Now is the Winter of Our

Discontent doesn’t seem to quite cut it.

Anyway, today is a media blackout for me, my heart has had enough. For this week.

What happens when you are reading two books concurrently: I started my evening with a chapter of “John Adams.” McCullough just totally goes off on Hamilton in ch. 10, like I think he has a personal vendetta? Unclear. Anyway, he freely uses the words “treachery”, “villainous”, “bastard”, “scheming” and so on — and not all of those were quotations! I’m starting to think the author is not fond of our first Treasury Secretary.

There was also a quote from Adams about the White House: “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” Welp. Henceforth, we are 0/2 on that score, John. Better luck next time. Hey, maybe it doesn’t have to be a man?

Anyway, after that I picked up the Theodore Roosevelt book, where TR is currently serving in the Harrison Administration of 1889. And whom should he befriend but Henry Adams, great-grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams. Hey I was just reading about those two!

Today I’m going to dress in my mourning attire and probably read, though I think I need a more diverting book than these bios of great or even average presidents.

Word Origins of the Day

verily
c.1300, from Middle English, verray “true, real”. Often misused by modern speakers as “very”, when its meaning is closer to “really.”

calumniate
1550s, from L. calumniatus, pp. of calumniari “to accuse falsely,” from calumnia “slander, false accusation”

provender
1306, “allowance paid each chapter member of a cathedral,” from Anglo-French provendir, Old French provendier, from Gallo-Romance *provenda, alt. (by influence of L. providere “supply”) from Low Latin meaning “food, provisions, etc.” (esp. dry food for horses) is recorded from 1340.

quill
c.1400, “piece of reed or hollow stem,” probably related to Middle High German kil “quill,” from Low Ger. quiele, of unknown origin. Meaning “pens made from quills” is from 1550s; that of “porcupine spines” is from c.1600.

Artifacts for sale

I just watched a live Sotheby’s auction in HD on my phone. Up on the block was a collection of letters and artifacts from the family of Alexander Hamilton. One particular item was a small coil of his hair, cut from his head after he died, then kept in a tiny round case like a makeup compact. It was auburn and gray. It sold for thirty thousand dollars.

When I tuned into the live stream, a letter from his sister-in-law Angelica was up for sale, climbing to a final price of fifty thousand dollars. I wondered what he might have thought, had he known as he put his quill to paper more than two hundred years ago, that these pages that he filled with his perfect script, would in the unimaginably distant future, be purchased for sums that would have erased all of his debts, and given his children a comfortable life. Humans, we are strange creatures.

Dear Theodosia

So last night I read a few of the letters Aaron Burr wrote to his adult daughter Theodosia in the summer of 1804, just after he had murdered Alexander Hamilton. He is still bitter, and of course is also in hiding/exile. He seems to believe that history will eventually vindicate him, and that the tales of widespread mourning are overstated. Oh and he also describes the woman he is trying to get into bed. These letters are to his daughter, btw. I’m sorry but Burr was a perv, and everyone knew it.

His memoirs are available for free on the Kindle, by the way. I downloaded it in the hopes of finding more of his hilarious diary entries, but no such luck so far. Here, he recounted the time he set himself on fire trying to light a candle with a gun:

I did go to bed at 10, promising myself a rich sleep. Lay two hours vigil; that cursed one single dish of tea! Note: My bed had undergone a thorough ablution and there were no bugs or insects. Got up and attempted to light candle, but in vain; had flint and matches but only some shreds of punk which would not catch. Recollected a gun which I had on my late journey; filled the pan with powder and was just going to flash it when it occurred that though I had not loaded it someone else might; tried and found in it a very heavy charge! What a fine alarm it would have made if I had fired! Then poured out some powder on a piece of paper, put the shreds of punk with it and after fifty essays succeeded in firing the powder ; but it being dark, had put more powder than intended; my shirt caught fire, the papers on my table caught fire, burnt my fingers to a blister (the left hand, fortunately); it seemed like a general conflagration. Succeeded, however, in lighting my candle and passed the night till 5 this morning in smoking, reading, and writing this.

That time he bought a coconut:

london, february 1, 1812. have spent 14 shillings and 6 pence magnificently, i.e., like an ass.

And of course, the time he passed by a bust of Hamilton, many years after the duel, and stopped to stroke the statue’s cheek, remarking, “There was the poetry.”

I mean, he was the worst.

Where We Lived

double chimney house

“Where We Lived” by Jack Larkin

I borrowed this book from the library a few months ago, in an effort to learn more about everyday life in 18th century America. It’s a incredibly fascinating coffee-table style book, with lots of photos from the Historic American Buildings Survey of the Library of Congress. The architecture of the time, naturally, mirrored the practical needs of the time. Central chimneys in colder places to heat the whole house. “Plain” houses where Quakers settled. Outdoor kitchens and porches in the South, where the climate was warmer. The whole chapter on the South was eye-opening, it described how the quality of life was much worse there — despite the fertile soil and warmer weather — because of slavery. The institution of slavery dragged everyone down with it except for the “1%”.

The homes and buildings of a people are wonderful anthropological artifacts. It’s fortunate someone made a record of these places in the early 20th century, before they were probably all bulldozed to create highways and housing developments.

Reading

Theodore Roosevelt used to read a book in a single day, so I feel like my challenge to finish four half-read books in two weeks isn’t so terribly insurmountable.

I’m about midway through: The Underground Railroad, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Dreams From My Father, and John Adams. Unfortunately I have like 400 pages remaining in two of those. But, if I can finish two of these, at least I am on track for my goal this year of reading at minimum twenty-four books.

This is a very good week to try to finish The Underground Railroad (a novel about slavery) and Dreams From My Father (a memoir written by President Barack Obama). Yes I will probably cry.

Today shall be the last dry and freezing day for a while, I see from the forecast, which promises a week ahead of rain and much warmer temperatures. Right now it’s 26 degrees and I am looking ahead at a day of meal-planning, shopping, and also reading.

I have lately picked up “John Adams” to read again. The first time I did was waaaay back in 2009 so as you can imagine I don’t remember a lot about it and at the time I did not have the fascination with that time period that I now do. Now that I have read several different perspectives, it’s interesting to see how one historian paints a picture totally differently from another. For example, while he was president, Adams and his wife were deeply prejudiced against Hamilton, for reasons personal and political (the quote in my title is from Abigail Adams, describing Alexander Hamilton’s eyes, which most people described as unusually captivating), so he is viewed through that lens in this particular biography — in contrast to the account described by Ron Chernow, which is of course very sympathetic to Hamilton and critical of the Adamses. It is all subjective, of course, and there is no “right answer.” None of us were there, after all. We take what we can get from fragments of mostly biased documents, and then put together as many facts as possible.

Oh and huge pet peeve lately, and one reason I decided to abandon Tumblr: people who project modern, contemporary morality and ideology on to people of the distant past. I really do not understand the logic in that. I suspect that those who engage in this the most are still quite young. At least I hope that’s their excuse.

Courage

I look forward to acts of courage this year by my fellow Americans, those of us who are decent, good, curious, and possessing integrity. I know there are many of us, but we just don’t SCREAM as loudly as the other side. It has ever been thus.

The acts of courage and integrity that would aid our people the most would come from those who call themselves “Republicans.” Unfortunately, their faction is in such a state of paralysis that it is party above country that they value. And that’s the truth.

I really don’t understand how the hell this happened. I am trying to care and want to save this country but I am starting to think maybe it’s a bit of a lost cause and that the spirit of ignorance, greed, fear, and dishonesty — which their side embraces! — will grow unchecked.

BUT THEN I remember — the good guys won the popular vote. And Hamilton could have saved us, but that didn’t happen, and for that, I’m sorry. We have to do better next time. We will.

My Christmas Presents

I read the Vowell one pretty quickly. The Washington bio is third in the queue right now, behind “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and “The Underground Railroad.” One of my aspirations for this year is to complete a minimum two books per month. I better get on it. This means reading at times other than bedtime.

On a related note, I am so proud to be a native of the state of Washington, for so many reasons.

The Musical and its Aftermath

Good morning. About six months ago, I finally satisfied a curiosity about the musical “Hamilton” which had been brewing for a little while, at last succumbing to the hype by purchasing the original soundtrack (I will probably never see it performed live in any Broadway-scale capacity, or if I do it will be a decade hence). I listened to it a few times, then daily, then all the time. Then I bought Chernow’s book.

I brought the book with me to my weekend getaway to Port Townsend in July, intending to start it there while on my vacation. My first night in my hotel room, I cracked open the 800-page biography. It grabbed me and didn’t let go. I finished it in exactly 30 days (bear in mind I have two daughters and not a ton of time to sit around reading). I read it so voraciously that its massive weight caused a strain in my wrist. And I got the paperback.

Anyway it’s been downhill from there. After finishing “Alexander Hamilton”, I read the book of his writings. Or most of it. Then I found the founders archives online. And so on and so forth. I am all in. I have a new passion and it has consumed me wholly.

The interesting part of all this is that while I still enjoy the musical of “Hamilton”, it has fallen to the wayside. I appreciate it for what it is, but I now understand that it’s only a jumping off point. I now understand that it is absolutely riddled with inaccuracies. I mean almost every song contains some kind of non-fact. I guess I get the reasons why this was done, but this play is being heavily consumed by kids, and I hope they know that a good history book will clear up the real story for them. I hope they use it the way I did, as a gateway into research.

The other thing that happened is that while my newfound interest started with Hamilton himself, it quickly spread to curiosity about early American life, the role of women in that world, and the many other people who were involved in the founding of this country. Like for instance, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. He loved this country so much that he came here illegally to join the Revolution and fight for free. Here he is hanging out at Mount Vernon with his surrogate father, George Washington.

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