential truth. The person we love, because we love that person, can no longer be our enemy. We cannot identify that person as an enemy.
Yes, there may be those who “hate us.” But we are not responsible for the feelings of another person. We are responsible for our own feelings and actions. If we follow this divine command, we will have no enemies.
Jennifer S.: I thought of you and your beekeeping journey earlier this week when, having dinner with a new friend who mentioned his own work with bees, I excitedly asked, “Oh! Are you a beekeeper?” He replied, “Well, I’m more of a bee haver.” This seemed like an excellent and useful distinction: He has the bees and looks after them, but he doesn’t really “keep” them. May you have bees soon, and may you keep them, or they you, as it happens.
Freida M.: Thanks for the interesting article on Mr. Hone. Also I really am enjoying your artwork of the Mountain Man!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Mountain cabin
Best quote of the week:
The good, the enlightened of all ages and nations, have found pleasure and consolation in the beauty of the rural earth. Prophets of old retired into the solitudes of nature to wait the inspiration of heaven. It was on Mount Horeb that Elijah witnessed the mighty wind, the earthquake, and the fire, and heard the “still small voice”; that voice is yet heard among the mountains! Saint John preached in the desert; the wilderness is yet a fitting place to speak of God.
Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Thomas Cole, landscape artist, (1801-1848)
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.
1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee (full disclosure: my home church) is offering daily devotionals that will land in your in-box every day during Lent. They are written by church members and take less than a couple of minutes to read. (And yes, I have written one of them.) Sign up to receive them here.
Helping those in need
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: 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: William Hone and the fight for press freedom, more on bees and swarms, Women With Words; newsletter, March 31, 2023
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