Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

Read the book before you see the…eclipse

August 20, 2017

Read the book before you see the…eclipse

Monday’s (August 21st) solar eclipse is big news in the USA. It’s all over the news, and there are a lot of interesting ideas around it, including the emergence of South Carolina’s Lizard Man (I recently read a book about the Lizard Man, although I was already familiar with the story).

No doubt that a lot of people associate the idea of a solar eclipse with a visitor with superior scientific knowledge intimidating a group of people without that knowledge by “predicting” the extraordinary event, and convincing that group of their magical prowess.


While that’s been used many times since, it really comes from

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

first published in 1889.

While the ability to predict an eclipse isn’t necessarily technological, science fiction author

Arthur C. Clarke (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

put it this way in 1973 (84 years later):

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I’m not suggesting you skip (safely…use proper equipment or techniques) viewing the eclipse live to read Twain’s book…Vox has a great solar eclipse by ZIP code webpage where you can put in your ZIP code  (ZIP should be in all capitals, by the way…it’s an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan) and see what the eclipse will look like at what times for you (for $1.99, you can also get what sounds like a really cool app that tells you exactly what is happening when . However, reading that scene beforehand may make you seem particularly erudite when you talk to other’s about the event. 😉

The book is in the public domain (not under copyright protection in the USA), so I’m going to include that scene in this post. If you want to read the whole book (legally free in the USA), I provided a link at the beginning of this post: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.



In the stillness and the darkness, realization soon began to supplement knowledge.  The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color. It is all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed to the heart, and seeing it done.  In the stillness and the darkness, the knowledge that I was in deadly danger took to itself deeper and deeper meaning all the time; a something which was realization crept inch by inch through my veins and turned me cold.

But it is a blessed provision of nature that at times like these, as soon as a man’s mercury has got down to a certain point there comes a revulsion, and he rallies.  Hope springs up, and cheerfulness along with it, and then he is in good shape to do something for himself, if anything can be done.  When my rally came, it came with a bound.  I said to myself that my eclipse would be sure to save me, and make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides; and straightway my mercury went up to the top of the tube, and my solicitudes all vanished.  I was as happy a man as there was in the world. I was even impatient for to-morrow to come, I so wanted to gather in that great triumph and be the center of all the nation’s wonder and reverence.  Besides, in a business way it would be the making of me; I knew that.

Meantime there was one thing which had got pushed into the background of my mind.  That was the half-conviction that when the nature of my proposed calamity should be reported to those superstitious people, it would have such an effect that they would want to compromise.  So, by and by when I heard footsteps coming, that thought was recalled to me, and I said to myself, “As sure as anything, it’s the compromise.  Well, if it is good, all right, I will accept; but if it isn’t, I mean to stand my ground and play my hand for all it is worth.”

The door opened, and some men-at-arms appeared.  The leader said:

“The stake is ready. Come!”

The stake!  The strength went out of me, and I almost fell down. It is hard to get one’s breath at such a time, such lumps come into one’s throat, and such gaspings; but as soon as I could speak, I said:

“But this is a mistake—the execution is to-morrow.”

“Order changed; been set forward a day.  Haste thee!”

I was lost.  There was no help for me.  I was dazed, stupefied; I had no command over myself, I only wandered purposely about, like one out of his mind; so the soldiers took hold of me, and pulled me along with them, out of the cell and along the maze of underground corridors, and finally into the fierce glare of daylight and the upper world.  As we stepped into the vast enclosed court of the castle I got a shock; for the first thing I saw was the stake, standing in the center, and near it the piled fagots and a monk. On all four sides of the court the seated multitudes rose rank above rank, forming sloping terraces that were rich with color. The king and the queen sat in their thrones, the most conspicuous figures there, of course.

To note all this, occupied but a second.  The next second Clarence had slipped from some place of concealment and was pouring news into my ear, his eyes beaming with triumph and gladness.  He said:

“Tis through me the change was wrought!  And main hard have I worked to do it, too.  But when I revealed to them the calamity in store, and saw how mighty was the terror it did engender, then saw I also that this was the time to strike!  Wherefore I diligently pretended, unto this and that and the other one, that your power against the sun could not reach its full until the morrow; and so if any would save the sun and the world, you must be slain to-day, while your enchantments are but in the weaving and lack potency.  Odsbodikins, it was but a dull lie, a most indifferent invention, but you should have seen them seize it and swallow it, in the frenzy of their fright, as it were salvation sent from heaven; and all the while was I laughing in my sleeve the one moment, to see them so cheaply deceived, and glorifying God the next, that He was content to let the meanest of His creatures be His instrument to the saving of thy life.  Ah how happy has the matter sped!  You will not need to do the sun a real hurt—ah, forget not that, on your soul forget it not!  Only make a little darkness—only the littlest little darkness, mind, and cease with that.  It will be sufficient.  They will see that I spoke falsely,—being ignorant, as they will fancy—and with the falling of the first shadow of that darkness you shall see them go mad with fear; and they will set you free and make you great!  Go to thy triumph, now!  But remember—ah, good friend, I implore thee remember my supplication, and do the blessed sun no hurt.  For my sake, thy true friend.”

I choked out some words through my grief and misery; as much as to say I would spare the sun; for which the lad’s eyes paid me back with such deep and loving gratitude that I had not the heart to tell him his good-hearted foolishness had ruined me and sent me to my death.

As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people. There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity; they were as rigid as stone images, and as pale; and dread sat upon every countenance.  This hush continued while I was being chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were carefully and tediously piled about my ankles, my knees, my thighs, my body.  Then there was a pause, and a deeper hush, if possible, and a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude strained forward, gazing, and parting slightly from their seats without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my head, and his eyes toward the blue sky, and began some words in Latin; in this attitude he droned on and on, a little while, and then stopped. I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing there petrified.  With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky.  I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning!  The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man!  The rim of black spread slowly into the sun’s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless.  I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next.  When it was, I was ready.  I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun.  It was a noble effect.  You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other:

“Apply the torch!”

“I forbid it!”

The one was from Merlin, the other from the king.  Merlin started from his place—to apply the torch himself, I judged.  I said:

“Stay where you are.  If any man moves—even the king—before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”

The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting they would.  Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins and needles during that little while.  Then he sat down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now. The king said:

“Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter, lest disaster follow.  It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but—”

“Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie?  It was a lie.”

That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere, and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said:

“Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”

My fortune was made.  I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question.  So I asked time to consider.  The king said:

“How long—ah, how long, good sir?  Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment.  Prithee how long?”

“Not long.  Half an hour—maybe an hour.”

There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts.  I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think.  Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn’t the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream?  Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter!  Here was a glad new hope.  If the boy was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it wasn’t the sixth century.  I reached for the monk’s sleeve, in considerable excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.

Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first !  It made me turn cold to hear him.  I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st.  So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again!  The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by.  Yes, I was in King Arthur’s court, and I might as well make the most out of it I could.

The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed.  I now said:

“I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?”

There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of it the king’s voice rose, saying:

“Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king’s right hand, is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest step of the throne!  Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.”

But I said:

“That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame.  If I might ask that my clothes be brought again—”

“They are not meet,” the king broke in.  “Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!”

My idea worked.  I wanted to keep things as they were till the eclipse was total, otherwise they would be trying again to get me to dismiss the darkness, and of course I couldn’t do it.  Sending for the clothes gained some delay, but not enough.  So I had to make another excuse.  I said it would be but natural if the king should change his mind and repent to some extent of what he had done under excitement; therefore I would let the darkness grow a while, and if at the end of a reasonable time the king had kept his mind the same, the darkness should be dismissed.  Neither the king nor anybody else was satisfied with that arrangement, but I had to stick to my point.

It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes.  It got to be pitch dark, at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky.  At last the eclipse was total, and I was very glad of it, but everybody else was in misery; which was quite natural. I said:

“The king, by his silence, still stands to the terms.”  Then I lifted up my hands—stood just so a moment—then I said, with the most awful solemnity:  “Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!”

There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and that graveyard hush.  But when the silver rim of the sun pushed itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage broke loose with a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to smother me with blessings and gratitude; and Clarence was not the last of the wash, to be sure.


Should be fascinating tomorrow!

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Ballade of the Optimist by Andrew Lang

October 1, 2014

Ballade of the Optimist by Andrew Lang

Ballade of the Optimist.

Heed not the folk who sing or say
In sonnet sad or sermon chill,
“Alas, alack, and well-a-day,
This round world’s but a bitter pill.”
Poor porcupines of fretful quill!
Sometimes we quarrel with our lot:
We, too, are sad and careful; still
We’d rather be alive than not.

What though we wish the cats at play
Would some one else’s garden till;
Though Sophonisba drop the tray
And all our worshipped Worcester spill,
Though neighbours “practise” loud and shrill,
Though May be cold and June be hot,
Though April freeze and August grill,
We’d rather be alive than not.

And, sometimes on a summer’s day
To self and every mortal ill
We give the slip, we steal away,
To walk beside some sedgy rill:

The darkening years, the cares that kill,
A little while are well forgot;
When deep in broom upon the hill,
We’d rather be alive than not.

Pistol, with oaths didst thou fulfil
The task thy braggart tongue begot,
We eat our leek with better will,
We’d rather be alive than not.

This poem by Andrew Lang appeared in 1905 in New Collected Poems, and is in the public domain in the USA. This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Lincoln and Douglas: Influence of the Great Debate

October 3, 2012

Lincoln and Douglas: Influence of the Great Debate

This is an excerpt from The Battle of Principles by Newell Dwight Hillis. It was first published in the USA in 1912, putting it in the public domain in that country.



Strictly speaking, there were three stages in the development of the anti-slavery sentiment leading up to the Civil War. There was the period of indifference, from 1759 to 1830, when the North winked at slavery, ignored the traffic and avoided the whole subject. There was the epoch of agitation, from 1831 to 1850, when Garrison and his friends insisted upon “the immediate and unconditional emancipation of the slaves on the soil,” and the agitation was kept up by men who “would not retreat, who would not equivocate, who would not be silent and who would be heard.” Then came the stage when men tried legislative palliatives; when all manner of political medicaments and poultices were tried as cures, which were about as effective in destroying the poison as a porous plaster would be to draw out the fire from a volcano. For more than sixty years a veil had hung before men’s minds, and it was as if they saw slaves as trees walking, in an unreal world. The sea captain fears a fog more than an equinoctial storm. When the mist falls, and obscures the glass, and the ship is surrounded with white darkness, and the surf is thundering on some Nantucket, as a graveyard of the sea, the captain longs for a cold, sharp wind out of the North, to cut the fog and bring out the stars and sun. And not otherwise was it with the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas—it lifted the veil from men’s eyes, it swept the fog out of the air, it made the issue clear. Then it was that for the first time the North saw that the conflict was inevitable, because the Union could not endure permanently, half slave and half free; saw that liberty and slavery were as irreconcilable as day and night.

Before considering the influence of Lincoln’s clear thinking and speaking upon the eternal principles of right, we must note the general reawakening of the popular intelligence which preceded it, and which was due to two causes, the panic of 1857 and the religious revival which swept over the land during the same year. As the Northern merchant began to see that the South had determined to secede and try her fate alone, he became afraid to sell his goods to Southern customers. The Northern manufacturer, in turn, was overstocked, and if the banker called his loans there was no response, for the chain was broken; the result was the panic of 1857. Hunger and Want stalked through the land—Winter and Poverty became bosom friends. Black despair fell upon the people and in the hour of need they cried unto God, and God heard them.

When a nation prospers and grows rich, religion languishes. When nations enter upon disaster and peril, the people turn unto God. Abundance enervates. Morals always sink to a low level when men’s eyes stand out with fatness.

What agitation, what the liberator and the lecture platform, what statesmen and compromisers could not achieve, was accomplished by the spirit of God working upon the hearts of men, clarifying the intellect, deepening the sympathy and lending vigour to the will.

The first thing the leader of an orchestra does is to see to it that the instruments are all unified and brought up to concert pitch, and the revival of religion made the people one in self-sacrifice and their willingness to live and die for their convictions.

Multitudes returned to the churches. Thoughtless youth discovered that there are only two great things in the universe—God and the soul. Personal religion became the supreme interest of the hour. Men went into the crucible commonplace; they came out of it heroic stuff. All over the country the churches were open every night in the week. Moving across the country the traveller saw the candles burning in the little schoolhouses, while the farmers assembled to pray and read God’s word. The Fulton Street prayer-meeting in New York attracted the interest of the nation. The morning newspapers of 1858 carried columns concerning the business men’s noon prayer-meeting, just as to-day they carry the column on the stock news and the stock market. In his “History of the United States” Rhodes calls attention to the fact that 230 persons joined Plymouth Church on profession of faith on a single Sunday morning. That revival all over the land put its moral stamp upon boys and girls who afterwards became the leaders of the generation.

Now every reform and every great war for principle proceeds along intellectual lines clearly laid out. Twenty-seven years before the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the “Tariff of Abominations” had brought up the question of the right of the Southern states to secede. Calhoun had set up his famous doctrine, and Webster, in his “Second Reply to Hayne,” had knocked it down. The feeling had been intense, but Webster’s wonderful oration in defense of the Constitution and the Union had succeeded in meeting the crisis, and settling for a time the vexing problem. Yet the evil of slavery continued its fatal gnawing at the heart of the nation. By 1855-6 the old question was up again in much the same form. The atmosphere was clouded, the black shroud of the approaching storm already discernible on the horizon. A hundred minor problems united in complicating the discussion of the one all-important thing. Another leader was wanted to set the battle in array, to mark out the lines of conflict. Webster and Calhoun were gone, but another was to come to preserve “liberty and union, one and inseparable.” This man was Abraham Lincoln, and the opponent who was to call out his clearest expositions of the situation, and spur him on to his greatest arguments, was Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.

Douglas was born in 1813, in Brandon, Vermont. His father was a physician of great promise, who fell with a stroke of apoplexy at a moment when he was carrying the child Stephen in his arms. The ambitions of the father for intellectual leadership were fulfilled in the son, who at fifteen years of age had attracted the notice of the best minds in his region. Strong men became interested in the boy, and advised his mother to take him to a relative in Canandaigua, N. Y., where there was an excellent academy. At seventeen he entered a lawyer’s office, attended every trial before the justice of the peace or the county clerk, and made a local reputation as a student of politics and law. At twenty years of age, he started West, to make his fortune, but fell ill in Cleveland, O., and all but lost his life. A few months later he entered the town of Winchester, Ill., a stranger, in a strange land. He carried his coat on one arm and a little bundle of clothes on the other. There was a crowd on the corner of the street, where an auctioneer was selling the personal effects and live stock of some settler, and within a few minutes Douglas was engaged as clerk at the auction. At the end of three days he found himself the possessor of six dollars, which was the first money he had ever earned, and what was far more important, he had by his accuracy, good nature and kindliness won the hearts of the purchasers, and attracted the attention of the two or three leading men of the town. That winter he opened a private school, in which forty scholars were enrolled, while he continued his studies of law during the long evenings. Ten crowded and successful years soon swept by, and those years held remarkable achievements. He was admitted to the bar, elected to the Legislature, made Secretary of State, judge of the Supreme Court, and at thirty was sent to Congress. He spent three years in Congress; at thirty-six was chosen to fill out an unexpired term in the Senate, was reëlected to represent Illinois, and a third time was chosen senator—a career of uniform and splendid success from the material view-point.

But the career of Douglas in Washington was the career of an opportunist, at once full of good and full of evil, full of right and full of wrong. He was a born politician, an expert manager of men and a natural machine builder. Many others outranked Douglas in set speeches, but few equalled him in “catch as catch can” methods of the politician. What Douglas prided himself upon was his skill in getting through the committee measures that were difficult to pass. When it became necessary to get a man’s vote for his measure, Douglas would put that man up as a leader, give him the glory, obliterate himself, and after the bill was passed, hop up like a jack in the pulpit, as the real manager who manœuvred the bill through the Senate. He spent two years on the legislation that brought about the Illinois Central Railroad, and as long a time in founding the University of Chicago.

Often Douglas did things that he believed to be morally wrong because he discovered that they were politically necessary. For example, a reaction followed upon the election of the Democrat, James K. Polk, to the presidency. When his leadership was imperilled, Polk cast about for some issue that would bring together the remnants of his party, and restore leadership, and he hit upon the device of the Mexican War. No party was ever defeated that was fighting a war for the defense of the country. Douglas criticized Polk most sharply, charged the war upon Polk as a crime against the people, and yet, under the whip of party policy, Douglas supported Polk. Slowly he deteriorated in his moral fibre. One by one the moral lights seem to have gone out. He was intoxicated by his own success. Ambition deluded him. He began to follow the will-o’-the-wisp, the light that rises from putrescence and decay in the swamp, and forgot the eternal stars in God’s sky. In 1854 he entered the valley of decision, and like the rich young ruler made the great refusal, and chose compromise instead of principle. Later Douglas led his party along a false route, and became a mistaken leader.

The circumstances were these; the compromise measures of 1850 had succeeded apparently in achieving the aim of their author, Henry Clay. The close of the year 1853 was marked by political repose and calm. The slavery question seemed practically settled. As President Pierce expressed it in his message, “A sense of security” had been “restored to the public mind throughout the Confederacy.” Prosperity was blessing the country, times were good, the future bright with the promise of immense industrial achievements. In Congress, a bill for the organization of the territory of Nebraska had passed the House at the previous session, and was being reported to the Senate, but the bill was in the usual form and contained no reference to slavery. Suddenly the press announced that Senator Douglas had read a report on this bill, purporting to show that the compromise measures of 1850 had established a great principle; that this principle stated the perpetual right of the residents of new States to decide all questions pertaining to slavery; and that therefore, contrary to the old Missouri Compromise, ruling slavery out of that Northwest territory, it left the slavery question entirely in the hands of the residents of the new territory of Nebraska.

The announcement created a profound sensation. Twelve days later a Kentucky senator by the name of Dixon introduced an amendment to the Nebraska Act, providing for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The daring of this move startled even Douglas, but within a few days the Illinois senator had decided to support the Dixon Amendment. With all the skill and political engineering at his command, he steered the bill through the tempest which immediately rose against it like a tidal wave; and on the third of March, in spite of protests which poured in from every State in the North, in spite of indignation meetings held in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, in spite of the opposition of the leaders like Seward, Chase and Sumner, he actually succeeded in persuading the Senate to pass the bill. That he was able to do this, is a great tribute to his powers as a politician and as an orator. He spoke from midnight until dawn, employing every possible trick of rhetoric and logic to carry his point, and showing a courtesy and restraint in his attack which won the sympathy even of his opponents. “Never had a bad cause been more splendidly advocated.”

But the victory was a costly one; he had made the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter in the North; he had introduced a new term, “popular sovereignty,” which was to rouse the nation as a red rag rouses a bull. He had started a storm, wrote Seward, “such as this country has never yet seen.” Every great newspaper editor in the North,—Greeley, Dana, Raymond, Webb, Bigelow, Weed,—broke into violent protest against the bill. Not since the fight at Lexington had such a fierce and universal cry of reproach arisen in the land.

And for what had he done all this? Simply that he might increase his chances of obtaining the presidential nomination in 1856. The “solid South” had just begun to be spoken of. Douglas was an acute observer, and he saw that if he could secure the backing of the South, he would have an immense advantage over his rival Cass. It is said that his objection to the Dixon Amendment was overborne solely by the fear that Cass would be before him in supporting it, and thus win the favour of the South. It is the old story of the mess of pottage. Douglas afterwards tried to defend himself on the ground that he was offering to the Democratic party “fresh ammunition,” but all knew, and none better than Douglas, that the Democratic party was in no need of a fresh issue. He had ruthlessly destroyed the peace of the whole nation, for the sake of promoting his own selfish interests,—and that, in vain; as in 1853, Douglas failed to secure the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1856, which was won by Buchanan.

The bill cost Douglas his prestige, and lost him the confidence of one half the people of Chicago and Illinois. His friends called him home in the hope that he might win back the popularity he had lost. But Chicago would have none of him. He entered the city unwelcomed, had to hire a building in which to speak, advertised his own meeting, and on the day of the meeting found the flags at half-mast, while the church bells tolled the funeral of liberty, where hitherto the bells had pealed the notes of joy.

It is impossible not to admire Douglas’s courage in that trying ordeal. He found the hall filled with his opponents, yet he began by saying, “My fellow citizens, I appear before you to vindicate the Kansas-Nebraska Bill.” The words evoked a perfect tumult, which continued for half an hour. He appealed to their sense of fair play and honour, but they asked him whether he had played fair with liberty in Washington. Growing angry, he tried to denounce them as cowards, afraid to listen to a discussion, and they answered that it was cowardly to desert a slave who needed a defender. At eleven o’clock he flung his arms in the air and dared them to shoot, because a man had waved a pistol. The crowd answered with a shower of eggs, while a man shouted that bullets were too valuable to be wasted on traitors. At twelve o’clock the bells rang out the midnight. Douglas pulled out his watch and shouted, “It is midnight. I am going home and to church, and you may go to Hades!” Douglas met a mob in Chicago, just as Beecher met a mob in England. But Beecher conquered his mob in Manchester; the mob in Chicago conquered Douglas. Beecher won, because he was right and the mob was wrong; Douglas lost, because he was wrong and the mob was right. “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all the time; you cannot fool all of the people all of the time” on the great principles of liberty. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Bill brought on an era of civil war in Kansas, sent the guerrillas over the Sunflower State, burned Lawrence, destroyed the State government and filled the whole land with tumult and bitterness. And it cost Douglas his fame and place among the great men of the Republic.

In that critical hour for liberty, Abraham Lincoln entered upon the scene, and challenged Douglas to a debate. It was in the summer of 1858. Both men were candidates for the Senate—Lincoln, the leader of the new Republican party State ticket; Douglas, the best known figure in the land since the death of Clay and Webster. No contrast between two men could have been greater. Lincoln was tall, angular, lanky, awkward, six feet four inches in height. Douglas was short, thick-set, graceful, polished, a man of fine presence, with a great, beautiful head, a high forehead, square chin, perfectly at home on the platform, a master of all the tricks of debate, a born king of assemblies. Lincoln was the stronger man, Douglas the more polished. Lincoln was the better thinker, Douglas the better orator. Lincoln relied upon fundamental principles, Douglas wanted to win his case. Lincoln’s mind was analytical, and he loved to take a theme and unfold it, peeling it like an onion, layer by layer. For Douglas, an oration was a pile of ideas, three hours high. Lincoln’s voice was a high dusty tenor, with small range, and monotonous; Douglas’s voice was a magnificent vocal instrument, extending from the flute-like tone to the deepest roar. Lincoln lacked every grace of the great orator; Douglas had every art that makes the speaker master of his audience. Morally, Lincoln’s essential qualities were his honesty, fairness, and his spirit of good will. Intellectually, he was a thinker, slow, intense, profound, always trying to find a mother principle that would explain a concrete fact. He was reared in childhood on three works—the Bible, Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and the Constitution of the United States. The style of the parable of Jesus and the simple words of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” entered into his thinking like iron into the rich blood of the physical system. His thought was as clear as crystal, his language the simple home words, full of music and old associations. Lincoln knew what he wanted to say, said it, and sat down. Douglas stormed, threatened, cajoled, bribed, and could not stop until he had carried his audience. Lincoln wanted to get the truth out; Douglas wanted to win a crowd over. The one was a statesman, the other was an opportunist, struggling for place. Principles are eternal, and because Lincoln loved principles, Lincoln belongs to the ages. Douglas wanted office, and because the longest office is six years, when the six years were over, the people put another man in his niche; Douglas practically disappeared.

The interest of the people in the seven great joint debates arranged for this senatorial campaign was beyond all description. Douglas travelled in a special train and car, with a flat car carrying a cannon that boomed the announcement of his arrival. He had the wealth and prestige of the Illinois Central Railroad to support him. Lincoln trusted to some friend to drive him across country, or had to be contented with a seat in a caboose of a freight train, waiting on a switch at a siding, while Douglas’s special went whizzing by. The people of each county made the day of the debate a great holiday. From daylight until noon all the converging roads were crowded with wagons, carts and buggies, loaded with people, while other thousands hurried on foot along the dusty road to the meeting place. From the first Douglas knew his peril, in that the eyes of the nation were fixed upon his platform, and that if Lincoln won the debate he won everything. He paid Lincoln the compliment of saying, “He is the strong man of his party, full of wit, facts, dates, and the best stump-speaker, with his droll ways and his dry jokes, in the West. He is as honest as he is shrewd, and if I beat him my victory will be hardly won.”

Very different was the praise that Lincoln gave Douglas, as he contrasted the dazzling fame of the great senator with his own unknown name. “With me,” said Lincoln, “the race of ambition has been a failure, a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached; … I would rather stand on that eminence than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch’s brow.” Douglas’s speeches do not read well, and there are no nuggets, proverbs, bright sayings or brilliant epigrams which one can quote. The substance of his speeches was one and the same, for he traversed the same ground in each of the seven debates, urging ever that the new Republican party was simply disguised abolitionism, that Lincoln wanted to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law, establish the equality of the blacks, that this was a threat of war against the South, and therefore revolutionary and sectional. Over against this mark consider the clarity of Lincoln’s method of thinking and speaking.

In his address to the convention, accepting the senatorial nomination, he had said: “If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis has been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

When the campaign opened he challenged Douglas to the debate, and the critical contest began.

After several meetings, in which the senator proved himself a slippery wrestler, Lincoln determined to force Douglas into a corner. He wrote a question, and with such skill that Douglas was compelled to answer one way or the other, either answer being fatal to his political ambition. When Lincoln read this question to his advisers, Medill, Washburne and Judd, all begged him not to ask it, saying that it would cost him the senatorship. “Yes, but my loss of the senatorship is nothing. Later on it will cost Douglas the presidency. I am killing bigger game. The battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of 1858.” The question with which Douglas was confronted was this: “Can the people of any United States territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limit prior to the formation of a State constitution?”

What a path perilous was this for Douglas’s feet! The path up the edge of the Matterhorn is a foot wide, yet it is granite, even if the climber does look down thousands of feet upon his right and thousands of feet upon his left. But Lincoln made Douglas walk not upon a narrow granite way, but on a sharp sword. He who tries to walk a tight rope across Niagara has two alternatives—he either arrives, or he does not. Yonder is Stephen Douglas, trying to walk a tight rope over the Niagara.

Forced to an answer, Douglas finally spoke:

“It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into any territory under a constitution. The people have the lawful means to exclude it if they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere unless it is supported by local police legislation. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature; and if the people are opposed to slavery they will elect representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation effectually prevent its introduction into their midst; if, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favour its extension.” Douglas had decided. Southern newspapers took up his statement and the tide of anger rose against the “little giant” that cost him the presidency. Lincoln had digged a pitfall for unwary feet, and the great opportunist fell therein.

After this, Douglas became bitter, excited, and increasingly angry, for the tide was plainly beginning to run against him. Lincoln’s speeches fairly blazed with quotable sentences. “If you think you can slander a woman into loving you, or a man into voting for you, try it till you are satisfied.” Again: “Has Douglas the exclusive right in this country to be on all sides of all questions?” Again: “The plainest print cannot be read through a gold eagle.” Again: “Douglas shirks the responsibility of pulling the national house down, but he digs under it, that it may fall of its own weight.”

To the astonishment of the country, when the debate was over, Lincoln carried Illinois on the popular vote, although he lost the senatorship through the arrangement of legislative districts that gave the election to the Democrats. Disappointed, Lincoln retained his good humour, and laughed over what he called the little episode. “I feel,” said Lincoln, “like the boy who stubbed his toe; it hurt too hard to laugh, and he was too big to cry. But I have been heard on the great subject of the age, and though I now sink out of view and shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.”

Lincoln had now become a national figure. In February, 1860, Mr. Beecher and Henry C. Bowen invited him to speak in New York. The first plan was for him to speak in Plymouth Church, but later considerations led to a change to Cooper Institute. Lincoln arrived in the city late in the week; on Sunday morning he heard Mr. Beecher preach. He sat in the Bowen pew, just back of the Beecher pew, in the morning; in the evening he arrived very late, and sat in a front pew, in the gallery, with Mr. Bowen and a friend who had waited in the hall for Mr. Lincoln’s arrival. Lincoln spent the afternoon at the Sunday-school mission, over in Five Points. As the superintendent of the mission was always casting about for somebody to talk to his ragamuffins, he asked the tall stranger if he would say a few words. When they reached the platform, the superintendent asked Lincoln by what name he should introduce him, to which Lincoln gave the answer, “Tell them Abraham Lincoln of Illinois,” which was answer enough. The meeting the next day in Cooper Institute was perhaps the most memorable assembly ever held in New York. William Cullen Bryant presided, Horace Greeley sat on Lincoln’s right, Peter Cooper close by. “No man,” said the Tribune, “since the days of Clay and Webster, spoke to a larger assemblage of the intellect and mental culture of our city. The speech was packed with reason, facts, but stripped bare of rhetorical flourish. Its keynote was, ‘Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.'” Four morning newspapers reported the speech in full, and Greeley called him the Great Convincer, saying no man ever before made such an impression in his first appeal to a New York audience. That speech probably made Lincoln President.

By universal consent, Lincoln’s nomination in 1860 is one of the mysteries of politics. Every man of light and leading conceded Seward’s nomination in advance, and two-thirds of the delegates went to the convention pledged, while eight of the Illinois delegates were against Lincoln in his own State. The East could not believe that the sceptre could pass from their hands. Special trains from New York carried brilliant banners, and New York bands and drilled clubs marched and countermarched up and down the streets of Chicago. A great wooden wigwam set up for the occasion held 10,000 spectators. The placing of Seward in nomination was wildly applauded. But, to the surprise of everybody, the naming of Lincoln was the signal of an outburst of such enthusiasm as had never been known. Men held their breath as the votes were registered. Seward had 173½ against Lincoln’s 102. As noted in a former chapter, it has been thought that Horace Greeley’s standing out for Governor Bates of Missouri made possible the shifting of votes for another Western man. At all events, on the third ballot Lincoln was nominated. Now hundreds of correspondents began to write stories of this great unknown. The next day Wendell Phillips demanded from Boston: “Who is this county court advocate?” But there was a man in Washington who could speak intelligently concerning the great unknown—his name was Stephen A. Douglas.

In that hour Douglas knew the great mistake he had made. The Democratic convention of that year at Charleston split their party asunder; the Southerners clamoring for secession should Lincoln be elected, and nominating John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky; the Northerners standing fast for the Union and compromise, and nominating Stephen A. Douglas; while a “Constitutional Union” party of old-line Whigs nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln’s election was the signal for secession.

In all the subsequent turmoil, Douglas vigorously sustained the Union and the Constitution, both in Congress and before the people. When Sumter was fired upon, he hastened to pledge his influence to Lincoln as well as to the Union. “There are no neutrals in this war—only patriots and traitors.” Douglas hurried back to Illinois to unify the state for the Union; he had borrowed $80,000 for his campaign, and he staggered under the burden of debt. Also he had injured his constitution by excess, and burned the candle at both ends by overwork. But above all else was the thought that he had made the great mistake, and lost his place in history, in saying that he did not care whether a new State voted slavery up or voted slavery down. During his last sickness he murmured incessantly, “Failure—I have failed.” His last words were: “Telegraph to the President and let the columns move on.”

Douglas died on June 3, 1861, at the age of forty-eight. The lesson of his life is the danger of compromise, the peril of refusing adherence to the highest ideals of principle, and the failure of expediency and opportunism.

As Douglas’s star went down, Lincoln’s star began to climb the sky. It was Douglas himself who held Lincoln’s hat while he made his first inaugural address. By the irony of fate it was Chief Justice Taney of the Dred Scott Decision who inaugurated Lincoln into office, that Lincoln might later make Taney’s decision forever null and void.

And that no dramatic note might be wanted, both Taney and Douglas heard Lincoln plead with indescribable pathos, majesty and beauty, for the very Union whose existence their words had threatened. “Physically speaking, we [the North and South] cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war? You cannot fight always, and after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you. In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it. I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriotic grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

But the great debate through arguments was ended. Henceforth, the appeal was to arms.


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. The Battle of Principles was originally published in 1912.

In honor of the Olympics: an excerpt from Olympian Nights

July 30, 2012

In honor of the Olympics: an excerpt from Olympian Nights

John Kendrick Bangs was a great comedy writer of the late 1880s and early 1900s, and a humor editor for major magazines as well. Bangs’ work is satirical, but broad, poking fun at society while not being afraid of verbal slapstick. Think of Jon Stewart when “cable” meant a message rather than a type of television. 😉

In this particular book, Olympian Nights (first published in 1902), it’s a first person account of a trip to Mount Olympus. While I don’t believe Bangs explicitly identifies the author as the narrator, the writer in the book is an author. Regardless, everyone reading it would know it was humor.

I was looking for an excerpt about the Olympics, and only one game is described here. I decided to go with this one, though, because I like the part that follows about the Olympian library. 🙂

I’m also going to link to two books that are on sale today after this excerpt…


From Olympian Nights by John Kendrick Bangs

“The Royal Arena,” he said, simply. “That is where we have our Olympian Games. There was a football game there yesterday. Too bad you were not there. It was the liveliest game of the season. All Hades played the Olympian eleven for the championship of the universe. We licked ’em four hundred to nothing; but of course we had an exceptional team. When Hercules is in shape there isn’t a man-jack in all Hades that can withstand him. He’s rush-line, centre, full-back, half-back, and flying wedge, all rolled into one. Then the Hades chaps made the bad mistake of sending a star team. When you have an eleven made up of Hannibal and Julius Cæsar and Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and Achilles and other fellows like that you can’t expect any team-play. Each man is thinking about himself all the time. Hercules could walk right through ’em, and, when they begin to pose, it’s mere child’s play for him. The only chap that put up any game against us at all was Samson, and I tell you, now that his hair’s grown again, he’s a demon on the gridiron. But we divided up our force to meet that difficulty. Hercules put the rest of our eleven on to Samson, while he took care, personally, of all the other Hadesians. And you should have seen how he handled them! It was beautiful, all through. He nearly got himself ruled off in the second half. He became so excited at one time towards the end that he mistook Pompey for the ball and kicked him through the goal-posts from the forty-yard line. Of course, it didn’t count, and Hercules apologized so gracefully to the rest of the visitors that they withdrew their protest and let him play on.”

“I should think he would have apologized to Pompey,” said I.

“He will when Pompey recovers consciousness,” said my guide, simply.

So interested was I in the Royal Arena and its recent game that I forgot all about Jupiter.

“I never thought of Hercules as a football player before,” I said, “but it is easy to see how he might become the champion of Olympus.”

“Oh, is it!” laughed the Major Domo. “Well, you’d better not tell Jupiter that. Jupiter’d be pleased, he would. Why, my dear friend, he’d pack you back to earth quicker than a wink. He brooks only one champion of anything here, and that’s himself. Hercules threw him in a wrestling-match once, and the next day Jupiter turned him into a weeping-willow, and didn’t let up on him for five hundred years afterwards.”

By this time we had reached one of the most superbly vaulted chambers it has ever been my pleasure to look upon. Above me the ceiling seemed to reach into infinity, and on either side were huge recesses and alcoves of almost unfathomable depth, lit by great balls of fire that diffused their light softly and yet brilliantly through all parts and corners of the apartment.

“The library,” said the Major Domo, pointing to tier upon tier of teeming shelves, upon which stood a wonderful array of exquisitely bound volumes to a number past all counting.

I was speechless with the grandeur of it all.

“It is sublime,” said I. “How many volumes?”

“Unnumbered, and unnumberable by mortals, but in round, immortal figures just one jovillion.”

“One jovillion, eh?” said I. “How many is that in mortal figures?”

“A jovillion is the supreme number,” explained the guide. “It is the infinity of millions, and therefore cannot be expressed in mortal terms.”

“Then,” said I, “you can have no more books.”

“No,” said he. “But what of that? We have all there are and all that are to be. You see, the library is divided into three parts. On the right-hand side are all the books that ever have been written; here to the left you see all the books that are being written; and farther along, beginning where that staircase rises, are all the books that ever will be written.”

I gasped. If this were true, this wonderful collection must contain my own complete works, some of which I have doubtless not even thought of as yet. How easy it would be for me, I thought, to write my future books if Jupiter would only let me loose here with a competent stenographer to copy off the pages of manuscript as yet undreamed of! I suggested this to the Major Domo.

“He wouldn’t let you,” he said. “It would throw the whole scheme out of gear.”

“I don’t see why,” I ventured.

“It is simple,” rejoined the Major Domo. “If you were permitted to read the books that some day will be identified with your name, as a sensible man, observing beforehand how futile and trivial they are to be, some of them, you wouldn’t write them, and so you would be able to avoid a part, at least, of your destiny. If mortals were able to do that—well, they’d become immortals, a good many of them.”

I realized the justice of this precaution, and we passed on in silence.


Two books of note on sale today:

The Kindle Daily Deal for today is Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut for $1.99. While Vonnegut may not be for everybody (you have to like snarky humor and be at least tolerant of fantasy/science fiction), this is a good starting point.

The other one is Amazon price-matching a Barnes & Noble Spotlight Pick.

Red-Headed Stepchild (Sabina Kane)

It’s the first in the Sabina Kane contemporary vampire series by Jaye Wells…for ninety-nine cents. This is getting a tradpubbed (traditionally published) book, digital list priced at $7.99, for the price of ninety-nine cent indie.

Just wanted to alert you to these two before they go back up in price…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. Olympian Nights by John Kendrick Bangs was originally published in 1902.

In honor of the 4th of July: Teddy Roosevelt’s “Books for Holidays in the Open”

July 4, 2012

In honor of the 4th of July: Teddy Roosevelt’s “Books for Holidays in the Open”

The Fourth of July holiday is a celebration of the United States of America, and our Presidents form part of that history. TR is thought of as a man of action, and indeed he was. However, he was also a book lover (including poetry), and a prolific author.

This is chapter nine of A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open, originally published in 1916.



I am sometimes asked what books I advise men or women to take on holidays in the open. With the reservation of long trips, where bulk is of prime consequence, I can only answer: The same books one would read at home. Such an answer generally invites the further question as to what books I read when at home. To this question I am afraid my answer cannot be so instructive as it ought to be, for I have never followed any plan in reading which would apply to all persons under all circumstances; and indeed it seems to me that no plan can be laid down that will be generally applicable. If a man is not fond of books, to him reading of any kind will be drudgery. I most sincerely commiserate such a person, but I do not know how to help him. If a man or a woman is fond of books he or she will naturally seek the books that the mind and soul demand. Suggestions of a possibly helpful character can be made by outsiders, but only suggestions; and they will probably be helpful about in proportion to the outsider’s knowledge of the mind and soul of the person to be helped.

Of course, if any one finds that he never reads serious literature, if all his reading is frothy and trashy, he would do well to try to train himself to like books that the general agreement of cultivated and sound-thinking persons has placed among the classics. It is as discreditable to the mind to be unfit for sustained mental effort as it is to the body of a young man to be unfit for sustained physical effort. Let man or woman, young man or girl, read some good author, say Gibbon or Macaulay, until sustained mental effort brings power to enjoy the books worth enjoying. When this has been achieved the man can soon trust himself to pick out for himself the particular good books which appeal to him.

The equation of personal taste is as powerful in reading as in eating; and within certain broad limits the matter is merely one of individual preference, having nothing to do with the quality either of the book or of the reader’s mind. I like apples, pears, oranges, pineapples, and peaches. I dislike bananas, alligator-pears, and prunes. The first fact is certainly not to my credit, although it is to my advantage; and the second at least does not show moral turpitude. At times in the tropics I have been exceedingly sorry I could not learn to like bananas, and on round-ups, in the cow country in the old days, it was even more unfortunate not to like prunes; but I simply could not make myself like either, and that was all there was to it.

In the same way I read over and over again “Guy Mannering,” “The Antiquary,” “Pendennis,” “Vanity Fair,” “Our Mutual Friend,” and the “Pickwick Papers”; whereas I make heavy weather of most parts of the “Fortunes of Nigel,” “Esmond,” and the “Old Curiosity Shop”—to mention only books I have tried to read during the last month. I have no question that the latter three books are as good as the first six; doubtless for some people they are better; but I do not like them, any more than I like prunes or bananas.

In the same way I read and reread “Macbeth” and “Othello”; but not “King Lear” nor “Hamlet.” I know perfectly well that the latter are as wonderful as the former—I wouldn’t venture to admit my shortcomings regarding them if I couldn’t proudly express my appreciation of the other two! But at my age I might as well own up, at least to myself, to my limitations, and read the books I thoroughly enjoy.

But this does not mean permitting oneself to like what is vicious or even simply worthless. If any man finds that he cares to read “Bel Ami,” he will do well to keep a watch on the reflex centres of his moral nature, and to brace himself with a course of Eugene Brieux or Henry Bordeaux. If he does not care for “Anna Karenina,” “War and Peace,” “Sebastopol,” and “The Cossacks” he misses much; but if he cares for the “Kreutzer Sonata” he had better make up his mind that for pathological reasons he will be wise thereafter to avoid Tolstoy entirely. Tolstoy is an interesting and stimulating writer, but an exceedingly unsafe moral adviser.

It is clear that the reading of vicious books for pleasure should be eliminated. It is no less clear that trivial and vulgar books do more damage than can possibly be offset by any entertainment they yield. There remain enormous masses of books, of which no one man can read more than a limited number, and among which each reader should choose those which meet his own particular needs. There is no such thing as a list of “the hundred best books,” or the “best five-foot library.”

Dozens of series of excellent books, one hundred to each series, can be named, all of reasonably equal merit and each better for many readers than any of the others; and probably not more than half a dozen books would appear in all these lists. As for a “five-foot library,” scores can readily be devised, each of which at some given time, for some given man, under certain conditions, will be best. But to attempt to create such a library that shall be of universal value is foreordained to futility.

Within broad limits, therefore, the reader’s personal and individual taste must be the guiding factor. I like hunting books and books of exploration and adventure. I do not ask any one else to like them. I distinctly do not hold my own preferences as anything whatever but individual preferences; and this chapter is to be accepted as confessional rather than didactic. With this understanding I admit a liking for novels where something happens; and even among these novels I can neither explain nor justify why I like some and do not like others; why, among the novels of Sienkiewicz, I cannot stand “Quo Vadis,” and never tire of “With Fire and Sword,” “Pan Michael,” the “Deluge” and the “Knights of the Cross.”

Of course, I know that the best critics scorn the demand among novel readers for “the happy ending.” Now, in really great books—in an epic like Milton’s, in dramas like those of Æschylus and Sophocles—I am entirely willing to accept and even demand tragedy, and also in some poetry that cannot be called great, but not in good, readable novels, of sufficient length to enable me to get interested in the hero and heroine!

There is enough of horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple; and when I turn to the world of literature—of books considered as books, and not as instruments of my profession—I do not care to study suffering unless for some sufficient purpose. It is only a very exceptional novel which I will read if He does not marry Her; and even in exceptional novels I much prefer this consummation. I am not defending my attitude. I am merely stating it.

Therefore it would be quite useless for me to try to explain why I read certain books. As to how and when, my answers must be only less vague. I almost always read a good deal in the evening; and if the rest of the evening is occupied I can at least get half an hour before going to bed. But all kinds of odd moments turn up during even a busy day, in which it is possible to enjoy a book; and then there are rainy afternoons in the country in autumn, and stormy days in winter, when one’s work outdoors is finished and after wet clothes have been changed for dry, the rocking-chair in front of the open wood-fire simply demands an accompanying book.

Railway and steamboat journeys were, of course, predestined through the ages as aids to the enjoyment of reading. I have always taken books with me when on hunting and exploring trips. In such cases the literature should be reasonably heavy, in order that it may last. You can under these conditions read Herbert Spencer, for example, or the writings of Turgot, or a German study of the Mongols, or even a German edition of Aristophanes, with erudite explanations of the jokes, as you never would if surrounded by less formidable authors in your own library; and when you do reach the journey’s end you grasp with eager appetite at old magazines, or at the lightest of literature.

Then, if one is worried by all kinds of men and events—during critical periods in administrative office, or at national conventions, or during congressional investigations, or in hard-fought political campaigns—it is the greatest relief and unalloyed delight to take up some really good, some really enthralling book—Tacitus, Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius, or Goethe, Keats, Gray, or Lowell—and lose all memory of everything grimy, and of the baseness that must be parried or conquered.

Like every one else, I am apt to read in streaks. If I get interested in any subject I read different books connected with it, and probably also read books on subjects suggested by it. Having read Carlyle’s “Frederick the Great”—with its splendid description of the battles, and of the unyielding courage and thrifty resourcefulness of the iron-tempered King; and with its screaming deification of able brutality in the name of morality, and its practise of the suppression and falsification of the truth under the pretense of preaching veracity—I turned to Macaulay’s essay on this subject, and found that the historian whom it has been the fashion of the intellectuals to patronize or deride showed a much sounder philosophy, and an infinitely greater appreciation of and devotion to truth than was shown by the loquacious apostle of the doctrine of reticence.

Then I took up Waddington’s “Guerre de Sept Ans”; then I read all I could about Gustavus Adolphus; and, gradually dropping everything but the military side, I got hold of quaint little old histories of Eugene of Savoy and Turenne. In similar fashion my study of and delight in Mahan sent me further afield, to read queer old volumes about De Ruyter and the daring warrior-merchants of the Hansa, and to study, as well as I could, the feats of Suffren and Tegethoff. I did not need to study Farragut.

Mahaffy’s books started me to reread—in translation, alas!—the post-Athenian Greek authors. After Ferrero I did the same thing as regards the Latin authors, and then industriously read all kinds of modern writers on the same period, finishing with Oman’s capital essay on “Seven Roman Statesmen.” Gilbert Murray brought me back from Greek history to Greek literature, and thence by a natural suggestion to parts of the Old Testament, to the Nibelungenlied, to the Roland lay and the chansons de gestes, to Beowulf, and finally to the great Japanese hero-tale, the story of the Forty-Nine Ronins.

I read Burroughs too often to have him suggest anything save himself; but I am exceedingly glad that Charles Sheldon has arisen to show what a hunter-naturalist, who adds the ability of the writer to the ability of the trained observer and outdoor adventurer, can do for our last great wilderness, Alaska. From Sheldon I turned to Stewart Edward White, and then began to wander afar, with Herbert Ward’s “Voice from the Congo,” and Mary Kingsley’s writings, and Hudson’s “El Ombu,” and Cunningham Grahame’s sketches of South America. A re-reading of The Federalist led me to Burke, to Trevelyan’s history of Fox and of our own Revolution, to Lecky; and finally by way of Malthus and Adam Smith and Lord Acton and Bagehot to my own contemporaries, to Ross and George Alger.

Even in pure literature, having nothing to do with history, philosophy, sociology, or economy, one book will often suggest another, so that one finds one has unconsciously followed a regular course of reading. Once I travelled steadily from Montaigne through Addison, Swift, Steele, Lamb, Irving, and Lowell to Crothers and Kenneth Grahame—and if it be objected that some of these could not have suggested the others I can only answer that they did suggest them.

I suppose that every one passes through periods during which he reads no poetry; and some people, of whom I am one, also pass through periods during which they voraciously devour poets of widely different kinds. Now it will be Horace and Pope; now Schiller, Scott,  Longfellow, Körner; now Bret Harte or Kipling; now Shelley or Herrick or Tennyson; now Poe and Coleridge; and again Emerson or Browning or Whitman. Sometimes one wishes to read for the sake of contrast. To me Owen Wister is the writer I wish when I am hungry with the memories of lonely mountains, of vast sunny plains with seas of wind-rippled grass, of springing wild creatures, and lithe, sun-tanned men who ride with utter ease on ungroomed, half-broken horses. But when I lived much in cow camps I often carried a volume of Swinburne, as a kind of antiseptic to alkali dust, tepid, muddy water, frying-pan bread, sow-belly bacon, and the too-infrequent washing of sweat-drenched clothing.

Fathers and mothers who are wise can train their children first to practise, and soon to like, the sustained mental application necessary to enjoy good books. They will do well also to give each boy or girl the mastery of at least some one foreign language, so that at least one other great literature, in addition to our own noble English literature, shall be open to him or her. Modern languages are taught so easily and readily that whoever really desires to learn one of them can soon achieve sufficient command of it to read ordinary books with reasonable ease; and then it is a mere matter of practise for any one to become able thoroughly to enjoy the beauty and wisdom which knowledge of the new tongue brings.

Now and then one’s soul thirsts for laughter. I cannot imagine any one’s taking a course in humorous writers, but just as little can I sympathize with the man who does not enjoy them at times—from Sydney Smith to John Phœnix and Artemus Ward, and from these to Stephen Leacock. Mark Twain at his best stands a little apart, almost as much so as Joel Chandler Harris. Oliver Wendell Holmes, of course, is the laughing philosopher, the humorist at his very highest, even if we use the word “humor” only in its most modern and narrow sense.

A man with a real fondness for books of various kinds will find that his varying moods determine which of these books he at the moment needs. On the afternoon when Stevenson represents the luxury of enjoyment it may safely be assumed that Gibbon will not. The mood that is met by Napier’s “Peninsular War,” or Marbot’s memoirs, will certainly not be met by Hawthorne or Jane Austen. Parkman’s “Montcalm and Wolfe,” Motley’s histories of the Dutch Republic, will hardly fill the soul on a day when one turns naturally to the “Heimskringla”; and there is a sense of disconnection if after the “Heimskringla” one takes up the “Oxford Book of French Verse.”

Another matter which within certain rather wide limits each reader must settle for himself is the dividing line between (1) not knowing anything about current books, and (2) swamping one’s soul in the sea of vapidity which overwhelms him who reads only “the last new books.” To me the heading employed by some reviewers when they speak of “books of the week” comprehensively damns both the books themselves and the reviewer who is willing to notice them. I would much rather see the heading “books of the year before last.” A book of the year before last which is still worth noticing would probably be worth reading; but one only entitled to be called a book of the week had better be tossed into the wastebasket at once. Still, there are plenty of new books which are not of permanent value but which nevertheless are worth more or less careful reading; partly because it is well to know something of what especially interests the mass of our fellows, and partly because these books, although of ephemeral worth, may really set forth something genuine in a fashion which for the moment stirs the hearts of all of us.

Books of more permanent value may, because of the very fact that they possess literary interest, also yield consolation of a non-literary kind. If any executive grows exasperated over the shortcomings of the legislative body with which he deals, let him study Macaulay’s account of the way William was treated by his parliaments as soon as the latter found that, thanks to his efforts, they were no longer in immediate danger from foreign foes; it is illuminating. If any man feels too gloomy about the degeneracy of our people from the standards of their forefathers, let him read “Martin Chuzzlewit”; it will be consoling.

If the attitude of this nation toward foreign affairs and military preparedness at the present day seems disheartening, a study of the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century will at any rate give us whatever comfort we can extract from the fact that our great-grandfathers were no less foolish than we are.

Nor need any one confine himself solely to the affairs of the United States. If he becomes tempted to idealize the past, if sentimentalists seek to persuade him that the “ages of faith,” the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, for instance, were better than our own, let him read any trustworthy book on the subject—Lea’s  “History of the Inquisition,” for instance, or Coulton’s abridgment of Salimbene’s memoirs. He will be undeceived and will be devoutly thankful that his lot has been cast in the present age, in spite of all its faults.

It would be hopeless to try to enumerate all the books I read, or even all the kinds. The foregoing is a very imperfect answer to a question which admits of only such an answer.


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. The excerpt from Books for Holidays in the Open by Teddy Roosevelt originally appeared in 1916.

I buy a paperbook (and “The Sea Serpant”)

June 27, 2012

I buy a paperbook (and “The Sea Serpant”)

I bought a p-book (paperbook) for myself recently.

I think that’s the first time since September 5, 2008, when I bought Herbie Archives Volume 1. Herbie is a great comic strip, truly exceptional, and really due for a movie, in my opinion. It’s intelligent and sarcastic…and ridiculous, all at the same time.

Nowadays, I would have bought Herbie as an e-book, if I could. It would work fine on my Kindle Fire, which wasn’t an option in 2008.

So, why did I buy a paperbook now?

It’s a book that we had when I was a kid. I still have most of those, but I think this one ended up with a sibling:

The Birds and the Beasts Were There: Animal Poems

I’ve always been a big animal person, and I remembered really liking this book…and one poem in particular.

I could get it for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping and handling).

I wanted to identify that one poem. I remembered parts of it, but not enough to identify it.

When I got the book, I went to the poem. It had the author’s name, but it took some research online to find out when the poem was published. It was before 1923 in the USA, which meant that it was in the public domain here.

It was then a hop, skip, and a jump to find the book that originally contained the poem as an e-book online from and other places:

Random Rhymes and Odd Numbers

I’m happy to own the p-book, but it does feel more like the $4 was a research expense. 🙂

I’m including the poem below. It’s by Wallace Irwin, and was first published in 1906. I thought you’d enjoy it, but also the process by which the book was preserved as a free digital file online…even if I found it through a p-book.




A-sleepin’ at length on the sand,

Where the beach was all tidy and clean,

A-strokin’ his scale with the brush on his tail
The wily Sea Serpant I seen.

And what was his color? you asks.

And how did he look ? inquires you,

I’ll be busted and blessed if he didn’t look jest
Like you would of expected ‘im to!

His head was the size of a — well,

The size what they always attains;

He whistled a tune what was built like a prune,
And his tail was the shape o’ his brains.

His scales they was ruther — you know —

Like the leaves what you pick off o’ eggs;

And the way o’ his walk — well, it’s useless to talk,
Fer o’ course you’ve seen Sea Serpants’ legs.

His length it was seventeen miles.

Or fathoms, or inches, or feet
(Me memory’s sich that I can’t recall which.

Though at figgers I’ve seldom been beat).

And I says as I looks at the beast,

“He reminds me o’ somethin’ I’ve seen —

Is it candy or cats or humans or hats,
Or Fenimore Cooper I mean?”

And as I debated the point,

In a way that I can’t understand.

The Sea Serpant he disappeared in the sea
And walked through the ocean by land.

And somehow I knowed he’d come back.
So I marked off the place with me cap;

‘Twas Latitude West and Longitude North
And forty-eight cents by the map.

And his length it was seventeen miles,

Or inches, or fathoms, or feet
(Me memory’s sich that I can’t recall which,

Though at figgers I’ve seldom been beat).


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. The poem, The Sea Serpant: An Accurate Description, by Wallace Irwin, was published as part of the collection, Random Rhymes and Odd Numbers, in 1906.

In honor of Fathers’ Day: You Are Old, Father William

June 17, 2012

In honor of Fathers’ Day: You Are Old, Father William

I knew the version of this poem that Alice tells to the Caterpillar, but didn’t know the original (although I knew it was a parody).

In honor of Fathers’ Day, I’m going to give you both the original, and then the version from Lewis Carroll:

The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them

by Robert Southey (originally published 1799)

You are old, Father William, the young man cried,
The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, Father William, a hearty old man,
Now tell me the reason I pray.

In the days of my youth, Father William replied,
I remember’d that youth would fly fast,
And abused not my health and my vigour at first
That I never might need them at last.

You are old, Father William, the young man cried,
And pleasures with youth pass away,
And yet you lament not the days that are gone,
Now tell me the reason I pray.

In the days of my youth, Father William replied,
I remember’d that youth could not last;
I thought of the future whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past.

You are old, Father William, the young man cried,
And life must be hastening away;
You are chearful, and love to converse upon death!
Now tell me the reason I pray.

I am chearful, young man, Father William replied,
Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember’d my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age.


From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll (originally published 1865)

“You are old, father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
“I feared it would injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door —
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment — one shilling the box —
Allow me to sell you a couple.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak —
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth; one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose —
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Excerpt: Russian Fairy Tales (on vampires)

May 12, 2012

Excerpt: Russian Fairy Tales (on vampires)

Tim Burton’s version of Dark Shadows (starring Johnny Depp) opens today. I watched the show when it was originally broadcast, and I’ve been going back through episodes on Netflix. I have some of the tie-in novels (in paper) by “Marilyn Ross”. My Significant Other and I will likely see the movie, but we sort of feel like we would be going because we “have” to see it. The trailer made me mad. Still, I wanted to connect to the opening, so I’m going with a piece from Russian Fairy Tales by the folklorist W.R.S. Ralston (originally published, I think, in 1873). I’ve never thought that Ralston wrote turned the folktales into stories very well, but I do like the nonfiction commentaries. Here, then, is Ralston talking about vampire legends. By the way, this excerpt was written before Dracula…which is sometimes credited with defining the British and American sense of the vampire. Compare what was said before it was published…

Russian Fairy Tales

by W.R.S. Ralston

The stories of this class are very numerous, all of them based on the same belief—that in certain cases the dead, in a material shape, leave their graves in order to destroy and prey upon the living. This belief is not peculiar to the Slavonians but it is one of the characteristic features of their spiritual creed. Among races which burn their dead, remarks Hertz in his exhaustive treatise on the Werwolf (p. 126), little is known of regular “corpse-spectres.” Only vague apparitions, dream-like phantoms, are supposed, as a general rule, to issue from graves in which nothing more substantial than ashes has been laid.But w here it is customary to lay the dead body in the ground, “a peculiar half-life” becomes attributed to it by popular fancy, and by some races it is supposed to be actuated at intervals by murderous impulses. In the East these are generally attributed to the fact of its being possessed by an evil spirit, but in some parts of Europe no such explanation of its conduct is given, though it may often be implied. “The belief in vampires is the specific Slavonian form of the universal belief in spectres (Gespenster),” says Hertz, and certainly vampirism has always made those lands peculiarly its own which are or have been tenanted or greatly influenced by Slavonians.

But animated corpses often play an important part in the traditions of other countries. Among the Scandinavians and especially in Iceland, were they the cause of many fears, though they were not supposed to be impelled by a thirst for blood so much as by other carnal appetites, or by a kind of local malignity. In Germany tales of horror similar to the Icelandic are by no means unknown, but the majority of them are to be found in districts which were once wholly Lettic or Slavonic, though they are now reckoned as Teutonic, such as East Prussia, or Pomerania, or Lusatia. But it is among the races which are Slavonic by tongue as well as by descent, that the genuine vampire tales flourish most luxuriantly: in Russia, in Poland, and in Servia—among the Czekhs of Bohemia, and the Slovaks of Hungary, and the numerous other subdivisions of the Slavonic family which are included within the heterogeneous empire of Austria. Among the Albanians and Modern Greeks they have taken firm root, but on those peoples a strong Slavonic influence has been brought to bear. Even Prof. Bernhard Schmidt, although an uncompromising opponent of Fallmerayer’s doctrines with regard to the Slavonic origin of the present inhabitants of Greece, allows that the Greeks, as they borrowed from the Slavonians a name for the Vampire, may have received from them also certain views and customs with respect to it. Beyond this he will not go, and he quotes a number of passages from Hellenic writers to prove that in ancient Greece spectres were frequently represented as delighting in blood, and sometimes as exercising a power to destroy. Nor will he admit that any very great stress ought to be laid upon the fact that the Vampire is generally called in Greece by a name of Slavonic extraction; for in the islands, which were, he says, little if at all affected by Slavonic influences, the Vampire bears a thoroughly Hellenic designation. But the thirst for blood attributed by Homer to his shadowy ghosts seems to have been of a different nature from that evinced by the material Vampire of modern days, nor does that ghastly revenant seem by any means fully to correspond to such ghostly destroyers as the spirit of Gello, or the spectres of Medea’s slaughtered children. It is not only in the Vampire, however, that we find a point of close contact between the popular beliefs of the New-Greeks and the Slavonians. Prof. Bernhard Schmidt’s excellent work is full of examples which prove how intimately they are connected.

The districts of the Russian Empire in which a belief in vampires mostly prevails are White Russia and the Ukraine. But the ghastly blood-sucker, the Upir, whose name has become naturalized in so many alien lands under forms resembling our “Vampire,” disturbs the peasant-mind in many other parts of Russia, though not perhaps with the same intense fear which it spreads among the inhabitants of the above-named districts, or of some other Slavonic lands. The numerous traditions which have gathered around the original idea vary to some extent according to their locality, but they are never radically inconsistent.

Some of the details are curious. The Little-Russians hold that if a vampire’s hands have grown numb from remaining long crossed in the grave, he makes use of his teeth, which are like steel. When he has gnawed his way with these through all obstacles, he first destroys the babes he finds in a house, and then the older inmates. If fine salt be scattered on the floor of a room, the vampire’s footsteps may be traced to his grave, in which he will be found resting with rosy cheek and gory mouth.

The Kashoubes say that when a Vieszcy, as they call the Vampire, wakes from his sleep within the grave, he begins to gnaw his hands and feet; and as he gnaws, one after another, first his relations, then his other neighbors, sicken and die. When he has finished his own store of flesh, he rises at midnight and destroys cattle, or climbs a belfry and sounds the bell. All who hear the ill-omened tones will soon die. But generally he sucks the blood of sleepers. Those on whom he has operated will be found next morning dead, with a very small wound on the left side of the breast, exactly over the heart. The Lusatian Wends hold that when a corpse chews its shroud or sucks its own breast, all its kin will soon follow it to the grave. The Wallachians say that a murony—a sort of cross between a werwolf and a vampire, connected by name with our nightmare—can take the form of a dog, a cat, or a toad, and also of any blood-sucking insect. When he is exhumed, he is found to have long nails of recent growth on his hands and feet, and blood is streaming from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

The Russian stories give a very clear account of the operation performed by the vampire on his victims. Thus, one night, a peasant is conducted by a stranger into a house where lie two sleepers, an old man and a youth. “The stranger takes a pail, places it near the youth, and strikes him on the back; immediately the back opens, and forth flows rosy blood. The stranger fills the pail full, and drinks it dry. Then he fills another pail with blood from the old man, slakes his brutal thirst, and says to the peasant, ‘It begins to grow light! let us go back to my dwelling.’”

Many skazkas also contain, as we have already seen, very clear directions how to deprive a vampire of his baleful power. According to them, as well as to their parallels elsewhere, a stake must be driven through the murderous corpse. In Russia an aspen stake is selected for that purpose, but in some places one made of thorn is preferred. But a Bohemian vampire, when staked in this manner in the year 1337, says Mannhardt, merely exclaimed that the stick would be very useful for keeping off dogs; and a strigon (or Istrian vampire) who was transfixed with a sharp thorn cudgel near Laibach, in 1672, pulled it out of his body and flung it back contemptuously. The only certain methods of destroying a vampire appear to be either to consume him by fire, or to chop off his head with a grave-digger’s shovel. The Wends say that if a vampire is hit over the back of the head with an implement of that kind, he will squeal like a pig.

The origin of the Vampire is hidden in obscurity. In modern times it has generally been a wizard, or a witch, or a suicide, or a person who has come to a violent end, or who has been cursed by the Church or by his parents, who takes such an unpleasant means of recalling himself to the memory of his surviving relatives and acquaintances. But even the most honorable dead may become vampires by accident. He whom a vampire has slain is supposed, in some countries, himself to become a vampire. The leaping of a cat or some other animal across a corpse, even the flight of a bird above it, may turn the innocent defunct into a ravenous demon. Sometimes, moreover, a man is destined from his birth to be a vampire, being the offspring of some unholy union. In some instances the Evil One himself is the father of such a doomed victim, in others a temporarily animated corpse. But whatever may be the cause of a corpse’s “vampirism,” it is generally agreed that it will give its neighbors no rest until they have at least transfixed it. What is very remarkable about the operation is, that the stake must be driven through the vampire’s body by a single blow. A second would restore it to life. This idea accounts for the otherwise unexplained fact that the heroes of folk-tales are frequently warned that they must on no account be tempted into striking their magic foes more than one stroke. Whatever voices may cry aloud “Strike again!” they must remain contented with a single blow.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Excerpt: The Scarecrow of Oz

April 29, 2012

Excerpt: The Scarecrow of Oz

It amazes me when I go back and re-read L. Frank Baum’s Oz series as to just how contemporary it seems at times. Take this excerpt from The Scarecrow of Oz, first published in 1915. There is a character called the Pessim who would fit right into some of the online forums I’ve seen. 😉 You may be surprised that the main characters in the excerpt aren’t Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. This is another place where Baum was contemporary: it’s a crossover. Baum wanted to stop writing the Oz stories, and made a couple of attempts to do so. Trot and Cap’n Bill had already been in two novels by this point, but hey, putting them into your most popular series couldn’t hurt, right? 😉  I hope you enjoy this: if you do, you can read the whole book for free:

The Scarecrow of Oz

If you are willing to spend ninety-nine cents, though, you can get the “famous fourteen” L. Frank Baum Oz books, plus the first of the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones:

The Complete Wizard of Oz Series


Chapter Five

The Little Old Man of the Island

A few steps brought them to the shed, which was merely a roof of boughs built over a square space, with some branches of trees fastened to the sides to keep off the wind. The front was quite open and faced the sea, and as our friends came nearer they observed a little man, with a long pointed beard, sitting motionless on a stool and staring thoughtfully out over the water.

“Get out of the way, please,” he called in a fretful voice. “Can’t you see you are obstructing my view?”

“Good morning,” said Cap’n Bill, politely.

“It isn’t a good morning!” snapped the little man. “I’ve seen plenty of mornings better than this. Do you call it a good morning when I’m pestered with such a crowd as you?”

Trot was astonished to hear such words from a stranger whom they had greeted quite properly, and Cap’n Bill grew red at the little man’s rudeness. But the sailor said, in a quiet tone of voice:

“Are you the only one as lives on this ‘ere island?”

“Your grammar’s bad,” was the reply. “But this is my own exclusive island, and I’ll thank you to get off it as soon as possible.”

“We’d like to do that,” said Trot, and then she and Cap’n Bill turned away and walked down to the shore, to see if any other land was in sight.

The little man rose and followed them, although both were now too provoked to pay any attention to him.

“Nothin’ in sight, partner,” reported Cap’n Bill, shading his eyes with his hand; “so we’ll have to stay here for a time, anyhow. It isn’t a bad place, Trot, by any means.”

“That’s all you know about it!” broke in the little man. “The trees are altogether too green and the rocks are harder than they ought to be. I find the sand very grainy and the water dreadfully wet. Every breeze makes a draught and the sun shines in the daytime, when there’s no need of it, and disappears just as soon as it begins to get dark. If you remain here you’ll find the island very unsatisfactory.”

Trot turned to look at him, and her sweet face was grave and curious.

“I wonder who you are,” she said.

“My name is Pessim,” said he, with an air of pride. “I’m called the Observer.”

“Oh. What do you observe?” asked the little girl.

“Everything I see,” was the reply, in a more surly tone. Then Pessim drew back with a startled exclamation and looked at some footprints in the sand. “Why, good gracious me!” he cried in distress.

“What’s the matter now?” asked Cap’n Bill.

“Someone has pushed the earth in! Don’t you see it?

“It isn’t pushed in far enough to hurt anything,” said Trot, examining the footprints.

“Everything hurts that isn’t right,” insisted the man. “If the earth were pushed in a mile, it would be a great calamity, wouldn’t it?”

“I s’pose so,” admitted the little girl.

“Well, here it is pushed in a full inch! That’s a twelfth of a foot, or a little more than a millionth part of a mile. Therefore it is one-millionth part of a calamity—Oh, dear! How dreadful!” said Pessim in a wailing voice.

“Try to forget it, sir,” advised Cap’n Bill, soothingly. “It’s beginning to rain. Let’s get under your shed and keep dry.”

“Raining! Is it really raining?” asked Pessim, beginning to weep.

“It is,” answered Cap’n Bill, as the drops began to descend, “and I don’t see any way to stop it—although I’m some observer myself.”

“No; we can’t stop it, I fear,” said the man. “Are you very busy just now?”

“I won’t be after I get to the shed,” replied the sailor-man.

“Then do me a favor, please,” begged Pessim, walking briskly along behind them, for they were hastening to the shed.

“Depends on what it is,” said Cap’n Bill.

“I wish you would take my umbrella down to the shore and hold it over the poor fishes till it stops raining. I’m afraid they’ll get wet,” said Pessim.

Trot laughed, but Cap’n Bill thought the little man was poking fun at him and so he scowled upon Pessim in a way that showed he was angry.


The Scarecrow of Oz by L. Frank Baum was originally published in the USA in 1915, and is in the public domain in that country. This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

The Titanic foretold? Futility,or The Wreck of the Titan

April 13, 2012

The Titanic foretold? Futility,or The Wreck of the Titan

On April 14, 1912 (or “nineteen ten and two”, as an old song I used to sing had it), the “unsinkable” passenger ship Titanic struck an iceberg.

One hundred years later, books are still being written about the incident.

Interestingly, a book that was written in 1898 (fourteen years before the sinking of the Titanic) appears to eerily foretell the disaster.

I’d heard about

Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan

before, but had never read it.

Thanks to so many public domain e-books being free (pioneered by Michael Hart and Project Gutenberg), I was able to download it and see both how similar it was and if the book was any good.

I actually got it from Gutenberg…so I could use the free Droid Talker app and listen to it in the car on my Kindle Fire.

I could have downloaded it from Amazon at the link I gave to you above and listened to it in the car on my Kindle Touch, but I wanted to have my Fire with me and didn’t want to carry both.

Let me say that if you didn’t know this book had been written first, you would very likely think it was based on the Titanic. You might even call it a “rip off”, if you thought of it inspired by, say, the James Cameron movie.

Take a look at the opening:

“She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization. On her bridge were officers, who, besides being the pick of the Royal Navy, had passed rigid examinations in all studies that pertained to the winds, tides, currents, and geography of the sea; they were not only seamen, but scientists. The same professional standard applied to the personnel of the engine-room, and the steward’s department was equal to that of a first-class hotel.

<Two brass bands, two orchestras, and a theatrical company entertained the passengers during waking hours; a corps of physicians attended to the temporal, and a corps of chaplains to the spiritual, welfare of all on board, while a well-drilled fire-company soothed the fears of nervous ones and added to the general entertainment by daily practice with their apparatus. From her lofty bridge ran hidden telegraph lines to the bow, stern engine-room, crow’s-nest on the foremast, and to all parts of the ship where work was done, each wire terminating in a marked dial with a movable indicator, containing in its scope every order and answer required in handling the massive hulk, either at the dock or at sea–which eliminated, to a great extent, the hoarse, nerve-racking shouts of officers and sailors. From the bridge, engine-room, and a dozen places on her deck the ninety-two doors of nineteen water-tight compartments could be closed in half a minute by turning a lever. These doors would also close automatically in the presence of water. With nine compartments flooded the ship would still float, and as no known accident of the sea could possibly fill this many, the steamship Titan was considered practically unsinkable. Built of steel throughout, and for passenger traffic only, she carried no combustible cargo to threaten her destruction by fire; and the immunity from the demand for cargo space had enabled her designers to discard the flat, kettle-bottom of cargo boats and give her the sharp dead-rise–or slant from the keel–of a steam yacht, and this improved her behavior in a seaway. She was eight hundred feet long, of seventy thousand tons’ displacement, seventy-five thousand horse-power, and on her trial trip had steamed at a rate of twenty-five knots an hour over the bottom, in the face of unconsidered winds, tides, and currents. In short, she was a floating city–containing within her steel walls all that tends to minimize the dangers and discomforts of the Atlantic voyage–all that makes life enjoyable. Unsinkable–indestructible, she carried as few boats as would satisfy the laws. These, twenty-four in number, were securely covered and lashed down to their chocks on the upper deck, and if launched would hold five hundred people. She carried no useless, cumbersome life-rafts; but–because the law required it–each of the three thousand berths in the passengers’, officers’, and crew’s quarters contained a cork jacket, while about twenty circular life-buoys were strewn along the rails.”

If you didn’t wade through all that, and can’t compare the statistics to the real ship, at least notice the name of the ship: the Titan.
What fate befalls the Titan? Just like the Titanic, she strikes an iceberg on her starboard side…in April.

That said, there is a story here…we are particularly focused on a few people. This is, arguably, science fiction…the Titan is a projection of current (1898) technology, and the book looks in part at the effect that has on people and society.
It’s a bit melodramatic, but I found it interesting that the book was particularly concerned with the idea of atheism…and not in an immediately dismissive way, as one might expect.

If you are interested in the story of the Titanic, I’d recommend this book. The Titan part (the first of four stories in the book) could be sight-read fairly quickly: I think its about seventy pages in print. The free versions, I believe, contain all four stories.
If you were reading it just as a story…it had some interesting elements, but for me, the philosophy was a bit heavy-handed.
If you do read it, I’d be curious to hear what you think. 🙂

Oh, one last thing: some people claim this as evidence of a vision of the future, but it isn’t presented as fact. Predicting a large ship like this is a not illogical projection, and icebergs were a serious threat. As the book points out, what else afloat was a risk to a ship this large? As to the name…I’ve always sort of wondered if someone involved in naming the Titanic might have read the story in Collier’s…and subconsciously or not, suggested it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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