This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, July 14, 2023.
College admissions procedures have, once again, become big news. A recent Supreme Court decision has “outlawed” some “affirmative action” procedures by those who determined who gets in and who doesn’t at certain colleges and universities. I have put some of the words and phrases in the previous sentence within quotation marks to indicate that despite all of the news, I am still not clear as to what we are talking about.
My clarity, of course, is neither here nor there. What I am pretty sure about is that my experience of four decades in academia tells me that the admission procedures for any college or program is complex and highly subjective. The people who make these decisions are human beings using sometimes objective and often very non-objective criteria.
And yet, people who have never had to make these decisions are quite willing to pronounce with certainty what these admission officers should and should not do. There are no quotation marks in their pronouncements.
It seems that this is yet another area in our public life where the idea of humility has been cast aside.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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The Shakespearean rivalry that provoked death and destruction
The battle between Englishman William Charles Macready and American Edwin Forrest was the titanic struggle between two theatrical giants during the 1840s. It reached a climax in 1849 when it spilled onto the streets of New York City, causing havoc, destruction, and the lives of several people.
Macready and Forrest were not only two great actors of their time, but they also represented differing views of the theater, divergent interpretations of Shakespeare, and the tensions between the United States and Great Britain that persisted throughout much of the 19th century.
The contrast between the two men was stark. Macready was a high-born Englishman, and perfectly represented the class system that ruled British society. Forrest came from a working-class family and used true grit and determination to reach the top of his profession. Macready was vain and confident of his position. Forrest was never sure of himself or his status, and he quite likely suffered from paranoia.
The one thing they had in common was that they were great actors, and in that day a great actor was also a great Shakespearean. Neither man lacked much in this area of their endeavors.
The feud between them simmered through various articles and reviews of their performances. Macready played Shakespearean characters in much the same way that they had always been played. Forrest was more willing to give new interpretations of the Bard’s poetics and characters. Each had a loyal and growing following that went far beyond their own personalities.
Macready was the older and more established actor, and as Forrest grew into the acting profession, the two had a more or less cordial rivalry. Macready had toured in the United States earlier in his career and had received favorable reviews and warm receptions from his audiences—even though the prices of tickets to his performances were considered by some to be exorbitant.
Forrest had toured Great Britain, but his performances and reviews were much less well received. Without much evidence to back him up, Forrest began to believe that Macready was responsible for this tepid reception. The cordial relationship that they had once enjoyed began to deteriorate.
The hatred that Forrest developed for Macready broke into the open one night in Edinburgh, as Macready was playing Hamlet. Forrest attended the performance, stood up in a private box, and hissed loudly at the English actor. That action became a sensational item for the British press and was much reported and commented upon. News traveled quickly across the Atlantic, and many in America supported Forrest and thought him unfairly maligned by British journalists.
In 1849 Macready again came to America and found a much different situation from what he had encountered previously. He was still well-known as an actor and his performances drew large audiences. His disputes with Edwin Forrest, however, clouded all of his public actions. In addition, America, and especially New York City, had been the recipient of a large number of immigrants from Ireland, people who held the English in extreme contempt.
On May 7th, Macready appeared in a performance of Macbeth at the Astor Opera House. The audience he faced was full of Forrest supporters, and his performance was halted by a shower of rotten eggs, potatoes, apples, lemons, and other objects that rained down upon the stage.
Macready announced his intention to end his tour and return to Great Britain. Many New Yorkers, including Herman Melville, and Washington Irving, were embarrassed about what had happened, and they signed petitions asking Macready to stay. He finally relented.
On May 10th, he appeared again for another performance of Macbeth. Tensions had been building on all sides during the three days since his first performance, and the New York City mayor gathered together as many policemen as he could find to try to prevent any violence. His efforts were futile.
By the time the performance began, there were as many as 10,000 people in the street surrounding the theater. Many of them bombarded the building with rocks and bricks, and as police moved in to try to quell the crowd, a number of pitched battles between the rioters and the police ensued. Fires broke out and gunfire was heard. The New York State militia was then summoned to try to restore order, but it did little more than simply add to the fighting.
By the time it was over, as many as 30 of the rioters had been killed, and dozens more were injured. The police in the militia also suffered many casualties. It was the worst civilian uprising in the history of the young nation.
All of the deaths, injuries, and destruction settled nothing, of course. The English continued to look down upon America, and many Americans seethed with anger at British high-headedness. Macready returned to Great Britain and continued acting for another year or so before retiring in 1851. He lived in a happy retirement until his death in 1873.
The much younger Forrest also continued with his career and played in theaters throughout the country for the next 20 years. In his final days, he suffered from bad health, and was finally felled by a stroke at his home in Philadelphia, where he died in 1872. He was known throughout his life as a philanthropist, using the considerable fortune that he had accumulated to encourage the development of theater in the United States.
From the archives: Alan Furst writes about ordinary people in extraordinary times
Since the late 1980s, Alan Furst has been writing one long novel, in his own words, about the “death of Europe”—that dark time in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the old Europe was killed off by Fascism, venality, and war.
His ability to capture this period with spare, evocative prose has made him one of the best espionage novelists of the age and has gathered for him a world-wide audience that launches him onto numerous best-seller lists.
Furst, born in New York City in 1941, went to Oberlin College and then knocked around between New York, Europe, and Seattle, trying his hand at graduate studies, teaching, writing magazine articles, and writing comic and mystery novels. He published several novels, but none of them did very well, so he decided to move to Paris. There he made a change, getting interested in writing about Europe on the edge of war, and got Houghton Mifflin to publish the first of his Night Soldiers series (the name of the novel and the series) in 1988.
The first three of the series, Night Soldiers (1988), Dark Star (1991), and The Polish Officer (1995), sold only modestly but gathered some excellent reviews. When the sixth novel, Kingdom of Shadows, was published in 2001, the editor decided to change the cover and use an atmospheric photo of a Paris street taken in the 1930s by the French-Hungarian photographer Brassaï. His earlier novels were re-issued with similar covers.
From that point, sales took off, and today critics and readers view Furst as the modern-day Eric Ambler. Others compare him to Graham Greene. Today his novels are regulars on the New York Times best-seller lists.
Furst’s novels don’t depend on clever plots. Rather, it’s in the details where Furst creates the world of foreboding that permeates his work. Furst researches his times and settings carefully so that when he mentions the type of vodka being served in an obscure cafe in a dark part of Budapest, you’re pretty sure that it’s all accurate.
Furst, in a 2004 interview with the New York Sun with Brendan Bernhard, said:
“I write entertainment novels,” said Mr. Furst. “I write what I call novels of consolation for people who are bright and sophisticated. I expect that my readers have been to Europe, I expect them to have some feeling for a foreign language, I expect them to have read books – there are a lot of people like that! That’s my audience.”
Furst writes about ordinary people during a time when extraordinary nerve and courage was called for—and in short supply.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
G.K. Chesterton’s retiring, priestly detective, Father Brown, is well-known to modern readers and viewers mainly through a series of television adaptations of his character. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was one of the chief public intellectuals of his day, and his output as an author is astounding: 4,000 essays, 80 books, several hundred poems, and numerous plays. (See the JPROF post: G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’.)
Many of his Father Brown stories first appeared in magazines and then were gathered into several volumes of collections. During these weeks of the long summer months, we are presenting you with easy access to the Father Brown stories in one of the collections, The Incredulity of Father Brown.
These stories take about an hour to read or listen to.
This week’s story is “The Oracle of the Dog.”
The Oracle of the Dog
‘YES,’ said Father Brown, ‘I always like a dog, so long as he isn’t spelt backwards.’
Those who are quick in talking are not always quick in listening. Sometimes even their brilliancy produces a sort of stupidity. Father Brown’s friend and companion was a young man with a stream of ideas and stories, an enthusiastic young man named Fiennes, with eager blue eyes and blond hair that seemed to be brushed back, not merely with a hair-brush but with the wind of the world as be rushed through it. But he stopped in the torrent of his talk in a momentary bewilderment before he saw the priest’s very simple meaning.
Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:
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.
Women With Words promotional campaign extended
We have extended the special promotional campaign for Women With Words, begun last month, into July. The book is now widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and on a number of other platforms) and can be purchased as a hardback, paperback, or ebook. During this month, I have reduced the price as much as possible wherever it was possible to do so. Now is the perfect opportunity to purchase a copy.
Perhaps you know a young woman who loves to read and write and needs some inspiration. This would make a great gift and a perfect birthday or Christmas present. (I know, it’s July, but is it really too early to start your Christmas shopping?)
Don’t wait to make your purchase. Prices will soon be back to normal.
Vince V.: Sarah Howe was a woman ahead of her time. She would have done well in 2023. Might possibly be in politics today.
Bill G.: I enjoyed reading today’s issue. I had already known that “THE” was the most used word.
I did my own study of “Most common sentence used in movies and television shows.” There are two candidates that I have noticed.
“Are you O.K.?”
“You have to believe me.”
The second one is used by people accused of a crime by a detective. No one ever believes them.
I also liked your article about the fight for gay rights. I have two examples. First, when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, I taught debate in my classes. The affirmative side always has to ask for a change in the status quo, but it can be difficult to determine that. One group wanted to debate gay rights, but we needed to decide what the status quo was. The year before, the city fathers were going through old laws they could eliminate. (It was illegal to tie a horse in front of city hall.) One law they debated was that it was legal for an employer to discriminate against an employee who was a homosexual. After much debate, the city fathers decided to leave that law on the books. For that reason, the affirmative side, asking for a change in the status quo, were the ones in favor of gay rights. The affirmative won the debate, mostly because the side against gay rights was stuck with saying prejudicial things.
The second example is that, in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the restaurant, Cracker Barrel announced that “people could safely eat in their restaurants because they would not hire any waiters who were gay.” Of course, they were advertising this thinking that all conservative people would only eat at their restaurant because, at the time, people thought they could get AIDS by eating food brought by a gay waiter.
There was an immediate reaction to this advertising ploy by people boycotting Cracker Barrel. This was back in the 1980s and I still won’t go into a Cracker Barrel. My wife sometimes buys their bread, but I won’t cross their doorstep. Oh, also I am sure some of their waiters are gay and simply lied on their application.
So those are my two examples.
I have also enjoyed reading all of the Father Brown Mysteries.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Rough seas
Best quote of the week:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author and aviator (1900-1944)
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
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: Sarah Howe, gay rights activist Frank Kameny, and more of G.K. Chesterton: newsletter, July 7, 2023
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