So you can read my books

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

APRIL 24 -- Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

Hello, seekers of oddities ...

A 1766 portrait of Rousseau
I am Jean-Jacques Rousseau ... or rather his ghost

My friend, Samuel Clemens, is morose this day for on this date in 1066,

Halley's Comet appeared in the night sky over the English Channel and was seen as a harbinger of national disaster --

which it was as William the Conqueror defeated English forces at the Battle of Hastings and the rest, pun intended, was history.

Why is my friend, Samuel, morose over Halley's Comet?  His spirit is tied to that celestial object, but that is a tale for him to tell.

On this date in 1800, President John Adams approved legislation to appropriate $5,000 to establish the Library of Congress. 

The first books were bought from Great Britain. 

And so like the British,

their troops promptly burned them when they burned down a great deal of Washington, D.C. in 1814. 

What Britian gives, it eventually takes away.

Ah, but to be sane in a world of mad men is in itself madness.

Take my friend, Oscar Wilde ...

On this day in 1891 his The Picture of Dorian Gray was published.

The novel caused an uproar for

 "its effeminate frivolity, its studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its flippant philosophizing, its contaminating trail of garish vulgarity,"

but it sold well, making Wilde the focus of even more debate and finger-pointing ...

until the British in their hypocrisy imprisoned him for having loved too well if not too wisely.

Only in France could he find refuge.

You might accept that a man of my sensibilities would roam the Library of Congress,

a brilliant witness to the alliance of literature and architecture against the transforming and destructive forces of time.

But I wager you will find it odd that I return again and again to the Bob Hope archive, anchored by a career file of some 85,000 jokes, many of these tied to the politics of the day.

“Kennedy looked a little nervous,” Hope quipped after one of the1960 presidential debates. “He’d never been allowed to stay up that late before.”

“If you criticize Gorbachev too much,” he warned during the last years of the Cold War, “you’re kaputski. Kaputski — it’s an Old Russian word meaning, ‘Siberia is lovely this time of year.’ ”

Many of Hope’s political jokes can resonate beyond their original era: “No one party can fool all of the people all of the time. That’s why we have two parties.”

On this date in 1908, Ralph DePalma made his debut in New York.  In 25 years of racing, he would win 2000 times, including the Indy 500.

But the Frenchman in me applauds most his pushing his car over the finish line in 1912 when,

while leading by five and half laps, his car broke down.  He may have lost but he won the hearts of every Frenchman who watched.

The romantic in me weeps on this day, for on this date in 1942 Lucy Maud Montgomery died.

 Montgomery spent her first three decades in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, the place which she and her Anne of Green Gables books have made famous.

After almost three more decades in the Toronto area, she was buried back in Cavendish, though in town rather than in the sort of spot described in “A Request”:

"When I am dead
I would that ye make my bed
On that low-lying, windy waste by the sea,
Where murmurs creep
From the ancient heart of the deep,
Lulling me ever, I shall most sweetly sleep.
While the eerie sea-folk croon
On the long dim shore by the light
                                    of a waning moon…."

Fellow Frenchman, Gustave Flaubert, had his Three Tales published on this day in 1877.

It contains “A Simple Heart,” one of his most famous stories, especially since Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (1984).

Criticized by George Sand for his detached style,

Flaubert created the servant Félicité, whom he describes as “a poor country girl, pious but mystical, quietly devoted, and as tender as freshly baked bread.”

His aim, he said, was the furthest thing from irony: “I want to arouse people's pity, to make sensitive souls weep, since I am one myself.”

Well, I must depart. 

My friend, Samuel Clemens, and I intend to deflate the ever-growing ego of Winston Churchill ...

especially on this day when in 1953, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The ghost of Bob Hope intends to join us.  Last year, he told Churchill:

“I'm surprised the Queen knighted you, Winny.  What with your ambition that's like asking Morris the Cat to watch your tuna salad."  

Are you wondering which author I will pick for the letter U?

A most erudite, under-appreciated one: Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov

He was also renowned as a filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, author, screenwriter, comedian, humorist, newspaper and magazine columnist.

A noted wit and raconteur, he was a fixture on lecture circuits for much of his career.

He was also a respected intellectual and diplomat who, in addition to his various academic posts, served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and President of the World Federalist Movement.

In 2003 Durham University changed the name of its Graduate Society to Ustinov College in honour of the significant contributions Ustinov had made as chancellor of the university from 1992 until his death.

“I imagine hell like this: Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine.”
Peter Ustinov


Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Turner selfportrait.jpg
Self portrait, J W M Turner, oil on canvas, circa 1799

Ghost of Rupert Brooks here:

Rupert Brooke Q 71073.jpg
Rupert Brooke
I died on this day in 1915, while serving in the British Navy on the Mediterranean during that War which was heralded as the war to end all wars. 

I do believe the history of the world is but the bloody path of one long war with only momentary pauses while everyone reloads.

My poetry is said to have either reflected or affected the mood of the British public between late 1914 and late 1915.

I was also - and often still am - criticised. For some, the 'idealism' of the war sonnets is actually

a jingoistic glorification of war, a carefree approach to death which ignored the carnage and brutality.

 Such comments usually date from later in the war, when the high death tolls and unpleasant nature of trench warfare became apparent,

events which I wasn't able to observe and adapt to. 

My critics would be surprised to discover that I agree with them.  I saw hollow-eyed spirits of my slain brothers tramp endlessly into the Shadowlands their souls broken --

And my conceit and heart broke with the sight.

So please, you living, take great care what you write, for your words will linger on after you in hollow accusation should they not be wise ones.

Twain in 1867

Ghost of Mark Twain, here --

Tarnation! Thank you there, Rupert, for stripping the silver lining from the clouds of today!

Feeling put upon, pilgrims, 'cause of your writing?  Take note of this:

On this date in 1849 Fyodor Dostoyesvsky (try writing that last name with a few Bourbons in you, children)

was arrested with other members of the revolutionary Petrashevsky (I gotta stop drinking Bourbon a'fore I write these posts!)

He spent 8 months in prison and experienced a dramatic release when the group was lined up to be shot ...

then let go at the last minute.

{Seems Captain Sam had his Colt aimed at a certain important head at the time.}

Shakespeare is guessed to have been born on this day in 1564.

  No sure date is recorded.  But the caterwauling infant he was happened to be baptized three days earlier --

and 3 days after the birth was the customary time of dousing those poor young-uns in that time.

Old Shakes' plays are performed and read today more than ever before, seeing as how he managed to capture

the full range of human emotion and inner conflict with a perception that remains sharp to this very day.

So since he was born on this date and old Wordsworth checked out on the same date in 1850,

folks decided to celebrate WORLD BOOK DAY on this date as well.

But for all the caterwauling about these poets above, I, myself, like the painting of J.M.W. Turner better even  though the old cuss will never tell me what J. M. W. stands for! --

 "…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things…."

  - Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey (William Wordsworth)
 A'wondering who I'll pick for T?

Well, now, I will not pull a Hemingway, and nominate myself!

Me and J.R.R. are friends here in the Shadowlands, so of course, I'm picking Tolkien.

He was a patriot during WWI -- but a smart one.  He delayed joining until he finished the last year of his studies.  Then, he joined.

In a letter to Edith, his wife, Tolkien complained, "Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed."

That's the way of it in war no matter what century I reckon.

 Tolkien was then transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France on 4 June 1916.

His departure from England on a troop transport inspired him to write his poem, The Lonely Isle.

 He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."

Although Kitchener's army enshrined old social boundaries, it also chipped away at the class divide by throwing men from all walks of life into a desperate situation together.

Tolkien wrote that the experience taught him, 'a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy:

especially the plain soldier from the 'agricultural counties.' 

He remained profoundly grateful for the lesson. For a long time, he had been imprisoned in a tower, not of pearl, but of ivory.

"By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead," he once told me.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien


Monday, April 21, 2014


"Money is the fruit of evil as often as it is the root of it!"
 - Mark Twain

Mark Twain here again:

In 1056 on this date,

a supernova in the Crab Nebula fades from the sight of the naked eye and folks began predicting dire consequences --

and weathermen have been spinning tales ever since.

In 1616, brave Miguel de Cervantes died in Madrid on this date.

Not so brave Adolf Hitler sees Soviet forces close in Berlin on this date in 1945

and admits defeat to his inner circle, saying suicide is his only recourse ---

In Roland's GHOST OF A CHANCE you find out the truth of the matter.

Seeing as how I was a newspaper man for decades, I like Rebecca West's definition  of Journalism

she wrote in the New York Herald Tribune on this date in 1956:

"An ability to meet the challenge of filling the space."

Old Vladimir Nabokov was born on this day in 1899

(or tomorrow, depending on how you heathens convert leap year days from the old to the modern Russian calendar).

Below, a passage from his memoir Speak, Memory:

"I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another.

A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern -- to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal."

As for those of you wondering what author I would pick for the letter S:

1. An early draft of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog.

It was Max, one of several dogs Steinbeck owned during his life, who devoured the novel’s draft and so became, in effect, the book’s first critic.

Which is why I, Mark Twain, always preferred cats.  You never saw any of them eating my manuscripts!

This is probably Steinbeck’s most famous novel, and draws on his own experiences as a ‘bindlestiff’ (or migratory worker) in the US in the 1920s.

The novel’s title famously comes from the Robert Burns poem ‘To a Mouse’:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ (or ‘go often awry’).

2. He wrote one of the finest love letters in all of literature – a letter about falling in love.

In this letter of 1958, Steinbeck responds to a letter his son Thom had written to him.

Thom had told his father that he had fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan

(at this time, Thom was away at boarding school).

Steinbeck’s tone is supportive and honest throughout, taking his son’s feelings into account but also offering advice on ‘what to do about it’ –

surely what every teenager in the first pangs of a love affair wants to know. ‘

The object of love is the best and most beautiful,’ he tells Thom. ‘Try to live up to it.’

He ends the letter by assuring his son,

‘And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.’

You can read the letter in full here.

"In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable."
-- John Steinbeck



Mark Twain, ghost here --

On this day in 1910 I died, aged seventy-four.

Despite an undercurrent of doubts and dark thoughts, I swept along through my last years as the Mississippi to the sea:

guests to my seventieth birthday banquet took home my foot-high bust -- seeing as how I couldn't figure on any gift to them better than myself! 

New York City pedestrians and English royalty lined up to meet me as I walked the streets, amusing Lady Meilori to no end.

Thousands filed past my casket to see me in my last white suit — "as much an enigma and prodigy to himself," says one of my biographers, "as he was to them."

Excepting that t'wern't me in that casket.  I was in the heart of Hailey's Comet.  But that story is for another time, children.

In 753 B.C. those rascal twins, Romulus and Remus, founded the city of Rome in the hollow where they had been suckled as orphaned babes by a she-wolf.  

And it has been my experience, folks, that ever since that time every mother thereafter has been a she-wolf in some form or fashion!

In 1918 on this date, that devil German flying Ace, Manfred von Richthofen -- you pilgrims might know him as the Red Baron --

was killed by ground fire as he pursued a British plane deep behind Allied lines. 

Again history got it wrong. 

Old Captain Sam did the fella in as he flat swore that devil would not get his 81st kill. 

Again that is a story for a time when I have my words fired up in Hell a mite more.

The ghost of John Mortimer just walked by, reminding me to tell Roland

that the shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yogurt! 

Old John was born on this day in 1923.

The ghost of that blow-hard, Hemingway, is crowing all over the Shadowlands

that he wrote to his Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, from Cuba on this day in 1940 to wonder, "How about this for a title — For Whom The Bell Tolls."

Hemingway went on to quote the full John Donne passage and to say that, of the thirty titles he had tried out while writing the novel, "this is the first one that has made the bell toll for me."

One day I swear I will toll his bell for him.

On this date in 1954, young Elvis hit #1 on the Billboard charts for the first time with HEARTBREAK HOTEL. 

And sadly, his whole life might rightly be called that.

But then, every man has his follies, and sometimes they are the most interesting things he's got, don't you know?

I have come to Roland's rescue for the WEP's April Fools post here:

Since Roland has gone all alphabetical with us authors all of a sudden --

Today's Author Letter is R ... for Rousseau, whose ghostly guest post you can read on the 24th.

“What wisdom can you find greater than kindness.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Saturday, April 19, 2014


 It's an odd truth:
reality is a slippery thing.

We often expect one thing and get quite another.

We awaken to a dark moment, expecting death and get life instead.

That's one of the lessons of Easter:

Three grieving women once walked to a tomb, wondering how they were ever going to roll the stone away.

Only to discover that it had already been done.

Don't sigh.

You haven't stumbled upon a finite man pompously spouting delusions about the infinite.

I am but a man looking up at the campfires of the night we call stars and seeking truth in their endless depths.

John Paul II
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair.
We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” 
― John Paul II
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
― Adolf Hitler, born on this day in 1889.
On the other end of the spectrum:
 Outlaw is too mild and small a word for the monster Hitler was --
Shortly after his thirty-fifth birthday, while imprisoned for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler began to dictate Mein Kampf
(“My Struggle,” shortened by Hitler's publisher from his suggested title, “Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice.”)
The book romanticizes Hitler’s formative years, and reflects his attempt to remake himself as a Schopenhaurian hero of will and idea.
The passage below is from Chapter Two, Hitler now an orphaned teenager in Vienna:
"The Goddess of Fate clutched me in her hands and often threatened to smash me; but the will grew stronger as the obstacles increased, and finally the will triumphed.
I am thankful for that period of my life, because it hardened me and enabled me to be as tough as I now am."

On this day in 1912 Bram Stoker died. The author of some twenty books, Stoker is known almost exclusively for Dracula, published in 1897.

The novel brought little fame or fortune in Stoker's lifetime —

 so little that he had to ask for charity at the end of his career. More surprisingly, Dracula raised few eyebrows, though modern critics find it a "veritable sexual lexicon of Victorian taboos."

On this day in 1822 Lord Byron's five-year-old daughter, Allegra, died in Italy.

She was the offspring of a brief relationship with Claire Claremont, stepsister to Mary Shelley.

The below quotation comes from an April 23rd letter to Shelley, in which Byron expresses his hope that time will heal his grief:

"I suppose that Time will do his usual work. 
Death has done his."   
     In another letter, Byron expressed his desire that Allegra be buried at St. Mary's Church, Harrow — Byron had often wandered in the churchyard when a student at Harrow School:
with a commemorative tablet inscribed, "I shall go to her, but she shall not return to me" (2d Samuel, xii. 23).
Byron's reputation and Allegra's parentage caused church authorities to deny the tablet, though an unmarked grave was allowed.

To which I think of another Bible quote:
"Jesus wept."

When Byron died (almost to the day, four years later: April 19, 1826), he requested burial at St. Mary's, but this was denied.

In 1980, a memorial plaque for Allegra was finally put up in St. Mary's, inscribed with the sentence from Byron's letter to Shelley.

“And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself.

Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars,
just this:

that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?”
― Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat



Lord Byron in Albanian dress painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813.

“And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on.” George Gordon Byron

Our Outlaw of the day --

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know was a phrase used by Lady Caroline Lamb to describe George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron.

Ghost of Mark Twain here -- I knew his daughter and she was quite the same way!

1506 -- Mobs in Lisbon, Portugal slaughter 2,000 Jews.   Makes you think Jesus might have wondered why He even bothered on "Good" Friday, don't it?

Marie Antoinette, at the age of thirteen; this miniature portrait was sent to the dauphin, so he could see his bride before he met her, by Joseph Ducreux (1769)


1770 -- Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI married by proxy. The marriage was the result of diplomatic exchanges, 

during which poor Antoinette even had to undergo oral surgery to be deemed pretty enough for Louis.

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth, pilgrims!

Her brother stood in as the groom of the wedding.  

Reminds me of some piney-woods marriages I heard tell of.

Little Antoinette didn't actually meet Louis until May of that year!  

1775 -- The American Revolution started on this day. 

"The shot heard round the world" took place early in the morning in Lexington, Massachusetts on this date

when 700 British soldiers clashed with 77 American revolutionists.

It was the beginning of 7 years of conflict between the two countries that eventually led to American independence.

And it seems the politicians have been trying to undo it ever since.

1928 -- On this date, the final volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (first edition) was published.

The original estimate was that the complete four-volume set would take ten years;

when it took five years to get to "ant," the editors knew they had underestimated spectacularly.

They did not know that they were being significantly helped by a contributor from the insane asylum.

 William Chester Minor, also known as W. C. Minor (June 1834 – March 26, 1920)

was an American army surgeon and one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.

He was held in a lunatic asylum at the time for the shooting of a man his paranoia convinced him had broken into his room

"Churchill's Grave" was written near the end of another April — that of 1816, as Byron was waiting at Dover to leave England for the last time.

Delayed by unfavorable winds, he visited the grave of Charles Churchill, a poet whom he admired,

and also one who had attracted much controversy, and died young.

The poem begins with Byron standing

“Beside the grave of him who blazed
The comet of a season” 

It ends with Byron reflecting on a life

"In which there was Obscurity and Fame -
The Glory and the Nothing of a Name."

"And is this all? I thought, —
 And do we rip The veil of Immortality? and crave
I know not what of honour and of light

Through unborn ages, to endure this blight?
So soon, and so successless? "
— from Byron's poem, "Churchill's Grave"

1824 -- Lord Byron died on this day in Messolonghi, Greece, while attempting to serve the cause of Greek independence at age 36.  He became a Greek national hero.

Lord Byron on his deathbed, by Joseph-Denis Odevaere c. 1826.
(Note the sheet covering his club right foot.)
Despite the idealized portraits — above, "Lord Byron on his Death Bed," by Joseph-Denis Odevaere (c. 1826) —

the poet-soldier's last weeks were as full of indifference and doubt as heroism. The following is taken from a letter of February 5:

"As for me, I am willing to do what I am bidden, and to follow my instructions. I neither seek nor shun that nor any thing else they may wish me to attempt; and as for personal safety,

besides that it ought not to be a consideration, I take it that a man is on the whole as safe in one place as another; and, after all, he had better end with a bullet than bark in his body."

1882 -- Charles Darwin died of a heart attack in Downe, Kent, England.  He was 71

1942 -- The New Vichy Government headed by Pierre laval at the bidding of his German masters

 in an attempt to bring the insurgent French people back into line with Nazi ruling

by promising to protect the people from the Nazi Regime by gaining concessions.

1956  --   Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier start their honeymoon on Deo Javante II 138ft Yacht but due to heavy seas spent the night in the harbor. 

1987 -- THE SIMPSONS premiered, children, and I still do not understand the appeal of Homer!

The popular TV show started off as a cartoon short on the The Tracey Ullman Show.

It ran as shorts for 3 years before being adapted into the 30 minute format.  Time magazine once named it the best TV show of the 20th century.


Oh, you heathen thought you had me flummoxed by the letter Q, did you?
Ever hear of Quintilian?
A first century A.D. Roman who came to prominence under Emperor Vespasian,

Quintilian wrote about education and rhetoric, exerting a strong influence in the schools the Romans spread throughout the Empire.

His influence on education continued from his day until the 5th century.

The Humanists at the end of the 14th century renewed interest in Quintilian and a complete text of his Institutio Oratoria was found in Switzerland.

It was first printed in Rome in 1470.

"For hope is but the dream of those that wake."

So there!