Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kierkegaard Betrothed by Joakim Garff



Kierkegaard’s journey to Kierkegaard is to be followed first and foremost in the wealth of journals in which he sketches and describes the different stages on his life’s way. The accounts are to be found in entries like “About Myself,” or are undertaken in more graphic form, as in the entry from 1837 where Kierkegaard compares himself sadly to the Roman god Janus, who with his two faces could  look both backwards and forward in time:” I am a Janus bifrons: with one face I laugh, with the other I weep.” That the comparison was well chosen was confirmed as the production that was his life took shape and made clear that the categorical either/or for which Kierkegaard became world famous should have been both/and, because that came much closer to his own dialectical nature. Thus he became both melancholy’s theologian and irony’s Magister, both edifying author and merciless prophet, both rhetorical artist and critic of the aesthetic, both paradoxical thinker and the teller of simple tales, both Copenhagen’s dandy millionaire and modernity’s martyr, both the epitome of anxiety and the fearless polemicist, both a self-effacing penitent and monumentally self-aware, both the refined aristocrat and the open-handed street preacher, both a classical master-thinker and a teasing deconstructionist, both the pious monk and the devil-may-care enjoyer of life, both absolutely unmarried and yet betrothed for all eternity to the love of his youth.

This, then, was the man Regine loved, naturally not because of his nose, eyes, feet, or mind, and scarcely either because he was this incomprehensibly rich example of humankind, but far more miraculously because he was in her eyes “that particular individual” whom she so dearly loved that she was ready to take up lodging in a modest cabinet in his elegant apartment, just to be in his vicinity. And then, for heaven’s sake, he sat there and lamented that she didn’t understand him! Understood who, one might ask, understood which Kierkegaard? Was this not an outrageously unreasonable demand from a man who throughout his life had struggled to understand himself!

IN the happily breathless entry about Regine as his “sovereign mistress,” Kierkegaard asked himself whether Regine might form the conclusion of his “life’s eccentric premises.” From a narrow historical point of view, there can be no doubt of the answer, but in a wider and more meaningful perspective the answer becomes far less unequivocal. Regine became the conclusion of Kierkegaard’s eccentric premises in a sense that, through her, he learned that the understanding of the other means less than the love for the other. It came slowly perhaps, but this recognition did come to Kierkegaard, as he let it be known once in 1853, when he had once again installed himself in a cabin, this time of a more metaphorical quality, but again with Regine in mind:


I live now in melancholy’s separate cabin – but I can take pleasure in seeing the pleasure of others . . . To be loved by a woman, to live in a happy marriage, pleased with life – that is now denied me; but when I go out of my separate cabin, I can take pleasure in seeing the happiness of others, can strengthen them in it being well pleasing to God to be happy in life and to enjoy it. To be healthy and strong, a complete person, for whom there is hope for a long life ahead – this, now, is never to be granted me. But when, then, on coming out of my lonely pain among the happy, I believed I could have the sorrowful pleasure of strengthening them in being thus happy with life.


Pleasure over the pleasure of others becomes just as enigmatic as the love out of which this pleasure springs. Correspondingly enigmatic is that love that has its origin in God, who has lodged it in out hearts, for what does that really say? No one knows, no one understands it, but perhaps one receives a hint of it when, somewhere in Works of Love, Kierkegaard writes so grandly:


As the calm lake stems from the deep springs that no eye saw, so too a person’s love has still deeper ground, in God’s love. If there were no gushing spring at the bottom, if God were not love, then neither would there be the little lake nor either a person’s love. As the calm lake stems darkly from the deep spring, so does a person’s love originate mysteriously in God’s. As the calm lake indeed invites you to contemplate it, yet as with the darkness of the reflection prevents you from seeing through it, so does love’s mysterious origin in God’s love prevent you from seeing its ground. When you think you see it, it is a reflection that deceives you, as if what only hides the deeper ground were itself the ground.



Friday, September 15, 2017

Chronicles of War by Jochen Hellbeck


As a Soviet victory over Germany became increasingly certain, the war chroniclers came to the fore.  They were already sure of the form history had to take: Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Just as the Red Army drew on pre-revolutionary traditions, Soviet culture by that time found sustenance in a nineteenth-century novel. The iconoclastic spirit of the Soviet avant-garde has become passe. Large runs of Tolstoy’s magnum opus were printed from 1941 onward and inspired thousands of readers accustomed to find answers to life’s questions in literature. As literary critic Lidiya Ginzburg observed, the Soviets everywhere, even Leningraders left starving in the siege, avidly read War and Peace. They read in order to size themselves up vis-vis Tolstoy’s heroes, Ginzburg commented, “not the other way around- no one doubted the adequacy of Tolstoy’s response to life.” Tolstoy had said “The last word as regard to courage, about people doing their bit in a people’s war”; this was the standard by which Soviet readers measured themselves. Whoever had energy enough to read, Ginzburg wrote, “would say to himself: right, I’ve got the proper feeling about this. So then, this is how it should be. “ When interviewed by the historians Lieutenant General Chuikov, commander of the 62nd Army, revealed that he gauged his own performance based on Tolstoy’s generals General Rodimtsev reported reading the novel three times.

The People’s Commissariat for Education printed brochures with instructions on how to make War and Peace – notorious for its length and complicated plot- accessible for soldiers. A 1942 study on the reading habits of Red Army soldiers concluded that Tolstoy’s  novel was the most discussed in the military. By the close of the war, the parallels between the War of 1812 and the Great Patriotic War had become clear to every Soviet readers: enemy invaders had advanced into the heart of Russia only to be violently crushed by the Russian people. Tolstoy’s novel, which ends in 1815, presents Alexander I as the ‘pacifier of Europe.” Soviet military leaders in 1945 believe that they had liberated Europe from the scourge of fascism. Now the question was, who would be the Soviet Tolstoy, who would write the War and Peace of the twentieth century?

One of the frontrunners for the honor was Vasily Grossman. Since 1943 he had been working on a two-volume war epic. Modeled after War and Peace, the novel incorporated his own experiences but also aimed to be a chronicle of the war in its entirety. Like Tolstoy, Grossman tried to distill the spirit of a historical epoch. He borrowed Tolstoy’s technique of tying together individual protagonists through family connections. The first volume, completed in 1949, told the history of the war from its outset until September 1942 and concluded with a description of Commissar Krymov’s night crossing of the Volga into the burning city of Stalingrad. In August 1948 Grossman submitted the first installment of the work to the journal Novy Mir (New World), where it was serialized as Stalingrad. For four years the book remained in limbo as Grossman rewrote the text at least three times in an effort to satisfy his critics – editors at Movy Mir, directors of the Soviet Union of Writers, members of the Central Committee and the Politburo, and military officers.

Konstantin Simonov, the editor in chief at Novy Mir when Stalingrad was first submitted, complained about Grossman’s strict historical perspective: his portrayal of the war in 1942 makes no reference to its outcome. For Simonov, this was unacceptable. The book ought to propagate optimism among contemporary readers. Other critics objected to the title, which laid claim to a historical objectivity that the narrative’s multitude of subjective viewpoints could not fulfill. The figure of the physicist Viktor Strum – clearly  identifiable as a Jew- particularly incensed critics. The writer Mikhail Sholokhov alluded to this subject when he rang up Novy Mir’s new editor in chief, Alexander Tvardovsky ( he succeeded Simonov in 1950), and barked: “Whom did you trust writing about Stalingrad? Have you taken leave of your senses?” Sholokhov believed that Grossman, a Jew, should not be writing about a quintessentially Russian topic like Stalingrad. Sholochov’s views are just one expression of the anti-Semitic campaigns that had been erupting in the Soviet Union since the latte 1940s.


Surprisingly, however, the novel did eventually appear in serial; form in the summer and fall of 1952, earning Grossman a nomination for the Stalin Prize. But the January 1953 revelation that Jewish doctors in the Kremlin had been conspiring to kill Stalin triggered a backlash. On February 13, 1953, a scathing criticism of Grossman’s novel appeared in Pravda, penned by Mikhail Bubyonnov, one of his rivals in the race to become the Soviet Tolstoy. Grossman’s earlier supporters publically turned against him.

But then Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and the tide turned once again. Not only was the doctors’ trial halted; criticism of Grossman subsided and some of his colleagues privately apologized for their remarks. Grossman, for his part, continued to work on the second part of his novel – retitled Life and Fate in 1949 – but now he intended to write it as a literary reckoning with Stalin. Grossman was the first critic to emphasize the resemblances between Stalin’s regime and the totalitarian ideology of the Nazis, describing the extent of Soviet anti-Semitism and the similar ways in which both states grind individuals into the dust. By the time he finished his work in 1959, it could not be published. The Central Committee secretary in charge of ideological affairs  that questioned Grossman compared the novel, were it to be released, to a nuclear bomb. (The Secretary claimed he hadn’t read the book.) Other political officials who were consulted believed the book could not be published “for the next 250 years.” In 1964 Grossman died bitter and alone following a battle with stomach cancer. It appeared in 1988 in the Soviet Union as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s campaign for transparency known as glasnost. Today Life and Fate is viewed internationally as a grand literary account of the twentieth century. The preceding volume, which appeared under the title For a Just Cause, has remained in the shadows since it appeared.  Despite the ruptures that accompanied their publication, the volumes, when read side by side, reveal their underlying Tolstoyan conception. The show how strongly Grossman remained committed to the belief, despite his growing criticism of the Soviet state, that the mass heroism of Red Army soldiers decided not only the battle of Stalingrad but also the war as a whole.

Grossman conviction is conveyed in the one place no one would suspect – the monumental memorial atop Mamayev Kurgan*. Had Grossman lived long enough to see its 250-foot Motherland Calls sculpture with extended sword (the memorial was dedicated in 1967), he would likely have seen it as further evidence of an all-powerful state that manipulated people like pawns in a political chess game. Nevertheless, Grossman’s words can be found at the memorial. Some are engraved on a wall that visitors must pass on the way to Motherland Calls: “An iron wind struck them in the face, yet they kept moving forward. The enemy was likely possessed by a superstitious fear: Are these men coming towards us? Are these mortals?” The words are from Grossman’s essay on the regiment that perished while defending the Barricades plant against the Germans (see pages 192-203).

On the other side of the wall is the Hall of Military Glory. From the center of the floor a large white marble hand reaches upward, cupping a torch with an eternal flame. The walls of the circular pantheon are lined with banners bearing the names of 7,200 Red Army fighters – officers and soldiers, men and women – who fell at Stalingrad. (the names were chosen at random from the death roll.) Below the domed ceiling runs an inscription responding to the question posed on the outside wall: “Yes, we were mortal and few of us survived, but we all discharged our patriotic duty to our sacred Motherland.” This is also drawn from Grossman’s essay, but the words have been modified. The original version was simpler: “They were mortal indeed . . .and while a few made it out alive, everyone of them had done his duty.” Despite the melodramatic backdrop created by the monument’s designer’s, the words convey the idea of a people’s war invoked by Grossman during the battle of Stalingrad. Yet nowhere in the museum is Grossman identified as the author of these lines, and no museum guide seems aware of their origin.


* The much contested high ground in Stalingrad where Stalin supposedly had his command post during the earlier Civil War.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Birds of the Same Fate by Yiyun Li


Teacher Gun started the fire and poured water over the leftover rice. He watched the yellow flame lick the bottom of the pot, the murmuring water inside soothingly hypnotic. A grain of sand is as complete as world, he said to the fire, his voice audible only to his own ears. The thought that someone sitting above the clouds could gaze into this small cocoon in which he and his wife were trapped in pain comforted him; their suffering to the eyes above could be as tiny and irrelevant as the piece of coal in his own eyes, a burning ember that would soon cool into a gray ball of ash.

The water boiled, and the lid of the pot let out sighs of white steam. Teacher Gu stirred the rice and sat down at the table. There was no sound from the bedroom, and he wondered if his wife had been falling into sleep; she had been escorted back by two policemen earlier, and they had made some harsh threats before taking off her handcuffs. He had worried that she would become hysterical, but she had kept herself still until the moment Nini arrived, the last person in the world who should be receiving his wife’s anger.

Teacher Gu’s hands probed around the table as if they belonged to a blind man. Over the years he had developed a habit of busying his hands with anything they could reach, a sign of some disturbing psychological problem perhaps, but Teacher Gu tried not to dwell on it. Apart from a bowl of leftover soup, the table was empty. Another broken ritual, Teacher Gu thought, gone with Nini and the folding of a paper from out of the calendar. It had started when Shan was fourteen, a young Red Guard ready to rip the world apart. He had folded the paper compulsively, his busy fingers saving him from the sorrow of watching his daughter transform before his own eyes into a coldhearted stranger. At breakfast on an early summer day when Shan had given a speech on how he should bow to the revolutionary youths instead of resisting with his silence, he made the paper frog jump and it landed in his wife’s unfinished porridge. Neither Mrs. Gu nor Teacher Gu removed the from, and he knew then that they would never laugh together as a family again,. On the same morning, when Shan’s revolutionary friends came over, she suggested that they go out and “kick the bottoms of some counterrevolutionaries.” So easily she had let these vulgar words slip out, this daughter whom he had taught to recite poetry from the Tang dynasty since she was very young. Later, someone came to his school with the news that besides booting people’s bottoms, Shan had also kicked the belly of a woman eight months pregnant. Teacher Gu hid himself in his office and wrote a long essay, a meditation on the failing of poetry as education in an unpoetic age. Upon finishing and rereading the essay, he tossed it into the fire and braced himself to face his wife, with who he shared the responsibility of bringing a murderer into the world.

How Shan had escaped the consequences of her action was beyond Teacher Gu’s understanding. His wife began to break down and weep often, first thing in the morning or sometimes in the middle of a savorless meal. What wrong had she done to deserve Shan? His wife asked him. This notion was superstitious nonsense, Teacher Gu wanted to remind his wife, but she was lost too, led astray by the belief that she herself was responsible for the crimes committed by their daughter. In his quiet disapproval she grew into an ordinary, witless woman, trying to find a reason for every calamity and failure, as if the world were explainable and life would have to make sense for one to continue living.

Teacher Gu shook his head. He was no better than she, he told himself. He was a man who had foolishly let himself be deceived by his own wishes. When he had first met his wife, she had just stopped belonging to her previous husband, as one of his five wives. She was the only one to leave the family of her own will when the newly established Communist government banned polygamy; the other wives had to be dragged away from the family by government officials.  She was the first one to enroll in Teacher Gu’s class for illiterate women – she was eighteen that year, her hair black and smooth as silk, her cheeks peach-colored, and her eyes two deep wells of sad water. She was born with an ill-favored face, people in town warned Teacher Gu when he decided to marry her. Look at her cheekbones, which are too high, her lips, which are not fill enough, people said. He shrugged off their comments. Ill-fortuned she was, losing her parents at twelve, sold to a husband by her uncle at fourteen, serving a man forty years her senior as half wife and half handmaiden, but Teacher Go did not want to listen to any of the talk. Husband and wife were birds of the same fate – so said the ancient poems. Wasn’t it why they had become husband and wife in the first place?

The day they got married, his first wife sent a telegram to him; keep each other alive with your own water, said the message. He hid the telegram, even though his new wife was not yet able to read all the characters in it. He never told her about the blessing, nor the fable behind those few words – two fish, husband and wife, were stranded in a puddle; they competed to swallow as much water as they could before the puddle vanished in the scorching sun so that they could keep each other alive in their long suffering before death by giving water to their loved one .  .  .

A Brawling Back-Alley Bunch by Aaron Skirboll


Today criminal investigations rule the media. Once or twice a year, a trial transfixes the public, a new cause celebre born seemingly each new season. Spectators travel hours to courthouses, tickets to trial are distributed by lottery; and the term media circus, coined in the 1970s, comes into its own.

If it bleeds, it leads – so goes the old journalistic saw. Readers and viewers can’t tear their eyes away from true crime stories, and the grislier the details, the better. But when did it all begin, this mixing of criminal and celebrity? Searching for the origin of the phenomena took me back three centuries to the nascent years of the newspaper and across the Atlantic to London. In the middle stood Daniel Defoe, a wily old newspaperman and the aging author of Robinson Crusoe, who battled for the scoop amid the much and grime of the eighteenth century. His coverage of two men- Jonathan Wild, the chaser, and Jack Sheppard, the mark –enthralled a kingdom and birthed a genre.

An eighteenth century Al Ca[pone, Jonathan Wild was the first man to organize crime for profit and the first criminal whose name everyone in the city knew. A burglar and a prison breaker, Jack Sheppard had much in common with John Dillinger. In late 1724, a manhunt for him grabbed the city’s attention like no other story and drove newspaper sales skyward. Sheppard the housebreaker ran, thief-taker Wild chased him, and reporter Defoe wrote about both.*


With Sheppard on the loose, the story evolved in real time, but nothing about the case was clear-cut, nor was it easy to know for whom to root. The grandeur of the once-popular hunter was fading, and the criminal was incorrigible and eminently quotable. In the middle of it all, we have a man know today primarily as a novelist, his skills as a journalist mostly forgotten. His colorful tales about the pair teemed with details, but as with everything he wrote, his name was nowhere to be found, and in Sheppard’s case, Defoe wrote his account of the man’s deeds as if it were the thief’s autobiography, as he’d done with Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.

In 1724 and 1725, more than thirty unsigned pamphlets were published on Wild and Sheppard. Five of these tracts have been attributed to Defoe, and the British Library has catalogued them under his name. In the story ahead, I privileged only the two pamphlets that have with neat universal agreement on the attribution to Defoe” The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild and A  Narrative of All the Robberies, Escapes, etc.  of John Sheppard. A third, The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard, was probably a group effort in which Defoe had a hand, among others.

Enter the world of Defoe scholars with virgin eyes, I had no idea what awaited me. This is one brawling back-alley bunch of bibliophiles, many waging pissing matches to see who knows Daniel the best. One camp of scholars charges another with corpus swelling, while the latter assails the former for deflating the number so as to remove works of lesser quality. In Defoe’s day, it was more the  exception than the rule to put your name to pamphlets, so attribution makes for a thorny issue, and with over five hundred works credited to him, there’s no definitive universal agreement here. Nevertheless, the scholarly scrap proved entertaining. Among those who’ve studied the man, it’s a no holds-barred, back-and-forth assault complete with name calling. Academic insults fly to a fro: “simpletons or rascals,” “lack of brains,” “a disaster.” Charges of canon forgery and ‘power moves” have been made, and as one set of authors answered a particular onslaught, they decided it would “look craven if we did not give him one or two back – though a “Forum” may not really be a place for fist-fights.”

Even the ‘Law Firm’ , the collective name I have given to scholars P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens – who seem to want something like DNA evidence before ascribing anything to Defoe, acknowledges that the pamphlets in questions could be Defoe’s. They just done have the evidence to prove the 300-year-old pamphlets are his. Scholar Pat Rogers, who has studied and written on Defoe and many of his contemporaries, told me that these attribution questions dog Defoe far more than any other writer of the time. No only did he write an incredibly large amount – signing practically none, or publishing under a pseudonym – but he did so on an equally dizzying array of topics.


I have sided with the majority regarding the tracts on Wild and Sheppard, as well as Defoe’s tenure at Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal. Dozens of men and women who have made a careful study of the man’s life and work have counted them his, which is good enough for me. Besides, instead of trying to prove that Defoe wrote these tracts on criminals, maybe it’s more fitting to leave it with a glint of doubt, as with all his writings. After all, he never signed Robinson Crusoe or Moll Flanders either, and Roxanna’s authorship didn’t fall to him until half a century after its publication. Three centuries have passed since the author’s death, and he remains shrouded in mystery, each year his life growing more so,. His major works of fiction were all written in the first person, as true stories, while his nonfiction works read like novels.

But then, that’s part of the attraction: The definitive biographies of two infamous criminals were written by a novelist. Picture an aging Defoe, near his life’s end, running around London between the gallows and Newgate Prison, where he met the inspiration for Moll Flanders, a writer mixing it up with thieves, murderers, and rogues of all inclination amid dirt, despair, and deprivation. That image stirred the London of the past back to life for me. Left with the choice of leaving Defoe out of the story – hemming and hawing over attribution bitchery – or moving forward with the majority, I chose the latter. Defoe and Mr. Applebee made the cut. When telling the stories of Wild and Sheppard, you have to include the best and most accurate tracts written by their contemporaries, and the British Library lists those under Defoe’s name.

It’s also worth underscoring that this book isn’t a biography of Defoe. My intentions are far less noble. My aim is merely to entertain. Defoe had a vast collection of interests –economics, politics, religion, and trade among them- and I’ve touched on little to none of it.**  Only his criminal writings and the aspects of life that related to crime in general – and specifically, the careers of Wild and Sheppard – concerned me. For a full treatment of the man, pick up the biographies by Paula Backscheider or Maximillian Novak.

I’m no scholar. Yet neither was Defoe. An unpolished outsider, he gained little respect from his peers. No one conferred on him the same prestige of Addison, Pope or Steel. He warned of grammatical errors, and likewise, I can guarantee that, absent and editor’s hand, you’d find the pages ahead marked with similar mistakes. I’m also thankful to Lyon’s Press for a point of upmost importance to this work: a firm deadline. After years of research, there’s always more. As Arthur Griffiths, a nineteenth century prison inspector an author who wrote on Sheppard, remarked in the preface to The Chronicles of Newgate: “Now at the termination of my labors .  .  . I found at length that I must be satisfied with what I had instead of seeking more.”

Defoe said it best in his final days, in Augusta Triumphans, his tract on civic improvements: “As I am quick to conceive, I am eager to have done, unwilling to overwork a subject; I had rather leave part to a conception of the readers, than to tire them or myself with protracting a theme, as if, like a chancery man or a hackney author, I wrote by the sheet for hire. So let us have done with this topic and proceed to another.”





*Since fencing stolen goods was a capital crime, Wild devised a system whereby he arranged to return stolen goods to their owners- for a fee, no questions asked-thus offering a measure of protection for the thieves though they received less for the stolen items than the would have through fences. He gradually extended his system to include every robber in London and a few other cities as well. He became the ‘supervising agent’ of most criminal activities in the city of London. But if a thief crossed Wild- sold his ill-gotten gains elsewhere for example- Wild would catch them and turn them over to authorities, often testifying against them court and collecting lucrative rewards, and was viewed as providing a useful public service in that regard. The reward for the thief was transportation or the gallows. Eventually the public and the thieves grew tired of this charade and Wild himself was hung.

** Defoe’s first book was The Storm, and account of the devastating winds and flooding that struck England in November 1703, called “the first substantial work of modern journalism’; his innovation being to collect the observations of others. “Journalism was then in its infancy, and there was nothing like systematic and objective reporting on contemporary event”’, according to John J. Miller writing in the Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

U.S. Grant's Memoirs


OFFICE U.S. MILITARY TELEGRAPH
WAR DEPARTMENT
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 3, 1864

Cypher. 6 PM.,

LT GENERAL GRANT
City Point, Va.


I have seen your dispatch in which you say, “I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy, and follow him to the death. Whatever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.” This, I think, is exactly right, as to how our forces should move. But please look over the dispatches you may have received from here, even since you made that order, and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head  of any one here, of “putting our army south of the enemy,” or of  “following him to the death” in any direction. I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.

A. LINCOLN

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

It may not be out of place to again allude to President Lincoln and the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, who were the great conspicuous figures in the executive branch OF government. There is no great difference of opinion now, in the public mind, as to the characteristics of the President. With Mr. Stanton the case is different. They were the very opposite of each other in almost every particular, except that each possessed great ability.  Mr. Lincoln gained influence over men by making them feel that it was a pleasure to serve him. He preferred yielding his own wish to gratify others, rather than to insist on having his own way. It distressed him to disappoint others. In matters of public duty, however, he had what he wished, but in the least offensive way...Mr  Stanton never  questioned his own authority to command, unless resistedunless resisted. He cared nothing for the feelings of others. In fact it seemed to be pleasanter to him to disappoint than to gratify. He felt no hesitation Stanton never questioned his own authority to command in assuming the functions of the executive, or in acting without advising with him. If his act was not sustained, he would change it –if he saw the matter would be followed up until he did so.

It was generally supposed  that these two officials formed the complement of each other. The Secretary was required to prevent the President’s being imposed upon. The President was required in the more responsible place of seeing that injustice was not done to others. I do not know that this view of these two men is still entertained by the majority of people. It is not the correct view, however, in my estimation. Mr. Lincoln did not require a guardian to aid him in the fulfillment of a public trust.

Mr. Lincoln was not timid, and he was willing to trust his generals in making and executing their plans. The Secretary was very timid, and it was impossible for him to avoid interfering with the armies covering the capital when it was sought to defend it by offensive movement against the army guarding the Confederate capital. He could see our weakness, but he could not see that the enemy was in danger. The enemy would not have been in danger if Mr. Stanton had been in the field. These characteristics of the two officials were clearly shown shortly after Early came so near getting into the capital. . .


The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.”  All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.

Slavery was an institution that require unusual guarantees for is security wherever it existed; in a country like ours where the larger portion of it was free territory inhabited by and intelligent and well-to-do population, the people would naturaly have but little sympathy with demands upon them for its protection. Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution. They were enabled to maintain this control long after the States where slavery existed has ceased to have the controlling power, through the assistance they received from odd men here and there throughout the Northern States. They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting laws as the Fugitive Slave Law. By this law every Northern man was obliged, when properly summoned, to turn out and help apprehend the runaway slave of a  Southern man. Northern marshals became slave-catchers, and Northern Courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution.

This was a degradation which the North would not permit any longer until they could get the power to expunge such laws from the state books. Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so song as they were not forced to have it themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South in the protection of this particular institution.

In the early days of the country, before we had railroads, telegraphs and steamboats – in a word, rapid transit of any sort – the States were each almost a separate nationality. At that time the subject of slavery caused but little or no disturbance in the public mind. But the country grew, rapid transit was established, and trade and commerce between the States got to be so much greater than before, that the power of the National government became more felt and recognized and, therefore, had to be enlisted in the cause of this institution.


It is probably well that we had the war when we did. We are better off now than we would have been without it, and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made. The civilized nations of Europe have been stimulated into unusual activity, so that commerce, trade, travel, and thorough acquaintance among people of different nationalities, has become common; whereas, before, it was but a few who had  ever had the privilege of going beyond the limits of their own country or who knew anything about other people. Then, too, our republican institutions were regarded as experiments up to the breaking out of the rebellion, and monarchical Europe generally believed that our republic was a rope of sand that would part the moment the slightest strain was brought upon it. Now it has shown itself capable of dealing with one of the greatest wars that was ever made, and our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.

But this war was a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars  in the future.


Robinson's Farewell by Cotton Mather


[The church was Cotton Mather’s central concern. He devoted himself to its pastorate with fanatic zeal and terrifying energy, and tried to relate to it all his activities and interests. His conception of the duty of a minister was all-embracing. Not content with visiting the sick, helping the impoverished, chastising backsliders, and preaching spiritual values and the nature of piety, he felt he must regulate the conduct of his flock in every aspect of life. He strove to discover and teach new means of serving God and new ways of proving the boundless extent of divine power. Since, as Mather saw it, the entire universe and the whole history of mankind revealed his power, there was virtually no limit to the range of education he must provide. This meant constant writing of sermons, daily reading and memorizing of the Bible and its commentators, studying history and science, and feverish searching for effective means of instruction. And, of course, he tried day by day to assess his shortcomings and spent hours fasting and praying for divine forgiveness.]


Book  I Antiquities  Chapter III

. . . . Some little controversies likewise have now and then arisen among them in the administration of their discipline; but synods then regularly called, have usually and presently put into joint all that was apprehended out. Their chief hazard and symptom of degeneracy, is in the verification of that old observation, religio peperit divitias, & filia devoravit matrem: religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.  Though one would expect, that as they grew in their estates, they would grow in the payment of quit-rents unto God who gives them the power to get wealth, by more liberally supporting their ministers and ordinances among them; the most likely way to save them from the most miserable apostasy; the neglect whereof in some former years, began for a while to be punished with a sore famine of the Word; nevertheless, there is danger lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand in the wilderness: And some woeful villages in the skirts of the colony, beginning to live without the means of grace among them, are still more ominous intimations of the danger. May the God of New England preserve them from so great a death!



Going now to take my leave of this little Colony (Plymouth), that I may converse for a while with her younger sisters, which yet have outstripped her in growth exceedingly, and so will now draw all the streams of her affairs into their channels, I shall repeat the counsel which their faithful John Robinson gave the first planters of the colony, at their parting from him in Holland. Said he, [to this purpose.]


“Brethren, we are now quickly to part from one another; and whether I may ever live to see your faces on earth any more, the God of Heaven only knows. But whatever the Lord have appointed that or no, I charge you before God, and before his blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.



If God reveal any thing to you by any other instrument off his, be as ready to receive it, as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I an verily persuaded, I am very confident the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his Holy Word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who have come to a period  (full stop) in Religion; and will go at present no further than the instruments of their first reformation. The Lutherans can’t be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw: whatever part of his will our God good has imparted and revealed unto Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. And the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things.



This is a misery much to be lamented; for though they were burning and shining lights in their time, yet the penetrated not into the whole counsel of God; but were they now living, they would be as willing to embrace further light, as that which they first received. I beseech you to remember it; it is an article of your church-covenant, that you will be willing  to receive whatever truth shall be made known unto you from the written Word of God. Remember that, and every other article of your most sacred covenant. But I must herewithal exhort you to take heed what you receive as truth; examine it, consider it, compare it with the other scripture of truth, before you do receive it. For it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick anti-christian darkness, and that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. I must also advise you to abandon, avoid and shake off the name of Brownist*: it is a mere nick-name, and a brand for the making of religion, and the professors of Religion, odious unto the Christian world. Unto this end, I should be extremely glad, if some Godly minister would go with you, or come to you, before you can have my company. For there is no difference between the unconformable ministers of England and you, when they come to the practice of evangelical ordinances out of the kingdom. And I would wish you by all means to close with the Godly people of England; study union with them in all things, wherein you can have it without sin, rather than in the least measure to affect a division or separation from them.  Neither would I have you loath to take another pastor besides my self; in as much as a flock that has two shepherds is thus not endangered, but secured.”

So adding some other things of great consequence, he concluded most affectionately, commending his departing flock unto the grace of God, which now I also do the offspring of that holy flock.


*The Brownists were English Dissenters or early Separatists from the Church of England. They were named after Robert Browne, who was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, in the 1550s. A majority of the Separatists aboard the Mayflower in 1620 were Brownists, and indeed the Pilgrims were known for 200 years as the Brownist Emigration(Wikipedia).

An ecclesiastical reformer, he  first asserted the inalienable right of the church to effect necessary reforms without the authorization or permission of the civil magistrate.  A couple of his followers were hanged for distributing literature to that effect in 1583. Brown was induced to make a qualified submission to the established order in 1585 ( Britannica, 1911)




Sunday, July 16, 2017

Frontier Atrocity by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich



On 9 July 1809 in Holloway, Maine ( site of what was later to become Augusta) James Purrington, a recent settler in the community) slaughtered his wife and six of his children with an axe and fatally slashed his own throat with a razor. Midwife Martha Ballard was a near neighbor. In her diary she wrote:


My husband went and returned before sunrise when after taking a little food he and In went on to the house there to behold the most shocking scein that was Even seen in this part of the world. May an infinitely good God grant that we may all take a suitable notice of this horrid deed, learn wisdom therefrom.

Later, she described the funeral as


A sollom specttacle to behold. May we all learn a profitable lesson from this dreadful scein and may it please the God that rules to Sanctify this affliction to the surviving relatives . . .


 Martha’s  prayer no doubt echoed Mr. Taylor’s sermon – and hundreds of others she had heard in her seventy-one years- though it wasn’t the sermon but the pageantry of the occasion that impressed her most powerfully, the ritualistic arrangements of the bodies, the funeral march, and the hundreds of people crowded in nearby houses, in the streets, on the tops of buildings. There had not been an event like this in Augusta since the commemoration of George Washington’s death six years before.

The essential point for Martha, however, was that God was in control, that he had the power to “sanctify” as well as to destroy.


For some of her contemporaries, the lessons were more complex. By 1806, religious dissent in the region had increased. New sects were growing surprisingly strong, making the old divisions among Congregationalists seem tame. In 1780, all the churches in Lincoln County, whatever the differences among them, had been Congregational; by 1800, in the by then two counties of Lincoln and Kennebec, sectarian churches – Separate Baptist, Free-will Baptist, Methodist, and Universalist – outnumbered orthodox congregations by almost three to one.


It was inevitable that the Purrington murders should feed into growing anxiety over religious dissent in the region. Congregationalists along the Kennebec continued to squabble among themselves while Methodists, Free-Will Baptists, Universalists and even Shakers took their members. Martha’s neighbors were among those affected. “There were 6 persons Baptised by imertion at Sidney,” she wrote on 4 August 1805. “Mrs. Andrus was one.” James Purrington, it was said, had dabbled in more than one heterodox creed.

In his broadside “Horrid Murders” Peter Edes, editor of the Kennebec Gazette had noted that the murderer was “warm believer in the fatal doctrine of universal salvation, “ but made no effort to exploit the fact. Within days, Edes had accumulated enough additional information to amplify this explanation into a twenty-page pamphlet giving a more detailed account of the murder, a sketch of the life of Captain Purrington, and “Remarks on the fatal tendency of erroneous principles, and Motives for receiving and obeying the pure and salutary precepts of the gospel: “Unbelief in the superintending providence of God, and human accountability, is a principle which opens the door to every vice.” Edes quoted “a respectable gentleman in Bowdoinham” who affirmed that


about twenty years ago he (Capt.P.) jopoined the (Calvinistic) Baptist Church in Bowdoinham, and continued in their fellowship several years; till he imbibed the sentiments of the Freewill Baptists; for which he was cut off from the church. He was not a Universalist till some years since. I have conversed with several of his former neighbors, who unanimously testify that he was a Fatalist”



If Edes’s account is correct, Purrington’s life recapitulated the religious history of the region. In towns like Bowdoinham, already split by Baptist and New Light revivals, the heterodox teachings of the Free-Will Baptists and Universalists found fertile soil. Both groups challenged the central Calvinist doctrine that God predestined some souls for salvation, others for damnation. The Free-Will Baptists believed sinners chose to accept or reject Christ’s atonement; the Universalists argued that all od’s children would be saved. The emphasis of both groups on “a benevolent God, human perfectibility, universal non-penal atonement, and free grace for all believers” allied them with liberal  Arminians in New England’s urban centers – Edes pamphlet associated Purrington’s universalism with the “fearless impiety of a Paine and the unrestrained licentiousness of a Godwin” – yet both groups were evangelicals rather than rationalists. They were powerful precisely because they grafted their optimistic doctrines onto the experiential, charismatic religion familiar from earlier revivals. In light of the Free-Will challenge, Bowdoinham’s Calvinist  Baptists described themselves as “ a fold in the midst of wolves, or a defenseless flock surrounded with . . prowling multitudes.”



Of the two groups, the Universalists appeared most threatening because they undermined the socially useful distinction between the saved and the damned. How could society survive once the doctrine of an eternal judgment was destroyed? In a sermon preached at Bowdoinham ten days after the murders, Timothy Merritt argued that the first and moving cause of Purrington’s murders was disbelief inn the Providence of God: “Though he died seized of a large estate, he was under apprehension that his family would come to want.” But second only to his lack of faith in God’s superintending care was his belief in the doctrine of universal salvation.


 You all know, that for some years past, he has professed to believe firmly that all mankind, immediately upon leaving the body, go to a state of the most perfect rest and enjoyment: and to my certain knowledge he denied the doctrine of a day of judgment and retribution. Of course it was no question with him whether his family were regenerate, or born again, or in other words, whether they were prepared for so sudden a remove from this world. It was, therefore, natural, and what anyone would do under the same circumstances, to endeavor to prevent the anticipated trouble in his family, and make them all forever happy. There is every reason to believe that this was his real motive.


As a good Calvinist, Merritt could not let his congregation rest there, however. Purrington’s sins were natural because they mirrored the fundamental errors of humankind. Gently, he led his listeners from comfort to discomfort, from calm reassurance in the face of evil to jolting reminders of their own culpability. The murders forced Purrington’s neighbors to recognize the depravity of human nature, the frailty of life, and the folly of trusting in any earthly thing, including their nearest and dearest relations. “We may bolt our doors at night against thieves and robbers, but bolts are no security to life;- the assassin is within.”


This is not said with a view to excite jealousies and fears between friends and connections; nor to destroy that subordinate confidence which husband and wife, parents and children, reasonably repose in each other; but merely to shew you your real circumstances, and bring you to put your highest trust in God alone, where it ought to be placed.

If given the opportunity to answer Merritt’s accusations, the Universalists surely would have argued that the doctrine of universal salvation nurtured righteousness rather than sin, that their teachings were no more to blame for Purrington’s murders than the Congregationalist doctrine for Henry McCausland’s slaughter of Abigail Warren thirteen years before [ God called him to save Maine for the Congregationalists- he was deemed insane]. Universalists would have distained Calvinist efforts to breed fear in the hearts of their listeners; surely a true knowledge of God’s love was a more powerful motive for good than an erroneous fear of God’s wrath.


Despite differences in emphasis, however, the arguments of both groups began at the same point – predestination – and ended with the same consolation – ultimate trust in God’s goodness.


The oral history of Universalism contains an account of a triumphant sermon preached by Father Barnes of Portland, Maine, when all the Congregationalist ministers in the region refused to officiate at the funeral of a suicide. The theme of Barnes’  sermon – “when all the designs of God inn apparent ills are seen through, and his benevolent purposes understood, all that is now dark will become light” - is ultimately indistinguishable from Merritt’s argument – “When we see that God has suffered these evils, we are to conclude that he has acted upon some wise and benevolent principle, worthy of himself.” God is all powerful and all good. We must submit to his judgments. It is thee theology which underlines the religious sentiments in Martha Ballard’s diary: “May an infinitely good God grant that we may all take sutable notis of this horrid, deed, learn wisdom therefrom.”