More on Francis Walsingham, Walt Whitman, loving your enemies, and more: newsletter, May 26, 2023

May 26, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, beekeeping, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, May 26, 2023.

The New York Times recently reviewed a book a few years ago that I have not read but whose title I certainly agree with: Love Your Enemies.

The book is by Arthur C. Brooks, who is among other things the former director of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C. The author of the review is journalist Lance Morrow, and he writes:

Brooks beholds America’s 21st-century tribal feuds — which on a national scale add up to nothing less than a religious war, a clash of faiths and value systems — with a clear, intelligent eye and a hospitable attitude that is rightly focused on the spiritual dimensions of the problem: Only transcendence can open the way to better solutions down the road. The real swamp just now is in the American mind. Source: Healing the Divisions in Our Country – The New York Times

America has always been a nation riven with deep divisions, culturally, socially, and politically. Those divisions seem particularly acute now—so much so that there seems to be no way around them.

But Brooks points out that there is much more that we can agree about than what we have chosen to disagree about. Recognizing that is the first step toward healing those divisions. I hope that more of us—especially me—can take that first step.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


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Francis Walsingham, Elizabethan spymaster (part 2)

When Francis Walsingham returned to England in 1573 after serving three years as the English ambassador in Paris, he was exhausted physically and financially. Never a man in robust health, Walsingham often took on too many tasks because of his commitment to Protestantism and to Queen Elizabeth, and because he was far more bureaucratically talented than most of his contemporaries.

His financial situation was also grave. It had cost far more to maintain the English embassy in Paris than the stinginess of Queen Elizabeth had allowed. Walsingham was a man of means, but those means were nearly depleted by the expenses that Paris demanded.

Walsingham found that the internal political situation in England was no better than when he had left. If anything, it was worse, having been exacerbated by international events.

The first and foremost concern among Walsingham and those who supported the Queen was “the Queen’s person.” That is, the constant threat of assassination followed Queen Elizabeth everywhere she went and with every activity that she undertook.

Fears for the Queen’s safety were not simply Protestant paranoia. William the Silent, the leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain, was assassinated in 1584. The English had good reason to believe that the same thing could happen to their own Queen, particularly since the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots now resided under Elizabeth’s “protection” in England. Mary had fled to England in fear of her life in 1568, and her presence had been a thorn in the side of Protestants ever since. Mary professed loyalty to Elizabeth, but she had some legitimate claim to the English throne. If Elizabeth could be eliminated, many Catholics believed Mary would be her logical successor. Thus, plots abounded.

Walsingham and his cohorts amended English law to make plotting against the Queen a treasonable offense. That law provided for him a legal pathway to put many of his espionage techniques into practice. He placed his agents among many Catholic groups. He arrested many of the secret priests who were coming into England from France. He sometimes used torture to extract information. He was often able to turn Catholic adherents into his own counterintelligence agents. He was not above using agent provocateurs to push forward plots and conspiracies that he could monitor and intercept at will.

Walsingham followed Catholic thinking closely, and he knew the Catholics were increasingly focused on Queen Mary. It became obvious to him that Mary Queen of Scots must be eliminated, and that the way to do that was to entrap her in a conspiracy against Elizabeth. During the decade after he returned from France, Walsingham slowly tightened the net around Mary, setting her up so that when she did make a misstep, he would be able to take full advantage.

Inevitably, it happened. Walsingham had made it obvious to Mary that he was monitoring her correspondence, but he allowed her and her cohorts to develop what they believed was a secret means of getting information to her and a way for her to respond. Mary’s conspirators were slipping encrypted messages to her in water-tight tubes inside the barrels of beer that were delivered to the castle where she was confined. She was responding by the same means.

Not only was Walsingham watching every step of this process, but he was also reading the correspondence because his agents had broken Mary’s cypher. Finally, in 1586 Mary tipped her hand. In a response to a message where one of her conspirators (Anthony Babington) laid out a plan to kill Elizabeth, free Mary, and install her as the new queen, Mary wrote an endorsement to the plan. By her own hand, she had broken the law and committed treason. 

Walsingham had what he needed to convince Queen Elizabeth of Mary’s ill will and to convict her in an English court. Still, it took four months to bring her to trial and four more months to have her executed. Elizabeth’s proclivity for indecision and procrastination nearly drove Walsingham and his Protestant colleagues up a wall.

Despite Mary’s death, the danger to English Protestantism remained real from international forces, and once again Walsingham and his network of spies, informants, and counterintelligence played a key role in protecting his nation. The enmity between Spain and England had been building for decades, ever since Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon in 1533 to marry Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother. Phillip II of Spain had proposed a marriage between him and Elizabeth, but his deep Catholicism and her Protestantism were two factors among many that prevented such a union. The death of Mary Queen of Scots ended any hope that Phillip had of peacefully returning the crown of England to the Catholic Church.

Walsingham used his considerable network of contacts to monitor, and sometimes inhibit, Spain’s military buildup against the English. He kept up with what ships were being built and what supplies were being ordered. His spies within the Spanish military gave him a good idea of how the Spanish planned to invade England. His contacts with bankers in Florence, Italy—where Phillip might obtain loans—allowed him to delay or prevent such financing.

Walsingham even practiced some psychological warfare by spreading rumors along the Spanish seaboard that astrologers were predicting monstrous and deadly weather for the English Channel. The rumors were designed to discourage Spanish recruitment of sailors.

The demise of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is a well-known historical tale, with England combining all her advantages and information with a considerable amount of good fortune to prevail and thus begin an era in which she “ruled the waves.” When the English victory was clear, an admiral in the British navy wrote to Walsingham: “I will not flatter you, but you have fought more with your pen than many have in our English navy found with their enemies.”

Walsingham did not have long to savor his victory. He died in April 1590, and the Spanish ambassador to England wrote to King Phillip that the news of his death had brought “much sorrow” in England. The King, upon receiving the dispatch from the ambassador, noted in its margin: “There, yes! But it is good news here.”


William Seward on what makes communities flourish or decline

As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity. William Henry Seward, Secretary of State, governor, and senator (1801-1872)

Seward was one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and moral men ever to serve in American government. He came close but never achieved his ultimate ambition to become president.

Still, the nation owes Seward a great debt for his political and moral leadership during a time when it was desperately needed.


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


From the archives: Walt Whitman’s calculated plan to achieve the fame he wanted

Walt Whitman (whose 200th birthday we celebrated briefly last week) was 35 years old in 1854 with no job and no prospects. He knew, however, that he wanted to be a poet—a famous poet.

He was well on the way to being a poet. He had already written much of his seminal work, Leaves of Grass. It was the famous part that eluded him.

Whitman, who was living with family in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, at the time, had tried to interest publishers in his work and had had no success. He typeset ten pages of Leaves of Grass on a typesetter owned by some friends in Brooklyn and then ran off and bound 200 copies. He tried peddling them to bookstores but failed. He then got a company that sold phrenology and health-fad books to take it on.

By then it was 1855, and sales of his work were miserable to non-existent. What reviews there were panned the book as obscene because of its sexual language and overtones.

Still, Whitman persisted.

He wrote three anonymous reviews of the book himself, heaping praise on it as a truly “American bard at last.” He sent a copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the great American essayist responded with a thank you letter that called the poem “free and brave thought.” The letter was a private one, not meant for publication, but Whitman published it anyway, giving it to the editor of the New York Daily Tribune without Emerson’s permission.

As Elaine Showalter writes in a recent article in the New York Review of Books:

It was the beginning of Whitman’s huge success, not only as a poet, but also a marketing genius and self-publicist. Whitman’s celebration of himself and promotion of his brand has drawn comparisons with the showman P.T. Barnum, the “Shakespeare of Advertising,” whose autobiography was published the same year as Leaves of Grass. Source: Whitman, Melville, & Julia Ward Howe: A Tale of Three Bicentennials | by Elaine Showalter | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Whitman continued to market himself throughout the rest of his life, carefully cultivating the image of the all-American poet, rough-hewn but also profound and insightful with a poetic voice unlike any that had ever been heard before.


Group giveaways for May 

Kill the Quarterback, Point Spread, and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

Page-turning mysteries and thrillers

Mystery and thriller season (through May 21)

Spine-chilling reads

Historical crime and mystery giveaway

KDP promo (May 9 – May 29)

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.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Jeffrey M.: You might also be interested in John Dee. He was quite the character and involved in many things, to include scrying for angels. He is long rumored to be the head of Elizabeth’s intelligence service. Some dub him as the original 007. Not sure I’d go that far, but he was certainly a fascinating person.

Good idea. I will take a look.

Elizabeth F.: Great letter! I am eagerly waiting for the part 2 volume on women writers, and loved the bee saga! You are a brave man, Jim Stovall! It is really exciting to see how this newsletter has grown and to see the number of readers each week.


Finally . . .

This week’s pyrography: Anticipation

Something a little different this week. This image was burned onto a piece of oak—a technique I have begun to experiment with. More later.

Best quote of the week:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause… It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Sophie Scholl, student and anti-Nazi activist (1921-1943) [Her last words before being executed by guillotine.]

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

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 ( 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: Francis Walsingham, the Elizabethan spymaster, moving the bees in a bait hive, and more: newsletter, May 19, 2023



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