HUMANITIES W I N T E R 2 017
T H E M A G A Z I N E O F T H E N AT I O N A L E N D O W M E N T F O R T H E H U M A N I T I E S
HUMANITIES W I N T E R 2 017
T H E M A G A Z I N E O F T H E N AT I O N A L E N D O W M E N T F O R T H E H U M A N I T I E S
Mary Moody Emerson in full intellectual ferment, imagined by nationally known illustrator and graphic designer Sara Tyson. Read more about Emerson starting on page 12.
A quarterly review published by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Chairman: William D. Adams Editor: David Skinner Managing Editor: Anna Maria Gillis Assistant Editor: Amy Lifson Senior Writer: Meredith Hindley Associate Editor: Steve Moyer Staff Editor: Paula Wasley Editorial Board: Jane Aikin, Brett Bobley, Wilsonia Cherry, Meg Ferris McReynolds, Nadina Gardner, Karen S. Mittelman, Katja Zelljadt Director of Communications: Theola DeBose Art Director: Maria Biernik Graphic Designer: Andrea Heiss The opinions expressed in HUMANITIES are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect Endowment policy. Material appearing in this publication, except for that already copyrighted, may be reproduced. Please notify the editor in advance so that appropriate credit can be given. HUMANITIES (ISSN 00187526) is published quarterly by the National Endowment for the Humanities, 400 7th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20506. Telephone: 202/606-8435; fax: 202/208-0774; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; url: www.neh.gov Periodicals postage (USPS #531-230) paid at Washington, D.C., and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to United States Government Publishing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C. 20401. New subscriptions and renewals: U.S. Government Publishing Office, P.O. Box 979050, St. Louis, MO 63197-9000. Annual subscription rate: $25.00 domestic, $35.00 foreign. Two years: $50.00, $70.00. For new orders, 202/512-1800; for current subscriber questions, 202/512-1806.
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If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be? That favorite question of the author interview always makes me wonder whether it really would be enjoyable to dine with Abraham Lincoln or Elizabeth I or William Shakespeare. Wouldn’t they have bigger things to think about than making small talk with me? Fortunately, this issue of HUMANITIES has the perfect answer: Mary Moody Emerson. Full of verve, even in her eighties, Emerson was a reader, a thinker, and a scholar in the nineteenth-century mode, constantly improving her own mind by direct contact with philosophy and literature, but never in isolation. Her deepest thoughts she expressed in letters to others, including her adoring nephew Ralph Waldo Emerson; she even liked to imagine her favorite authors in dialog with each other, the results of which she generously shared with friends and family. Were she alive today, she would be teaching classes in social media, not taking them. As Noelle A. Baker and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, editors who have been digitizing Emerson’s papers, demonstrate, Emerson was a dear friend and inspiration to many smart people. For this issue I interviewed Mark Lilla of Columbia University about people who would like to turn back the clock and recreate the wonders of earlier eras: the so-called reactionary. Lilla is a portraitist working in the history of ideas, and his latest book, The Shipwrecked Mind, deftly considers a number of important figures who have shaped the political landscape in pursuit of a lost golden era, from the philosopher Leo Strauss to Martin Luther and Saint Paul. John Ruskin was emphatically a man of his own time, the Victorian era, when his influence on the tastes of educated English people was inescapable. Among the various reasons he does not seem poised for a revival is this: If someone argued today that taste was a kind of morality we would assume they were talking about food. Still, he was a major figure of nineteenth-century Britain and, as Danny Heitman shows, there is much to learn from his passion for art and nature. Your children will be stunned by what you know about pirates after reading a slice of Mark Hanna’s award-winning scholarship on the real history of these waterborne criminals, many of whom turned landlubber after a few years at sea. Piracy was integral to the economic development of several colonial port cities, and apparently not an obstacle to becoming respectable-like. Two very different books show up in this issue, either of which could make an interesting dinner companion. Wildly popular in its day, The Late Great Planet Earth, an apocalyptic best-seller, inspired many readers and, Erin A. Smith has found, irritated more than a few. And according to Randall Fuller, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species changed many minds, not only about the beginnings of life but also its value. Mangia!
N at i o n a l E n d o w m e n t
Humanities Winter 2017 Vol. 38 No. 1
10 The Reaction Faction: A Chat with Mark Lilla On those who think “history has gone off course.” Edited by David Skinner
12 The Youngest Person in Concord Mary Moody Emerson was a thinker, a writer, and an inspiration to all who knew her. By Noelle A. Baker and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis
16 Ruskin the Refined In the Victorian era, he taught British readers and travelers the art of cultivation. By Danny Heitman
20 Evolution of a Reformer When Charles Loring Brace read Charles Darwin. By Randall Fuller
24 What Would Jesus Read? The overlooked history of an apocalyptic best-seller. By Erin A. Smith
28 The Pirate Next Door A lot of what is known about pirates is not true, and a lot of what is true is not known. By Mark G. Hanna
4 Statements An Arizona film looks
34 Executive Function Pennsylvania
8 One-Off Caterina Sforza’s lifelong
36 Around the Nation Minnesota
at the life and art of Roy Orbison, and a photographer in Alaska documents the forlorn landscape of Adak Island. dedication to science. By Amy Lifson
23 Noteworthy Page 28
Humanities Council director Laurie Zierer works to close achievement gaps through reading, collaboration, and storytelling. By Jen A. Miller hosts the exhibition “Water/Ways” and Kansas premieres a film on Langston Hughes. Compiled by Laura Wolff Scanlan
ONLINE George Caleb Bingham’s The County Election depicts a mid nineteenth-century Election Day, when Americans voted out loud and in public. Read about this history in Paula Wasley’s “Back When Everyone Knew How You Voted,” along with other onlineonly HUMANITIES articles on the artists of the Mexican Revolution and the remarkable moment in media history that Hermann Hesse called “the age of the feuilleton.” Our address is neh.gov/humanities.
statements ARIZONA ROY ORBISON WAS A ROCK ’N’ ROLL ENIGMA. He possessed neither Elvis’s gyrating pelvis nor Jerry Lee Lewis’s pound-the-piano machismo. Teenage girls didn’t scream for him; teenage boys weren’t jealous. In the early 1960s, he recorded 19 Top 40 hits and toured with the Beatles, yet he was not a media sensation. Nothing in his persona resembled danger like other early rock stars—no hyperactive stage antics, no threats to public decency, no sultry good looks. Instead, Orbison would walk on stage, dressed all in black, with jet black hair, dark sunglasses, a black guitar, looking more like a shadow than a rocker. He would stand perfectly still in the spotlight, strum his guitar, and start singing. What came out was a voice like nothing heard on the radio at the time. An effortless three-octave range that was so powerful, yet so vulnerable, it shattered hearts. It’s said that Dwight Yoakam described Orbison’s voice as “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window.” Even in an upbeat song like “Oh, Pretty Woman” —a song where he gets the girl—his melancholy tone
Monument to MGM Records. A prolific songwriter and performer, Orbison tried to recover the magic of his Monument years but with little success. During that time, he also suffered personal tragedies, including the death of his wife, Claudette, in a motorcycle accident in 1966 and the deaths of two of his children in a house fire in 1968 while he was touring in England. His voice was largely overlooked during this dark period and continued to be ignored in America throughout the 1970s. After more than a decade in the wilderness, all that would change. American artists began covering his songs with great success, including “Blue Bayou” by Linda Ronstadt, “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Van Halen, and “Crying” by Don McLean. According to Lehman, three events marked his return to the public stage: David Lynch’s startling use of “In Dreams” in the movie Blue Velvet in 1986, Bruce Springsteen’s emotional speech when Orbison was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and the TV concert Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night in 1988 that had Orbison front and center with a backup band that included Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, T Bone Burnett, Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther, and Elvis Presley’s TCB band with James Burton on guitar, and backup singers Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, and k.d. lang, with whom Orbison would share a Grammy that year for their duet of “Crying.” Orbison said of his triumphant return, “It was like everyone was starting up my career without me. And my life, again, climbed mountains.” In 1988, he joined the band the Traveling Wilburys which included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. With the release of the Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, Orbison once again hit the Top 10, the first time since 1964. Riding high, Orbison recorded a major solo comeback album, Mystery Girl, which was scheduled for release in January 1989. On December 6, 1988, Orbison died of a heart attack at his mother’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee; he was 52 years old. Lehman says, “Bruce Springsteen wisely observed, ‘Everyone knows no one sings like Roy Orbison.’ Rather than inspiring other singers to copy him or sound like him, he inspired them to be different and to find their own voices.” In Orbison’s own words, which come near the end of the documentary, he reflects on the ups and downs of his musical career. “You set out to beat the world, and you get beat up a little. I knocked the tops off mountains, but I also filled in the valleys.”
makes us feel the anxiety, fear, and insecurity of waiting for her to turn his way. “Roy’s extreme development of those kinds of emotions and the intensity with which he expressed them certainly went against the grain of the kind of macho, confident, masculine display that characterized so much of mainstream rock ’n’ roll,” says Orbison biographer Peter Lehman. “The songs were also, as in ‘Only the Lonely,’ first-person narrations. So he begins to build a persona from song to song about himself as this suffering male character who experiences these intense emotions linked to extreme loneliness, crying, suffering, and pain, at a level of intensity that was not the norm for men at that point of time in the early ’60s.” Lehman, along with Orbison’s family, friends, and collaborators such as T Bone Burnett, Marianne Faithfull, and Jeff Lynne are all part of a documentary, Roy Orbison: One of the Lonely Ones, which had its U.S. premiere in Tempe last spring with support from Arizona Humanities. Following the screening, a discussion took place with filmmaker Jeremy Marre and Lehman, who is the director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University. After a string of Top 40 hits from 1960 to 1964, nine of which made the Top 10, Orbison jumped labels from 4 WINTER 2017
—LAURA WOLFF SCANLAN Laura Wolff Scanlan is a writer in Chicago and Arizona.
—Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy
On a HIGH Note
ROY ORBISON IN 1964 PREPARING FOR A TV APPEARANCE ON SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALADIUM.
Where the WIND Begins
EAGLE AND FISHING CABIN, FINGER BAY, JULY 2015. BY THE FOLLOWING MARCH, THE CABIN HAD BEEN LEVELED BY THE WINTER WINDS.
ALASKA ADAK ISLAND IS WAY OUT there, so far at the end of the Aleutian archipelago in the Bering Sea that it shares a time zone with Hawaii instead of its own state. This is not a place for the fainthearted. Besides being earthquake prone and still recovering from a military hangover of unexploded ordnance, it is home to some of the most raging-maniac weather on the planet.
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Winds capable of sending dumpsters somersaulting down roadways like tumbleweeds can hit 120 miles per hour. Yet record strengths remain unknown since the winds once blasted the island’s anemometer off its tower. Historically home to the Unangan people, known more commonly as Aleuts, this 270-square-mile volcanic island halfway between Seattle and Tokyo was developed as a strategic Army base during World War II, after the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor and the occupation of Attu and Kiska islands to the west. The compound later became a Cold War naval air and submarine surveillance station, which in its heyday was one of Alaska’s largest cities. Some 6,000 military personnel and their families lived there in colorful, cookie-cutter duplexes lined up neatly as if for inspection, with schools, restaurants, a hospital, a ski lodge, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a roller rink, basketball, and squash and tennis courts. A McDonald’s, too.
—ALL IMAGES © BEN HUFF
The military abandoned it all in the late 1990s, turning roughly $3 billion in military assets over to the wind. Those who stayed hoped its deep-water port might attract cruise ships or that its barracks could be turned into a prison. Neither panned out. Although the 2010 census recorded a population of 326, only about 80 full-time residents remain, living among the ruins of a more prosperous time. The stunning landscape, decaying infrastructure, and resilient people who are still hanging on inspired award-winning Alaskan photographer Ben Huff to choose Adak as a long-term photography project. Supported in part by the Alaska Humanities Forum, the project will become Huff ’s second photography book. Nothing about the commitment he’s made to this far-flung place has been easy, from getting there to making peace with its landscape, hauntingly beautiful on one hand, postapocalyptic on the other, the contradictions often superimposed upon each other. Much of Adak’s infrastructure, now owned by the Aleut Corporation, is open, either unlocked or missing windows, walls, and roofs.
BAYSHORE, WITH SWEEPER COVE IN THE DISTANCE, 2015. ADAK ONCE HOUSED MORE THAN 6,000 PEOPLE, NOW ABOUT 80 REMAIN. THE HOUSING PICTURED HERE IS ALMOST ENTIRELY ABANDONED. TO THE LEFT IS KULUK BAY, AND BEYOND THAT THE BERING SEA.
“If you’re living in a duplex and your washing machine dies, you walk down the street to a duplex that is uninhabited and you have a washing machine,” Huff said. “That goes for everything from flooring to screws to light fixtures. It’s incredibly expensive to get things there. You sort of do what you gotta do. “People in Adak talk about how you could do a zombie movie there and not have to do anything but just show up with cameras and makeup. That makes it sound sort of lifeless, and I don’t see it that way. But it does feel sort of strange, like the last person on earth, walking into someone’s home.” Adak was the logical next step after Huff ’s last major undertaking, documenting one of the most lonely, exotic, and quirky stretches of road in North America. For that project he made countless trips up the Dalton Highway, known locally as the Haul Road, the 414-mile, mostly gravel lifeline between Livengood and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Dodging potholes, snowdrifts, fatigue, and semitrucks in a hurry, he documented what he saw in The Last Road North, his first book,
another Alaska Humanities Forumbacked project. A former semipro bicycle racer with a fine arts degree, Huff was living in Fairbanks back then. Photo expeditions up the Haul Road amounted to loading his truck with provisions, pulling out of his driveway and heading north. Now living in Juneau, where he founded the independent art and photography publishing company Ice Fog Press, he’s making 3,400-mile roundtrip flights to Adak. One can occasionally find cheaper fares to Paris. Among the elements driving him is a sense of urgency. Alaska Airlines, for instance, offers only two flights a week to Adak, a flight from Anchorage that takes three hours or more, depending on the weather. If those flights were to be discontinued, Adak would be done, Huff figures. “It’s holding on by such a thread to really small economic resources,” he said. “It wouldn’t take an awful lot for the place to fold in on itself. “It’s an industrious place for sure, with some good hard-working folk. But I don’t know what the future holds for them.”
MIKE, 2015. MIKE WAS A HALIBUT FISHERMAN WHO OWNED ONE OF THREE LOCAL FISHING BOATS. WITHIN THE YEAR, MIKE HAD SOLD HIS BOAT, QUIT FISHING, AND LEFT THE ISLAND. FAR LEFT: LOOKING SOUTH FROM WHITE ALICE HILL, 2016. THERE ONCE WAS A WARNING STATION ON THE HILL, BUT THE TOWERS WERE DISMANTLED AND BURIED.
—DEBRA McKINNEY Debra McKinney is a longtime Alaskan writer and coauthor of Beyond the Bear. This story is adapted from the article “Abandoned to the Wind” by Debra McKinney that ran in the Fall 2016 issue of Alaska Humanities Forum Magazine. HUMANITIES 7
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by AMY LIFSON
aterina Sforza, the infamous fifteenth-century Italian regent of Forlì and Imola, was also an early scientist who experimented with chemistry and medicine. On the cover of Meredith K. Ray’s NEH-supported Daughters of Alchemy, a portrait of her, reproduced and seen at left, shows her holding a bowl filled with jasmine, a botanical staple for curing common ills and making perfume since the Middle Ages. Sforza is best known for her legendary response to an enemy’s threat to kill her hostage children, words that Machiavelli preserved for posterity. “Do it, if you want to: hang them even in front of me,” she declared, lifting her skirts, “here I have what’s needed to make others!” However, Sforza did care enough to will her highly guarded book called Experimenti, in which she recorded a lifetime of study in alchemy, to her son, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere. He would become the father of Cosimo I de Medici, a grand duke from the family that made its name in banking and governed Florence for centuries. Caterina’s manuscript (there is only one copy now remaining in a private archive) contains a method for making false gold, among other chemical recipes, that was attributed to Cosimo the Elder, who had been a political ally of her grandfather. Her Experimenti recorded 454 recipes, most for medicines, others for cosmetics or alchemical processes. Her son treasured the manuscript as much as she had. Giovanni wrote about it to a correspondent, “We find missing from the strongboxes in Rome a handwritten book of recipes for many and various things: we must find it, because one way or another, we want it.” Sforza’s lifeblood for this work was her apothecary, Ludovico Albertini, to whom she owed 587 florins at the time of her death, in 1509. In later generations, she wouldn’t have had that kind of bill for ingredients. In 1545, her grandson Cosimo I, who built a foundry for experiments in Palazzo Vecchio, also established a botanical garden in Florence—the third oldest botanical garden in Italy—to grow plants and herbs for medicinal purposes. Opposite, presumed portrait of Caterina Sforza, by Lorenzo di Credi, circa 1460–1537. —Courtesy of the Musei San Domenico, Forlì
TO CHANGE THE WORLD IS THE DREAM OF many an ambitious figure, but what about those who want to unchange it? Who dream of the old order that existed before the 1960s, or before World War I, or before the French Revolution? Mark Lilla is a professor of humanities at Columbia University and a contributor to the New York Review of Books. In his new collection of essays, The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, he explores the lives and ideas of sundry reactionaries for whom the last revolution “marked the end of a glorious journey, not the beginning of one.” His gallery of backward-looking thinkers stretches from the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig to the émigré philosophers Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, and all the way to the political Islamists who dream of restoring a caliphate. In 1992, Lilla received a grant from NEH to support translations of postwar political theory in France for a book he edited called New French Thought. His interest in continental philosophy and the modern era has also resulted in books on Giambattista Vico and the place of the religious imagination in contemporary politics. This fall New York Review Books reissued a prequel to the current volume called The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, which is about the dangerous relationship between politics and philosophy as evidenced in the lives of Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and others. Recently, HUMANITIES emailed Lilla several questions and he emailed us back several answers.
The Reaction Faction HUMANITIES: What is the shipwrecked mind? Why is it
Edited by David Skinner 10 WINTER 2017
MARK LILLA: One of the most common metaphors for
history, and for time itself, is that of a river. Time flows, history has currents, etc. While thinking about this image, it occurred to me that some people believe that time carries us along and all we can do is passively experience the ride. Think of cyclical theories of history or even cosmology: The world runs its course, is destroyed, and is then reborn to travel the cycle again. Other people, though, have a catastrophic conception of history: The river flows but it may not be heading in the right direction. It might flow into a channel full of shoals or rocks, where a ship can run aground or be shattered. This, I think, is the picture of history that reactionaries have. They believe that some calamitous event has taken place in time, that history has gone off course,
and that the kind of society they lived in (or imagined they lived in) has shattered. They find themselves on the shore, looking on as the debris of everything they valued is swept away by the current. The present becomes unbearable, as does the prospect of the future. And so they convince themselves that something radical must be done to either recover or redeem what has been lost. HUMANITIES: The reactionary belief that something
beautiful has been lost to us can be as compelling to the political imagination as its opposite, the revolutionary idea that we might be able to leap out of the present and into a better and more just future. Why then, as you point out, have scholars neglected reaction and the reactionary, in favor of studying revolution and the revolutionary? LILLA: Because most Western intellectuals since the
French Revolution have held some sort of progressive
if visited us online,
YOU HAVE MISSED:
+ What it was like to vote out loud and in public prior to the secret ballot + The rise of Euroskepticism and why it may be good for Europe + The fall of John O’Hara’s literary reputation
view of history. They have believed that over the course of time things just naturally improve; that was the illusion of the nineteenth century. Or they have believed that forces for good have seized control of history—the workers, the Third World wretched of the earth—and that, however dismal things may now appear, they will eventually triumph. That was the illusion of the twentieth century.
Meanwhile, though, not only were there powerful minds who dissented from these views. Events were also being shaped by forces of resistance that intellectuals, given their assumptions about history, had trouble making sense of. The term “reaction” enters European political thought with Montesquieu, who borrowed it from Newton. Just as actions lead to reactions in the physical world, so, Montesquieu suggested, a similar string of actions and reactions takes place in political life. “Reaction” was an analytical term. During the French Revolution, though, it became a term of abuse applied to those who were deemed as standing in the way of the revolutionary project and the ultimate destiny of mankind. Anyone or anything that didn’t fit got stamped with this label from then on. Thereafter European history books adopted a romantic, heroic narrative that strung a thread through revolution—Continued on page 41
A Chat with Mark Lilla
+ How the Mexican Revolution was painted + What a feuilleton is and what it says about online publishing And a whole lot more. neh.gov/humanities Humanities Magazine
MARY MOODY EMERSON WAS A THINKER, A WRITER
BY NOELLE A. BAKER AND SANDRA HARBERT PETRULIONIS
comments about women. But after a few hours of conversation with the 77-year-old Mary Moody Emerson, one November evening in 1851, he complimented both her intellect and her youthful spirit. The aunt of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Emerson was in Thoreau’s estimation not only “a genius,” but “the wittiest & most vivacious woman” he knew. A few years later, he amplified these accolades by telling a friend that Emerson, now age 81, was in fact “the youngest person in Concord.” Thoreau and Emerson enjoyed many hours together during her frequent visits there. On more than one occasion she asked to read his writings; and, when leaving town, she requested he correspond with her, so as to “brighten the solitude so desired.” Insightful as ever, Thoreau gleaned an essential feature of Emerson’s personality—a vibrant, open-minded engagement with others. Over the course of a long life, Emerson cultivated intellectual relationships, especially with younger women and men, like Thoreau, whose stimulating company she craved.
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN FRIENDS: THOREAU AND MISS MARY MOODY EMERSON, PAINTED BY N. C. WYETH IN 1936.
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—Courtesy Concord Free Public Library
HENRY DAVID THOREAU ISN’T USUALLY KNOWN FOR FLATTERING
A N D A N I N S P I R AT I O N T O A L L W H O K N E W H E R .
Born in 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, in Concord, Massachusetts, Emerson cherished her connection to that historic town. Meeting her “beloved Fayette” during his triumphal 1824– 1825 tour of the United States, the adult Emerson quipped to the influential Marquis de Lafayette that as an infant “in arms” she had witnessed the famous Concord fight that began it all. But, in 1776, when her father, William Emerson (a chaplain to the Continental Army at Fort Ticonderoga), died, his widow had five young children to raise. Twoyear-old Mary was packed off to nearby Malden, to be reared by a childless aunt and uncle. She later described these lonely formative years as a “slavery of poverty & ignorance & long orphanship,” yet Emerson took charge of her own education, reading widely in literature, philosophy, history, and the classics. Thanks to a modest inheritance from her grandmother and namesake, Mary Emerson came into adulthood as a rarity in early America: a propertyowning single woman who could afford to refuse at least one marriage proposal. By age 30 she had committed to dance to the “musick of my own imajanation” and set out to craft a rich life as a scholar, theologian, reform-minded idealist, and writer. (We have not corrected Emerson’s idiosyncratic spelling, a common trait in the writings of self-educated nineteenth-century women.) “Today read all the time . . . wakefullness. I seem to live. I pant for knowledge,” she declared in 1804. Yet throughout this generally solitary existence Emerson maintained an equally abundant and incessant exchange of ideas with others. Whether in the pages of her massive journals and letters or in face-to-face conversation, this life of the mind kept her young. For more than half a century—1804 through 1858—Emerson authored an immense series of journals she called her “Almanacks.” Numbering more than one thousand manuscript pages, these writings offer a rare and prolific example of early American women’s scholarly production. Unlike the standard almanac genre, which typically relates matter-of-fact jots about daily life and the weather, Emerson conceived of her Almanacks as an expansive record of the mind, a place to work out her thoughts and, more important, to engage directly with others, including the authors of her vast reading. Written on loose sheets of letter paper that were then bound with thread to create booklets, they became compact parcels designed for sharing. For every ten manuscript leaves sewn together, she enclosed another leaf (or more) with one of her many letters. As Emerson confided to her dear friend Elizabeth Hoar, “My Almanak scraps . . . love to wander.” These traveling pages enabled a steady stream of conversation despite Emerson’s physical distance from loved ones. This gift for talk, later so esteemed by Thoreau, is manifest in nearly every Almanack entry, as Emerson engages in a “dialogic” approach
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to readers’ and writers’ mutual cultivation. Corresponding in March 1830 with nephew Charles Emerson, she mentions having recently enjoyed “much good talk with my learned Cousin,” as she referred to pioneering educator Joseph Emerson, and hopes to extend that experience to Charles by sending with the letter “an old page to make up talk.” The “old page” was an Almanack leaf on which Emerson imaginatively frames a hypothetical encounter “were Plato & Shakespear to meet!” Years before the Transcendentalists, led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, proposed that invigorating conversation on “higher truths” could generate individual and social reform, Mary Emerson pursued their exalted notions of “self-culture” via scintillating dialog with friends, family, chance acquaintances, and the authors she read. What struck Thoreau as her ability to “entertain a large thought with hospitality” had long been Mary Emerson’s method of connecting with others, initially with Concord friends like Mary Wilder von Schalkwyck, with whom Emerson published a
“Today read all the time . . . wakefullness. I seem to live. I pant for knowledge,” she declared in 1804.
series of epistolary essays as a young woman; and later with intimates such as Sarah Alden Bradford, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Ann Sargent Gage, and Elizabeth Hoar, women 20 to 40 years her junior, as well as with her nephews, especially Waldo (as Ralph Waldo Emerson preferred to be called) and his brother Charles. Encouraging their own intellectual pursuits, Emerson asked constantly about the books her young friends were reading, including those she’d recommended but since changed her mind about. For example, she instructed Ann Gage that Germaine de Staël’s Germany was, on further thought, “not nessecary to your real improvement.” In an 1814 letter to future sister-in-law Sarah Alden Bradford, she insisted, “Write me more. Ever you read Dante? Why is that that his infernal reigions are so much more interesting than his celestial? . . . Do you love Tasso? Oh that you could write the history of all you know in miniature? a picture of Antient Greece from your hand, how wd [would] I idolise painting!” Unlike many early American women’s manuscripts that haven’t survived, the Almanacks exist today almost certainly because of their value to Waldo Emerson, who at his request had inherited “the legacy of all” his aunt’s “recorded thot.” The Almanacks’ subsequent history, however, reads like a near fatality. In 1872, Waldo’s Concord home
Sarah Ripley portrayed this dynamo at age 70 as a piercing intellect who “enters into conversation with everybody, and talks on every subject; is sharp as a razor in her satire, and sees you through and through in a moment.” & all the ghosts, as if she had been mesmerized, & saw them objectively.” As a young minister, he found her “conversation & letters” better than all other research sources he consulted to write his sermons. Well into her seventies, Emerson continued to board in and around New England several months out of each year in search of good private libraries. Sarah Ripley portrayed this dynamo at age 70 as a piercing intellect who “enters into conversation with everybody, and talks on every
—Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson (litho), American School, (19th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection / Bridgeman Images
caught fire, severely damaging and massively disordering Mary’s writings along with other treasured family papers. Townsmen rushed to extinguish the blaze, while others, including neighbor Louisa May Alcott, rescued precious manuscripts, among them hundreds of Almanack leaves that lay smoldering and scattered on the lawn. When eventually deposited with other Emerson family collections at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, these fragile writings went into uncataloged storage, where they lay for decades until Phyllis Cole put them to use in Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism (1998). As he matriculated at Harvard and then as he began his ministry, Waldo’s close relationship with his aunt is a prime example of the mentoring and repartee for which Mary Emerson was celebrated. During the 1820s, especially, their back-and-forth correspondence often spilled onto Almanack pages as the two took up all manner of inquiries. Their discussions ranged widely across subjects and figures—from natural religion, Russian poetry, Indian mysticism, and northern European mythology to Shakespeare, Plato, Kant, Byron, Cicero, and Coleridge, among a host of others. They besieged each other with requests confirming their vital need for this reciprocal storm of ideas: “Write to me, dear Waldo,” she pled; “I do beseech your charity not to withhold your pen,” he urged; and “Perhaps you are tired of my metaphors but I write to get answers not to please myself. . . . I beseech you again to write,” he repeated. Mary’s nurturing of Waldo’s philosophical bent was vivid and profound. He later recalled that his aunt had “described the world of Plato, Spinoza,
A LITHOGRAPH OF MARY MOODY EMERSON’S FAMOUS NEPHEW, WHO PREFERRED TO BE ADDRESSED AS WALDO.
subject; is sharp as a razor in her satire, and sees you through and through in a moment.” Consistently, those conversations began with Emerson’s unquenchable curiosity to understand a younger generation’s state of mind—and to compare it with her own. “How is thy soul?” she inquired of Waldo in 1821. “Not that of which Paul speaks—but thy poetic? The spirits of inspiration are abroad tonight. I have rode only to go out & see the wonderous aspect of nature. Do we love poetry as we do the flowers of the field— . . . Fancy, celestial gift, is to the mind what those to earth.” This lyrical mental energy never diminished. Mary Emerson’s was a life conducted at full speed, Waldo observed, adding that she whirled at a “greater velocity than any of the other tops.” True to Waldo’s depiction, Emerson tried her hand at a variety of literary genres. To this end, the Almanacks reveal an apprentice author’s literary miscellany—including devotional diaries, philosophical journals, commonplace notebooks, original compositions, and letters. In their pages she addresses an astounding range of subjects— —Continued on page 42
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In the Victorian era, he taught British readers and travelers the art of cultivation.
EAR the dawn of the twentieth century, a young Englishwoman named Lucy is visiting an ancient church in Florence, unsure of what she is looking at, or how, exactly, to see it. She doesn’t have her Baedeker, a popular travel guide, and is feeling lost without it. “She walked about disdainfully,” we learn, “unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date. There was no one even to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the nave and transepts, was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr. Ruskin.”
The woman unsure of her own reaction to a lovely church without consulting “Mr. Ruskin” is Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine of E. M. Forster’s celebrated 1908 novel, A Room with a View. The reference to “Mr. Ruskin” might be lost on many modern readers, although Forster obviously felt no obligation to explain it when he wrote his story. The man in question, John Ruskin, had died eight years earlier, in 1900, but his memory was still fresh in popular culture. In Ruskin’s heyday, just about every educated Victorian knew who he was. Born in 1819 to a wealthy merchant and an overbearing mother, Ruskin was an English writer on art, nature, literature, and political economy who dominated cultural thought throughout Britain—and, to some degree, the Western world—in the second half of the nineteenth century. Given his relative obscurity today, it’s hard for contemporary readers to grasp how famous Ruskin once was. Reverently read and reflexively quoted, his pronouncements on everything from painting to poetry to private capital rang among his fans with an almost scriptural authority. His mother had once longed for him to be a bishop, and as an arbiter of his society’s standards, Ruskin, in his own way, came close. “Taste . . . is the only morality. . . . Tell me what you like,” Ruskin asserted, “And I’ll tell you what you are.” Forster was being wry when he mentioned Lucy’s predicament—that she didn’t know what to think until Ruskin had told her what to think. But Forster’s tongue-in-cheek remark also acknowledged the spell Ruskin once cast over people of culture—or, at the very least, people who wanted to be considered culturally sophisticated. The slavish devotion of Ruskin’s disciples irritated D. H. Lawrence, who found it all a bit much. “The deep damnation of selfrighteousness . . . lies thick over the Ruskinite,” Lawrence lamented, “like painted feathers on a skinny peacock.” OPPOSITE: A WOODCUT OF RUSKIN MADE BY JOHN BRYDEN, PUBLISHED IN 1898. —C. and M. History Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
A DRAWING BY RUSKIN’S OWN HAND OF TRACERY IN THE CAMPANILE OF GIOTTO IN FLORENCE, ITALY. —Alamy
AN ENGRAVING OF THE ANGEL RUSKIN HOVERING ABOVE THE WORLD OF ART. —John Ruskin, Art Criticism. Illustration for Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day, the drawings by Frederick Waddy (Tinsley, 1873) / bilwisse edition LTD & Co. KG / Alamy.
Maybe Lawrence’s dart came poisoned with a little envy. What author, after all, wouldn’t want the kind of reception Ruskin enjoyed in his prime? Ruskin’s many books, “bound in vellum or limp leather, were to be found lying beside the Idylls of the King on the tables of those who did not normally read, but wished to show some evidence of refinement,” the late art historian Kenneth Clark observed. “For almost fifty years, to read Ruskin was accepted as proof of the possession of a soul.” Ruskin was revered not only by the public, but by other writers and noted thinkers, including British prime minister William Gladstone. “From Wordsworth to Proust there was hardly a distinguished man of letters who did not admire him,” Clark wrote. “Austere critics like Leslie Stephen believed him to be one of the unassailable masters of English prose, and, on the death of Tennyson, Gladstone (whom he habitually insulted) wished to make him Poet Laureate.” Gandhi and Tolstoy would claim him as a powerful influence, too. Charlotte Brontë claimed that she did not truly perceive visual art until she read Ruskin’s Modern Painters. Ruskin, she said, “seems to give me eyes.” Ruskin did not become England’s poet laureate, which was no doubt for the best, since he wrote very little poetry, and most of it was forgettable. Even so, readers tended to think of Ruskin as a kind of poet, since his prose style, rich 18 WINTER 2017
in metaphor, leaned toward the rhapsodically romantic. Victorians versed in Wordsworth loved this sort of thing, but to the modern ear, Ruskin can often seem overdone. Here’s how Ruskin describes a swallow: “It is an owl that has been trained by the Graces. It is a bat that loves the morning light. It is the aerial reflection of a dolphin. It is the tender domestication of a trout.” There you have it, a swallow compared to a bat, a dolphin, and—in a phrase only dear Ruskin could coin—“the tender domestication of a trout.” It’s as if Ruskin is free-associating metaphors before our eyes, hoping that something, anything, will stick. Ruskin could get carried away on the page as he so often got carried away in life, and his sense of abandon somehow resonated with Victorians who found, in their socially constrained era, a sense of liberation in reading his sentences. He was, in a number of respects, the quintessential Victorian, his desire for strict moral probity conflicting with serious personal demons. Ruskin dominated his age because he frequently seemed so thoroughly a part of it, but there remains a question about whether his work deserves to endure as more than a period piece. What is true, and has been for years, is that few people read Ruskin anymore. ”No other writer, perhaps, has suffered so great a fall in reputation as Ruskin,” Clark noted in 1962. A generation or two later, Ruskin’s profile remains low. An edition of his Collected Works stretched to 39 volumes, but little of it remains widely available in print. The sheer size of his oeuvre is an abiding complication, mixing the good with the bad, all of it defying the kind of easy summary that makes a literary persona truly marketable. Like the house where he once lived, which was full to the brim with art, books, and curios: “Ruskin’s life and work are crammed with things, so that it is not perhaps too surprising that he has survived piecemeal,” his biographer, John Dixon Hunt, has mentioned. For the newcomer, the best introduction to Ruskin is his Selected Writings, a Penguin Classic arranged and introduced by Clark, which is, sadly, no longer in print. From Ruskin’s enormous output, Clark distilled about 350 pages of prose on art and architecture, nature, society, and economics. His extracts are necessarily fragmentary, but, intentionally or otherwise, Clark’s editorial scheme deftly expresses Ruskin’s kinetic mind, which favored movement and change over a sustained and systematic argument. Here’s a Ruskin passage that says a lot about how he wrote: I believe we can nowhere find a better type of a perfectly free creature than the common house fly. Nor free only, but brave; and irreverent to a degree which I think no human republican could by any philosophy exalt himself to. There is no courtesy in him; he does not care whether it is king or clown whom he teases; and in every step of his swift mechanical march, and in every pause of his resolute observation, there is one and the same expression of perfect egotism, perfect independence and selfconfidence, and conviction of the world’s having been made for flies.
First and foremost, perhaps, Ruskin’s rumination suggests his powerful attention to detail. That he would focus so perceptively on a little bug that everyone regards as a nettlesome house pest really speaks to the kind of eye his admirers came to love. His gift for seeing the tiny thing
Although he enjoyed success as an author and lecturer, Ruskin’s personal life was a mess. His mother was an early helicopter parent, accompanying him to Oxford and renting rooms for herself there when he attended the university. His 1848 marriage to Effie Gray ended several years later, and she had it annulled on the grounds that their union had never been consummated. In 1859, he fell in love with a 10-year-old girl, Rose La Touche, waiting until she was 18 to propose marriage. The marriage never happened. La Touche died in 1875, and the loss advanced Ruskin’s lapse into dementia. He died a broken man in 1900, just as the century he had done so much to shape was receding from view. Ruskin’s sexuality has sparked intense speculation. Its creepier aspects have, understandably, complicated his popular reputation. “Ruskin, who seems to have been incapable of normal relations with a grown-up woman, had a passion for little girls,” Clark flatly declares. “As a man of forty he used to stay in a girls’ school called Winnington, where he joined in the games and talked to the girls about history, geology, and morals, conversations which he polished up into a book called The Ethics of the Dust.” —Continued on page 46
—The Bridesmaid, 1851 (oil on panel), Millais, John Everett (1829–96) / Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK / Bridgeman Images
that implies the larger truth made him a compelling art critic, able to interpret geniuses of antiquity and his own time in such expansive works as Modern Painters, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and The Stones of Venice. Secondly, of course, his reflection points to an abidingly political sensibility. In Ruskin’s rendering, the house fly becomes a way to consider the nature of human freedom—the degree to which we should embrace convention and tradition, and the extent to which we should flout it. The idea no doubt struck Ruskin’s straitlaced Victorian contemporaries as a radical one, dampening his appeal among the ruling establishment. Another quality of this passage is its resistance to quick classification, touching on aesthetics, politics, and the natural world. Clark tucks it into a subject heading on society and economics, but it would just as easily have been right at home in the anthology’s sections on art or nature. Ruskin insisted on seeing one thing as connected to everything else, which is why his discussions of art led him into questions of politics. He thought that good art grew best from good social conditions. Ruskin was skeptical about technological progress, an early prophet of the perils of pollution, and worried about the market principles underlying capitalism. “The first of all English games is making money,” he complained. “That is an all-absorbing game; and we knock each other down oftener in playing at that, than at foot-ball, or any other roughest sport: and it is absolutely without purpose; no one who engages heartily in the game ever knows why.” He warned his fellow Englishmen that coal mining and consumption were threatening to destroy the air and land that had made their country great. All “the true greatness she ever had,” he said of England, “she won while her fields were green, and her faces ruddy; and that greatness is still possible for Englishmen, even though the ground be not hollow under their feet, nor the sky black over their heads.” Although Ruskin was generally wary of the changes transforming nineteenth-century commerce, those same changes helped create a class of tourists who became a core audience for his books. “There is nothing that I tell you with more eager desire that you should believe . . . than this,” he once told a lecture audience, “that you will never love art well, till you love what she mirrors better.” What Ruskin seems to be saying is that a painting or piece of sculpture should be tested against the landscape and culture it’s intended to represent. That idea resonated with nineteenth-century readers, who were increasingly able not only to see the art of places like Venice in museums, but to visit these destinations. Ruskin became a celebrity interpreter of what English families might see abroad, his books a welcome traveling companion. With growing prosperity, tourism was becoming a mass market, and Ruskin a crucial figure in mediating this newly opened world. “The Grand Tour had been an institution among aristocrats, in which men and women of privilege traveled through Europe as if it were a finishing school, absorbing its art, culture and languages at their leisure, the better to enrich themselves and English society on their return,” scholar Radhika Jones has noted in explaining the mood of the time. “Why should the professional classes, and maybe even working-class men and women, not engage in that pursuit as well?”
THE BRIDESMAID, AN 1851 PAINTING OF EFFIE RUSKIN BY HER FUTURE HUSBAND, THE PRE-RAPHAELITE PAINTER JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.
Evolution of a Reformer When Charles Loring Brace Read Charles Darwin
CHARLES LORING BRACE SPENT HIS LIFE AIDING THE POOR OF NEW YORK, INCLUDING IN THE NOTORIOUS FIVE POINTS, SHOWN IN THIS 1872 IMAGE FROM FRANK LESLIE’S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER. —Library of Congress
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In lectures and sermons and newspaper articles that year, he pleaded on behalf of impoverished children, insisting In December 1859, a copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species arrived from across the Atlantic and almost imme- that the privileged, warmly dressed members of his own class could do no better than to provide a second chance diately began to change the lives of those who read it. for destitute children. “There is something about childish The book was addressed to Asa Gray, the Harvard botanist poverty that touches almost everyone,” he wrote in January who soon became Darwin’s most influential champion 1860, after reading Darwin’s book. “We can not connect in America. He devoured it in less than a week, finishing it directly with laziness . . . or vice, and the little sufferer it by Christmas and passing it on to his wife’s cousin, seems to represent to us, for the time, social evils of whose Charles Loring Brace. Brace was a New York City childdistant influence it is the innocent victim.” welfare reformer who had founded the Children’s Aid If Darwin’s Origin portrayed a world of constant Society; in 1854 he began the program for which he is still remembered. Known colloquially as the “orphan trains,” his struggle, it also offered a glimmer of hope for the future. By “preserving and adding up all that is good,” natural “Emigration Plan” transported thousands of abandoned, orphaned, and runaway children to rural areas in the West, selection surely implied the gradual perfection of human where Brace believed the healthful surroundings and stable society. New York’s lower wards might be awash with every imaginable permutation of the poor and foreignfamilies would transform their lives. born, but these people were in fact Brace was so enthusiastic adapting to a new environment, to about Darwin’s book that he By Randall Fuller new possibilities. The people to whom introduced it to three friends Brace ministered had left the Old World on New Year ’s Day in 1860: behind to become something altogether the abolitionist Franklin different. They sought transformation. Sanborn, the philosopher They wished to become a new race: Bronson Alcott, and the writer Americans. Henry David Thoreau. And And that wasn’t even the most he began to see his work in important idea he extracted from Origin. an entirely new light. Certain Darwin had deliberately left out all passages provided a dark gloss —Private collection / Bridgeman Images —Wikimedia Commons discussion of humans in his book, but on New York’s slums and their he did assert that every living creature most vulnerable citizens. “More THE SCIENTIFIC WRITINGS OF CHARLES DARWIN, LEFT, GREATLY INFLUENCED CHARLES LORING BRACE’S THINKING could be traced to a single, shared individuals are born than can AROUND SOCIAL ILLS. origin—“from some one prototype.” possibly survive,” Darwin This insight confirmed Brace’s deeply observed. “A grain in the balance held belief that humans shared a common ancestry, that will determine which individual shall live and which shall the Biblical account of origins was true—symbolically, if not die.” Yet On the Origin of Species also contained passages that Brace found reassuring. It suggested that the process of natural literally. More crucially, every person in the world—blacks and whites especially—was a brother or sister to everyone selection was “daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which else, descendants of an original pair. For Brace, the theory of natural selection was the latest argument against chattel is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good.” slavery, a scientific claim to be used against proslavery It was this last concept—that natural selection worked for apologists who described blacks as a separate, inferior species. the preservation of the good—that Brace clung to. Biologists now understand natural selection as a mechanism that enables Darwin’s book inspired Brace to write a work of ethnology that would prove that all humans shared a common ancestor. evolution to occur. It is purposeless, governed by chance. But The central thesis of Brace’s book, The Races of the Old this was not entirely clear in the first edition of Darwin’s book. World, is simple enough: “There is nothing . . . to prove In 1859 the naturalist still believed that natural selection’s the negro radically different from the other families of messy process, its extravagant creation and destruction, led to man or even mentally inferior to them.” Just as Darwin something worth celebrating: “the production of the higher had examined the fossil record to trace links between animals”—including, of course, humans. Only in subsequent editions would he modify this perspective, gradually depicting species, Brace proposed to examine human languages to uncover underlying commonalities between races. But evolution as entirely mechanistic. this approach quickly exposed a troubling fact: Linguistics Brace seized upon any passage in Origin that suggested did nothing to suggest that human history was progressive. there might be a divine purpose to evolution. Long Instead it chronicled a series of mass migrations, of convinced that all children were born possessing an innate conflicts and conquests, of dislocations and intermixtures. moral sense, an intuitive grasp of right and wrong, he Sometimes language chronicled the decline of a culture, believed that environmental conditions led them astray. Poverty was the “grain in the balance” that destroyed a life. as in ancient Greece.
Sometimes a book can change a life.
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—Library of Congress
Human cultures and races were not permanent, in other words—a discovery that was particularly troubling to Brace as the nation lurched toward civil war. According to his book, humans migrated to various regions around the world, adapting to the geographical conditions into which they settled. Once they had successfully adapted to their setting, there was no need for further change. As a result, the “negro present[ed] his pure type 4,000 years ago, unchanged,” and there was now very little likelihood of “his type changing into that of the white.” It’s a statement strangely at odds with itself. Brace The people to whom firmly believed in Brace ministered had the emancipation left the Old World of slaves, and behind to become he was equally convinced that something altogether blacks and whites different. They sought did not differ transformation. They in their mental capacities. But wished to become a that black new race: Americans. claiming Americans were incapable of change allowed him to argue against racial mixture. This was important because a nation of mixed and biracial children suggested nothing so much as the fragility of whiteness, of Americanness as Brace understood it. It suggested the unthinkable: that one day America might not be a white nation at all. Which is to say that like so many subsequent readers of Darwin, Brace borrowed what was useful in the new theory and ignored inconvenient counterevidence. Asa Gray had warned him, “When you unscientific people take up a scientific principle, you are apt to make too much of it, to push it to conclusions beyond what is warranted by the facts.” Nevertheless, Brace continued to read and reread Origin (he later claimed to have read the book 13 times), grappling with its conclusions. “If the soul is a growth from animal faculties and instincts,” he admitted, “the probability is less for immortality. Or if the whole universe is an evolution under chance and natural selection from a few atoms in a cosmic vapor, the necessity of God is less.” Yet he didn’t feel the truth of these ideas. A deep and abiding faith led Brace to conclude, “Yet to me Darwinism is not inconsistent with Theism.” As he grew older, Brace would insist that Darwin’s theory really meant “there is no drift toward the worse— no tendency to degeneracy and imperfection. The current of all created things, or of all phenomena, is towards higher forms of life. Natural selection is a means of arriving at the best.” This statement contradicted the evidence of human degeneracy he had chronicled years earlier, but it more conveniently squared with the nation’s belief in itself as a progressive force in world history. In July 1872, Brace took a well-deserved vacation from the Children’s Aid Society and traveled abroad. He
A SUMMER EVENING IN FIVE POINTS, 1873. FOR CHARLES LORING BRACE, IT WAS POVERTY AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS THAT DESTROYED PEOPLE’S LIVES.
stopped in England to visit the man who had transformed his intellectual life a dozen years earlier. As usual, Darwin was worn with illness, but talkative. He launched into conversations about animal instincts and the recent discovery of primitive skulls in California. And he had a message for Brace: “Yes,” he said; “it is very unpleasant of these facts; they won’t fit in as they ought to!”
Randall Fuller is the Chapman Professor of English at the University of Tulsa and author of The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation (Viking, 2017). In 2014, Fuller received an NEH summer stipend of $6,000 to aid his work on The Book That Changed America. He also received an NEH grant of $40,000 to support the writing of From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature (Oxford University Press, 2011).
As Americans prepared for a Thanksgiving holiday, an archaeological team from the University of Massachusetts Boston announced that they had discovered the site of the original Pilgrim colony in the heart of modern Plymouth, Massachusetts. It has long been known that the Pilgrims landed in North America on the Mayflower in 1620, but the exact location of their Plymouth settlement remained elusive. With a three-year, $200,000 NEH grant, archaeologist David Landon began working this past summer with a 35-person crew in a small part of the city known as Burial Hill—which is a cemetery that is believed to have been part of an earlier Indian community. Among the materials discovered were musket balls, seventeenth-century ceramics, soil stained from a wooden post of a structure, and calf bones. The calf remains were the big clue that this was a European site, as the Native Americans didn’t keep domesticated livestock. “People have never found part of the seventeenth-century settlement in downtown Plymouth,” Landon told the Boston Globe. “For the first time, we found part of the built environment.”
WHITE HOUSE AWARDS
Twelve after-school or out-of-school programs for children received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in November. First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the honorees at a White House ceremony, praising them for their innovation and dedication to bringing learning opportunities to often underserved populations. The awards are an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This year’s winners: AileyCamp Miami offers six weeks of performing arts and dance to children; Baranov Museum Youth History and Film Summer Intensive in Kodiak helps 7th through 12th graders research and create documentaries on historical topics related to Alaska; IBA’s Youth Development Program in Boston provides academic support, arts education, and leadership training for high schoolers; Next Gen in San Francisco offers internship opportunities in video production and game coding; Screen It! at the Mexic-Arte
Museum in Austin connects students to training in computers, graphics, and business; Sphinx Overture gives free music education classes to elementaryschool students in Detroit and Flint, Michigan; St. Louis ArtWorks provides apprenticeships for teens with professional artists; Subway Sleuths in Brooklyn uses the New York Transit Museum to work with young train enthusiasts with autism; Teen Arts + Tech Program in Grand Rapids offers hands-on learning in the arts and technical fields; the Reading Road Show–Gus Bus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, sends literacy vehicles containing books and reading space to low-income neighborhoods; Tribal Youth Ambassadors in Santa Rosa, California, provides humanities programming to Native American children in several counties; and True Colors: Out Youth Theater in Boston offers arts programming for 90 LGBT students during the year.
U.S. ARMY SIGN FROM THE 1950s. —Courtesy Richard Wormser
—University of Massachusetts Boston
KUDOS FOR REDS
AT THE NEWLY DISCOVERED ORIGINAL PLYMOUTH COLONY, ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNCOVER THE REMAINS OF A CALF, WHICH UMASS BOSTON STUDENTS HAVE AFFECTIONATELY NAMED “CONSTANCE.”
American Reds, a documentary released by PBS in September, has been nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Script by the Writers Guild of America. Written, directed, and coproduced by Richard Wormser, the film tells the complicated story of the rise and fall of the Communist Party in the United States through interviews conducted in 1981 with the front-line organizers and members of the party. The interviews now reside in the Richard Wormser collection at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University. Wormser received $575,000 in grants from NEH for research and production for American Reds. Check local PBS schedules for broadcast dates. —AL
The overlooked history of an apocalyptic best-seller 24 WINTER 2017
This book [The Late Great Planet Earth] contains incontrovertible proof that Christianity is the one true way. Everybody should read this.
Every 3 years Hal Lindsay [sic] writes a new book denoting how the world will end in 5 years. Each subsequent book explains how he WASN’T wrong in the previous book and the world will really end in 5 years. . . . He has followed this pattern for 3 decades and is now acknowledged as “the foremost authority on Biblical prophecy in the world today.” . . . I’m an electrician. If I had been doing my job POORLY and WRONG for 30 years I doubt I would be “the foremost authority”. In fact, I dare say I would have ceased to make a living in my chosen profession in the first 10 years.
Readers of The Late Great Planet Earth on Amazon
BY ERIN A. SMITH
—© Nacio Jan Brown
LONG BEFORE THE LEFT BEHIND BOOKS crowded the New York Times
BERKELEY, CIRCA 1969–1973
best-seller list, Hal Lindsey and C. C. Carlson’s The Late Great Planet Earth introduced millions of readers worldwide to end-times prophecy. An accessible, engaging introduction to the coming apocalypse, The Late Great Planet Earth was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s: Ten million copies were in circulation by the end of the decade. It sold more than 28 million copies by 1990, an estimated 35 million by 1999, and was translated into more than fifty languages. A 1977 movie version narrated by Orson Welles ran in theaters nationwide and was later broadcast on HBO. Lindsey was “the most widely read interpreter of prophecy in history,” said one critic. Another claimed that only the Bible itself had outsold The Late Great Planet Earth. Initially, The Late Great Planet Earth was sold primarily in Christian bookstores and through the mail. Despite its great popularity, it did not appear on best-seller lists, which tracked only sales in trade bookshops. In response, the year after The Late Great Planet Earth was published, Zondervan, Lindsey’s nondenominational evangelical publisher, placed an ad in Publishers Weekly next to the best-seller list. The headline read, “A phenomenal bestseller you will not find listed on the opposite page.” Lindsey’s book was only one of many big sellers that did not make the lists. Between 1972 and 1977, religious book sales grew 112 percent, compared with an overall industry growth rate of 70 percent. In 1981, the New York Times estimated that religious publishing was a $1 billion-a-year business, having nearly doubled in size since the early 1970s. Moreover, it continued to grow at approximately 15 percent a year, with evangelical books representing the fastestgrowing sector of that market. HUMANITIES 25
Although evangelical publishing was large and growing rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, mainstream media often ignored its influence or dismissed it. Lindsey, in particular, had a significant public relations problem. “Hal Lindsey . . . is an Advent-and-Apocalypse evangelist who sports a Porsche racing jacket and tools around Los Angeles in a Mercedes 450 SI,” Publishers Weekly said in 1977. “And even though his best selling books of Bible prophecy warn that the end is near, Lindsey maintains a suite of offices in a posh Santa Monica high-rise for the personal management firm that sinks his royalties into long-term real estate investments.” Scholars and intellectuals, meanwhile, condemned The Late Great Planet Earth for being theologically wrong, historically inaccurate, and aesthetically bad. “Pity those who look to Lindsey’s books to lead them through the Bible,” wrote one theologian in a book-length debunking. “Lindsey’s views represent yet another link in a long chain of mistaken interpretations of God’s Word.” As a scholar of popular books, I was fascinated by this gap between popular celebration and frequently justified scholarly condemnation. Why would so many Americans read a bad book with such intensity and passion? Rather than dismissing them as stupid or tasteless or assuming they suffered from false consciousness, I decided to investigate how and why The Late Great Planet Earth mattered to millions of lay people. From reader reviews posted on Amazon before 2008 and comments collected from an online discussion group devoted to religion, I explored what this controversial book meant to readers in the 1970s and 1980s and how we might think about it now. The Late Great Planet Earth was an incredibly successful “crossover” book—one of the first texts to bridge the divide between religious and secular audiences. After Lindsey’s book sold a half million copies, Bantam picked up the rights and released a mass-market edition. While the text for the Zondervan and Bantam editions was identical, the Bantam edition had a different cover—one explicitly modeled on Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, a popular speculative history of how aliens from outer space had visited earth in ancient times. The Bantam version was shelved with science fiction, and as Publishers Weekly noted, “next to books about the I Ching and Transcendental Meditation.” “We are getting our books out there where the unbeliever action is,” trumpeted one evangelical publishing executive about these partnerships. Evangelical houses were happy about the larger audience for Biblical truth, and paperback publishers were thrilled to have the profits. As early as 1970, evangelical publishers were courting the youth market, an emphasis one publisher glossed as “Try Jesus, Not Junk.” Lindsey aimed his affordable, paperback edition at this new, nondenominational youth audience. “I’ve never gone for the hardback market,” he explained. 26 WINTER 2017
“In fact, I’ve always insisted on publishing the hardback and the quality paperback at the same time. I’m writing for the youth culture—and the average young person doesn’t even look at hardbacks of any kind.” Lindsey was no stranger to the youth movement. For seven years, he had been an evangelist for Campus Crusade for Christ, preaching to crowds of college students at the University of California–Berkeley and San Francisco State University. He told Publishers Weekly that he was “constantly challenged to not just spout theological jargon but to tell people something they could understand.” In 1969, Lindsey began a teaching ministry near UCLA and became codirector of a 40-person residential house called the Jesus Christ Light and Power Company. Here, he honed his presentation style and material in lectures and Bible studies. His process was to “imagine that I was sitting across the table from a young person—a cynical, irreligious person—and I’d try to convince him that the Bible prophecies were true. . . . A young person isn’t hesitant to call you on something, and it forces you to come to grips with people who aren’t in the religious ‘club’.” His colloquial way of writing set Lindsey apart. In his attention-grabbing book introduction, he wrote: “This is a book about prophecy—Bible prophecy. If you have no interest in the future, this isn’t for you. If you have no curiosity about a subject that some consider controversial, you might as well stop now.” Lindsey began by talking about astrology and other popular forms of divining the future before turning to Bible prophecy as a more accurate, proven method. He was also mindful of the pitfalls of engaging scholarly materials: “It is necessary on the next few pages to establish some documentation from ancient history. Some people find this subject ‘a little dull,’ to say the least. If this is your case, you may wish to skim over the high points. For others, it will prove to be rewarding to check carefully the grounds upon which the historical case is built.” Publishers Weekly called The Late Great Planet Earth “oldfashioned Doomsday preaching in a contemporary idiom” and praised Lindsey’s “folksy style.” Historians looking back call it “an apocalyptic reading of Ezekiel in funky ’70s slanguage,” and “a tale of biblical prophecy told in countercultural vernacular.” Fundamentalists have long been interested in the apocalyptic books of the Bible—Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation—and there is a tradition of interpreting them in light of contemporary events. American Studies scholar Melani McAlister describes most of these interpretations as “academic, inbred books aimed at audiences of the already-converted.” Lindsey wanted to reach the not yet converted. Although his potential readers might have lacked familiarity with the prophetic scriptures that identified harbingers of the end times, Lindsey presumed that they were fascinated
The Late Great Planet Earth was an incredibly successful “crossover” book—one of the first texts to bridge the divide between religious and secular audiences.
and terrified by the events of their own time. Lindsey’s apocalyptic writing falls into the category known as premillennial dispensationalism, ideas espoused by John Nelson Darby, a nineteenthcentury Englishman who wrote about the division of history into seven great eras or “dispensations” and the imminent return of Christ before the final dispensation, a thousand-year reign of peace on earth. Premillennial dispensationalists believe that ambiguous scriptures describe events that will happen as the second coming of Christ approaches. In Lindsey’s version, the harbingers of the end times include the return of Jews to the Holy Land (founding of Israel in 1948); Jews regaining control of Jerusalem’s sacred sites (the 1967 Arab-Israeli War); and the rebuilding of the Temple (not yet). As the end times approach, the Antichrist, disguised as a global peacemaker, comes to power. True Christians are transported to heaven (the rapture). Seven years of tribulation— floods, famine, disease, plagues, war—follow, at the end of which Jesus returns to lead Israel’s army against the rest of the world. Christ’s victory ushers in his thousand-year reign (the final dispensation). Lindsey also wove together contemporary accounts of nuclear proliferation and World War III scenarios with the prophetic scriptures he believed predicted them, convincing lay readers that the Bible offered a framework to give meaning to what was happening in the present. Evangelical Christians were convinced of the truth claims made by Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth and read it in order to reconcile disturbing events in the news with predictions made in prophetic books of the Bible. The Late Great Planet Earth made it appear that the world was completely under God’s control, and history was unfolding exactly as God intended. Readers were told they had a special role in convincing others of the truth so they could accept Jesus as their savior in time to be rescued from the impending apocalypse. One subset of evangelicals, the “Jesus People,” particularly responded to the message. The Jesus Movement, a vast, amorphous revival and renewal movement among youth, had many faces (churches, communes, coffeehouses, free newspapers, street ministries) that shared an anti-institutional approach to religion and a fundamentalist theology. Time magazine’s 1971 cover story about the Jesus People characterized the movement as “a May–December marriage
of conservative religion and the rebellious counterculture.” Jesus People were like the counterculture—placing subjective experience at the center of spiritual life, emphasizing protest against established institutions, seeking a “high” as a form of spiritual transcendence. They were unlike the counterculture, however, in that they pursued these ends not through drugs, but through Bible study and prayer. Lindsey’s own relationship to the Jesus Movement was tenuous. The movement was centered on the West Coast in street ministries, communes, and coffeehouses that ministered to drug addicts and runaways, while Lindsey’s ministry at the Jesus Christ Light and Power Company near UCLA appealed primarily to athletes and college kids. It bore little resemblance to the controversial communes whose residents turned their backs on this world to study the Bible and evangelize on the streets. That said, The Late Great Planet Earth was unarguably the Jesus Movement’s textbook. It appeared next to the Bible in almost every movement commune, church, or coffeehouse, and was responsible for drawing in converts. The “New Age” or “science fiction” readers approached The Late Great Planet Earth quite differently. For them, it was engaging fiction. They found its fantastic elements appealing precisely because they offered escape from contemporary life, and certainly nobody was moved to action. One reader remembered talking about the book with his girlfriend, whose brand of countercultural evangelicalism was continuous with her attraction to “proto-New Age things,” including von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. An Amazon reviewer situated the book in this genre tradition for other potential readers in a review headlined “Interesting Fiction,” describing The Late Great Planet Earth as like Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce. Another person lumped The Late Great Planet Earth with The Bermuda Triangle, Philadelphia Experiment, and The Population Bomb into a category described as “sensationalist expose” [sic]. Some readers recognized the book as both religion and speculative fiction. One reader wrote that he discussed the book with his colleagues when he was in seminary (i.e., it was religion), but that it was in the science fiction section of his local bookstore. For some, its sci-fi and fantasy elements were what made the book so bad. One Amazon reviewer scoffed, “Suffice it to say that Lindsey’s take on the book of Prophecy might as well be a fantasy concocted as a science fiction novel.” Others submitted more divided reviews, explicitly invoking the two genre traditions in their critique. “Horrible Scholarship but entertaining,” insisted one Amazon reviewer, who awarded the book two stars, a loose averaging of the 0-1 stars for logic and quality of scholarship and the 3-4 stars for “entertainment value.” Religious historian Martin Marty has called The Late Great Planet Earth a “flag book”—a book whose purpose —Continued on page 44 HUMANITIES 27
â€”Howard Pyle / DoverPictura
The Pirate Next Door 28 WINTER 2017
A lot of what is known about pirates is not true, and a lot of what is true is not known.
By Mark G. Hanna
—Howard Pyle / DoverPictura
in 1701 , in Middletown, New Jersey, Moses
Butterworth languished in a jail, accused of piracy. Like many young men based in England or her colonies, he had joined a crew that sailed the Indian Ocean intent on plundering ships of the Muslim Mughal Empire. Throughout the 1690s, these pirates marauded vessels laden with gold, jewels, silk, and calico on pilgrimage toward Mecca. After achieving great success, many of these men sailed back into the Atlantic via Madagascar to the North American seaboard, where they quietly disembarked in Charleston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, Newport, and Boston, and made themselves at home. When Butterworth was captured, he admitted to authorities that he had served under the notorious Captain William Kidd, arriving with him in Boston before making his way to New Jersey. This would seem quite damning. Governor Andrew Hamilton and his entourage rushed to Monmouth County Court to quickly try Butterworth for his crimes. But the swashbuckling Butterworth was not without supporters. In a surprising turn of events, Samuel Willet, a local leader, sent a drummer, Thomas Johnson, to sound the alarm and gather a company of men armed with guns and clubs to attack the courthouse. One report estimated the crowd at over a hundred furious East Jersey residents. The shouts of the men, along with the “Drum beating,” made it impossible to examine Butterworth and ask him about his financial and social relationships with the local Monmouth gentry. Armed with clubs, locals Benjamin and Richard Borden freed Butterworth from the colonial authorities. “Commanding ye Kings peace to be keept,” the judge and sheriff drew their swords and injured both Bordens in the scuffle. Soon, however, the judge and sheriff were beaten back by the crowd, which succeeded in taking Butterworth away.
The mob then seized Hamilton, his followers, and the sheriff, taking them prisoner in Butterworth’s place. A witness claimed this was not a spontaneous uprising but “a Design for some Considerable time past,” as the ringleaders had kept “a pyratt in their houses and threatened any that will offer to seize him.” Governor Hamilton had felt that his life was in danger. Had the Bordens been killed in the melee, he said, the mob would have murdered him. As it was, he was confined for four days until Butterworth was free and clear. Jailbreaks and riots in support of alleged pirates were common throughout the British Empire during the late seventeenth century. Local political leaders openly protected men who committed acts of piracy against powers that were nominally allied or at peace with England. In large part, these leaders were protecting their own hides: Colonists wanted to prevent depositions proving that they had harbored pirates or purchased their goods. Some of the instigators were fathers-in-law of pirates. There were less materialist reasons, too, why otherwise upstanding members of the community rebelled in support of sea marauders. Many colonists feared that crackdowns on piracy masked darker intentions to impose royal authority, set up admiralty courts without juries of one’s peers, or even force the establishment of the Anglican Church. Openly helping a pirate escape jail was also a way of protesting policies that interfered with the trade in bullion, slaves, and luxury items such as silk and calico from the Indian Ocean. These repeated acts of rebellion against royal authorities in support of men who had committed blatant criminal acts inspired me to spend about ten years researching pirates, work that resulted in my book, Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570–1740. In it, I analyzed the rise and fall of international piracy from the perspective of
colonial hinterlands, from the inception of England’s burgeoning empire to its administrative consolidation. While traditionally depicted as swashbuckling adventurers on the high seas, pirates played a crucial role on land, contributing to the commercial development and economic infrastructure of port towns in colonial America. Pirates could be found in nearly every Atlantic port city. But only particular locations became known as “pirate nests,” a pejorative term used by royalists and customs officials. Many of the most notorious pirates began their careers in these ports. Others established even deeper ties by settling in these cities and becoming respected members of the local elite. Instead of the snarling drunken fiends that parade through children’s books, these pirates spent their booty on pigs and chickens, hoping to live a more placid and financially secure life on land.
was wholly uninterested in piracy as a child. I never dressed as a pirate on Halloween or even read pirate books. I went to graduate school at Harvard, intending to write about fatherhood in early America. In my third year, I presented to colleagues a 30-page essay that I hoped would be a chapter of my dissertation. The paper was about William Harris, one of the first settlers of Rhode Island, who accumulated a massive estate through shrewd business tactics and slick legal dealings. A Puritan, Harris styled himself as an Abraham of the New
World who would people a New Canaan. He composed a will that went to seven generations. In 1680, however, the elderly man was sailing toward London when Algerian pirates captured his vessel. In the central market of the great walled city of Algiers, Harris was sold into slavery to a wealthy merchant. The once powerful man sent pitiful letters to Rhode Island, begging friends to ransom him and asking his wife to sell parts of his estate. He pleaded, “If you fail me of the said sum and said time it is most like to be the loss of my life, he [my captor] is so Cruel and Covetous. I live on bread and water.” After nearly two years of abject slavery, Harris became one of the lucky few to be ransomed. He made his way back to London, where, after a few weeks on Christian land, the exhausted patriarch died. The Algiers episode was marginal to my larger points about fatherhood. But, as the discussion went around the room, all that anyone wanted to talk about was pirates. This was a few years before Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became a worldwide sensation. One colleague working on Atlantic families had noticed that locals in South Carolina seemed strangely unsurprised when pirates came ashore in the 1680s. Another colleague came upon a pirate who arrived in Newport in the 1690s, bought land, settled down, and became a customs official. This more-thanpassing interest in pirates, as opposed to fathers, left me quite concerned. I had already taken my qualifying exams.
THE ANGLO-DUTCH FLEET IN THE BAY OF ALGIERS, WHICH THRIVED ON AN ECONOMY OF PIRACY IN THE 17TH CENTURY —Wikimedia / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
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Historians and fiction writers alike have portrayed pirates as inherently removed from civilized society. Hubert Deschamps in his 1949 Les pirates à Madagascar voiced what has become a standard trope: “[Pirates] were a unique race, born of the sea and of a brutal dream, a free people, detached from other human societies and from the future, without children and without old people, without homes and without cemeteries, without hope but not without audacity, a people for whom atrocity was a career choice and death a certitude of the day after tomorrow.” Seventeenthcentury lawyers defined pirates, in the words of Admiralty judge Sir Leoline Jenkins, as hostis humani generis, or “Enemies not of one Nation or of one Sort of People only, but of all mankind.” Since pirates lacked the legal protection of any prince, nation, or body of law, “Every Body is commissioned and is to be armed against them, as against Rebels and Traytors, to subdue and root them out.” Contemporary historians have tended to use pirates for their own ends, depicting them as rebels against convention. Their pirates critique early modern capitalism and challenge oppressive sexual norms. They are cast as protofeminists or supporters of homosocial utopias. They challenge oppressive social hierarchies by flaunting social graces or wearing flamboyant clothing above their social stations. They subvert oppressive notions of race, citing the presence of black crew members as evidence of race blindness. Moses Butterworth, however, did none of these things. NOTORIOUS BUCCANEER SIR HENRY MORGAN, SHOWN IN A DUTCH ENGRAVING, RAIDED SPAIN’S CARIBBEAN COLONIES FROM HIS BASE IN JAMAICA. —Private Collection / Bridgeman Images
I knew nothing about piracy. And since few scholars had written about piracy, I assumed it was not an important topic. Yet there it was, boarding the ship of my research agenda without permission. Distraught, I cut a deal with my adviser that I would spend a month in the archives, examining government records and official correspondences to find out more. Sure enough, pirates were everywhere. But they were not who we thought they were. They were not anarchistic, antisocial maniacs. At least not in the seventeenth century. Like Moses Butterworth, many were welcome in colonial communities. They married local women, and bought land and livestock. Pirate James Brown even married the daughter of the governor of Pennsylvania and was appointed to the Pennsylvania House of Assembly. Pirates, it seemed, could be civil, neighborly, and lawabiding. Why hadn’t this been noticed before? I chalk it up to specialization. By focusing so closely on their own areas of expertise, historians had overlooked how piracy permeated colonial life. Piracy has not achieved its rightful place in the narrative of American history precisely because it was so familiar to the people of the English-speaking world of the seventeenth century. In the early days of the colonies, pirate attacks were considered a commonplace, inevitable feature of the maritime world, and noted only as entertaining asides. The prevalence of piracy in children’s stories and blockbuster movies has likely also made it difficult for historians to study the topic without romanticism. This was where my childhood disinterest in piracy paid off. I embarked on my research as a historian rather than as a fan.
A PIRATE FACES HANGING BY THE RIVER THAMES IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. —Private collection / Peter Newark Historical Pictures / Bridgeman Images
The true rebels were leaders like Samuel Willet, establishment figures on land who led riots against crown authority. It was the higher reaches of colonial society, from governors to merchants, who supported global piracy, not some underclass or proto proletariat. Popular culture has invested heavily in the image of pirates as anarchists who speak in colorful language and dress in attire recognizable to any five-year-old. In fact, what we imagine pirates to look and sound like matches only one decade of history: 1716 to 1726. Before that, piracy consisted of a spectrum of activities from the heroic to the maniacal. Many historians, like many pirate fans, write about piracy as a static phenomenon. This is the basis of popular events like International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19) or the costume worn by Jack Sparrow. When asked if these common tropes are true, I give a typical historian’s answer: It depends on when and where. For the period before the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, it makes more sense to talk about a sailor who commits piracy, rather than an actual “pirate.” Imagine a ten-year-old boy caught stealing candy from the store. If he learned his lesson, it would be ludicrous to call him a “thief ” when he reached adulthood. If he goes on to get a PhD and becomes a respectable historian, it makes more sense to call him “professor.” Certainly there were flamboyant captains of legendary status who would never consider legitimate commerce as a way of life. But most sought one large prize and hoped to use their plunder to join the middling to upper echelons of colonial society. One reason piracy was often an act or a phase, and not a way of life, was simply because humans have not evolved to live on the sea. The sea is a hostile place, offering few of the pleasures of terrestrial society. Pirates needed to clean and repair their ships, collect wood and water, gather crews, obtain paperwork, fence their goods, or obtain sexual gratification. Simply put, what is the value of silver and gold in the middle of the ocean? Why would someone risk his life in a hostile maritime world if there was no chance he could actually spend his booty?
ROBERT RICH, SECOND EARL OF WARWICK, WHO WAS INSTRUMENTAL TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN COLONIES AND COMMANDED A FLEET OF PRIVATEERS, WAS PAINTED BY ANTHONY VAN DYCK AROUND 1632. —© Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY
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“A Merry Life and a Short One” was not the motto of most pirates of the late seventeenth century. Until the 1710s, English pirates almost always had somewhere to go to spend their money, either for a few days or to settle down for good. The British National Archives holds a petition from 48 wives of known pirates, begging the crown to pardon their husbands so they could return home to care for their families. Returning to London was not an option for most sea rovers, but a life in the American colonies offered the closest proxy. Support of piracy on the peripheries of the British Empire dates to the first forays of English sea captains overseas. Pirate Nests begins in Elizabethan England with the active protection of piracy by port communities in
ENGLISH PIRATE MARY READ, WHO DRESSED AS A MAN, REVEALS HERSELF TO A VICTIM. —Private collection / DoverPictura
EDWARD TEACH, BETTER KNOWN AS BLACKBEARD, HAS INSPIRED THE DEPICTION OF PIRATES IN FICTION, FILM, AND ON STAGE. —New York Public Library / Art Resource, NY
Devon and Cornwall. The ascension of James I coincided with the migration of a plunder economy from England to farther shores. Puritan communities in Ireland, and soon the fledgling colonies of Jamestown, Bermuda, New Plymouth, and Boston all supported illicit sea marauders. Upon the conquest of Jamaica in 1655, Port Royal became a renowned pirate nest, led by Henry Morgan, whose attacks against the Spanish were defended by the colony’s governor and council. By the 1680s, pirates who plundered along the Spanish Main or in the “South Sea” coasts of Chile and Peru dropped anchor in the North American colonies. In the 1690s, men like Moses Butterworth joined crews heading out of colonial ports to the Indian Ocean, basing themselves on the island of Madagascar. Beginning in 1696, support for piracy was threatened by Parliament’s efforts to reform the legal and political administration of the colonies. Initial attempts to better regulate the colonies faced heated resistance like the riot that sprang Moses Butterworth in 1701. Royal officials battled with colonial elites over control of their court system, choice of governors, economic policies, and other issues. But the transformation of law, politics, economics, and even popular culture in a relatively brief period of time soon persuaded landed colonists of the long-term benefits of legal trade over the short-term boom of the pirate market. After being sprung from jail, Moses Butterworth eventually headed to Newport, where, in 1704, he captained a sloop that sailed alongside a man-of-war in pursuit of runaway English sailors. The former pirate had turned pirate-hunter.
The expansion of commercial trade, particularly the slave trade, cemented a colonial social order increasingly threatened by instability at sea and less tolerant of social mobility on land. This change in attitudes led to the period we call the “War on Pirates”—roughly 1716 to 1726—and the advent of sea marauders who, with little hope of ever resettling on land, attacked their own nation. This is the era of characters like Blackbeard (Edward Teach), Bartholomew Roberts, and female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, colorful rebels who lived dangerously and fit the legend. Where for centuries pirates had sailed under the flags of their own nations or of foreign princes, they now sailed—and were hanged under—flags of their own construction. No longer welcomed by the colonial elite, outlaw vessels were routed from shores that once harbored pirate nests. In 1718 and 1723, the ports of Newport, Rhode Island, and Charleston, South Carolina, tried and hanged crews of 23 and 26 pirates, respectively, the two largest mass executions not involving a slave insurrection in colonial America. As a result, by the late 1720s the pirate scourge had largely abated. Mark G. Hanna is associate professor of history at the University of California–San Diego and the founding associate director of the UCSD Institute of Arts and Humanities. He received an NEH research fellowship that supported his work on Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570–1740, which won the 2016 Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians and the 2016 John Ben Snow Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies. HUMANITIES 33
with laurie zierer
BY JEN A. MILLER
Laurie Zierer came to the Pennsylvania
Humanities Council in 1995 for what she thought would be “a pause.” She had just finished her master’s degree in rhetoric and planned to earn her PhD after her husband finished his medical residency. That’s when she responded to an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer: The PHC was looking for a program officer. Twenty-one years later, she’s still there—and now the PHC’s executive director. Zierer is a native Pennsylvanian, who grew up in Hollidaysburg, home of the Slinky. She credits books, especially fantasies like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for showing her how reading could take her beyond the confines of her small, 6,000-person town. “Books were the door that opened up to me how I could make a difference,” she says.
34 WINTER 2017
At first, she thought making a difference would come from teaching. She earned her BA in English and MA in education and taught high school English before getting that master’s degree in rhetoric. When she saw the ad for the PHC job, she thought it could be a great way to make use of her degrees. Once she took the job, however, she found that the humanities could also be her path to making a difference. “Humanities are large and embrace so many different ways of learning,” she says. They can even, Zierer believes, help Pennsylvania combat two major deficiencies: gaps in achievement and political engagement. Not only does Pennsylvania have one of the widest achievement gaps of any state in the U.S., but it’s falling behind in civic discourse, too. Pennsylvania scored so poorly on the National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Health Index—only 20.9 percent of Pennsylvanians reported that they talk frequently with family and friends about politics —that the state ranks dead last in the nation. The humanities, says Zierer, are perfectly equipped to right both ships, and three PHC core projects right now aim to do so through reading, collaboration, and storytelling. In 2010, PHC started the Teen Reading Lounge, a nontraditional book club. Teens help create reading lists relevant to them and their communities and then develop activities around those books. More than 600 teenagers in 78 libraries have participated so far. A pilot version of the program, focused specifically on bringing in teens from low-income backgrounds, launched in 2015. “We see them as cocreators and colearners,” Zierer says. “The humanities can come alive in a way to kids who are involved.” Another key part of the program, she says: It creates safe spaces where teens can talk about issues. For example, The Hunger Games books have been a popular selection, leading to discussions about society, the media, and family. In what may be their most ambitious project, PHC has been working in Chester, which is rated the second most violent city in the country. Zierer describes the Chester Made initiative as “a unique project to not only promote arts and culture in Chester but to use tools of the humanities for community revitalization.” In 2015, PHC joined forces with the city of Chester, Widener University, and a team of Chester residents to collect nearly 150 stories about what mattered to residents, which led PHC to create a cultural asset map that identified places, organizations, and events that are central to arts and culture in Chester. Many of the touchstones lined up along a mile-long stretch of Avenue of the States, which has been dubbed the Chester Cultural Corridor. The group also found that an arts and culture movement already happening in Chester’s downtown “was leading the charge and needed to be supported,” she says. That includes a theater, art gallery, artists’ warehouse, a spoken-word café, and jazz space. In December, PHC and Chester Made launched a pop-up space on the Avenue of the States to serve as a physical location where artists, youth, city leaders, and the community can design and talk about how to build the downtown together. Their work has already provided a framework for the new mayor’s plan for the downtown’s future, and also given city planners a physical map to show developers what’s important to Chester. PHC is taking the same approach to community development and connection through storytelling in three more Pennsylvania communities by partnering with the Orton Family Foundation in Vermont to bring its Community Heart & Soul program there. It focuses on getting everyone in the community—not just city leaders—to talk about those communities. More cities will be added in 2017. “It’s always the same people all the time sitting around the table,” she says. “What this method does is open up the doors and let other people in to tell their stories and engage.” Instead of relying on conversations that happen at town halls, the participants go into neighborhoods, to block parties, to clean-up efforts. “This is bringing people together who don’t know about one another,” she says. “Our programs are beginning to truly take lift and become viable, and we’re growing by leaps and bounds,” she says. “The idea of the difference we can make with the humanities—that makes my heart sing.” Jen A. Miller is a freelance journalist from New Jersey who writes for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
Tell me more, Laurie What book should be required reading for every American high school student? Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Your favorite historic site in Philadelphia? New Century Trust, the oldest continuously running women’s organization in the U.S., still in its original site, a National Historic Landmark at 13th & Locust. Name the film or play that has moved you the most. The original Planet of the Apes. I saw it when I was 5 at a drive-in
with my family, eating popcorn in the back seat. That last scene when Charlton Heston realizes that Lady Liberty was destroyed rocked my world. Which children’s book character are you most like? Pippi Longstocking. She inspired me when I was young. There were no other characters like her: a girl who was always seeking adventure, amazingly strong, totally independent, and playfully FUN. If you had all the resources imaginable, what project would you like to see come to fruition? Comprehensive statewide campaign to demonstrate that the humanities are central to a well-rounded education, a vibrant economy, and an equitable society. If you could visit the past, where would you go and why? I would love to be on Market Street the day in 1723 that Benjamin Franklin arrived to town, picked up puffy rolls with the few coins he had in his pocket, and saw Deborah Read, his future wife, for the first time. I walk down that street every day like he did, thinking about opportunities and how I can make a better future. HUMANITIES 35
Around Nation the
COMPILED BY LAURA WOLFF SCANLAN
A Roundup of Activities Sponsored by the State Humanities Councils
Journey Proud, a series on Alabama’s folk traditions, airs on Alabama Public Television through June. “Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color” is on display at Tuskegee University through April. The photographic exhibition tells the story of the closing of Morris Brown College, with workshops, lectures, school tours, and live video streaming moderated by experts. The Alabama Blues Project offers afterschool camps featuring handson and performance-based musical instruction for at-risk students, beginning in January. As part of the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project from Auburn University, faculty and graduate students will introduce students in four correctional sites to literature, philosophy, anthropology, and film studies throughout the year. Mobile Opera will host a lecture, “Orpheus’s Son: The Life of Sidney Lanier,” led by Jeffrey Goodman and Gran Wilson at the Mobile County Public Library on Jan. 13. The Mobile Symphony Orchestra offers preconcert lectures at each of its classical concerts on Saturdays and Sundays in January. ARIZONA
The Arizona Jewish Historical Society in Phoenix hosts a symposium titled “Can Artists and Their Art Practices Affect Social Change?” on Jan. 20 in conjunction with the exhibition “Tikkun Olam—Repairing the World: Selected Works of Beth Ames Swartz, 1963–2016.”A film screening will be followed by a discussion led by Clair Carter, Robert Pela, and Deborah Sussman. Two talks take place at Arizona Humanities in Phoenix: “Miranda v. Arizona: 50 Years Later Part III” on Feb. 21, and “Rebellion, Justice, and Power in the U.S.” with author Alan Gómez on March 28. CALIFORNIA
“Everyone Deserves a Home” remains on view at the Jewett Gallery, Main 36 WINTER 2017
MINNESOTA SHOWS THE EXHIBITION “WATER/WAYS.”
Branch of the San Francisco Public Library through March 12. Through portraits and oral histories, the exhibition explores the lives of formerly homeless Californians. Karen Ishizuka talks about her book Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, followed by a book signing. COLORADO
Chautauqua scholar Rebecca Stone portrays Harriet Tubman for the “Understanding Harriet Tubman: Black History Live + Conversation Series” held at ten Front Range communities during February. Discussion participants are encouraged to read Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad. FLORIDA
A panel discussion, “Arts & Civil Rights,” featuring historians, sociologists, and community activists takes
place at Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville on Feb. 7. Talks around the state include “Florida History from Palmetto-Leaves to The Yearling to River of Grass,” with actor/ scholar Betty Jean Steinshouer on Jan. 19 at North Lake Presbyterian Church in Lady Lake; “Fringe Florida: The Unusual Subcultures of the Sunshine State,” with author Lynn Waddell on Jan. 12 at the Emerson Center in Vero Beach; “The Way We Worked: Labor and Florida History,” with historian Steve Noll on Jan. 28 at AndersonPrice Memorial Building in Ormond Beach; “Getting to Know Florida’s Engaging ‘Water World’ from the Inside Out,” with author Bill Belleville on Feb. 7 at Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring; “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Comes to Life,” with actor/ scholar Ersula Knox Odom on Feb. 7 at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee; “The Magnificent Drama: Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Augustine,” with
storytelling on Jan. 21, African music on Feb. 11, African jewelry on Feb. 25, and African toys on March 25. Historian Chandra Manning discusses how escaped women slaves fled to the safety of Union soldiers, on Feb. 10 at the Falmouth Historical Society. Exhibitions on display include “Natural Selections: Flora and the Arts” at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life in Deerfield through Feb. 12; “Picturing Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American of the Nineteenth Century” at the Museum of African American History in Boston through June; and “History in the Stitches: Framingham Fashion through the Centuries” at the Framingham History Center through April 29.
The Minnesota Humanities Center in St. Paul offers the workshop “Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives” on Jan. 28. The Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Water/Ways” is on display at Lanesboro Arts from Jan. 7 through Feb. 19 and at Becker County Historical Society in Detroit Lakes from Feb. 25 through April 9.
District Hawaii History Day fairs will take place on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and Hawaii on Feb. 18 and 25, and March 4, 7, and 11. Students will present their historical projects for competition on the theme “Taking a Stand in History.” Top qualifiers will move on to the Hawaii History Day State Fair at Windward Community College on Oahu in April.
A lecture series, “Freedom to Vote— Perspectives from 1900–2017,” continues at the Hancock Performing Arts
The George R. Mather Lecture Series continues at the History Center/ Allen County–Fort Wayne Historical Society with “Three Rivers: A Brief History” by Don Orban on Jan. 8, “War as a Tool for Group Uplift: African-American Thought and Wartime Military Service in the Twentieth Century” by Anthony Conley on Feb. 5, and “Indiana’s All-time Greatest Sports Stories,” with Blake Sebring on March 5. Ann Birney portrays Amelia Earhart at Sheridan High School and at a public gathering in Sheridan on Feb. 23.
Center in Kiln with a discussion of the 2016 presidential election on Jan. 1, and on Feb. 23, a talk on the words of poets and musicians of the 1960s. The Open D.O.O.R.S. Project (Dialogue on Our Racial Sociology) presents monthly community meetings at the Link Centre in Tupelo on race, racism, personal bias, and community organizing. MONTANA
Those honored at the Humanities Montana’s Governor ’s Humanities Awards in Helena on Jan. 26 include Chere Jiusto, executive director of the Montana Preservation Alliance; John Murray, the Blackfeet Nation’s tribal preservation officer; educators Sheila and Hal Stearns; author Karen Stevenson; and Dorothea Susag, who helped develop Montana’s implementation of the Indian Education for All initiative. Montana Conversations taking place include “Developing Community Literary Programs,” with Tami Haaland at the Darby Public Library on Jan. 11, and “Homestead Dreams,” with Hal Stearns at Miles Community College on Feb. 23. NEBRASKA
Fifteen Prime Time Family Reading Time sessions will be held in Fremont,
The documentary film Langston’s Lawrence premieres Feb. 1 at the Lawrence Art Center, followed by a discussion featuring Edgar Tidwell and Randal Jelks. A panel discussion on the recently discovered old Russian and Slavonic ledgers and parish registers of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church takes place at the church in Overland Park on Feb. 11. MASSACHUSETTS
As part of “African Dance & Fun on Saturdays” at the Africano Dance Center in Waltham, programs include African
—Courtesy Humanities Nebraska
—Courtesy of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
historian Michael Butler on Feb. 9 at the Saint Petersburg Museum of History; “Remembering Paradise Park,” with author Lu Vickers on Feb. 16 at Nova Southeastern-Alvin Sherman Library in Fort Lauderdale; “When Manatees Were Sea Cows: How Floridians Coped When Times Were Hard,” with author Janie Gould on Feb. 17 at Amelia Island Museum of History in Fernandina Beach; “The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters,” with author Gary Monroe on Feb. 24 at the Sarasota Garden Club Great Hall; and “Before Jamestown: Europeans, Africans, and Indians in La Florida, 1513–1607,” with historian Michael Francis on March 7 at Rose Hall Auditorium in Marco Island.
NEBRASKA HIGH SCHOOLERS PARTICIPATE IN CAPITOL FORUM DAY.
HUMANITIES 37 HUMANITIES 37
—Courtesy Wisconsin Humanities Council
THE FIRST PATIENTS AND EMPLOYEES OF WISCONSIN’S OUTAGAMIE COUNTY ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE, 1890.
Grand Island, Lincoln, Norfolk, and Omaha, including bilingual and Native American programs and Prime Time Preschool. As part of the Omaha Table Talk: Heartland Interfaith Dialogue series at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, talks on race and religion continue on Jan. 10, Feb. 7, and March 7. On Jan. 19, KANEKO in Omaha hosts a program with a reading by writers Beaufield Berry and P. Ivan Young, who will then lead a workshop on Jan. 21. Two exhibitions remain on view in January: “Amish Quilts and the Crafting of Diverse Traditions” at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln through Jan. 25; and “Homebrew: A Spirited History of Omaha” at the Durham through Jan. 29. Nebraska Warrior Writers, which offers free writing workshops for veterans and active-duty military personnel, begins new sessions in Lincoln and Grand Island in February. Artists Nancy Friedemann-Sanchez and Leigh Tarentino exhibit their work at Darger HQ in Omaha through Feb. 5. 38 WINTER 2017
Social studies teachers from across the state who are participating in this year ’s Capitol Forum on America’s Future will gather in Lincoln for a workshop on Feb. 6 and return to Lincoln on March 27 with their student delegations for a day of deliberation, voting, and meeting state and U.S. congressional representatives. Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff begins its IndieLens Pop-Up series on Feb. 9 with The Bad Kids, followed by Newtown on March 9. The University of Nebraska Omaha’s Dialogue with Muslim Communities project presents theologian Najeeba Syed, who speaks on March 2 at the Community Engagement Center. Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice hosts the Heartland Storytelling Festival in April. “Flat Places, Deep Identities: Mapping Nebraska and the Great Plains,” this year ’s Great Plains Symposium, will be held March 30 and 31 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus.
THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) takes place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque on Jan. 14. Chautauqua programs around the state include “Icons and Symbols of Our Regional Heritage,” with Diana Molina at the Loma Colorado Main Library in Rio Rancho on Jan. 21; “Footsteps to Freedom: Jim Crow to Civil Rights” by Brenda Hollingsworth-Marley at San Ysidro Church in Corrales on Feb. 19; “Harry S. Truman” by Noel H. Pugach at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Santa Fe on Feb. 23; “Margaret Sanger: The Woman Rebel” by Ann Beyke at Socorro Public Library on March 11; and “Seven String Barbed Wire Fence: The Many Faces of Latino Immigration in the U.S.,” with Diana Molina at San Juan College Little Theater in Farmington on March 31. NORTH DAKOTA
The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks hosts its annual writer’s conference from March 22 to 24, featuring readings, workshops, and panel
discussions. Speakers include Viet Thanh Nguyen, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jeff Shotts, Layli Long Soldier, Mai Der Vang, and Mario Ybarra Jr. The “Orphan Trains to Oklahoma” program combines live music, storytelling, videos, lectures, and discussions to tell the stories of the largest migration of children in history. Programs will take place at McAlester Public Library on Jan. 19; Idabel Public Library on Jan. 20; and Patrick Lynch Public Library in Poteau on Jan. 21. Children of the Civil Rights will be screened in February at the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie on Feb. 11 and the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa on Feb. 3. “The Art of Language in Asian Culture” opens at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art in Stillwater on Feb. 21, with an opening reception on Feb. 28 and lectures on Feb. 28, March 23, and April 3 and 17.
CHILDREN’S AUTHOR KWAME ALEXANDER IS FEATURED AT THE VIRGINIA FESTIVAL OF THE BOOK.
Conversation Projects across the state include “The World to Come: How We Feel about the Future,” with David Osborn at Sprout! Regional Food Hum in Springfield Jan. 4; “What Are You? Mixed-Race and Interracial Families in Oregon’s Past and Future,” with Dmae Roberts at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland on Jan. 12; “Homeless in the Land of Plenty,” with Ryan Stroud at McMinnville Public Library on Jan. 15; “Power, Privilege, and Racial Diversity in Oregon,” with Emily Drew at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland on Feb. 2; “Life after War: Photography and Oral Histories of Coming Home,” with Jim Lommasson at Fishtrap in Enterprise on Feb. 2 and Frazier Farmstead Museum in Milton-Freewater on Feb. 3; “The Space Between Us: Immigrants, Refugees, and Oregon,” with Manuel Padilla at Salem Public Library on Feb. 9; “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nourish Community,” with Jennifer Roberts at Cannon Beach History Center and Museum on Feb. 9 and Columbia Arts in Hood River on Feb. 11; and “Fish Tales: Traditions and Challenges of Seafood in Oregon,” with Jennifer Burns Bright at Seaside Public Library on Feb. 16 and University of Oregon Museum of Natural History in Eugene on March 16.
The Alberta Rose Theatre in Portland hosts Think & Drink programs on Jan. 25 and March 15. The Grand Theater in Salem screens the documentary film Gaining Ground on March 21, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker. SOUTH CAROLINA
“Share a Little of That Human Touch: The Prehistory of South Carolina” opens at the USC Native American Studies Center in Lancaster on March 17. Activities include a guided tour by exhibition curator Christopher Judge on March 17, school field trips on March 16 and 17, lecture by Kenneth E. Sassaman on March 17, and a Native American Studies Festival featuring music, crafts, and demonstrations on March 18. TENNESSEE
“The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966” traveling exhibit, sponsored by the Albert Gore Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University, is on view at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville through Jan. 31, before traveling to Franklin from Feb. 6 to March 3; and Lebanon from March 6 to 30. TEXAS
Guided tours of Austin’s black cemeteries will be offered by Six Square beginning in January.
The Galveston Historical Foundation will host a series of exhibits, lectures, and tours in January highlighting the Deepwater Jubilee of 1890, which allowed the city to deepen its harbor and become a competitive port. The Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture hosts its annual MLK Jr. Symposium on Jan. 16. This year’s program, “Race and Justice in America Today,” includes presentations by Jelani Cobb and Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza. Beginning Jan. 9, several former Mississippi Freedom Riders will participate in a series of panel discussions, film screenings, and a recreation of the 1961 bus rides in towns across Texas including Austin, San Antonio, Judson, Windcrest, and Kirby. An exhibition of art and artifacts of the Dogon people of central Mali opens at the Menil Collection in Houston on Feb. 3. Texas State University in San Marcos offers a public conference on Feb. 2 and 3 to examine President Obama’s tenure and legacy, featuring keynote addresses by Jeremi Suri and H. W. Brands. Students of historically black colleges will gather at Texas Southern University in Houston on Feb. 18 to collect personal stories of racial discrimination. The stories will be shared HUMANITIES 39 HUMANITIES 39
The First Wednesdays monthly lecture series continues Jan. 4 with “Reading for the Life of the World,” with author Katherine Paterson at First Congregational Church of Manchester, and “Grandma Moses: American Modern,” with Shelburne Museum director Thomas Denenberg at Rutland Free Library; on Feb. 1 with “Martin Luther King: Dare to Dream,” with poet and performer David Mills at the KelloggHubbard Libary in Montpelier, and “The Invention of History,” with professor Jane Chaplin at Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury; and March 1 with “Hamilton: The Man and the Musical,” with Hamilton biographer Willard Sterne Randall at St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, and “Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African-American Family Saga,” with Vermont folklorist Jane Beck at Goodrich Memorial Library in Newport. Veterans Book Groups continue on Jan. 13 and 27 at the Burlington Lakeside Veterans Clinic for women who have served in the U.S. military. Speakers Bureau programs taking place include “Endangered Alphabets, Cultural Erosion, and the Future of the Written Word,” with author Tim Brookes at Latham Memorial Library in Thetford on Feb. 9, and “The Western Abenaki: History and Culture,” with Jeanne Brink at the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe on Feb. 15.
neurobiologist Stuart Firestein on March 22; a luncheon with novelist Christina Baker Kline on March 23, and a Crime Wave Brunch with crime writer Laura Lippman on March 25. Participants include Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, children’s author Kwame Alexander, and illustrator Ekua Holmes. WEST VIRGINIA
NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is the subject of a documentary, Outlier: The Story of Katherine Johnson, which will be shown on West Virginia Public Broadcasting and will be made available to schools, libraries, and the general public in early 2017. The traveling exhibition “Architects and Architecture of the West Virginia Coalfields,” featuring the careers of Hassel Thomas Hicks and Alex B. Mahood, will tour southern West Virginia from January to June. WISCONSIN
“Asylum: Out of the Shadows” remains on display at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton through May. The exhibition explores life at the Outagamie County Asylum for the Insane.
The Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Water/Ways” opens at Laramie County Library in Cheyenne on Jan. 6. Anthropologist Todd Guenther, who developed a complementary exhibit with his students and presented their findings in Austria at an international climate change conference, gives a keynote speech in January. Wyoming Humanities is displaying the “Bill of Rights” exhibit in every Wyoming county between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28, 2017. Using free-standing kiosks provided by the National Archives, exhibits are housed in libraries, courthouses, schools, colleges, a tribal cultural center, and an Englishas-a-second-language class. “Insight” presentations of sevenminute humanities stories by 10 to 12 participants will be held at the Atlas Theatre in Cheyenne on Jan. 21, in Casper in February, and in Laramie in March. Wyoming Humanities and the University of Wyoming present Saturday University, a free half-day of college, featuring three lectures on the intersection between the sciences and humanities at Sheridan College on Feb. 4, and the National Wildlife Museum in Jackson on March 4.
—Augusta Savage, circa 1938, photographed by Andrew Herman / Archives of American Art
via exhibitions and public programs and made available for scholarly research. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston holds its biennial Warren Symposium on pre-1900 material culture of Texas, the Lower South, and the Southwest on Feb. 24 and 25. The Texas Heritage and Independence Celebration Association presents its annual celebration of Texas Independence Day in San Benito, beginning March 11 with public lectures and reenactments of the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto and the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
The annual Virginia Festival of the Book presents more than 300 authors for adult and children programs in more than 50 venues throughout Charlottesville and Albemarle County from March 22 to 26. Special events include a Leadership Breakfast with 40 WINTER 2017
AFRICAN-AMERICAN SCULPTOR AUGUSTA SAVAGE IS PART OF A DISCUSSION ON ARTS AND CIVIL RIGHTS IN FLORIDA.
—Continued from page 11
ary events—1789, 1848, the Paris Commune, 1917—and treated the periods in between as fallow, or as merely preparing for the next advance. Yet, throughout the nineteenth century, European nations were largely being governed by forces hostile to the revolutionary surge. They had their own thinkers and their own dystopian historical narratives. Now that we no longer have confidence in progressive history, or in the forces that claimed to be its avatars, we are finally free to notice and study those who did as much to shape the modern world as revolutionaries have. And continue to do so. HUMANITIES: You draw an important distinction be-
tween the conservative and the reactionary. What is the difference? LILLA: Conservatives and liberals argue about politics
in terms of human nature, and their dispute is about the proper relationship between individuals and societies. Traditionally, liberals begin with individuals who are endowed with certain rights, and think of the legitimacy of political institutions in terms of consent and the protection of those rights. Conservatives begin with societies and the observation that we all come into them as dependents, incurring obligations as we are protected and nurtured by them. Our rights are conventional, not natural, and are not the essence of politics. Traditions and norms are. The dispute between revolutionaries and reactionaries is not over human nature. It is, as I’ve been suggesting, over the nature and course of history. And so, in many ways, conservatives and reactionaries are adversaries. The conservative believes that change should happen slowly, but that it is inevitable. He might regret what has happened in history, but he is under no illusion that the past can be recovered or recreated; neither does he believe that society should be reconstructed according to some rational plan inspired by the past. The conservative thinks that while societies differ, human nature stays pretty much the same over time and that the problems of politics are perennial. The reactionary thinks that history has changed human nature and that action in history can restore it to what it should be. HUMANITIES: You describe political Islamism as a reac-
tionary movement. What makes it so?
option, call it the Ulysses one, is to try to return home, which the reactionary believes is still possible. There are many currents of Islamism, some political and others not, but the most radical ones claim in their literature that Islam ceased to exist after the rule of Muhammad and the four “rightly guided caliphs.” To become Muslim therefore means to become Muslim again, which means overthrowing the current rulers of ostensibly Muslim nations and reimposing sharia law, in the best circumstances under a new caliph. Another option, call it the Aeneas one, is to recognize that the past is past and cannot be reconstituted—no more than Troy could be after the Trojan War. And so, the essence of the past must be planted in the future, where it will give rise to a new, magnificent, and conquering force that will overcome the corrupt present and create a future as radiant as what once was. That is the spirit of fascism. HUMANITIES: You have been specializing in a kind
of profile essay about political thinkers. They’re heavily biographical and intellectual, using what is, at least to my mind, more of a magazine formula than a book formula. And yet, surprisingly, you apply this genre to some very complicated figures. What does the biographical essay offer you as a writer and historian of ideas that a more academic or analytical style of writing does not? LILLA: The older I get, the less interested I have
become in problems of pure political theory, and the more absorbed I now am in questions of political psychology. The distinction between them did not always exist. Plato, Aristotle, Montaigne, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Tocqueville were master psychologists who understood that politics is the arena in which principles confront the human passions, where they reshape each other. In the nineteenth century this approach to politics was eclipsed by historicism, and in the twentieth by moral philosophy. The profile form gives me the chance to explore the interaction between political ideas and the passions in intellectuals themselves. And there is, in my experience, always a connection—and in most cases, it is the key to understanding both the thinker and the likely consequences of applying his ideas to politics. One learns infinitely more about politics by reading Isaiah
LILLA: The reactionary who believes that history has
Berlin than by reading John Rawls. I’d like to think
gone wildly off course and that the present is unbearable faces a choice when it comes to political action. One
that in my own modest way I’m keeping Berlin’s tradition alive.
—Continued from page 15 from theology, philosophy, literary criticism, and science, to war, imperialism, women’s cultural roles, the perils of old age, prison reform, and slavery. Far from orthodox, her eclectic reading and admiration for liberal thinkers reflect a broad-minded theology infused with Enlightenment-era findings in natural philosophy and empiricism as well as Romanticism’s philosophical idealism and emphasis on the imagination. Indeed, in an 1827 Almanack, her melding of nature and science strikes a common chord with Thoreau: “What is most exciting the mystery of the variation of the magnetic needle w’h [which] still remains unexplained Why do I feel such delight that nature keeps secrets? . . . more proofs to me of the Author of nature being the Author of reve. [revelation]. And they excite curiosty w’h [which] never can be sated here. . . . Here is the poetry of nature & science.” The Almanacks’ expanse of genres, some neglected or forgotten today but important to early American women writers, reminds us of what Thoreau well knew: Emerson’s youthful enthusiasm, insatiable thirst for ideas, and experimentation with the pen never faded. Because the Almanacks have usually been pigeonholed as spiritual diaries, their other literary models, each with its own interpretive lens, have largely been overlooked. Especially relevant to Emerson’s writings is the genre of the commonplace book, which promoted innately conversational opportunities for writers to extract, comment on, and arrange excerpts from their reading (called “commonplaces”) in new contexts. In producing these social forms of intellectual and material artistry, Emerson joined other young antebellum women whose pens weighed in on key public debates, including questions of the emerging public spheres of republicanism and liberalism. But in the salon atmosphere of Emerson’s “talking” commonplaces, conversation played out as a creative game—one Germaine de Staël described similarly as a “lively exercise, in which subjects are played with like a ball, which in turn comes back to the hand of the thrower.” In de Staël’s manner, Emerson lobbed that ball far and wide, in page after page of her Almanacks. She insistently placed in dialog the authors of her reading for the same reason she entreated rising Transcendentalist star Frederic Henry Hedge to slake her “insatiable desire to understand” the “new school” in 1838. Shooting rapid-fire questions about his own and others’ publications, she reassured the younger man, “Now my dear Sir, dont answer me as if I were a timid old woman & would boast of your sayings or be alarmed.” At the heart of these conversations lay her fervent impulse to keep the ball in play—to illuminate her own boundless forays with another mind’s fires. This hunger for enlightening dialog emerges most clearly in the Almanacks’ commonplacing from the poets, philosophers, and theologians Em-
42 WINTER 2017
erson most admires—among them, William Wordsworth, Dugald Stewart, Jonathan Edwards, Victor Cousin, Adam Smith, John Locke, Samuel Clarke, and Richard Price. At times, she aligns these figures to debate each other; at others, she questions them herself. Emerson’s typical writing practice was to copy a key phrase or two from her reading into a notebook, then to consider and reconsider these
No cause, including antislavery, was ever Emerson’s chief concern, but her acute reform sympathies more often than not found her allied with younger, more radical “hotheads” than with the decorous conservatives and moderates of her own generation. ideas in a running classroom discussion as though the authors sat in the room with her. Whether venerating or admonishing, Emerson politely addresses a host of figures—from “dear immortal [Samuel] Clark,” to “Dear sainted Plotinus,” to “dear Mrs Hemans,” to “dear Cole.[ridge],” to “dear Plato,” to “Dear cautious modest old gentleman,” as she referred to Scottish Common Sense philosopher Dugald Stewart, to “Old Hume . . . the old Sophist.” She relates her exhilaration at this process in March 1835 with the explicit classical trope for commonplacing, the image of the diligent bee, flitting from flower to flower while culling the sweetest nectar for its honey. “This holiday of soul I beginn the 1st vol. of [Victor] Cousin . . . get scraps & write them down as the buzzing fly sips from the rich floweret,” although she later qualifies this initial excitement: “Tis’ pity Cousin is a catholic.” In 1827 Waldo encapsulated what she had taught by example: “To ask questions, is what this life is for,— to answer them the next.” The open-ended spirit that infused these sallies comes across in an 1820 letter to Waldo. “How do you, dear play Mate? . . . Do write. . . . Write I say—Colledge news—that will be literary—but above all about yourself—a very important personage to me.” Other recipients of Emerson’s conversational prowess shared Thoreau’s glowing reaction to his thoughtful discussions with the “youngest person in Concord.” Transcendentalist Elizabeth Palmer Peabody marveled that Emerson, thirty years her senior, seemed never to tire but to “coquette with life like a girl of fifteen.” In a vibrant exchange recorded directly on the pages of Emerson’s 1829–1830 Almanack, family friend Ellen Ward Blake Blood, some thirty years Emerson’s junior, responds warmly to Emerson’s description of a fervent “hunt” for a “Truth” that directly “leads
. . . to the Center of all truth & being.” Emerson sketches this quest autobiographically by depicting herself as a “book scavanger” cast adrift on a “vast ocean”—seemingly life’s voyage—on an “unrigged” and “unoared” boat as she steers her course toward the vocational “pursuit” of “knowledge.” Her decades of commonplacing become heroic: “Courage and go on to the mystifying work of years—transcribing . . . But to thy task slave— boatwoman—cabin rotter—book scavanger! . . . Too it, to it!” After reading these borrowed Almanack pages, Ellen Blood picked up her pen, first to praise Emerson’s self-possession and then to offer her own commonplace extract to converse on the page with Emerson’s. Honoring her as “the author of these fragments,” Blood extolls Emerson as a woman whose “faith is fixed,” whose “business is improvement of her mental & moral powers,” and “whose felicity is within herself.” The Almanacks also bear witness to Emerson as an engaged citizen, particularly with antebellum reform causes more consistently embraced by a younger generation of firebrands. She contributed financially to charitable causes, including Boston’s Female Asylum and a school for destitute women. While her antislavery views are evident as early as 1827, she allied with radical abolitionism in 1835 after listening to a rousing speech by Charles Burleigh, an intense young acolyte of Boston’s controversial abolitionist leader, William Lloyd Garrison. Quite often, the likes of Burleigh moved Emerson far more than traditional Sunday sermons, about which she is often critical. Suffering listlessly through one minister ’s homily at this time, she is thankful that “the young man for emancipation raised me to the top of my being. God bless him.” It was infectious and high-minded oration that reached Emerson at any age. Emerson both praised and scorned others for the strength of their antislavery activism. Lydia Maria Child, author and editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, for example, merited admiration for frankly confronting slavery’s injustice and attendant horrors; yet Emerson found fault with Concord relatives, including Waldo Emerson and his family, for their initial silence when the Fugitive Slave Act became law in 1850. No cause, including antislavery, was ever Emerson’s chief concern, but her acute reform sympathies more often than not found her allied with younger, more radical “hotheads” than with the decorous conservatives and moderates of her own generation. In early 1861, Waldo’s daughter Ellen Emerson, age 22, spent several days with her ailing and frail great aunt, now 87 years old. Part of Ellen’s mission during this visit was to procure more of the Almanacks, and, if possible, to learn the location of others. On being asked the whereabouts of the manuscripts, Mary Emerson
“trotted up to” a chest and invited Ellen not only to take “piles of journals,” but to help herself to cherished family letters and other heirlooms as well. A triumphant Ellen returned home to Concord and regaled her family with more treasure from her visit—“story after story, all new, about the Ancestors,” many of them unfamiliar even to her father. Ellen’s euphoria mirrors Thoreau’s pleasure in talking with Emerson six years before. Descriptions of the elderly Mary Moody Emerson recall her as ageless, riding horseback and “with rosy skin that never wrinkled, and bobbed yellow hair that never grayed.” At age 81, she was not, of course, “the youngest person in Concord.” But with her provocative mind and youthful temperament, figuratively speaking at least, Thoreau may have been right.
Noelle A. Baker is an independent scholar and the editor of Stanton in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University and the author of To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord—the research for which was supported by an NEH fellowship. Baker and Petrulionis are the coeditors of The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition, which is being published in Women Writers Online. In 1980, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a research fellowship to Phyllis Cole to study “Boston and the Emersons, 1799–1843,” early stages of work that resulted in the 1998 book Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism. In 2010 and 2013 Sandra Petrulionis and Noelle A. Baker received grants totaling $520,000 to support The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition. Editorial projects relating to the letters, sermons, and notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson have been supported over the years with NEH grants, as have many scholarly examinations and educational projects relating to Emerson’s writings. Much the same can be said of NEH’s funding of the letters and writings of Henry David Thoreau, about whom a new NEH-supported biography by Laura Dassow Walls is expected from the University of Chicago Press in July 2017. Sources: Emerson Family Papers, MS Am 1280.235 (385), MS Am 1280 (147-149), and MS Am 1280.235 (579). Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association deposit, Houghton Library, Harvard University. The Selected Letters of Mary Moody Emerson, edited by Nancy Craig Simmons. The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Ralph L. Rusk and Eleanor M. Tilton. The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by William L. Gilman et al. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Alfred L. Fergusson et al. The Correspondence of Henry Thoreau, edited by Carl Bode and Walter Harding. Journal 4: 1851–1852, by Henry David Thoreau, and edited by Leonard N. Neufeldt and Nancy Craig Simmons. The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, edited by Edith E. W. Gregg. Germaine de Staël, Germany.
was—at least in part—“rallying the troops.” As he surveyed the religious books landscape in 1976, Marty discerned ecumenical movements crystallizing out of reading communities around popular books by Corrie ten Boom (The Hiding Place), David Wilkerson (The Cross and the Switchblade), and Lindsey. Readers made themselves partisans of their flag book, but did not engage with those outside their reading circles. Lindsey’s premillennial dispensationalist readers, for example, were profoundly suspicious of the Pentecostal and charismatic readers of Wilkerson. Readers did not read these books for information as much as they did for “belongingness,” Marty argued. To read and talk about these books was a way of publicly claiming a particular religious identity and membership in a community of believers. Indeed, the most striking fact about the 81 Amazon reviews I studied is the vitriolic debate between insiders and outsiders. On Amazon, most of the reviews give the book either five stars (the maximum) or one star (the minimum), with many expressing the fervent desire to award zero stars or negative numbers. Readers seem to fit into three groups: true believers who are keeping the faith, lapsed believers who have since reevaluated their commitment to Lindsey and his theology, and those who are full of contempt for Lindsey and his work. “This is the classic Bible prophecy book of all time,” wrote one true-believer reviewer. “I first read it in the early 70s and it moved me to seek out God.” Another explained: “The Late Great Planet Earth provides everything a Christian needs to know to drive him or her to want to spread the message of Christ’s salvation to a needy world.” Not surprisingly, many readers—whose own lives had been transformed by reading The Late Great Planet Earth—recall having bought multiple copies that they gave away to friends, family, and strangers whose faith they perceived to be lacking. Those who disliked the book were equally impassioned. A one-star review described The Late Great Planet Earth as: “Idiotic, gullible, credulous, superstitious, fanatical, irrational, etc.” “Pure bunk” proclaimed another: “I read this book in 1971. It was pure bunk back then and it’s even purer bunk 35 years after its publication. All of its ‘predictions’ didn’t happen. Yet the author continues to be admired in fundamentalist circles. What does that tell you?” Some reviewers characterized Lindsey as a snake-oil salesman and a scam artist. Many of the book’s readers had first encountered it when they were teenagers. Sometimes the book had the
44 WINTER 2017
—Library of Congress
—Continued from page 27
endorsement of church leaders. One person remembered, “This book practically replaced the Bible in the fundamentalist church I attended in the 70’s.” In other cases, the book circulated underground among the young people, although it was roundly condemned by the minister. One reader explained that it helped create opposition between parents and elders and “truly Christian” youth. The effect of Lindsey’s book was to move the emphasis from the church as an institution to the individual believer. Lindsey distinguished between the apostate church (“visible, physical gathering of people who may call themselves Christians”) and the true church. He argued that apostate churches could be of any denomination, and he urged readers to embrace true belief, however “anti-church,” or “narrow-minded” or “dogmatic” that true belief might be labeled. Lindsey placed particular emphasis on the distaste many young people felt for organized religious life: “In talking with many young people from various backgrounds I have found that the institutional churches are viewed by them as a reflection of all they despise in what they consider materi-
One reader explained that “this book is a sure-fire prescription for scaring the daylights out of young kids (I know, I was one of them).”
—Library of Congress
alistic, hypocritical, and prejudiced elements within our American culture.” Lindsey insisted that the failing here was all the church’s. Young people eagerly received Jesus, when they realized that the alternatives—“welfarism, socialism, or drugs”—would not provide lasting meaning for their lives. Churches, Lindsey maintained, either could not communicate the truth about Jesus in ways young people found compelling, or they were not seeking the truth at all. As a consequence, they could not “compete” with radical political organizations which (falsely) promised the salvation young people were seeking. I found that fear was often expressed in the Amazon reviews I analyzed. One reader explained that “this book is a sure-fire prescription for scaring the daylights out of young kids (I know, I was one of them).” Some of the adult Amazon reviewers reflect back on the reading of their teenage selves: “This book’s strength lies in its ability to terrify a non-believer into becoming a Christian, and probably millions of non-Christians (or luke warm [sic] Christians) out of stark fear became believers, some even pastors and missionairies [sic].” Although some of Lindsey’s supporters defended him against charges of being a fearmonger, others suggested fear-mongering was necessary: “THERE IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF, IT’S CALLED HELL.” Many were concerned for their own salvation. For others, the fear was for the nation and the world. The Cold War, environmental degradation, the arms race: They all contributed to a millennial panic that was ahead of the actual millennium. One reader recalled, “I can remember reading Lindsay [sic] type stuff and it was totally conflated with fear-mongering about the Russians invading and taking over the U.S. I can remember waking up from a nightmare about this.” Another wrote, “I recall thinking that the Pope’s near assassination, followed by Reagan’s near assassination were surely some sort of harbinger of the end.” Some remember not fear, but excitement. One reader who wrote to me recalled that as a teenager he “found the idea that we were soon to be taken out of this world absolutely thrilling. . . . I was a skinny kid with big glasses and I wasn’t really happy with myself or very confident with peers. Man, did I look forward to an end to all that.” In his book When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Paul Boyer argues that a belief that the end of the world is inevitable—held by a large number of Americans and American policymakers—profoundly shaped American foreign policy at the end of the Cold War. If the end of the world was inevitable (it was God’s will), what was the point of trying to sign new nonproliferation treaties? Similarly, Melani McAlister argues in Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945 (2001, 2005) that Lindsey’s book politicized white evangelicals. Although they had largely eschewed worldly politics to attend to personal sin and
The Late Great Planet Earth was unarguably the Jesus Movement’s textbook. It appeared next to the Bible in almost every movement commune, church, or coffeehouse, and was responsible for drawing in converts.
salvation in the wake of the Scopes trial in the 1920s, evangelicals were admonished by Lindsey that understanding the Bible required their engagement with contemporary Middle East politics. While texts like The Late Great Planet Earth had implications for nuclear nonproliferation and foreign policy, they also had an impact on miserable kids who desperately wanted out of their suffocating high school worlds, young men whose countercultural girlfriends were into both Jesus and New Age stuff, and people who wanted to fit into church youth groups where The Late Great Planet Earth had replaced the Bible. However diverse their responses, ordinary readers did not seem to care much about theological correctness or historical accuracy or aesthetic beauty, issues of great importance to scholarly readers. Like the debates over other popular religious books, the controversy over The Late Great Planet Earth was a case of scholarly readers and nonprofessional readers talking past each other about what books are good for. Intellectuals worry about what these texts say, but ordinary readers focus—quite pragmatically—on what they do. Popular readers care if texts work—that is, make them better people, manage their fears and anxieties, and make them feel as if their lives matter in the larger scheme of things. Uninspired prose and problematic theology aside, The Late Great Planet Earth was nonetheless a useful book for lay readers navigating the anxious decades after 1970.
Erin A. Smith is professor of American Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and the author of What Would Jesus Read: Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). This article is adapted from chapters 7 and 8 of What Would Jesus Read. It appears with permission of the publisher. In 2002, Smith received a $5,000 summer stipend from NEH to conduct research on a project called Souls and Commodities: Spirituality and Print Culture in the 20th Century. The stipend supported the early research for her book. HUMANITIES 45
his final years. Instead of straight chronology, it unfolds in a kind of pointillist collage, creating a style that informed the work of Marcel Proust. Ruskin developed Praeterita—the title, he said, “means merely past things”—at the hinge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its sensibility suggests a writer leaving behind the solemn grandiosity of an earlier age to embrace a style that’s simpler, more direct, more intimate. In his earlier books, Ruskin’s voice could often seem oracular, disembodied, drenched in transcendental moonshine, as in this passage: “Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend on our being able to breathe and live in the cloud; content to see it opening here and closing there; rejoicing to catch, through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things.” But when the narrative truly hums AN 1877 STUDY OF A SPRIG OF A MYRTLE TREE BY RUSKIN. —© Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, USA / Bridgeman Images in Praeterita, we see a real man, not an —Continued from page 19 airy mystic, a homely mortal grappling with the grit and Ruskin’s doomed marriage was dramatized in a 2014 gristle of earthly experience. Parts of Praeterita are quite movie, Effie Gray, that frames Ruskin’s controlling mother, affecting, as when Ruskin recalls, without morose self-pity, played by Julie Walters, as the center of his marital troubles. the severe household of his early years, when he was alGreg Wise, a handsome actor tricked out in high collars and lowed only a handful of toys. By default, he looked to the muttonchop whiskers, got points from critics for approxiworld as his plaything, “tracing the squares and comparmating Ruskin’s striking countenance. A different take on ing the colours of my carpet . . . examining the knots in the Ruskin emerges in Mr. Turner, a 2014 movie starring Timowood of the floor, or counting the bricks in the opposite thy Spall as the enigmatic landscape artist J.M.W. Turner. houses.” In these modest exercises of the imagination, the Ruskin tirelessly championed Turner’s paintings, helping discerning eye of a critic was born. to turn the tide of public opinion in the painter’s favor. In As Ruskin’s mind declined, the text of Praeterita declined embracing Turner, whose eerily experimental paintings with it. It’s a flawed book—yet, because of its imperfecanticipated Impressionism by nearly a half century, Ruskin tions, a truly human one, a striking epitaph for a man who showed that he could be a tribune of the avant-garde. But came to see his work as not a detached commentary on life, he wasn’t uniformly welcoming of new methods, dismissbut rooted in life itself. “All great art,” he wrote, “is the work ing a work by American painter James Whistler as “flinging of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of a pot of paint in the public’s face.” (That critique, which the soul.” prompted a controversial lawsuit, was the subject of a 2014 HUMANITIES story.) Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in In Mr. Turner, actor Joshua McGuire plays Ruskin for Louisiana, is the author of A Summer of Birds; John James Audubon at laughs; Ruskin speaks with a pronounced lisp, his character Oakley House. His HUMANITIES profile of H. L. Mencken was listed described by film critic Robbie Collin as “an oblivious smarty- as a notable essay of the year in Houghton Mifflin’s Best American pants.” The recent film treatments of Ruskin prompted EngEssays 2015. lish nature writer Philip Hoare to publish a lengthy defense Sources: The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin by John Dixon Hunt; of Ruskin in the Guardian, complaining that neither of these Praeterita by John Ruskin, Everyman’s Library edition, introduced dramatizations gets at the complexity and intellect of their by Tim Hilton; John Ruskin: Selected Writings, Penguin Classics subject. Ruskin “was a great artist in his own right,” Hoare edition, chosen, annotated and introduced by Kenneth Clark; A tells readers. “His watercolors of Swiss mountains and nature Room With a View by E. M. Forster, Barnes & Noble Classics, with studies speak of an extraordinary brilliance, made more pasintroduction and notes by Radhika Jones. sionate by their creator’s intent.” As a major figure in the historiography and criticism of art, Ruskin Ruskin also championed the new medium of appears in the descriptions of numerous NEH-supported projects photography, according to Hoare, and his newsletters, over the years, beginning in the 1970s with studies of architecture, which arranged news clippings in a lively stew, anticipated the novel, and the artistic world of Victorian England. Ruskin the modern blog. In nonfiction narratives such as The makes an appearance in volume 18 of the Browning CorresponWhale and The Sea Inside, Hoare has extended Ruskin’s dence Project, which NEH supported in 2007 with a grant of practice of exacting observation. The most obvious bridge $207,000. In 2015, NEH awarded a $262,000 grant to advance the between Ruskin and contemporary writers such as Hoare print and digital publication of the letters of Thomas and Jane is Praeterita, the memoir that Ruskin worked on during Welsh Carlyle, including correspondence with Ruskin. 46 WINTER 2017
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Published on Jan 6, 2017
Chat with philosopher Mark Lilla, get to know Mary Moody Emerson, sketch buildings with John Ruskin, raise a glass with the pirates who live...