THE FORGOTTEN DEPRESSION 1920-1921

James Grant

James Grant is the publisher of the Interest Rate Observer, a highly-regarded Wall Street investment sheet.

Grant’s book adumbrates the Depression of 1920-1921, following the 18 month participation in World War One. From April 1917 to January 1922 is not five years. It was a boom and bust. In all of American history little supports this time as economically and socially significant, except war and peace their after effects and the advent of Prohibition. 

What were the United States like? It is a short book; Grant does not explain. He mentions 12 Regional Banks of the Federal Reserve, and in a few passages notes that interest rates vary among the Regions. Who knew that interest rates might vary that much, a half point or more, especially today when a decision is made centrally and that’s it. 

Grant’s book is written like many history books about economics, incidences which were separated by time and place. Each incident is not dispositive, and collectively it is difficult to know the interconnections, if there were any: Each seems power fading, misfortune and no loss in the departure. 

The only national effect was in the markets, where the stock market fell, commodities markets fell, real estate prices fell – all observable by some sort of national statistic.

The biggest historical fallacy in Grant’s book is his recounting, without correcting, Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury for Warren Harding and Coolidge. Mellon was a big fan of Alexander Hamilton because Mellon mistakingly believed (as does Grant) that Hamilton was a small government and smaller debt person. FALSE! Hamilton was a BIG DEBT, FAT GOVERNMENT MAN. While Secretary of the Treasury and until 1803 Hamilton tried to weaken the Constitution (using, inter alia, the Alien and Sedition Acts); he supported a monarchial government and he proposed war with France. Mellon and Grant should read history, especially Grant who wrote John Adams: Party of One. Apparently Grant does not know that Adams said Hamilton was of the British Faction, which outraged the former Treasury Secretary.

Mentioning Mellon and Hamilton together detracts from anything Mellon did on his own, in response to events and circumstances before him. Mellon was not Hamilton’s clone. He was more akin to Jefferson and Madison’s Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin.  

THE FORGOTTEN DEPRESSION indicates how loose was national sentiment and communication. Something might happen in New York City and only be known in Montana two weeks later. Indeed, communications into the exchanges and markets were weak and inadequate. The experience of there being too many market orders and not enough people to process them was not realized until October 1929. Nothing in the country seemed connected. Entertainment was a nationalizing and unifying force, but little mentioned in the text. Automobiles and roads were just beginning. Dwight Eisenhower’s cross-country trip in the Twenties gave him the experience to propose the Interstate Highway System, begun when he was President. 

It was a disjointed United States. Many points are raised but not well put. Despite the change within America the experience that the people may do something without the government is a message that may be discerned, not fully or well, from this history. 

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MOBY DICK – A POLITICAL NOVEL

Herman Melville

Nobody thinks Moby Dick is a book about politics flowing from the economic and sociological forces of its times. But it is. Heretofore, the focus of the novel is directed to make it seem more daunting, embedded within the Nineteenth Century. WRONG! Its style is pure Nineteenth Century; characters, descriptions and advancement of the theme reek of that century’s style and is long – L-O-N-G – how many more words can be used to say what should be said in five words 

It is easier if the reader approaches the novel knowing what it is about. Read for that and sense all else, which is frequently covered in Cliff Notes.Those summaries and analyses overlook the significance of Melville’s story. And overall, Joseph Conrad puts forth better stories of the sea than Herman.

The nineteenth century is not a reason not to read Moby Dick. It is invaluable today because it is very current. Readers can determinate that if they know what metaphors and allegories are. Aids may be found. Copious amounts of liquor help the mind. Any native strong drink from sea-faring nations – Dutch, British, Japanese and American  – can produce the will and courage to get through the next chapter.

Without some comprehension, understanding and knowledge of this novel, every American writer experiences a hole, a gap, and something major missing. It was published a year before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which as a political sweep was also that author’s best book. Both authors wrote other books later but none was as good. Few reviewers look at the primary political theme of Moby Dick, but they ponder literary devices to interpret part of the gross writing. There is nothing metaphysical about this book, not abiding the predominant hodge-podge prized by Emerson, Hawthorne and others from New England, pursuing philosophies of reveries leading to nothing. Disregard all that. None of that is in Melville’s mind or writing.

In its Nineteenth Century style a bit of dialogue tells what the writing is about. In the last chapter (135), Captain Ahab says about his ship, having been rammed and sunk by the whale: “The ship! A hearse! – the second hearse!” cried Ahab from the boat, “it’s wood could only be American.” Truer words were never spoken (only to the reader because other characters in the story could not hear them). Most reviewers like Howard Mumford Jones, reportedly an American intellectual, did not notice this line. He asked wandering questions about Ahab’s personality traits, his psyche, his psychosis, his moods, behaviors and outrages. Arab did this; Ahab did that. Write a 20 page analysis. Or perhaps Harman Melville, himself, never wrote a novel.

Moby Dick is a novel, an allegory, about what? The United States of America. Melville was writing while observing what was happening within the country: Contentious, divisive times when men were trying to attract other men to their points of view by parsing ideas and demanding agreement: There were upcoming and different rules of civility. Next came the election which brought the Southern Whig, Zachary Taylor to the White House, the admission of California as a state with the Compromise of 1850, and a tougher Fugitive Slave Law. All unsettled and divided the nation. 

In the story of the novel, who is who? What is what? The ship is the American nation. The crew is the South – Ahab may as well be a high-strung, fire-eating, slave-owning Southerner like John C. Calhoun. Sperm whales including the white whale are the North.

Reading the novel from this viewpoint makes it accessible and understandable. It removes from the process much that Cliff Notes has to add. I am not wholly critical of Cliff Notes. They’ve done their best, considering it appears written by know-all academians, who don’t explain much. That’s how academians earn their money and demonstrate their value: Tell of obscure references to Greek mythology, unconnected passages from the Bible, but omit and overlook analyses to pertinent facts and sources and neglect structure, characters and setting.

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell its size for 30 plus men. There is no hope, except that Ahab spews, mostly about greed, money to be made for finding and killing the white whale.

How is the society on the ship? A novelist who puts 30-35 men on  a ship does more than describe a little society, offer a few comments and show little interaction except as a gross group. So there is no crew eating dinner together, socializing, boasting, bantering, moping, complaining about the food, the weather or anything, There seems no camaraderie in a book of 300,000 words. Social and economic rules seem set, and those personages, despite their race (harpooners are men of color, irony anticipated because they are invaluable members of the crew). This is a strict feudal society where every person has his place and can not shift his status. Down, is the usual way toward death.

None of that is important to Melville. WHY? It is irrelevant to the story as it reflects American society in the South.

The crew is a mixed-raced society, a favorite plaything like Pip, to be protected by Ahab, and offensive – the death of Parsee by the whale. But why should Queequeg, Ismael’s best friend, disappear for chapters. And Ahab only realizes what is at stake in the last pages of the novel. 

Sperm whales are the most dangerous creatures in the ocean. (Chapters 32) Whale lore reenforces this impression (Chapter 41, 45) Yet sperm whales are intelligent, mystical (Chapter 80) and silent (Chapter 79).  

The whales are like the force and influence of the North, a fact that Starbuck cries to Ahab on the Third Day of the chase (for readers only, not character to character); “Oh Ahab,” cried Starbuck, “not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou that madly seekest him.” (chapter 135)

Ahab is the captain with noone to challenge him, save Starbuck. (Chapter 36, 123) Ahab derives authority from the owners and their “practical world.” “This world pays dividends.” (Chapter 109) regardless of Ahab’s state of mind. (Chapter 41)

Ahab maneuvers and works the crew and officers (Chapter 41, 46: Ahab managing the men, “every minute atmospheric influence…for his crew to be subject to.”) Demanding an oath to hunt the White Whale (Chapter 119) Ahab eventually tells the crew the whale will return on the third day, like a resurrection when the whale will be killed. (Let us kill Jesus Christ): “Aye men he’ll rise once more – but only to spout his last.” (Chapter 134) Payment is promised early on in the novel with the doubloon (Chapter 36) and later for a larger prize for one man, and for all the men.(Chapter 134)  

What is Ahab’s mind? Ahab “never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. …Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that.”(Chapter 135) Ahab believes himself acting for powers beyond himself: “What  is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing it is; what cozening, middle lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings; I so keep pushing, and crowding and jamming myself on all the time; reckless making me read to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who that lifts this arm? But it the great to move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single start can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does the beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.”…”Where do murderers go man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?” (Chapter 132)  Indeed, Ahab knows he is demented and is leading the weak: “Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedeviling so man others.” (Chapter 71)

And who are the men? What is the crew? “…the meanest mariners, renegades and castaways” (Chapter 26). “The savage crew…all sailors…are…capricious and unreliable – they live in varying outer weather, and they inhale its fickleness.”(Chapter 46) “I stood at the helm…and I better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continued sight of the fiend shapes before me…” (Chapter 96)

And who are the officers? “the incompetence of men unaired virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

Madness does not stop Ahab from one precaution, leaving Starbuck on the ship during the final hunts (Chapters 130, 132) Indeed, having gone too far, Ahab is in a boat, and he realizes the ship is in jeopardy. He sings, “…I see: the ship! Dash on, my men! Will ye not save my ship?”

(Chapter 135; note reference to wood for a coffin being American, Chapter 117.) The crew looks – each has been described – and fears all is lost: “For an instant, the tranced boat’s crew stood still; then turned. “This ship? Great God, where is the ship?” (Chapter 135)

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell of it, but there is no hope except those fomenting from the spews of Ahab. The presence of charity is absent. Faith comes from Ahab.

Being a mixed society brings forward playthings, a favorite like Pip who is killed; the death of Parsee, the weapon maker and a fawner over Ahab and his quest during the hunt for the white whale. But why does Queequeg disappear for chapters?

When he was young and at sea, Melville in his life led or joined a mutiny against the ship’s captain. He was well-versed in ship’s rules of discipline and the authority of the officers. He knew of the independence of sailors and their edginess. In Moby Dick, the allegory, Melville avoided freewheeling ways of New England sailors, many of whom had educations. In the novel the sailors are ignorant and followers; they came from somewhere else. It is unlike the Rachel (ship in the novel) whose Captain has taken two sons on his voyage; it is assumed sailors had  educations. Moby Dick describes the sorts of sailors, but they were unusual. In the allegory, it could be expected. Southern society was narrow and hierarchical. Every person, every job, each presented status and every man was set apart in relation to other employments, reputation and status. Rabble never mixed with yeomen, or higher ups, persons in professions or wealthy. Likewise aboard ship, the “crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

It was a Northern view of Southern society and culture. Hierarchy of planation owners, the wealthy and well-positioned plus resort to any invention from history, fantasy or myth – medieval ways, customs and traditions. Accordingly, Melville freely employs words of status indicating medieval rules and actions: Knights and Squires (Chapters 26, 27) The special Captain’s Table (like Arthur’s) for preferred and valuable shipmates (Chapter 34) Glories of whaling “the knightly days of our professional” (Chapter 82) Noble harpooners. St. George. (Chapter 82) The final chapter against the white whale: noble, heroic, joust, tilting, run it through.

Southerners were looking to medieval times, accepting cues from past deeds and behaviors, It made living life easier with a predictable, structured society. Likewise, having a whale boat crew be compliant to the Captain is easily understood. The Captain’ status was knowledge and authority, not insanity: Follow and trust him! A generation later Mark Twain observed that Sir Walter Scott and his novels highlighting medieval traditions had caused the American Civil War. While not completely agreeing, Clement Eaton, The Old South. devoted an Appendix to analyze Twain’s comment: The influence of Scott’s writing about medieval times and tales on Southern society. Clement Eaton might also have also included Herman Melville and other northern authors.

The sense of looking at every aspect of the whale is a disassembling of the North, and that is not good for the crew [or the South]. In many ways Southerners disliked and were disgusted by Northern Culture and Society – they did not mind a Northerner writing Dixie in 1857. But Southerners clung to their ways and fantasies to the end. In February 1865 Abraham Lincoln met three Commissioners from the Confederacy. Having nearly won the Civil War militarily, Lincoln asked what they could all do to make peace immediately. No deal – the Southerner Commissioners  offered: Two countries, or let the South be as before the fighting, and preservation of slavery. Within the confines of Southern society Southerners had to make a way out of custom and tradition superimposed by medieval examples. Southerners never did. If hierarchy did not keep persons to their place and status, then violence would. Southerners knew no other way to live but to promote a fantastical world and pursue its life. 

So it was with Ahab and the whale. “Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with  him, not only his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations… Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them [devils}; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale; he pitted himself; all mutilated against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonizes of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.” (Chapter 41)

Like Ahab who had transferred his focus from himself to the whale, the South lost its ability for self-reflection and analysis. It focused on the North in incomprehensible hatred. This stubbornness, an unwillingness to look at reality and go forward, the preference for the past, whatever it may be. Whales, Ahab, the South, Southerners – all had forsaken the lesson of Jonah (Chapter 9) “…on what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet!…” What was that  “bidding….To preach the Truth in the face of Falsehood! That was it!”

Ahab and the crew are impervious to Truth. They cannot observe and see. If they hear, they do not listen. If they touch, they don’t feel. If they smell, they do not detect. Moby Dick  is a fantastical story based upon an actual whaling event. But as an author, Melville had observed, had listened, had felt and had sensed what was happening in the South: Use a whaling ship – whaling was primarily an American occupation (Chapter 101). Melville reported what was present and advanced all the facts, using the ship, crew, officers and whales as metaphors in a grand allegory. Moby Dick a story of sociology and politics. Melville’s conclusion is the general theme of the novel, the consummate power of hate, blind and unaware and irrationally inhuman. The situation of Moby Dick was not present on most whaling ships, but it was rampant in the Ante-bellum South. Melville concluded that hate would destroy the United States. 

Indeed, a final paragraph of the novel has the sinking of the ship, with a sea hawk [like an eagle] inadvertently nailed to the top mast: “…Ahab…like Satan, would not sink to hell till she [the ship] had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.” (Chapter 135)

A TRAVELLER IN ROMANCE

John Whitehead, Editor

This collection of Somerset Maugham’s writings presents a mixed bag, in quality of writing and acuteness of observations. Short stories are included, the best being The Buried Talent: A woman with a promising career in the arts choses a quiet life of family and security in a tucked away backwater. Twenty years later she remeets the narrator who knew of her talents. Those urges return in a rush. The retired artist regrets.

That engaging story accompanies observations, not developed in a serious way: The lack of art – literature, painting and music – in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union. It is true for any totalitarian system, in the past and today which represses and prohibits artistic freedom, preferring authentic replications rather than new expressions. Also mentioned but left mostly undeveloped is the issue of style for an author. Maugham is correct that each story and every set of characters in a new novel should have their own style. No use writing about New England in the same style or manner as one might an Arizona story. Likewise, writing history and in other disciplines require the writer to create a style suitable to the research and story.

 Where Traveller falls down are pieces where Maugham is delivering criticism, is writing praise about a contemporary (Neal Coward) or is discussing people he has met or known. This tedious flabbiness is longer than half the volume. 

However, the portions about writing are fun to read and need to be remembered: 

One day Alfred de Musset went to see his friend George Sand, then a famous 

novelist, and as women will, she kept him waiting. To pass the time he took  

up one of her books and to amuse himself he crossed out all the superfluous 

adjectives he came across. History relates that, when the lady came in and 

saw how he was occupied, she did not receive him with her usual show of

affection. There are few English writers whose prose could not be bettered

by the same drastic process. (p. 209-210)

 

Also Maugham has a jaundiced view of Henry James:

His influence on English fiction was enormous. Henry James never came to

grips with life. He was afraid of it, and knew it only as you might know what 

is going on in a busy street by looking out of an upstairs window. The problems

that he examined with such scrupulous integrity were little social problems of 

no real significance. But such was his skill, such was his charm and such was 

the power of his personality that he led many of the better writers in England

to turn their eyes away from the needs, passions and immortal longings of

humanity to dwell on the trivial curiosities of sheltered gentlefolk.(p.209)   

AN AFFRONT TO ENGLISH

The “Russian” Civil Wars 1916-1926, Jonathan D. Smele, presents a fascinating subject. But it seems written in a language that has endings for specific congregations for its verbs and with many declensions for its nouns – languages like Russian, German or Latin.

The strength of English prose is verbs, actions directing nouns. Most well-written books and articles recognize this rule. Verbs are close to subjects; no one ever loses sight of that combination, or the purpose for which noun-verb was used. If a writer likes to discourse in a sentence, go on and on for 70 – 100 -120 words, an English sentence better have parallel structures. Logic dictates it. (It’s not the logic of the language, but logic – premise, minor premise, conclusion)

In Mein Kampf the translator observes,  

…mixed metaphors are just as mixed in one language as in the other

other. A lapse of grammatical logic can occur in any language. An

English language Title might be just a redundant as the German one;…

No non-German would write such labyrinthine sentences…I have

cut down the sentences only when the length made them unintelligible

in English…

The substantives are a different matter. Here it has been necessary

to make greater changes, because in many cases the use of verbal nouns

is singly incompatible with the English language…Hitler’s piling up of

substances is bad German, but the fact remains that numerous German

writers do the same thing, while this failing is almost non-existence in

English.

…much German prose, some not of thee worst quality, around in…

useless little words: wohl, ja, denn, schon, noch, eigentlich, etc. Hitler’s

sentences are …clogged with particles, not to mention such private

favorites as besonders and damals which he strews about…needlessly.

His particles have a certain political significance, for in the petit

bourgeois mind they are, like carved furniture, an embodiment of the

home-grown German virtues, while their avoidance is viewed with

suspicion as foreign and modernistic.

[Translator’s note, Mein Kampf, Boston, Mariner Books, 1999, p. xi-xii.]

Parenthetical words and terms at the beginning of an English sentence, or at the end, or sometimes the middle indicated by the use of parentheses indicate a lack of writing skills.

Let’s observe one demonstration: 

On the contrary, the events that took place in the period from

around  1989 to 1991 and their volcanic reverberations across

the former Soviet space have very greatly enriched, necessitated

and energized historical investigations, as they have made it

unchallengeably clear that any approach to the “Russian” Civil

War that places the Red and White struggle within the matrix too

starkly in its foreground is missing the point.

[Smele, The “Russian” Civil War 1916-1926, N.Y. Oxford, 2017, p. 6]

There’s a lot to chew on in that one sentence. The following sentences present a lot of gristle and fat, also. I noted this sentence was in the INTRODUCTION, and believed getting to Chapter One would break up and provide good sailing.

Alas, the first sentence of Chapter One reads, 

Despite what has already been noted above, the is also a very

strong case for the dating of outbreak of the “Russian” Civil War

on the extensive anti-Russian uprising in Central Asia during the

summer of 1916, as a large number of the tsar’s Muslim subjects,

in a rebellion that anticipated the Basmachi movement, resisted

the forced mobilization into labor battalions to serve the Russian

army and the armaments industry (although this was the most

overt assault on local sensibilities that had been repeatedly

affronted by the waves of non-Muslim settlers that had been moving

into the region for a half century.)

[IBID, p. 17.]

Note the hesitancy to tell anything in the text which is further emphasized by the third sentence of that same paragraph beginning with Moreover and goes on for 100 words or so; the last sentence begins with Thus. Blue pencil it all! Also note, the book defines the Busmachi movement as a term for Muslim bandits during Soviet times. This sentence attempts to expand and explain incidences in the nineteenth century as well as those occurring, perhaps at late as 1980.

The usual manner of writing history or even fiction is for a non-writer to write chronologically. This writer decides to put a flashback into parentheses while using Soviet terms indicating more recent events. The outcome is a whole series of unexplained events of one hundred fifty years.

I wanted to learn of the “Russian” Civil War, its battles, the philosophy, its politics, and how its effects might survive today. But reading such diversion makes the story overly complicated, suggests portions of that war arose from local circumstances, and demonstrates the historian does not have a the big picture in his head clearly. He could not communicate much. The writing reminded me of translator’s note from Mein Kampf.  

P.S. One way Hermann Boell was taught to write was editing Mein Kampf, editing to a third of its length. The text was readable. I believe The “Russian” Civil War could benefit from the same treatment and be vastly improved.

EMPIRE OF LIBERTY

By Gordon Wood

The chapters and passages in Empire of Liberty about unpolitical, business affairs, social events and participating individuals are the strongest: Education, the arts, society, sociologies and cultural anthropologies of business, and the general thinking of Americans and their temper and mood. On that score the book is invaluable.

Exposition about the government, politics and the men is flawed. I observe in one Amazon criticism, the commentator states the book is episodic. To describe business and social activities, arrangements and the men by episode can make an accurate presentation. The actions and the individuals are usually isolated from one another.

Telling of national politics and the men in episodes tells nothing, no story and little about the men and the issues that were changing. This approach weakens Empire. These men – Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington and others – knew one another well. They acted and reacted, playing games against strengths and weaknesses of the others. Madison excelled at the game playing. He set things up, stepped back and watched.

He may have been the Father of the Constitution, and the Father of American Politics and the Father of the Bill of Rights, but for eight years 1815-1823, there was little or no political opposition in the United States. That was Madison.

All historians, political scientists and others rely on Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention, 1787. Yet in 1789 and after when Madison was in Congress guiding Revenue Bills though, establishing Cabinet offices, advancing the Bill of Rights, setting the Capital site, working on the debt, Empire inaccurately describes the proceedings and a culminating result in the Grand Compromise of 1790. No one believes or relies on Madison. Empire is remiss in this omission.

Consider corporations [Charters of Incorporation], an issue of 1791. The American colonial experience was the king’s granting charters, thereby setting up monopolies. The East India Company of Tea Party fame was one such entity. Americans disfavored corporations. When Madison proposed during the Constitutional Convention to give Congress the power to grant charters(1787), it was rejected.

Empire presents the impression that charters of incorporation were well know and working in America. Its view is anachronistic, using law and facts of the 1880s. Two excellent attorneys/justices of the early Republic, James Wilson and John Marshall, dismissed the business form in the 1790s. A real go at incorporation was made by John Jacob Astor in 1807; it does not resemble anything presented in Empire. (See David Lavender, Fist In The Wilderness) [Note Abraham Lincoln studying law in Illinois during the 1830s found the corporate form new and interesting,
(David Herbert Donald, Lincoln)]

Note in Empire the text relies on the Dartmouth case (1819), 30 years after the first Congress. Chief Justice Marshall wrote the opinion but did not discuss the power to incorporate, or who had it. He interpreted the law, documents and contracts, and the Constitution.

Other errors in Empire suggest the author did not research and write the text, or he was exceedingly careless.
Page 446. George Mason, according to Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention, 1787, said almost nothing during debates. He did not favor the Council of Revision; James Wilson and James Madison vociferously supported this issue and suffered repeated defeats. George Mason wanted a Council of the Executive like the one existing in Virginia, to control the Governor. Mason had written the Virginia Constitution. At the national level such a Council would control the President.
After William Haller’s books about Puritanism, no historian should ever call anyone in New England a Calvinist, a European term. In Empire the text does. However, the text reveals Presbyterians and Independents (Cromwell’s sect) in the Dartmouth case. (Pilgrims were separatists.) Almost everyone else in the settling of New England was an Independent, to become known in the eighteenth century as Congregationalists.
Misquotes misrepresent Jefferson and Madison’s opinions of the Constitution. Empire uses early quotes. Both men evolved in their thinking, leaving earlier opinions, like Hamilton’s statements, historical additives and eccentricities. Indeed both Jefferson and Madison were willing to use precedent to sidestep Constitutional rigors. During the legislation and ratification of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), Rufus King wondered how they could change governmental power defined by the Constitution by using the Treaty Power. Jefferson and Madison merely used the same processes employed by the Federalists when they passed the Jay Treaty(1796). The same procedures were used at the end of the Mexican-American war (1848).
John Taylor of Caroline County (Virginia) is misrepresented. He is hardly the philosopher of the Republican Party. He had a father figure who lived close by, Edmund Pendleton, perhaps the best judge of the eighteenth century English world. Pendleton was known, respected and loved by everyone – Henry, Washington, Jefferson, Marshall. He was a confident of Madison’s. How prominent was Pendleton, other than being on Virginia’s highest court? In 1765 after it was discovered that John Robinson, Speaker of the House of Burgesses, had embezzled public funds, mostly giving the money to prominent Virginians, Pendleton undertook the task of getting the money back. By 1803 the job was not complete; he died. He left the work to John Marshall. In 1798 Pendleton published in newspapers a letter critical of President Adams, his administration and the Federalists. No one came down the lane to arrest Pendleton for violation of the Sedition Act. This is all to say that at best, John Taylor was a puppet for the men (Pendleton and Madison) pulling the strings in the backroom.
It is anachronistic as Empire does to view “null and void” as Southerners did in 1830-1865. Jefferson’s draft of the Kentucky Resolutions, originally intended for North Carolina, was greatly changed by Wilson Cary Nicholas and the Kentucky Legislature. Jefferson proposed Committees of Correspondence in each state to communicate and to react to the Alien and Sedition Acts. (1798) What did Jefferson mean by “null and void?” He likely relied on the same definition used by that infamous radical/revolutionary, James Otis of Massachusetts (1764): “As the Acts of Parliament, An Act against the Constitution is void: An Act against natural Equity, it should be void; and if the Act of Parliament be made, in the very words of the Petition, it should be void.” The word, null, has no legal impact without its mate void.
P. 184. Empire praises Hamilton’s Pacificus essays, but they are difficult to defend. Facts deleted from Empire manifest Madison’s response (Helvidius Essays) destroyed Hamilton’s essays by citing The Federalist Papers, written by Hamilton, against assertions Pacificus.

Other issues of error and misrepresentation appear in Empire. One chapter is a mundane discussion of points of Judicial Review, a power given the Courts by the sovereign. In the 1780s Massachusetts abolished slavery within the state by Judicial Review (opinion and judgment). In Virginia the Court of Blair, Wythe, and Pendleton accepted the power; it was taught in law courses. John Marshall grew up knowing it, read the Constitution and participated in the Virginia Convention (1788). He further discussed all legal issues with Madison and Pendleton and others and was influenced long before the opinions of Marbury vs. Madison and other cases.

Err in Empire of Liberty distorts the politics and the economics, and a complete view of the 1789-1815 period; each wrong has not been set forth. In Empire men of the Early Republic are unknown to one another. Legislation and proposals are isolated and presented as surprises, oddities and ineffective efforts to accomplish their purposes. No man was correct all the time, but the sense that Hamilton is correct, is wrong. e.g. He was instrumental in his party’s loss in the election of 1800, once again those facts being omitted from Empire.

A LONELY LIFE

Betty Davis 1962

This autobiography is surprising for its unparalleled excellence and seeming honesty. Davis has represented her life in a well-written little book. She speaks well of everyone she worked with in film including industry rivals, Joan Crawford. She passes on providing long comments regarding Barbara Stanwyck.

Of course, the book tells about acting: stage, screen (silent – talkies), modeling, fame, being a glamour puss. Davis knew she was not the typical 1930s actress – beautiful, lanky or seductive but she was blonde. Davis suggests and I believe she rose on talent and merit alone. The more involved the part the better the performance – two years toward the beginning of her career, 1936 and 1939 Davis received Oscars for best actress. She was dedicated to excellent projects and to excellent performances. She ran into the buzz of the Warner Brothers demanding she do mediocre projects. That legal dispute ended in London before World War Two began for the Americans. Olivia de Havilland broke the studios’ system.

Her movies of the Forties and the early Fifties all had substance for her. She never mentions a western, but early on Bette Davis from New England was typecast as the Southern girl and the Southern lady. Motherhood, marriage and living reduced the number of films she was in. She was not always in Los Angeles but lived on the East Cost. She tells trying to be the best mother, when she wasn’t always around, her understanding of intimacy from work and from husbands, and the shortcomings in the men she encountered and those she eventually married. [The first was always at home but did not work at home and little out of it; the second died young; Gary Merrill, fellow actor, had work but did not like the comforts of a joint home.]

Bette Davis had help with children and with the house; she had capable assistants. Davis expresses gratitude. But she felt isolated from exchanging intimacy, touching, sensing another human being, and caring in full devotion. [Note in the text Davis describes these attributes as handled by a performing actor, but says they are not transitioned to or that acting did not fulfill the needs of a human being living in reality.] This distinction between acting and reality is how she conveys she was lonely, and hence the adjective in the book’s title.

Two remarkable chapters in the book are the first and the last. The first doubts whether anyone, including herself, should write an autobiography. Davis beats out the words in spades. The last chapter deals with the status of a successful woman, running into unsuitable men, earning more than most people, and handling fame, professionalism, being alone, and where all that leaves the woman: Her state of mind. It is an excellent description of explaining the world that might become more matriarchal. Sex alone changes nothing. Couples should be mates and their efforts should complement one another.

This is an excellent autobiography; it benefits from being short and well-thought out. Also, this autobiography became the first feminist tome of the modern era. The Feminine Mystique was published two years later in 1964. If Betty Friedan believed it was the problem that has no name, she was unacquainted with Bette Davis’ Autobiography.

MAIN STREET

Sinclair Lewis

This worthwhile book has some flaws but many remembrances of times when human beings relied on one another. Trustworthiness, honesty and reliability had different meanings and importance in society. When human beings were apart, there was no communication. Telephone and telegraph lines could send messages but most news was one, two or three days late. Gossip slanted the news in town.

The novels establishes this complete setting in spades for a town, Gopher Prairie (3500 population). Town folk have nothing but one another to pick on and gossip about. The heroine, Carol, tries to remain apart from the settlement and its people, airing attitudes which town people attribute to her being city born and bred. Carol is married to home town boy who is the best doctor around.

Almost every limitation and opinion Carol has about the town is substantiated and correct. Her reactions to simplicities, ignorance and misguided loyalties are mostly justified. She is not always courteous, and not political. The Doctor’s position and stature protects his wife from her complete vilification. She wants the town and its people to improve – beautify the place, toss around a little architecture, and the citizens to uplift themselves with social and intellectual activities and conversation. She expresses much enthusiasm for her outside thinking.

There is a cheat in the story. Carol is not the woman she believes herself to be; she has enthusiasm but no skill, no talent and no education. She puts together a group for a play, but she has never directed; she’s never acted. She complains about hard-nosed church goers (as though going to church is the sin itself), yet she doesn’t go to church much herself. Her education is in librarianship but her efforts are a void there. Carol is not unlike any woman who complains about a new environment but lacks training and experience in psychology, sociology, history, politics rudimentary business, or any other practical discipline to do anything about the new place.

Carol wants people to be receptive to words, visions, poetry and music – anything to shift people from their stupor. What Carol faces is expressed well by Miles Franklin in My Brilliant Career: Sybil is confronted by her mother and the daughter responds (paraphrased), I wish I were born low with common desires. That I never learned. I never asked why. If I were born and lived like an idiot, I would never fear for lack of company. I would be among my people. Sybil’s mother believes her daughter is going to hell.

That attitude and adjusting to it is what Main Street is about. And Sinclair Lewis has Carol get through various scenarios: Attractive, artistic young man arrives in town; Carol befriends him. Town folk believe their love is hot and heavy. Nope, but after 150-200 pages, young man leaves. Carol later learns he is in New York City not Minneapolis; he’s changed his name and is acting in movies. An enlightened school teacher, fresh from the city, goes to a dance with a town ne’er do well, the son of a hard-nosed church goer. The son buys liquor and tries to assault the teacher repeatedly; she beats him off, repeatedly. The mother accuses teacher of corrupting her son. Everyone in town knows it’s a lie, but the teacher resigns rather than being fired. Carol loses a friend. She loses another friend when death takes his family.

Carol leaves Gopher Prairie and ends up during World War One working in Washington D.C. The War ends; she works for Women’s Suffrage. She has her son with her. Her husband at home remains steadfast and loyal to the marriage. Carol likes the work and independence, but there is a true grind: True work and effort result in uncertain accomplishments and outcomes. Life and work in Gopher Prairie and Washington D.C. are not that much different.

An older woman in the leadership of the Suffrage Movement befriends Carol, after meeting the husband. She gives the best advice about work in the public sector that I remember reading. The older woman believed Carol, a fine advocate and valued worker, does not have the correct mindset to ultimately succeed: Carol is sensitive and worried about criticism or strong feelings directed toward her. The woman says (paraphrased) You cannot be sensitive. Most people don’t know about the work I’m doing and whether it truly affects them at all, if they know about my efforts. When they hear of successful outcomes, they grumble. The older woman makes Gopher Prairie palpable. Indeed, when Carol returns home a few changes have been made and more are planned.

The power and force of the writing of conclusionary confrontations between characters (young man – Carol:Doctor) (school teacher: Carol:Prominent town’s people) (Suffrage: Carol:Older woman) surpass the issues of 1916-1920. Some of those events and words happen and are uttered today. Sinclair Lewis earned his money when he wrote and published Main Street.

AN IRISH SURVEY

MODERN IRELAND
by R. F. Foster

This books tells the politics, economics and general status of Irish society through the seventeenth century in an efficient and an excellent telling.

The author leaves politics and goes onto literature, beginning with Irishmen being in London, Swift to Sheridan. It is an impressive production of words, few about Ireland with little Irish influence. Most of those words were directed toward Britains, but they did not affect British policy toward Ireland. The author cites a source which he says is the best book on the literary production and subjects.

Next came chapters of cultural/sociological politics which is interesting. The British parliament made serfs of the Irish which the Americans no doubt knew and revolted beginning in 1765. British law had reduced Irish ownership to five percent of that island by the middle of the Eighteenth Century. There was a permanent underclass for the British to work on.

On the underclass were British owned estates of Lords, noblemen, genre and businessmen. Many estates were deeply in debt and administered separately from properties elsewhere: no profit, no investment, no improvement. For decades estates sat.

For a tedious, dull two centuries of life were a waste of time when rulers did nothing except quibble, harrumph and drink to the glories of the British Empire until the Twentieth Century. The British Parliament was talking about Home Rule for Ireland throughout July 1914. The death of the Austrian Archduke was not a significant event. The British prime minister liked long weekends when he could fish. British politicians were as petty as they could be. Forced into World War I unaware, the British left Irish issues to be unresolved.

The Irish had another way. By 1921 they had negotiated Free State borders with Northern Ireland and Britain.

This survey books tells all, but not in complete detail. It may suffer from flaws found in most surveys, but overall this book is an excellent place to begin studying Irish history.

THE NEXT OPERA

Cinderella & Company, by Manuela Hoelterhoff

This excellent book about the inside of the world of opera is amusing, well-written, to the point and short.

Initially, an impression comes to the reader. The book is a story of antedotes – the opera in the 1990s and in the past – but there is more.

A growing realization comes that the author has written the outline for a new opera libretto: Singers of all sexs, shapes and ages are themselves; most have great talent but do not want to sing. Every singer in a libretto based upon this book can sing a few bars from a famous aria and quit, as if to say, “see I know the whole thing.” In the songs of the opera singers sound out their excuses, reasons, or disgust why they will not perform. NOTE: Sets for the new opera cost zero because everything is backstage. It is all in this book including the ending where some singers mature and otherwise grow up, getting over their juvenile, wanton ways in order to return to the silly world of the opera stage. There’s a lot of money at stake.

Read this book to be entertained, or to write a libretto.

SHERLOCK – Season 4

This series has begun the slide into fantasy and surrealism. Points are blocked out and seemingly follow one another. But do the blocks make sense? A headline from Favorite Internet Site leads to Sherlock and Watson to follow a line; a note discarded in the Underground on the other side of London stirs them in other directions.

The cartoonish coincidences of blocks mock the whole Sherlock idiom. Most of Season 4 is taken up with the future crimes predicted by past bad guys, James Moriety, killed in Season 2. Note that a few years or more have passed by Season 4. The dead man has joined forces with Sherlock Holmes brilliant sister, who supposedly has not been released from confinement for 30 years.

According to the cartoon story she knows everything. She’s more brilliant than either of her brothers, although she is severely mentally retarded. She keeps that handicap in check while having her brothers jump through her hoops. Episode three of Season 4 is not good science fiction, science fantasy, detective fantasy, etc. It’s more like a pseudo-psycho story with gaps, and the audience is to fill in the blanks while trying to follow improbable actions: A cross between Survivor and Alien [the original].

The Sherlock Holmes idiom presents a man who is different from other human beings. Note that Sherlock is not in a different setting. In the settling that is known to the audience, what delights readers and viewers is Sherlock’s observations of the unknown and unnoticed. When Sherlock pursues criminals, he does not leave reality, the setting the audience is in. When using fantasy leaps, grand coincidences and changes of setting in SHERLOCK – Season 4, the Sherlock idiom is lost. [Robert Downey Jr. movies came close but did not cross this line.]

What the audiences and the writers lose? Nobody cares about Sherlock or how the crimes are solved. Most of the crimes are obvious {cereal (serial) killer}and solvable by the cops; Sherlock isn’t needed. SHERLOCK – Season 4 lost its strongest human being when Mary, John Watson’s wife, is unnecessarily killed. If the truth be known the original Terminator movie has more human beings in it (including Arnold) than SHERLOCK – Season 4.