This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,014) on November 16, 2018
Oxford Dictionaries, I understand, has chosen the 2018 International Word of the Year: toxic. The choice, according to those who choose these things, reflects the general “ethos, mood or preoccupation” of the year as well as its widespread use as an adjective.
I have been thinking a lot about words this week, and the choice of this year’s Word of the Year is not a surprise. But it is sad. I have tried this week to concentrate on words like unity, generosity, forgiveness, patience (see below), gratitude, and humility — words that we don’t hear as much as we should or would like to. While none of these words is a likely candidate for World of the Year in 2019, it would be good to hear and see them a little more often.
What words are you thinking about?
I hope that your week has been a good one and that your weekend is filled with joy.
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Ring Lardner: When baseball no longer seemed like baseball
The story is that Ring Lardner, the great 20th century humorist, was finished with baseball after news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal came out.
Lardner had spent much of his journalism career covering baseball, first for the South Bend Times in 1905 and eventually for the Chicago Tribune in 1913. He knew the Chicago White Sox well. He had traveled with them, played poker with them, and written about them. When eight of their players colluded with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, Lardner’s lover for the game diminished, and he stopped writing about it.
That’s the story, and it’s a good one. But Ring Lardner Jr. doesn’t buy it.
Lardner Jr., Ring’s third son and a two-time Oscar-winning scriptwriter, put it this way in The Lardners: My Family Remembered:
His disenchantment with baseball clearly began with the “Black Sox” Series of 1919, but I feel the extent of it has been exaggerated, along with the idea he came to hate the whole human race. (p. 146)
Lardner Sr., born in 1885, grew up in an America that had fallen in love with baseball. Lardner had no particular ambition to become a writer and was working as a meter reader for a gas company when he was offered a job covering baseball. He was good at it and grew to love the game and his players — but not so much that he revered either.
While he was covering the Cubs and the White Sox, Lardner began writing a series of columns about Jack Keefe, a gullible ball player much taken with himself, who is trying to make it to the major leagues. The fictional Keefe writes letters to his friend back home, Al, boasting about his exploits and never catching on that people are taking advantage of him. Those columns were eventually gathered together in a book, You Know Me Al, which was published in 1916.
The book did not sell especially well when it was first published, but later, when Lardner had achieved some fame for his other writing, particularly his magazine pieces, they were recognized for the fine satires they were.
According to Ring Jr., his father never fell out of love with baseball. He took his sons to big league baseball games and followed the pennant races closely. He even placed bets on the game, something he had done for most of his adult life. It wasn’t the Black Sox that caused his disenchantment.
There was something else that had happened that changed his attitude toward baseball, and that was the introduction of the “crazy” or livelier ball, which made it a hitter’s instead of a pitcher’s game and which he maintained had been done deliberately to make (Babe) Ruth’s home runs possible. (p 147)
Lardner, in other words, gave up on the game, not because of an epiphany about the nefarious nature of baseball players, but because the game — to him — was no longer baseball.
Patience, or how to suffer fools lightly
You’ve heard the expression, “He/She doesn’t suffer fools lightly.” It is almost always said as a compliment.
But I wonder: Is it really a compliment? Is it a trait that we should want to develop?
If you were a teacher, as I was for four decades, you had to put up with lots of fools. You had to suffer them, lightly or otherwise. You had to try to persuade or educate them out of their foolishness. You couldn’t just dismiss them by saying, “I don’t suffer fools lightly.” If you did, then you missed one of the challenges — and ultimately, one of the joys — of teaching.
These thoughts came to me as I was reading Anna Goldfarb‘s excellent essay in the New York Times, “How to Be a More Patient Person.”
Patience, the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering, is worth cultivating. The virtue is associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions. Researchers have also concluded that patient people exhibit more prosocial behaviors like empathy, and were more likely to display generosity and compassion.
This is a five-minute read that’s well worth it.
Think about the best teachers you ever had. Were they the kind of people who “didn’t suffer fools lightly”? The answer in my case would be “no.” They put up with me, and I’m glad they did.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
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 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.
Reginald Birch, the book illustrator who kept apologizing
Reginald Birch, one of the top book illustrators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spent a good part of his life apologizing for what he had done.
Birch was a first-class artist. His skill as a draughtsman is evident in the illustrations that he drew for the more than 40 other books he illustrated during his long career. He was also a painter and portrait artist of note.
As one of the chief illustrators for St. Nicholas magazine, Birch took the famous drawings of Santa Claus that Thomas Nast created and reworked them into the Santa Claus that we know today. His book illustrations set the standard for the period in which he worked, and he was much admired and imitated.
But his big splash as an illustrator was one that he regretted until the day he died. Birch drew the illustrations for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy and thereby created a fashion storm that swept the nation. It was something for which little boys of the time never forgave him.
The main character of that book, Cedric Errol, is a small, sweet child who is thoughtful, perceptive, and morally incorruptible. Neither rank nor poverty affected his demeanor or equanimity. The illustrations Birch created for this book were based on the descriptions Burnett included in the book and on a photograph of Burnett’s son Vivian that she had sent to Birch. Cedric Errol had long, curly hair and wore velvet suits with large lace collars and cuffs.
American mothers took this concept of the near-perfect little male to heart and decided that creating such little gentlemen within their own homes would be as simple as changing his wardrobe. A fashion fire was thus ignited that never completely went away.
Many of the little boys, however, thought differently and rebelled – some by running away, some by burning the clothes that had been purchased for them, some by giving their clothes to poorer children — there are many such stories.
Birch continued to work for the next thirty years, but by the second decade of the twentieth century, his career had faded. By the 1930s, he was living in poverty. He had a brief resurgence in 1933 with his illustrations of Louis Untermeyer’s The Last Pirate, which led to additional commissions. Failing eyesight forced him into retirement in 1941, and he died two years later at the age of 87.
Birch never escaped the specter of Little Lord Fauntleroy. That book, he said, “was one of my early crimes for which I am still making explanation.”
The illustration above is one drawn by Birch with his signature at the lower right.
Recently on JPROF.com
* Pun intended.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Ring Lardner (caricature)
Best quote of the week:
Patience is also a form of action. Auguste Rodin, sculptor (1840-1917)
Helping those in need — in California, especially
Raging fires in California have killed more than 40 people at this writing, and they’re still not under control. They have spread untold misery and disruption around the state. These people 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: A legacy that began with veterans, a giant in the land of Sherlock, and GKC on what makes a good detective story: newsletter, Nov. 9, 2018