In 1693 Cotton Mather wrote a book called Wonders Of The Invisible World, defending the Salem Witch Trials.
A few years later a guy named Robert Calef wrote More Wonders Of The Invisible World, which was kind of a sarcastic slam on Cotton Mather.
Calef objected to proceedings that lead to “a Biggotted Zeal, stirring up a Blind and most Bloody rage, not against Enemies, or Irreligious Proffligate Persons, But (in Judgment of Charity, and to view) against as Vertuous and Religious as any they have left behind them in this Country, which have suffered as Evil doers with the utmost extent of rigour.”
Can’t say I got a ton out of the book, but I did get some good stuff from the introduction, by Chadwick Hansen.
If a witch is attacking you boil a pin in urine:
Even Chadwick Hansen appears ultimately baffled by what Robert Calef was up to, since much of his book is lies about how Cotton Mather fondled up a girl named Margaret Rule while curing her of bewitchment.
Hansen attempts to provide the context to a baffling historical period.
Later Mather would write a book called The Right Way To Shake Off A Viper:
Wild times in old Massachusetts. Few people who were taken to the Salem Witch Museum in childhood ever forgot it.
Compelled by John Kelly, Boston Marine turned Trump babysitter / White House chief of staff.
John Kelly, like Robert E. Lee, is brave, self-sacrificing, dignified, and wrong.
It’s possible to be noble and admirable and honorable and really wrong. Like, a force for wrongness.
Watched his entire press conference re: presidential respect for fallen soldiers. Found it very moving. He mentions walking for hours in Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts. Maybe he should send the president.
In one of the infinite amazing connections of American history Arlington National Cemetery was built on the grounds of Lee’s wife’s house.
What about General Robert E. Lee?
The single greatest mistake of the war by any general on either side was made by Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, when he sent Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s divisions across that open field, nearly a mile wide, against guns placed on a high ridge and troops down below them, with skirmishers out front. There was no chance it would succeed. Longstreet told him that beforehand and Lee proceeded to prove him right. Having made this greatest of all mistakes, Lee rode out on the field and met those men coming back across the field— casualties were well over fifty percent—and said, It’s all my fault. He said it then on the field; he said it afterwards, after he’d gotten across the Potomac; he said it in his official report a month later. He said, I may have asked more of my men than men should be asked to give. He’s a noble man, noble beyond comparison.
(from the Paris Review interview with Shelby Foote)
Why did people love Robert E. Lee so much? He was handsome, for one thing. Here’s Elizabeth Brown Pryor going off in her Six Encounters With Lincoln:
They liked Lee too because he reminded of them of George Washington.
Is this interesting?: two of the most prominent American slaveholders, Washington and Lee, only owned slaves because they’d married rich women.
Lee’s wife was Martha Washington’s great granddaughter.
Anyway: whatever, it’s time for some new statues!
John Kelly made his most recent remarks about Lee on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.
During that appearance, Kelly says something not true, that the events in the indictment came from well before Manafort knew Donald Trump. Not true, if we believe Slate’s helpful timeline. Manafort and Trump have known each other since the ’80s.
Didn’t Manafort live in Trump Tower off the money he made as a lobbyist for dictators?
Kelly also says that the part about where got wrong what Fredrica Wilson said at the FBI dedication, that part “we should just let that go.”
Also brooooo! What is American history up to the Civil War but a history of compromises?
Happened to read an interview in PRISM, a publication of the Center For Complex Operations, with John Kelly yesterday. He’s talking about his career leading the Southern Command, ie Central and South America.
This was not my experience talking to Latin Americans. More than one South American has pointed out to me that in their countries, “the troops” are not assumed to be good guys or on your side.
Didn’t love this:
We need more Marine generals like Smedley Butler:
I wish John Kelly would also remember the time Henry Lee put himself in harm’s way to defend the freedom of the press.
During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland in 1812, Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican on July 27, 1812.
Hanson was attacked by a Democratic-Republican mob because his paper opposed the War of 1812. Lee and Hanson and two dozen other Federalists had taken refuge in the offices of the paper. The group surrendered to Baltimore city officials the next day and were jailed.
Laborer George Woolslager led a mob that forced its way into the jail, removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died.
Lee suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected. His observed symptoms were consistent with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Need to learn more about this!
Maybe a statue of James Lingan, outside Prospect House?:
One last bit from Shelby Foote:
Bud, history always has bias! You don’t think this guy
thought Lee was cool, if only because they looked alike?
Does Ta-Nahesi Coates get tired of having to say the same stuff over and over?:
“History’s history,” says John Kelly on The Ingraham Angle. Is it?
Personally, when I think about John Kelly’s life, I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but man. I can’t say he “gets it.”
Thomas Ricks, as always, has the take:
The comment of Kelly’s that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is when he half-jokingly suggests (around 26:41)
that they’re gonna replace the Washington Monument with Andy Warhol.
Wow, reader Dan G. didn’t take to Elizabeth Pryor Brown’s book, of which I spoke positively:
First chapter berates Lincoln for a disorderly approach to the military — fair enough, I suppose — without acknowledging the more defensible reasons for this, such as a desire to establish the facts on the ground independent of the possibly self-serving officers in the chair of command. To hear her, the military should be spared any outside audit or opportunity for whistleblowing. And she doesn’t even mention his ultimate success. Her second chapter pooh-poohs his coarse humor and sometimes rustic rhetoric as though the prissy rareified manners of a Boston drawing room were innately superior and not, as they would have been in real life, a barrier to communicating with and leading the broad mass of the people.
It’s not just me:
He goes on to describe the book as:
a biography of Sam written by Diane
which is a funny idea.
From a capsule review in The New Yorker heard about this book:
What a cool way to bring Lincoln to life. Tell the story of six meetings Lincoln had that someone wrote an account of.
The six encounters:
- Lincoln’s first meeting, in the East Room of the White House, with Army officers, including Robert E. Lee
from that we examine Lincoln’s relationship with the military, and with the guy who’d end up being the leading general trying to defeat him.
- An odd event where Lincoln tried to raise an American flag on the South Lawn of the White House, but accidentally ripped it
from that we examine how Lincoln used humor and a sort of self-effacing charm
- Lincoln’s encounter with an abolitionist cavalry sergeant named Lucian Waters
which brings us to discussions of Lincoln’s views on race and slavery
- Lincoln’s meeting with Cherokee chief John Ross
from which we can examine Lincoln’s relationships with Indians, who got pretty hosed under the Lincoln presidency
- Lincoln’s meetings the powerful Anna E. Dickenson
which opens us up to Lincoln’s weird relationships with powerful women
- a bizarre encounter with this bro:
Duff Green, who wanted to talk to Lincoln about a scheme to help Southerners with their land via a federal bank or something.
from there we consider how Lincoln intended to begin the postwar process, if he hadn’t’ve gotten got a few days later.
Pryor uses these encounters to bring to life the odd, magnetic, awkward, charming, conflicted, pained, intense human man Abraham Lincoln, full of conflict and contradiction.
Here is the first sentence of the author’s introduction:
To look again with open eyes at a subject we think we know is never straightfoward.
Pryor does a fantastic job of bringing Lincoln into focus. Some highlights:
Getting the mitten:
Down to the raisins:
A very impressive, dense work of history. Stunned when I opened the book and learned the author had been tragically killed in a car crash before publication:
Seems like an amazing woman.
Her obituary in the NYT by Margalit Fox speaks also of her work on Lee:
Though Lee is often cast by history as a brilliant general, Ms. Pryor, examining the strategic errors that led to his retreat at Antietam in 1862 and sweeping defeat at Gettysburg the next year, judged him “bright but not brilliant.”
Addressing Lee’s stance on slavery, she acknowledged, with other historians, that he harbored deep misgivings on the subject. However, Ms. Pryor wrote, those misgivings stemmed not from his opposition to the institution itself, but from his resentment of the managerial burdens it could place on white slave owners.
As a slaveholder, Ms. Pryor showed, Lee was a cruel master, once forcing a runaway slave to endure 50 lashes and then have brine poured on the wounds. He routinely sundered slaves’ families if selling a slave was expedient, and by 1860 “he had broken up every family but one” on his Arlington plantation, she wrote.
The Lincoln book my friend the presidential biographer, Lincoln scholar and former rock star Ted Widmer recommends is Herdon’s Informants.
Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner, and after he died he wrote to everyone who’d ever met Lincoln pretty much and asked for what they remembered of him.
Following Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon began to collect stories of Lincoln’s life from those who knew him. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. He was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian era conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.[nb 2]
In particular, Herndon said of Lincoln’s “official” biographers, John Nicolay and John Hay: “They are aiming, first, to do a superb piece of literary work; second, to make the story with the classes as against the masses.” He felt that this would represent the “real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”
Particularly damning was the denunciation of the book by Robert Todd Lincoln, whose grudge against Herndon stemmed largely from Herndon’s recounting of Ann Rutledge as the only romantic love of his father’s life.
Herndon didn’t care for Mary Todd, I guess:
Even though she was considered a bit of a catch for a guy like Abe.
When you think about the stuff that happened to Mary Todd, it’d be a wonder if she didn’t go insane. Three of her children died, her husband got assassinated sitting next to her. Her half-sister was married to a Confederate general who died at Chickamauga.
He was a commander of the Orphan Brigade:
At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. Breckinridge—who vehemently disputed the order to charge with the army’s commander, General Braxton Bragg—rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, “My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans,”
The stuff people go through!
Went looking for the source of a story that Robert E. Lee, asked by a mom for advice on raising her boy, said “teach him to deny himself.”
From Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume 1934 R. E. Lee: A Biography. The source cited is one Joseph Packard’s Recollections of a Long Life.
Original source probably one JC:
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Luke 9:23, KJV.
Check out this letter Abigail Adams sent to her son, John Quincy Adams, when he was ELEVEN:
(Funny to read that as I sit here at what could be described as a literal Pacific station)
That is from:
which is a collection of David McCullough’s speeches.
Many of the speeches were given in the triumphant mid-late-1990s, when History was ending and it was easy to be fooled into thinking it was one long hike to the sunny meadows where we would now reside forever.
In that context this book can be almost painful to read.
Here, for example, McCullough talks about the history of the White House:
If there’s a single American out there who wants to claim the current occupant is either wise or honest, would love to have you on Great Debates.
After McCullough wrote a book about the Johnstown Flood, it was suggested he write about other disasters. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be “bad news McCullough,” he says.
We need more McCulloughism.
Unless you’re a McCullough completist I’d suggest bypassing The American Spirit and going instead to:
One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.
David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:
Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.
I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,
and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there. Here’s an example.
When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.
She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.
(from Will’s NYT obituary). In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:
It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.
On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.
More from the NYT:
Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”
”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.
”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”
Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia: