Tag Archives: dulcimer

Farewell, Philip Roth; Mencken on the language; how we got Sherlock, and more: newsletter, May 25, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,081) on May 25, 2018


Thanks to all who wrote or commented on Facebook about the dulcimer that I made and showed off in last week’s newsletter. I am going to start on another one before long.

Sadly, for the second week in a row, we have had to say farewell to a great and well-known American writer Philip Roth.  Last week it was Tom Wolfe. And speaking of writers, this week’s newsletter features a couple of greats: Henry Louis Mencken and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Have a great weekend. 

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Mencken and the American Language

H.L. Mencken, writer and journalist, comes to mind when the American public or American culture needs criticism and a bit of biting satire. He knew how to do that and did it better during this 40-plus-year as a newspaper columnist and magazine editor than anyone else.

He did it so well that we forget that there was more to the man than his cigar-chomping, beer-drinking, fiery typewriter wit. Much more.

Mencken took a scholar’s and a collector’s interest in the English language, especially as it was used by Americans. He was fascinated by the language, beginning with the way Americans differed from the English. He began to take note of these differences early in his writing and editing career, and this notice morphed into a study of the language itself — the American language.

Mencken wrote several newspaper columns about his interest in the language and the items he had noticed in his wide reading and in his discussions with people in Baltimore — a hotbed of innovative language use.  In the second decade of the 20th century, Mencken decided it was time for someone to become a modern-day Noah Webster. That someone would be him.

The American Language was published in 1919 by Alfred A. Knopf, one of its earliest titles.

It sold well and received excellent reviews. It was revised three times during Mencken’s lifetime and has been revised since his death.

Unlike Mencken’s acerbic views of American politics and the collective ignorance of the American electorate, Mencken celebrated the American language and came to its defense when it was attacked, particularly by English critics. There’s an excerpt below the signature of this email.

The American Language is pure Mencken and a delight to read. While you can purchase a copy from Amazon, it is available free through Google’s Project Gutenberg.


How the Impressionists got their name

The Impressionists didn’t start out trying to be impressionists.

They began in France in the 1870s as a group of painters who did not like the way that the French cultural czars controlled what the public saw. The French academics dictated that paintings should take on a certain look and that they should be executed in a certain way. Paintings that did not follow these rules were excluded from many exhibitions.

Some of the Paris-based artists of the day had a different vision. They believed in broad, free brush strokes in the manner J.M.W. Turner and Eugene Delacroix, and they believed that getting out of the studio and painting where the subjects were could enhance their work. They were the urban sketchers of their day.

They also had the temerity to organize their own exhibitions. The first one was in April 1874. Once they showed their work, the critics took aim and fired away. One of those critics was Luis Leroy, a journalist, critic, and humorist of the day. He took the opportunity to make fun of the exhibition, seizing on the title of one of Claude Monet’s works, Impression, Sunrise.

He wrote a fictional dialogue between viewers of the paintings that include this:

Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.

His article was derisively titled The Exhibition of the Impressionists.

Derisive or not, the name stuck, and a century and a half later we know — and honor — this group of painters for their vision, creativity, and courage.

Be careful what you make fun of.


Philip Roth, 1933-2018

The death of Philip Roth on Tuesday (May 22) removes one of the great names from the living giants of American letters. In fact, many consider him to be the last of those giants, and they may well be right.

Obituaries in the New York TimesWashington Post, and many other publications have praised and analyzed his work. Some have included Roth’s great critics, speaking their minds about the inadequacies of his work.

Roth had three great interlocking themes in his work: the sexual drive of males (some males, not all); Jews and Jewishness in America; and American and Americanism. His fourth theme — or maybe it was just a device — was himself. He loved taking part in his own novels, playing with his and the reader’s imagination about whom he was really writing about.

Roth didn’t mind making his readers uncomfortable, and he ran into some of the consequences of that early in his career. In 1962, at a Yeshiva University symposium where he was a guest author, he was denounced repeatedly by questioners for a story he included in Goodbye, Columbus. The confrontation almost became physical when Roth tried to leave at the end of the program and was surrounded by shouting students.

The confrontation — fully described here: Roths visit to YU changed career — was a seminal event in Roth’s development of a writer and led him to view his own Jewishness more critically than he had ever done.

If you were (or are) disturbed by Roth’s work, you should read Matthew Rosza‘s article in Salon.com (On hating and loving Philip Roth: How I learned to appreciate the book that repulsed me | Salon.com). Rosza doesn’t particularly like Roth either but understands the value of his work.

Roth’s clear, precise prose and his honesty about himself, his work, and his view of the world made him one of the era’s great writers.

RIP, Philip Roth.



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

The Amazon gift card raffle that we included in the newsletter for the last couple of weeks has ended, but I haven’t been notified about the winners yet. When I have their names, I will publish them. We’ll likely be doing another raffle like this one next mon


How Sherlock Holmes came to be – a gap in the market

“It’s all so obvious,” Holmes said after a long draw from his pipe.

Holmes’ eyes pierced through my sideways glances. He was expecting an answer. I didn’t have one.

“Really, my dear friend, you must see it,” he said, his voice mixed with delight and exasperation. “Look closely at the market. Tell me what’s not there.”

Now, I was completely flustered. All of Holmes’ attempts to educate me — all his efforts to increase my powers of discernment — had come to nothing in this moment. Once again, I had to admit to defeat by his intellect.

Okay, so Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t write that, but I’m not the first to try my hand at a bit of Holmes-like dialogue.

The question of the moment is: How did Sherlock Holmes come into existence?

The answer: Look at the market and tell me what’s not there.

That’s what Doyle did in 1886. Doyle was a practicing physician and on his way to becoming successful, but he was determined to become a writer. He had been selling his stories for a number of years, and his reputation as a writer was growing. Doyle also read widely, both the newspapers of the day and the fiction that was being published. His reading included detective stories.

But, according to his biographer Martin Booth (The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), most of the stories did not make much sense to him. The plots were thin, and they relied on coincidence or hidden clues for their resolution. What wasn’t there was a clever character who could solve a crime with the evidence at hand — evidence that would also be given to the reader. Doyle was determined to create a “scientific detective” who could reason his way through a situation and come to a logical conclusion.

“In short,” Booth writes, “Conan Doyle shrewdly spotted a gap in the market . . . .” (p. 104)

Sherlock Holmes was thus born, and his first appearance occurred in the novella A Study in Scarlet, which was published in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

True crime podcast, in a different direction

If you are looking for a true-crime podcast without all the blood and guts of much that’s in the genre, try The Grift. The Grift is 

. . .  a show about con artists and the lives they ruin. Best-selling author and New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova takes us to the darker side of human nature and deceit. Ten stories about card sharks, cult leaders, art forgers, impostors and more. Why do we fall for them time and time again?

Con artists figure out what we want and give it to us — as well of fleecing us at the same time. Listen to Episode 2 about the art forgeries. This is a good one. (And the episodes run about 30-40 minutes, which is another draw.)


Kathy R: 
I love reading your letters each week and always take the time to savor them. Your dulcimer looks beautiful.  I have been playing a mountain dulcimer since 2002.  We have a group that meets weekly – as much playing as support for each other. I hope you are able to belong to a group that meets on a regular basis.  Dulcimer festivals are also fun. Check out the Gateway Dulcimer Festival in Belleville, IL. Thanks again for your posting each week.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Henry Louis Mencken


Best quote of the week:

“I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.”

William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, governor, senator (1801-1872) 


Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 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: The man who wanted every book; the quintessential English detective; and the first American crime novel; and more: newsletter May 18, 2018



Here’s an excerpt from H.L. Mencken’s The American Language. It’s from the section on the Characters of American:

The Characters of American

American thus shows its character in a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily; none is more careless of precedents; none shows a greater fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheerbrilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called the “sabre-cuts of Saxon”; it meets Montaigne’s ideal of “a succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as Suetonius called Caesar’s Latin.” One pictures the common materials of English dumped into a pot, exotic flavorings added, and the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into contact with what is new and vivid. Let American confront a novel problem alongside [Pg027] English, and immediately its superior imaginativeness and resourcefulness become obvious. Movie is better than cinema; it is not only better American, it is better English. Bill-board is better than hoarding. Office-holder is more honest, more picturesque, more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon that public-servant. Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch. Turn to the terminology of railroading (itself, by the way, an Americanism): its creation fell upon the two peoples equally, but they tackled the job independently. The English, seeking a figure to denominate the wedge-shaped fender in front of a locomotive, called it a plough; the Americans, characteristically, gave it the far more pungent name of cow-catcher. So with the casting where two rails join. The English called it a crossing-plate. The Americans, more responsive to the suggestion in its shape, called it a frog.

The man who wanted every book; the quintessential English detective; and the first American crime novel; and morenewsletter May 18, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,644) on May 18, 2018


A summer head cold attacked me this week, making life miserable for a few days, but I tried not to let it slow me down too much. The major woodworking project that I mentioned last week was completed and is explained below. It’s also been a week of interesting discoveries, and I have included a few of those in this week’s newsletter. Just a few. There are more to come later.

And it’s a pleasure to report that warm weather is here in East Tennessee, and the beehives (I had a peek inside some of these for the first time in several weeks) are roaring away. We will see what they produce.

Have a great weekend.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


The public, the press, and the detective — an uneasy relationship from the very beginning 

In late June 1860, Saville Kent, who resided with his family in a house in Road, Wiltshire, England, was murdered. He was three years old. His throat had been cut, and his body had been left on the floor of an outdoor privy used by the servants and tradesmen at the house. It was not at all clear who killed him or why.

The case quickly achieved international fame, and it produced the genre of the English country house murder. More importantly, it did much to give us the concept of the English detective — the clever man who, viewing things from the outside, can spot the inconsistencies, the hidden stories, the fear, and even the hate of the participants.

Except that’s not exactly how this case developed. I’m not going to include any spoilers here. If you’re interested, you can read Kate Summerscale’s excellent book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing a Great Victorian Detective. She has all the details, and there are many.

The detective in question is Jack Whicher. He was a member of the first detective squad put together by Scotland Yard in 1842. By 1860, his fame had grown to national proportions because of an enthusiastic press and a general fascination with crime, particularly murder. Whicher’s cleverness and success made him the prototype for the English detective of both fact and fiction that would come down to us today.

But in reading Summerdale’s book, I found some interesting nuances that cloud the picture of the great English detective. I’m not talking about Whicher himself but about that image of the detective.

Read the rest of this short post on JPROF.com.


My latest woodworking project

A musical instrument of any kind is not easy to make, so I got some special satisfaction from the completion of my latest woodworking project: a mountain dulcimer. I completed the one pictured here at the end of the week last week, and it made its world debut at a meeting of my local dulcimer club on Wednesday. It’s all about the sound, of course, and this one sounds pretty good.

The dulcimer is made from pecan (body) and walnut (headstock, fretboard, and tailstock). There is no standard wood for a dulcimer, so that makes each one sound a little different.

Dulcimers are popular all over the world — thanks in great part to the late, great folksinger Jean Ritchie — but they used to be confined to certain parts of southern Appalachia. A well-played dulcimer can be magical.

It takes as much patience as skill to make one of these, and I have to thank my friend Bruce M. for giving me lots of help and direction.



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

The Amazon gift card raffle that we included in the newsletter for the last couple of weeks has ended, but I haven’t been notified about the winners yet. When I have their names, I will publish them. We’ll likely be doing another raffle like this one next month.


The first American crime novel — actually, a sensation novel — had a female author

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor authored and published The Dead Letter in 1867. It is thought to be America’s first full crime novel. (Edgar Allan Poe’s stuff was short stories.) In its day, it was known as a sensation novel.

But it’s not America’s first detective novel.

The Dead Letter has a crime, of course. There is evidence. There are clues. The novel has a police detective — a clever one — and he had a daughter who is also clever in a different way. The detective has a backstory that explains why he’s there.

The problem, as LeRoy Lad Panek points out in his book, The Origins of the American Detective Story, is that the crime is not “solved” by the detective (or his daughter). It’s solved by an accidental discovery. Panek notes that in the pre-detective novel era of crime fiction or sensation novels, it wasn’t necessarily up to the detective to solve the crime. Something else was going on.

That something has a lot to do with the views of and attitudes toward criminals and justice that lie under these kinds of books. Crime and justice in a sensation novel depend on faith in a universe that is eventually and inevitably just and governed by providence: this goes back to the sure knowledge that “murder will out” that serves as the basis for what happens in century upon century of Western literature from Chaucer’s “Prioriss Tale” to MacBeth and Hamlet. (pp. 13-14)

It is the concept of “inevitable justice,” Paneck points out. Victorians and people before them did not need detectives. Truth, providentially, would always take over.

If you are interested in reading The Dead Letter, you can do so here at Project Gutenberg.

Tom Wolfe, the reporter with the right stuff

Few journalists manage to do what Tom Wolfe did, both with his words and his approach.

Wolfe, who died Monday (May 14, 2018) at age 88, pioneered in the 1960s an approach to journalism that became known as The New Journalism. What that involved was intensive reporting — not a five-question interview with a couple of ready sources, but a commitment of days, even weeks, talking and observing.

Then there were the words.

As the New York Times obituary says of him:

His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation. Source: Tom Wolfe, Pyrotechnic ‘New Journalist’ and Novelist, Dies at 88 – The New York Times

Wolfe never ceased being a reporter, even with the novels he wrote. Like a good reporter his curiosity was never in question and never satisfied.

RIP, Tom Wolfe.


The man who tried to get every book in the world

Hernando Colón (1488-1539), the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, spent much of his life traveling around Europe — and later America — amassing what was then the largest private library in the world.

His goal was to collect all of the knowledge of the world into one place (Seville, Spain, as it turned out) because he believed Spain would one day rule the world. It needed an extraordinary base of knowledge to do so, and Colón was determined to make that happen.  Colón was wrong about that, but the error does not detract from the man’s amazing achievements.

Those, indeed, were numerous.

He created Europe’s first botanical garden, gathering specimens from many of the places where he traveled.

He wrote a dictionary.

He helped created the first modern maps of the world.

He seemed to know everyone who was anyone during his age, including Albrecht Durer, Thomas More, and Erasmus.

He gathered the largest collection of printed images in the world.

He had the largest collection of musical scores in the world.

And with so many books, where do you put them? How do you put them? According to Edward Wilson-Lee, author of a recently published biography of Colón titled The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library:

“In essence, he invents the modern bookshelf: row upon row of books standing upright on their spines, stacked in specially designed wooden cases.”

In its description of Wilson-Lee’s book, University of Cambridge writes:

“Colón had an extraordinary memory and an obsession with lists,” says Wilson-Lee, whose research on Colón was funded by the British Academy. “Each time he bought a book, he would meticulously record where and when he bought it, how much it cost and the rate of currency exchange that day. Sometimes he noted where he was when he read it, what he thought of the book and if he’d met the author. As pieces of material culture, each is a fascinating account of how one man related to, used and was changed by books.”

So why have we not heard more about this extraordinary man? Read the rest of this post on JPROF.com.




Jean T.: The censor who reviewed all Shakespeare’s plays was still operating as the censor of British Theatre until 1968  – the Lord Chamberlain- when the role of the official censor was abolished by the Theatres Act 1968. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is still working in the Royal Household. They plan State visits, Royal Garden Parties, the State Opening of Parliament, Investitures, Royal Weddings and funerals. Not sure if they are doing much about Harry and Meghan’s wedding though – if what the celebrity mags say is true. 


Don M.: Living 50+ miles from the nearest library, makes MY Kindle Tablet my library…😀….that way I’m not limited to 3 books only and save time and expenses… traveling back and forth…time I spend reading on my Kindle. Many of us live in villages without a public library. … .😕

Good point. Try openlibrary.org.

Mary Wollstonecraft

A.J.N.: Your portrait of Mary W. reminds me of a current “feminist” writer, Rita Mae Brown. I love Rita Mae Brown’s “Mrs. Murphy” mystery series, and her “Sister Jane” mystery series that revolves around a group of modern-day foxhunting enthusiasts (who really do fox chasing from horseback, NOT actually hunting, as the greatest care is taken NOT to kill the fox!).


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Hemingway and cat

A friend asked for some caricatures of 20th century American writers for her business. No. 1 on the list, of course, is Ernest Hemingway. Thought I would have some fun with this one.

Best quote of the week:

To me, the great joy of writing is discovering. Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.” Tom Wolfe, journalist (1930-2018)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 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: The first feminist, the power of the story, Golden State Killer followup, Shakespeare, and more: newsletter, May 11, 2018



Point Spread’s latest review
A very kind reader (David P.) has left the following review of Point Spread on Amazon. Thanks, David.

Point Spread by Jim Stovall

Interesting premise told from a teenage girls point of view and I think Stovall totally nailed it. I loved the way the plot unfolded bit by bit having you trying to guess what comes next. It’s about doing something wrong for a good reason. It’s a look into life in the 60’s in a small town, about moral dilemma, determination and solving a mystery. It is full of a cast of characters that you can relate to and seem very real. It is extremely well written and a very enjoyable read. It kept me involved and interested in the story from the first page to the last. More Please!

Unsubscribe | 2126 Middlesettlements Road, Maryville, Tennessee 37801 



Jean Ritchie and the dulcimer revival — and much more; your pet peeves about English

This newsletter was sent to those on Jim’s email list (4,189) on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.


Last week’s entry about America’s first published poet, Anne Bradstreet, brought this from one of our newsletter readers, Robin K., who has done a good bit of genealogical research on her family:

I thought that name looked familiar – I’m into genealogy. Anne Bradstreet was my 10th great-grandmother on my mother’s side. And technically, there WERE no “Americans” before 1776 – at least that’s what the others I know who also work on genalogy say. Just my small “claim” to fame! 

Thanks, Robin.

OK, folks. Are the genealogists right? Were there no Americans before 1776?

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Jean Ritchie, First Lady of American folk music

If you have ever played, heard, or seen a dulcimer, you have Jean Ritchie to thank.

But the revival and expansion of knowledge about the dulcimer is only the beginning of the contributions this remarkable women made to American music and culture. For more than 60 years, Ritchie gave us her knowledge, understanding, and research of the music that came from Appalachia where she was born. Her beautiful singing voice and pitch-perfect demeanor on and off stage inspired thousands to fall in love with folk music and follow it back to its Scottish and Irish roots.

Ritchie left Kentucky in 1946 to work in a Lower East Side settlement house in New York City. She took along her dulcimer, a musical instrument that most people there had never seen, and a vast quantity of music that she had learned during her childhood. The instrument and the music struck a chord, literally and figuratively, with her New York audiences, and the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960 began in earnest.

Ritchie died in 2015 at the age of 92. Next Friday (Dec. 8) would have been her 95th birthday.

Read more about this extraordinary woman — and listen to some of her music — here on JPROF.com.

True crime podcasts (continued): True Crime All the Time

True Crime All the Time is a podcast hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby.” Mostly, it’s these two guys talking, but they present some fascinating cases, and they are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. This podcast has a large and loyal following. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)

Here’s what else we’ve recommended so far:

Real Crime Profile was last week’s true crime podcast recommendation. The three hosts and heir discussions of criminal cases are riveting and insightful. The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)

Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”

Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. It was an hour well spent.

Do you have any true crime podcast recommendations to share with fellow readers

Misspelling can be expensive (continued); or Other Crimes Against English

Reader Robin K. (see above) writes:

I wanted to comment about from this week’s epistle – spelling. People rely completely in the automated spell check and don’t proofread. A word could be spelled correctly, but it’s the WRONG word – there, they’re and their for example. That’s one of my pet peeves. 

What’s your pet peeve about English, its use or misuse?


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

More from The Devil’s Dictionary

More entries from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, these from the letter E:

EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

ELEGY, n. A composition in verse, in which, without employing any of the methods of humor, the writer aims to produce in the reader’s mind the dampest kind of dejection. The most famous English example begins somewhat like this:

The cur foretells the knell of parting day;

The loafing herd winds slowly o’re the lea;

The wise man homeward plods; I only stay

To fiddle-faddle in a minor key.

(Note: This is, of course, a take-off on Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The real poem is included here below the signature of this email. Thanks to the Poetry Foundation, poetry.org.)

EVANGELIST, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

You can get a free copy of The Devil’s Dictionary in a variety of formats through Project Gutenberg.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

My copy of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson arrived this week. (I purchased it from Amazon. The hardback book was less expensive than the Kindle version. Go figure.) I am going to give this well-reviewed book a very slow read, so it will probably carry me through the New Year. Just a few pages into the book, Isaacson makes a major point about Leonardo’s personality: He was insatiably curious. He wanted to know everything about everything.

I’ll keep you posted.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Jean Ritchie

Ritchie’s contributions to American music were enormous. This watercolor is part of my tribute to her. Read more about her on JPROF.com.

Best quote of the week:

Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best. -Henry van Dyke, poet (10 Nov 1852-1933) 

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.Keep reading 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



5-star review: I this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I loved this book! Its plot and characters are quite realistic. Having been a high school teacher I felt the voices of the teens were correctly written. It is a great read!

Kill the Quarterback

5-star review: I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by this author. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but I thought I would read a few pages and then bam! I was hooked! Excellent writing. Excellent story. I could not figure out whodunit and that’s the best kind of mystery. I can’t wait until the next book comes out!

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, 
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 
Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight, 
And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight, 
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r 
The moping owl does to the moon complain 
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r, 
Molest her ancient solitary reign. 
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, 
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, 
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn, 
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed, 
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn, 
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn, 
Or busy housewife ply her evening care: 
No children run to lisp their sire’s return, 
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. 
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, 
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; 
How jocund did they drive their team afield! 
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! 
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil, 
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile 
The short and simple annals of the poor. 
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, 
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, 
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour. 
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault, 
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise, 
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault 
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 
Can storied urn or animated bust 
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, 
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid 
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d, 
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre. 
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page 
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll; 
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage, 
And froze the genial current of the soul. 
Full many a gem of purest ray serene, 
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen, 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. 
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast 
The little tyrant of his fields withstood; 
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, 
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. 
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command, 
The threats of pain and ruin to despise, 
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land, 
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes, 
Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone 
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d; 
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne, 
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind, 
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide, 
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride 
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame. 
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, 
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life 
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 
Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect, 
Some frail memorial still erected nigh, 
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d, 
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse, 
The place of fame and elegy supply: 
And many a holy text around she strews, 
That teach the rustic moralist to die. 
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey, 
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, 
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day, 
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind? 
On some fond breast the parting soul relies, 
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries, 
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires. 
For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead 
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate; 
If chance, by lonely contemplation led, 
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, 
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, 
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn 
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away 
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 
“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech 
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, 
His listless length at noontide would he stretch, 
And pore upon the brook that babbles by. 
“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn, 
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove, 
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, 
Or craz’d with care, or cross’d in hopeless love. 
“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill, 
Along the heath and near his fav’rite tree; 
Another came; nor yet beside the rill, 
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; 
“The next with dirges due in sad array 
Slow thro’ the church-way path we saw him borne. 
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay, 
Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.” 
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth 
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, 
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere, 
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear, 
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend. 
No farther seek his merits to disclose, 
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 
(There they alike in trembling hope repose) 
The bosom of his Father and his God. 

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Jean Ritchie: 60-plus years of contributions to American music and culture

Jean Ritchie (watercolor 2017)

If you play the dulcimer, you owe Jean Ritchie a debt of thanks.

If you have heard a dulcimer, seen one — or even know what one is, Jean Ritchie is the person responsible.

Ritchie died in 2015 at the age of 92 (her birthday is Dec. 8, 1922), and she is known to many of us who play the dulcimer (or try) as the person who sparked the 20th century interest in the instrument. In the 1940s, few people outside a few isolated spots in Appalachia know anything about a dulcimer. Today, thousands of people across the world play as individuals and in groups. They sign up for workshops. They attend conventions. YouTube has hundreds of videos devoted to the instrument. (Check out EverythingDulcimer.com to get a sense of this.)

And it all started with Jean Ritchie.

But Ritchie’s life and work were more than the widespread use of an instrument. Much more.

Ritchie grew up the last of 14 children in the Cumberland Mountain hollow of Viper, Kentucky. Music surrounded everything the family did. Not only would they sing together in the evening as entertainment for themselves, but they would sing individually as they went about their daily tasks. She had a high, lilting, beautiful voice and a mind that retained more than 300 songs when she left Viper to attend the University of Kentucky.

She graduated in 1946 with a degree in social work and moved to New York City where he worked in a settlement house on the Lower East Side. She worked with children, and one of the things she did was to teach them some of the songs that she had learned as a child. To do that she used something no one had ever seen — a dulcimer.

She played her dulcimer not only for the children but also for the adults she met in New York, and they loved it. Being something of a beauty with a ton of red hair and a beautiful voice added to her luster.

Ritchie playing with the children of a New York settlement house in the late 1940s. (Library of Congress)

Soon she was invited to play at more formal venues where her music was so original and so fitting with the popular music movement of the times that people could not help but notice. Ritchie also wrote songs and played guitar and banjo with them.

In 1950, she married George Pickow, and they stayed married for the next 60 years until Pickow’s death in 2010. Pickow was a photographer, but he and Jean set up a dulcimer-making shop in Brooklyn, where the demand for the instrument was heavy.

Two years later, Ritchie recorded her first solo album: Jean Ritchie Sings Traditional Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family.

Also in that year, she received a Fulbright grant that allowed her to travel to Ireland and Great Britain to research the origins of some of her mountain songs and to discover new music to bring home with her.

In addition to making dulcimers and producing two sons, Ritchie continued recording, writing and performing for many years. She was at the forefront of the folk music explosion of the early 1960s, and even when it faded, she never wavered from her roots.

By the time she died in 2015, illness and obscurity had moved her from fame to legend. But the fans of her music and legacy — particularly the dulcimer players among them — remained loyal and numerous.

Read more about Jean Ritchie here:

Kentucky Educational Television: MOUNTAIN BORN: THE JEAN RITCHIE STORY

Library of Congress Folklife Today blog: Jean Ritchie, 1922-2015, 

See also the George Pickow and Jean Ritchie Collection in the Library of Congress.