I started reading a novel for my book club yesterday and already noticed no fewer than three errors that could have been easily corrected by a copy editor or proofreader. In a printed, bound book. What is this world coming to?

Of course, my habitual spotting of errors in print is more of a sickness on my part.

I just dragged the trash can to the street and was intoxicated by the fresh, wild smell of the cold air around me. The light outside is a sedate blue-gray, the sky concealed by formless sheets of clouds, the trees standing still and dark against it. I wished I could stay out there longer and breathe, but coffee awaited me.

Oh then I checked the weather and apparently this glorious air is today infused with high levels of tree pollen. Spring!


A small sample of the treasures I keep in a bin in the closet.

I am forever grateful that I lived during a time when writing letters was a normal, near-daily activity. Long distance phone calls were far, far more expensive than stamps. So we sent mail. I got to participate in a ritual that was similar to that of the people I’m reading about, who lived hundreds of years ago. It is now all but extinct. But this should give you an idea of the joy they still bring me.

I am also grateful I didn’t throw them away. They are curiosities now, and sadly, I do not recognize some of the names anymore. Yet I love them just the same.

Those PO boxes haven’t belonged to me in years; you won’t find me there.

Did you know

One of my favorite things about artist Charles Willson Peale is that he named his sons Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Rubens, and Titian. That takes guts.

He also painted this 18th c. portrait of … Hamilton?

Yeah I’m not sure who that is.

Especially charming

If ever you wanted to read the Historic Furnishings Report or the Historic Structure Report for the Hamilton Grange National Monument, please, feel free to download the linked giant PDFs. I’m warning you that they are scans of copies that were produced over thirty years ago, so.

But there is some interesting info. Did you know Hamilton spent $103 on a mirror? I mean that is a LOT of money in 1800. Make what you will of that. Perhaps explains a bit of his incredibly ironic debt problems.

You may also enjoy this inventory of a collection that was owned by a woman who parceled it out for sale back to the Grange (I think) in the 1920s. I think the price for that lock of hair may have been $250. It sold at auction earlier this year for $37,500.

Red Blend

Tried this at a tasting not long ago, then saw it was on sale. Had to buy two. It is really quite lovely. Many may not realize this, but Washington State produces some fantastic wine.

Maybe for my next historical project I will learn about not only when Americans began to cultivate wine grapes, but actually began producing high quality wine (in California, I am sure) that got a bit of respect. I recently read a book discussing the origins of wine; it started in ancient Greece and like so many other things, was co-opted by the Romans.

Extortion on the high seas

Something that gives me endless delight is the obvious pleasure historians take in their physical descriptions of Alexander Hamilton. Here is the latest one I have enjoyed:

His hair was a sandy, reddish strain of blond; his complexion pale, smooth, and prone to freckling. His eyes were gray-blue and bordered across the top by straight, delicate eyebrows. He dressed impeccably in tailored suits, knee breeches, and waistcoats, with polished brass buttons and silver buckles on his shoes… In his engraved portrait on the modern ten-dollar bill, Hamilton’s unsmiling expression projects confidence, aggressiveness, and restless energy, but there is also a suggestion of warmth and wit at the corners of his eyes and mouth.

How Ian W. Toll failed to the mention the nose is most puzzling.

Chapter one of “Six Frigates” definitely hooked me and I am prepared to take on the ensuing 400 pages. I have already discovered a few things of which I had heretofore been unaware — such as the systematic piracy in the Mediterranean that preyed upon defenseless American merchants transporting goods to Greece, Italy, et al in the late 18th century. The Barbary states of Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis had a foreign policy of “unless you give us protection money, we’re at war with you.” Essentially, they expected a large bounty in exchange for not plundering American vessels and taking hostages which would then be sold into slavery. It was the foundation of their entire economy. The US had no naval power in the 1780s, so they were helpless to avoid this without signing “treaties” with these states — in other words, paying the tribute. John Adams attempted diplomacy on this matter with Tripoli in 1786, but the Confederation Congress was of course bankrupt, so even if they had wanted to pay, there was no money to do so. So, America simply had to avoid Mediterranean trade, and all the profit that it would have reaped.

Another fun fact from chapter one was the date of the initial publication of the first of the Federalist essays in New York. A very auspicious date, October 27 would also be the birth date of Theodore Roosevelt, seventy-one years later. (And, incidentally, the birth date of my eldest daughter, 222 years in the future.)

The copy of the book I am reading is autographed by the author, and borrowed from a friend, so unfortunately I am unable to mark it up with my pencil, much to my distress. I have become an inveterate underliner.

Through and through

It is April Fools’ Day, which reminds me of one of my most favorite words: folly. Fun to say, and fun to read.

I finished “Affairs of Honor” the other night and actually found the very last pages before the footnotes section some of the most interesting. In the “Note on Method”, she briefly gets into a bit about the psychology and emotions of our 18th century ancestors, and how to go about attempting to analyze such things from such a long distance. Loved it.

Anyway, so I somehow ended up with only ONE book on my nightstand (“The Quartet”), which simply will not do. At the top of the pile I keep stacked on the lower shelf, the story of the US Navy, “Six Frigates”, lent to me by a commander I know. I better get it back to him in a timely way, so I decided to dive in. A couple dozen pages into it, and I am already awash in tales of British cannon balls decapitating their French foes. Blimey!

Also my local book club has finally chosen its April/May title — a novel called “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” I think it will add much-needed balance.

This morning I learned about an event taking place this summer in Port Angeles called the “Northwest Colonial Festival.” I was at once excited about such a thing, as those of us living in what would have been “Parts Unknown” in the 18th century have very little access to colonial history, unless an exhibit of some kind travels here.

So I checked out their website. It looks to be fairly small scale, with some actors in costume, and a daily reenactment of the Battle of Lexington-Concord. An army of uniformed redcoats in wigs, and some militia in common clothing. In other words, the familiar grade-school story of the Revolution that takes place in New England. Sigh.

I also found out that the event is sponsored by the George Washington Society. Oh, what’s that? I wondered. Well, it’s a group dedicated to preserving the Christian faith in the United States government, just like George would have wanted — except for that is completely untrue. Don’t you love how religious groups pick and choose and interpret the writings of the founders to suit their own agenda? Oh, me too!

Here are a couple things Washington said about religion:

“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.”

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

He was a devout Christian, but he well understood that religion did not belong in the government. I do not think he would support his name being given to this “society.”

I Have the Honor to Be

I am nearly done reading Joanne Freeman’s “Affairs of Honor”, which I have been meaning to get to for a couple months now and I wish I hadn’t waited so long because it’s such an impressive and enlightening book.

I haven’t time to write out a full review, and really there is far too much information to condense it all into a comprehensive summary right now, but I will highly recommend it to anyone seeking a thorough history of early American politics. It does not concern battles or the formation of government, but rather the way that the solemn and serious code of personal honor colored so much of the way politics worked and evolved. A man’s reputation was worthy of risking his life, because honor was seen as the bedrock of a civil society.

That said, the newspapers, pamphlets, letters, and broadsides (posters) of the time were commonly filled with gossip, rumors, and outright lies, and there was no system in place to prevent anything from being printed at the whim of a publisher, particularly if it suited their own political goals. Much of these essays were printed anonymously, so the author did not have to answer for his slander. Also, the mail — the only form of direct communication outside of face-to-face conversation — could be highly insecure and unreliable, leaving letters at the mercy of anyone who wished to just hand them to a newspaper for printing, for instance. Men with the greatest amount of power employed personal couriers to avoid the “miscarriage” of their correspondence.

An important piece in the book is Freeman’s thorough examination of the reasoning behind the Burr-Hamilton duel, in chapter four, an event that is constantly misinterpreted by modern times. I think it notable that she waited until the final third of the book to delve into it; after reading the prior three chapters, it makes a lot more sense — in the context of the period, anyway. Hamilton’s statement of July 10, 1804 wherein he explains (in a numbered list because he can’t help himself) all the reasons he doesn’t wish to go through with the interview, but then counters that with all the reasons why he must, is still heartbreaking to read, and particularly to see in his own unusually tight handwriting. Try to imagine his mental state at the moment he was putting those words to paper. This was a man who lived and breathed, and was still a poor kid from Nevis, who had a wife and seven children who needed him, and still felt it was his duty to go through with a duel, knowing that his next day might be (and was) his last. His reputation, and that of his political ideals, must be preserved.

Another part of the book I enjoyed was the assessment of the behavior of John Adams, describing why in the world he did the things he did. Vain, emotional, and obsessed with his reputation and his legacy, his career is littered with political mistakes borne of those characteristics. For example, in 1800, Hamilton published an infamous and lengthy pamphlet that more or less cut Adams to pieces. It is now seen as one of the biggest mistakes Hamilton ever made, and an example of how he let his pride cloud his choices. In the play, “Hamilton”, Miranda mentions it briefly, but never does he tell the audience why Hamilton wrote this pamphlet (he also says Adams fired him, which is just 100% false). In fact, Hamilton had previously written several letters to Adams, asking him to explain his shit-talking, and using coded language that demanded satisfaction. When Adams gave no response whatsoever, Hamilton was deeply insulted and the gloves were off. John Adams was a non-confrontational blowhard. He was also accused of cowardice when he waited nine full years (and five after Hamilton was in his grave) to respond to the pamphlet, writing weekly columns for a Boston newspaper in which he dragged a dead man through the mud, for three years. He succeeded in proving every accusation Hamilton had leveled — that he was a hysterical, petulant, hypocritical, stubborn fool.

But, as much as I am loathe to admit it, these two men shared certain things in common. Later on in life, the former president had a moment of contrition, and I wonder what it would have been like if Hamilton had said the following words instead of Adams: “[there have] been very many times in my life when I have been so agitated in my own mind as to have no consideration at all of the light in which my words, actions, and even writings would be considered by others.”

The Public Theater

Finally got around to getting Hammy properly framed. I should get it back in a week or so.

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