Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The First Dance

Western writer Richard S. Wheeler gives us the latest novel in his Barnaby Skye series, The First Dance, which deals with border conflicts in Montana in the 1880’s. Barnaby’s son Dirk, half English and half Shoshone, is abandoned on his wedding day by his bride, the enigmatic Métis girl, Therese. Crushed and mystified by his wife’s rejection, Dirk returns to his job as a civilian translator with the United States army. He finds himself in the unenviable position of having to participate in driving his wife’s people the Métis, who are a tribe of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, back over the border into Canada where they have already suffered persecution. When his commanding officer sinks to unconscionable acts, then Dirk objects and loses his livelihood. He decides to help the Métis, many of whom are starving and freezing in the wilderness with their families. In the course of his adventures he is befriended by Pap Reilly, an Irish hog farmer with a shady past, who gives shelter to the beleaguered immigrants. In the meantime, Dirk encounters his wife Therese, who claims to have had a vision of St. Teresa of Avila, and is determined to build a church for the Métis. Still reeling from Therese’s desertion, Dirk dedicates himself to her cause nevertheless, and protects her from the hostile locals, until his psychological “dance” with her reaches its climax. Written with both tender pathos and blunt insights, Wheeler plumbs the souls of his characters even as he captures the harshness and majesty of the Montana landscapes. Filled with humor, tears and intriguing historical detail, it is impossible to go away from the book without having learned a thing or two about the West, and about human nature as well. 
(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. The First Dance was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Prayers for the Queen

The Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have approved the prayers for the Queen's Diamond jubilee.
The Bishops’ Conference requests that on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday 3 June 2012, each parish will celebrate a Mass with prayers to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. During this Mass, the first reading is replaced by 1 Kings 3:11–14 and the Prayer for the Queen, which has been approved by the Bishops, is used after the Post Communion Prayer and before the Final Blessing.

Prayer for the Queen
V. O Lord, save Elizabeth, our Queen.
R. And hear us on the day we call upon you.

V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come before you.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Almighty God, we pray,
that your servant Elizabeth, our Queen,
who, by your providence has received the governance of this realm,
may continue to grow in every virtue,
that, imbued with your heavenly grace,
she may be preserved from all that is harmful and evil
and, being blessed with your favour
may, with her consort and the royal family,
come at last into your presence,
through Christ who is the way, the truth and the life
and who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God,
for ever and ever.

(Read entire post.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Medieval vs. Victorian

Fr. Blake displays some prints which are meant to illustrate contrasts between the "age of faith" and the industrial age in the care of the poor.
AW Pugin produced a manifesto "Contrasts" he compared his modern and industrial age with that of the "age of faith" and found the former decidedly lacking....

I am not sure it was ever true, but Pugin's vision was one where man was conscious of his intimate connection with the sacred. At its heart was man as as worshipping God or as we might say today "as a liturgical person". For him that was a radical alternative to his society. It was also a Christian alternative to the visions of Bentham or Marx and Engels or any of the other constructors of new worlds of the 19th century. It raised man up from meanness conveying an idea of "Glory" rather mere utilitarianism - see the last of these illustrations, "The Public Conduit" both serve the same purpose of conveying water to the thirsty but the East Cheap Conduit is a celebration of so much more than merely making water available. (Read entire post.)

Secrets of Versailles

A book review by Anna Amber:
There are about 200 or so entries in the book. The entries range from buildings to rooms to personal items and effects, such as the library of Madame du Barry, the last staircase ordered to be constructed by Louis XVI, and the "Treaty of Versailles" desk. Each entry also features one or more photographs of the place or item in question, a location for those who wish to visit and an asterisk (or double asterisk) to denote whether or not the entry is available for the public to see. Jacquet's writing is easily accessible in this English translations, and the photographs are well taken and printed nicely.

Some of the entries will be familiar to many, such as an entry for the Queen's village, while others are areas and items only available to those on private tours or not available to the public at all. My favorite entries were those offering those little secrets of life at Versailles, such as a view from the balcony at the Queen's House in the Petit Trianon, and the bathroom of the duchesse d'Angouleme during the Bourbon Restoration. Surprisingly, the book does not limit itself to the chateau of Versailles or its gardens, and extends its surprises to the city of Versailles, revealing many buildings and locations that are often ignored outright in many other books about Versailles. Those who might fear the book focuses solely on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette need not worry, as the history discussed in the book ranges from Louis XIV all the way to the 20th century.

It's definitely a book I will keep in mind when I take my someday-soon trip to Versailles, and something I recommend for anyone interested in the history of the palace and the city, especially if you might be traveling there. I feel that knowing the history behind any location will make it all the more special. The human history behind locations can so often be lost when you're viewing them behind a computer screen or taking snapshots on a tour, but Secrets of Versailles really brings that history to the forefront, reminding us of the people and events that once passed through the city and palace of Versailles.

The book is available for purchase in English and French at the Chateau de Versailles boutique. (Read entire review.)


Monday, November 28, 2011

Faithful Unto Death

Based upon an actual event, Becky Thacker spins a psychological drama set in a Michigan farming community where, amid the austerity of Bible Christianity and Victorian prudery, a woman dies in agony and a family is almost destroyed. Written with clarity and restraint, Thacker explores the mysterious death of her own great grandmother, Anna Thacker, weaving extracts from court records, letters, and newspapers into a seamless narrative. Was it murder or suicide? Anna’s children stand helplessly by as their mother succumbs to a mysterious illness and their father is accused of poisoning her. While determined to clear their father’s name, the five Thacker children, under the guidance of determined Ralph and gentle Lottie, band together to hang onto their home and to each other. They realize, as does the reader, that their quiet, self-effacing mother has been the strength of the family. One sees that the influence of a strict but loving mother can never be underestimated, for Anna keeps her family going long after her death. In the meantime, the youngsters must deal with scheming Aunt Charlotte, Anna’s pietistic sister, whose jealousy of Anna and her husband William is always seeking an outlet. The author skillfully builds layer upon layer of layer of enigma. Do Charlotte’s problems originate with the murder of her own mother during an Indian raid? Would devout Anna really have committed suicide? Should Ralph burn Charlotte’s journal which provides more information than he ever wanted to know about her twisted mind? These questions, and many others, are part of the story of the Thacker family, brought to life with vividly accurate descriptions of the bleak conditions of farm life as well as the moments of warmth and amity by the fireside.
(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. Faithful Unto Death was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Letter of Hugh O'Neill to King Philip III

An appeal for an Irish seminary.
The appeal below for the Irish seminary in Douai was sent to King Philip III of Spain in 1599 by Hugh O’Neill, King of Tyrone and then also regarded by his supporters in the war against Queen Elizabeth as the rightful King of Ireland. (Significantly, when the Spaniard Mateo de Oviedo was appointed Archbishop of Dublin the following year, Pope Clement VIII sent with him a crown made of peacock feathers for O’Neill.)

The Irish seminary at Douai (then part of the Spanish Netherlands) was founded around 1577 by Fr Ralph Cusack. King Philip endowed the Irish seminary in 1604 with 5,000 florins. (Incidentally it is little understood today just how crucial the support and generosity of the Kings of Spain was to the survival of Catholicism in Ireland.) After the Flight of the Earls, Hugh O’Neill would stay at the seminary in 1607 on his way to Rome (where Paul V welcomed him lavishly and the same King Philip awarded him with a substantial pension).
(Read entire post.)
More HERE. Share

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Aztec

International intrigue and espionage mix with old Bolshevik secrets in this thriller by Bill Vidal. British professor Jack Hadley is gathering data for a biography on the notorious Mexican Communist Jesús Florin, called “the Aztec,” the former comrade of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev. Florin has spent a lifetime igniting revolutions all over South America and Africa, making friends and enemies along the way. Hadley and wild child girlfriend Mercedes are duped by the Spanish secret service into helping to discover what became of the gold which the Spanish Communists sent to the Soviet Union in 1936, some of which became lost. The missing gold is comprised of rare coins, at least $200 million worth, and Florin is the only one left alive who might know where it is hidden. As Hadley travels from Spain to Cuba to the Balkans to Africa in search not only of the treasure but trying to unravel the mysteries of Florin’s life, the Aztec has a score of his own to settle. The novel has frequent flashbacks in the first few chapters which make the chronology difficult to follow at times. However, the vivid descriptions of the various cities where the protagonists find themselves are fascinating, especially the mouth-watering depictions of Spanish restaurants. For those interested in the Cold War period, The Aztec  gives a view of what was happening outside of Europe and the Soviet Union, as country after country became Marxist, while others became dominated by Fascist, totalitarian regimes, some of which were supported by the CIA. The human cost of war and revolution is assessed in Vidal’s riveting novel of suspense.

(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. The Aztec was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


The Girl Scouts' Radical Agenda

But there is hope....
But for those who don’t want to be mixed up with all that the Girl Scouts have become, a group called American Heritage Girls has stepped into the breach. Established in 1995 in Cincinnati, AHG has 15,000 members in 42 states and four countries. The AH Girls have uniforms and badges, and sell products decided upon on at the local level.

“I believe that character development needs to be based on timeless truths, not on cultural norms,” says Patti Garibay, national executive director of American Heritage Girls. “I believe the standards of behavior for humans are clearly defined by their Maker through the words of the Bible. I also believe that because each of us is made in the image of God, we have an incredible ability to achieve, to be creative, and to change the world, because of His grace.” (Read entire article.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Les Derniers Adieux de Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette kisses her daughter good-bye on her way to the Conciergerie. From Vive la Reine. Share

The Reason There is a Purgatory

Some reflections from Burke to Kirk. (Via Pentimento.)
If the allegations against Jerry Sandusky are true and backed by believable and admissible evidence, Clarence Darrow would not be able to save him from severe punishment. He is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and sex offenders are often given the worst treatment by jailers and the jailed. At the moment, he is spinning for the best jury he can hope to have.

But in the end, he is likely to go to jail. What then? He might become penitent in the penitentiary. Understandably, many of those whose lives he ruined will be angry with anything short of the death penalty. (Read entire post.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Sweetest Thing

Elizabeth Musser’s eighth novel, set in Atlanta during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, is a story of faith, friendship and love. Two young girls become unlikely friends after each suffers tragedy and loss. Perri, a banker’s daughter and debutante, reigns over Atlanta’s belles as the “girl of a thousand dates.” Dobbs, a preacher’s daughter, is determined to free the world from injustice and set souls on fire for Christ. Dobbs decides to begin her mission by reforming the worldly young ladies of the private academy where she and Perri are students. As Dobbs helps Perri to be more spiritual, she finds herself beginning to have serious doubts about her previously unflinching beliefs. As the girls deal with their personal problems, including ups and downs with boys, they are confronted with a mystery which may hold the key to many of the troubles in their community. With a distinct Southern flavor, the novel is replete with descriptions of stately homes, lavish soirées, gowns and gardens. In spite of its title there is nothing saccharine about the book which looks realistically at the bitterness of life, the dark nights of the soul, and the heartbreak and the joy of genuine love. 

(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. The Sweetest Thing was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Lessons from an Epic Marriage

How some people stay together.
I have been exposed in my adult life to just a few epic marriages. One of them is that of Evelyn and Leonard Lauder. The Lauders had been married for 52 years when Mrs. Lauder died Nov. 12 at the age of 75 of complications from nongenetic ovarian cancer. I met Mr. and Mrs. Lauder in the winter of 2010 when I was asked by WSJ. Magazine to interview them for a feature story about what it's like to both live and work together, as they did for Estée Lauder, the cosmetic giant founded by Mr. Lauder's mother in 1946. The interview took place at their Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan. It is the fanciest home I have ever been in. Clearly, the Lauders enjoy significant wealth, and there can be no doubt that not having to contend with money concerns separates their relationship from most of ours. But what left a far deeper and immediate impression upon me was something that is so elusive and that can't be bought: lasting chemistry.
Mr. Lauder sat down with me first. When Mrs. Lauder walked into the den in a pink boat-neck dress, he stopped what he was saying to me, turned to his wife and said, "Don't you look pretty." (Read entire article.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

From Under the Gables:
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Patriarchal Societies

The veneration of fatherhood goes back to ancient times. Whenever power is given it implies duty and responsibility. What a terrible thing (then and now) when the trust put in a person of authority was/is betrayed. Here is an excerpt from Fustel de Coulanges' The Ancient City:
 In juridical language the title pater or pater familias may be given to a man who has never had children, who has never married, who is not even old enough to be married. The idea of paternity is not related to this word. The ancient language had another word to designate father properly, which, being as ancient as pater, is also found in the languages of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hindus (gennetér, genitor, gânitar). The word pater had another meaning. In religious language it was applied to all the gods; in the language of law, to any man who did not depend upon another and who had authority over a family and a domain, paterfamilias. The poets showed us that it was used to refer to all whom one wanted to honor. The slave and the client used it for their master. It was synonymous with the words rex, hänas, basileús. It contained not the idea of paternity, but that of power, authority, and majestic dignity.

The fact that such a word has been applied to the father of a family to the point of gradually becoming his most ordinary name is certainly very significant, and it will certainly appear important to anyone wishing to understand ancient institutions. The history of this word suffices to give us an idea of the power the father exercised in the family for a long time and of the sentiments of veneration which were attached to him, as to a pontiff or a king. (Foustel de Coulanges, La Cité Antique, book 2, pp. 96-98). (Read entire article.) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tigress of Forli

If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world.  
~Caterina Sforza

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici by art historian Elizabeth Lev is a biography which paints a portrait not only of one of the most colorful characters of the Renaissance but of the Renaissance itself. If ever I thought that the films and novels I have seen and read about Renaissance Italy were exaggerated in either the violence or the splendor, thinking that people could not really have lived that way, I see now that they were only showing the tip of the ice burg. Every page of Tigress is rich with abundant details of palaces, churches, cities, wars, assassinations and weddings and yet I had no trouble keeping the characters straight, which attests to the clarity of the prose. The story told therein combines a war epic with heartrending love story and searing tragedy as well as scenes that would do justice to a horror flick.

Caterina Sforza is one of those larger than life characters whom no novelist could invent, and who would have shone in any era of history. As it happened, Caterina, as an illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, was reared in one of the most sophisticated courts in Italy, where art, learning, and fashion were as de rigeur as riding and hunting. Children born out of wedlock were treasured alongside legitimate offspring, Renaissance Italy not being anything like Victorian England. Caterina received the finest education and had the most brilliant marriage arranged for her, to the Pope's own nephew Girolamo Riario. Now here is the one quibble I have with the book: Girolamo is portrayed as consummating the marriage to Caterina when she was only ten and when the couple were merely betrothed. While they might have had a symbolic bedding down ceremony to seal the betrothal, I can hardly believe that the Sforzas would break all convention and permit Girolamo to deflower Caterina when she was only ten, even if he was the Pope's nephew. When the bride was fourteen, they had a sumptuous wedding that lasted days and days and it was at that time that the pair began to officially live together. Thus began Caterina's adventures in the wider world.

The Riarios were given two city states to govern, Imola and Forli. Most of Caterina's life would be spent defending and maintaining the family lands so that her eight children would have an inheritance. Whatever else one can say about her, she was a devoted mother, with solid faith and sincere piety.  (I must say it is amusing how the Riarios consulted their astrologer before taking possession of Forli, but that's the Renaissance for you.) Caterina was a generous alms giver and supported many religious houses, particularly a community of nuns in Florence with whom she was later buried. She took her responsibilities as a Lady and Countess to heart and made every effort to protect her people and maintain the prosperity of their cities, except, I hate to say, when she lost her temper with them.

With Caterina, everything was always in extremes. When she sinned, it was with abandon, fury and passion, but then she just as passionately confessed her sins and amended her life. Part of it was the culture she lived in and part of it was her personality. As a Sforza, who were a dynasty of condottieri, Catherina had been taught how to use weapons, especially when hunting, and had been encouraged to be fearless. Her boldness in crisis situations came to the fore on several occasions, such as when she held the Castel Sant'Angelo in order to force the college of cardinals to elect a new pope. Most dramatic of all was Caterina's stand against Cesare Borgia at Forli; it is certainly the climax of the book to have two legends in their own time face-to-face. Her courage won over the French knights who were fighting alongside Cesare. The Borgia, however, behaved like a beast, bringing the episode to a tragic and horrendous conclusion.

I can not recommend this book highly enough to those who enjoy the history of the Renaissance and biographies of some of the era's personalities. I certainly gained a greater understanding of the tumultuous events which shaped the politics of the day. While Caterina is often forgotten when great ladies of the past are named, she has been immortalized by this work of Elizabeth Lev even as she was once immortalized by the great artists of her time. While reading of her exploits, of her loves and hates and follies, it is good to murmur a prayer now and then for Caterina's soul, knowing that of all people she would be humbly grateful to be remembered in such a manner.

(*NOTE: The Tigress of Forli was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Hemingway at Sea

A review of several books by Papa Hemingway.
Three recent books in that tide of Hemingway iconography present different glimpses of him, and imply different relationships between his life and his art. “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway,” covering the years 1907-22, is the first of more than a dozen planned volumes, collecting just about everything he ever wrote that was not meant for publication. And, to be clear, those of us who admire his fiction should take a moment to acknowledge that these letters were not intended for us. To his executors: “I hereby request and direct you not to publish, or consent to the publication by others, of any such letters.” We are snooping. If you love the artist’s work, if you respect what you think you know of the man, then you can honor his wishes and stop reading right here. On the other hand, Pauline, the second of his four wives, burned her share of the letters, and their son Patrick said of that decision: “At least she was logical. She didn’t want her correspondence to be immortalized. That was the way to deal with it.”
The existence of some of these documents (predating Hemingway’s fame) is close to a miracle, and “The Letters” is without question a spectacular scholarly achievement. Letters about boyhood fishing trips in Michigan that resemble his early Nick Adams stories; notes passed in class; brave and boastful letters home from the hospital in Italy after his wounding in World War I with descriptions of artillery that prefigure “A Farewell to Arms”; courtship letters to his first wife; gossipy letters from Paris describing the literary world he was discovering: these are extraordinary. From 1922, to Sherwood Anderson: “Gertrude Stein and me are just like brothers. . . . Joyce has a most goddamn wonderful book. . . . I’ve been teaching Pound to box with little success.” Sigh. (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sarah Siddons

The life of an actress.
Sarah Siddons was a renowned tragic actress of the 18th century. She was born on 5th July 1755, in a room above a small tavern in High Street in Brecon (Brecknockshire, Wales) into a theatrical family. Her father was Roger Kemble, the manager of the touring theatre company the Warwickshire Company of Comedians, and her mother was the actress Sarah Ward, daughter of the comedian John Ward. Five of their children (they had 12 in total; Sarah was the oldest) and several grandchildren all became famous actors. Sarah was the most famous of them all. Acting was in her blood and, from an early age, she appeared on the stage in her father's shows.

Sarah bloomed into a beautiful young woman and, at 15, caught the eye of a member of her father's troop, a certain William Siddons. Her parents weren't happy at this match and decided to take Sarah off the stage and send her to work as a lady's-maid to Lady Greathead, of Guy's Cliff (near Warwick) for £10 a year, hoping the couple would fall out of love. Two years passed before her parents realised how deeply her daughter and William cared about each other and finally consented to their union. In 1773, the couple tied the knot. They had seven children, but only two of them survived childhood, and the marriage eventually ended in a formal separation. (Read entire post.)

Sleep Troubles

Do American children get enough sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of kids in the years through middle school aren't getting adequate sleep, which, for these ages, is 10 to 12 hours. James B. Maas, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, puts that figure higher, at around 85%. A study published in 1999 showed that about 10% of school-age kids through fourth grade fall asleep in school—and parents and experts will tell you that the problem, enhanced by the Age of Internet and iPod, has only grown worse. From Massachusetts to Oregon, middle schools, along with high schools, are now pushing back their start times so that students can get more sleep. Which is a great idea—unless it just gives kids yet another excuse to stay up late and watch TV. In the meantime, studies have shown over and over again that sleep-deprived children are prone to acting out, inappropriate behavior, inability to focus, depression and even weight gain, because a kid without enough energy reserves in the form of sleep tends to both eat more and exercise less.

These kids aren't merely a pain for teachers, but also can develop serious health and developmental issues. Their sleep-deprived bodies release "counter-regulatory" hormones, particularly adrenaline and cortisol, that not only make them hyper and incapable of focusing (time to get out the Ritalin!) but also short-circuit development, as the brain's repair-and-restore cycle doesn't have enough time to complete its dance. Yes, America's falling behind, but not because we're lazy. On the contrary. We're so frenzied that we can no longer pay attention. (Read entire post.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Son Altesse Royale

The Duchesse d'Angoulême in 1815. From Vive la Reine.
    A mystic hush fell upon the vast assembly at the sight of the princess, as if something holy had just come into the Opera house.  Then cries of “Long live the King!  Long live Madame!” echoed in the heights of the ceiling.  The princess glittered from afar. 
    “She wears white satin covered with diamonds,” said Dorothée from behind her opera glasses.  “High plumes and a gold filigree tiara, covered with gems.”
    “Her necklace and earrings … surely they are Marie-Antoinette’s own diamonds,” said Madame de Boigne, looking through her own glasses.  “The tiara is new … it is in the Merovingian style.  Well, she is certainly a princess of whom France need not be ashamed before the world.”
~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal

The Sexualization of Girls

This report from the American Psychological Association is a must read.
Mental and physical health

Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood (Abramson & Valene, 1991; Durkin & Paxton, 2002; Harrison, 2000; Hofschire & Greenberg, 2001; Mills, Polivy, Herman & Tiggemann, 2002; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw & Stein, 1994; Thomsen, Weber & Brown, 2002; Ward, 2004). Several studies (on both teenage and adult women) have found associations between exposure to narrow representations of female beauty (e.g., the “thin ideal”) and disordered eating attitudes and symptoms.

Research also links exposure to sexualized female ideals with lower self-esteem, negative mood and depressive symptoms among adolescent girls and women. In addition to mental health consequences of sexualization, research suggests that girls’ and women’s physical health may also be negatively affected, albeit indirectly....

Impact on others and on society

The sexualization of girls can also have a negative impact on other groups (i.e., boys, men, and adult women) and on society more broadly. Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual attractiveness may make it difficult for some men to find an “acceptable” partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with a female partner (e.g., Schooler & Ward, 2006).

Adult women may suffer by trying to conform to a younger and younger standard of ideal female beauty. More general societal effects may include an increase in sexism; fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence; and an increased demand for child pornography. (Read entire report.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Extreme Makeover

 Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. ~John Adams
We are in the middle of a war. It is a war which involves every man, woman and child because it is a war not only for our culture but for our souls. The main battlegrounds of this war appear to be the minds and hearts of women because it is women who make or break family life. Once family life is destroyed or corrupted then the state becomes supreme with each and every one of us as its puppets. When women are degraded then the entire society loses it dignity and heroism. Once a people lose their nobility of soul and sense of honor then there is nothing left to them but enslavement. We now waver at the brink but all is not lost for we have women who see things as they are and are not afraid to talk about it.

Journalist and radio talk show host Teresa Tomeo is one such woman who assesses the facts and tells the truth, as unpleasant as it may be. In her new book Extreme Makeover she writes eloquently of her own experience, what she has seen and what she has lived through, while putting it in the larger context of society as a whole. The feminist movement, which promised to liberate women, has only led to lowering the quality of life not only for women but for their children. Everyone suffers because of the breakdown of morality. "There is a natural order in terms of the way our bodies are designed. When we go against that plan, we make a mess of things for ourselves, and the mess spills over into our families—and into society." (p.61) 
Although we live surrounded by the results of failed social experiments, Teresa offers the conclusions of several studies and articles from scholarly journals to back up her assertions. There is also an array anecdotes and news stories gleaned from her many years as an investigative reporter. Every page of the book is rich with information. Not a stone is left unturned and the evidence is sifted most thoroughly with meticulous documentation. For instance, in one of the discussions of abortion, Teresa writes:
If the media were doing its job, it would see a pattern of misconduct in the abortion industry. In the last two years, abortion clinics in New Jersey, Alabama, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Maryland, and Kansas, just to name a few, have been investigated for violations of health care regulations, unreported cases of statutory rape, and problems with the licenses—or lack thereof—of the abortionists themselves.
• In Kansas a case against a Planned Parenthood facility involving 107 criminal charges, including 23 felonies, was remanded to the state’s highest court.21
• Officials in New Jersey accused an abortionist, already under close scrutiny in three other states, of putting women at additional risk through botched abortions.22
• In Alabama the health department found violations at a Planned Parenthood abortion facility regarding the state’s parental consent law.23 (p.64)
The brave work of Lila Rose and Live Action is shown as the valiant Catholic action that it is, as well as other heroic movements in the Church which stand up to the tyranny of the culture of death. Extreme Makeover is a book for the present moment, allowing us to see that moment in the light of tradition as well as in the chronology of the sexual revolution.

The moral teaching of the Catholic Church is not only beautifully explained but shown as the only practical and healthy way in which to live. To quote:
Statistics support the Church’s teaching that marriage is the proper context for sex. Research shows that about 40 percent of married women said that their sex life was emotionally and physically satisfying, compared to about 30 percent of single women. Research also shows that cohabitating couples do not have the same type of commitment as married couples and are less likely to be sexually faithful.42

Let’s do a quick review. Accepting the messages of the culture leads many into sexual relationships outside of marriage. These relationships can lead to serious sin, serious physical and emotional illness, and serious problems for society. The fruits of these relationships are higher divorce rates, more abortions, more children born out of wedlock, increased numbers of STDs, major health complications, higher infertility rates, and increased objectification of women. Listening to God and keeping sex right where it is supposed to be—between one man and one woman, husband and wife in the marital bed—helps us avoid all of these troubles, and more. So which is more conducive to human happiness, “free sex” or the teaching of the Church? (pp.96-97)
Extreme Makeover is a book which should be read by every young woman and every mother of teenage daughters. It is a book to have on hand when engaging in culture war debates on the internet. We need not be ashamed of the truth of our faith but for the sake of others we must speak out with love for what is true and good. And we need not be afraid, for others have paved the way.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)



A controversial genius.
He took the art scene by storm and it’s never quite been the same since. Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s art, like his character, resists comparison.

Last month, I had the opportunity to witness twelve pieces Caravaggio left behind. From June 17th to September 11th, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa is hosting 58 works by more than 30 artists. Twelve of said pieces are Caravaggio’s original works. The exhibit was five years in the making as it marks the first time any of Caravaggio’s works have been on Canadian soil.

When he started painting, no one else was using light and dark in such forceful juxtaposition (he began with black canvas and worked his way to the peaks of light), nor were other painters of the day using live models (without regard of their questionable moral bearings) nor were others painting the everyday (and somewhat objectionable) scenes that would meet the common 17th century street-wanderer.

What is perhaps the most remarkable about Caravaggio is the seeming schizophrenia in the life and work of the renowned artist. Many, upon contemplating his paintings would probably come away convinced of Caravaggio’s saintly disposition or of his profound devotion to the mysteries of the Christian faith. Then they’d learn about his life. Then disbelief would set in along with the overwhelming inclination to make excuses for this brilliant yet, apparently troubled man.

Caravaggio’s family hails from the small town of Caravaggio (in Lombardy, Italy) though Caravaggio himself was born in Milan. His career began at 13 when he was accepted as an apprentice for Simone Peterzano (a Milanese painter). There, Caravaggio learned about materials and techniques, studied art and performed menial tasks in the workshop.

Then, like all other fledgling young artists of his day, Caravaggio hit the road for Rome. Here, it was an unspoken rule that artists must converge to make a life for themselves. After all, if they were to sustain themselves on the world of art alone, then there was nothing like Church commissions to keep food on the table!

After a few tough years, Caravaggio was noticed by Cardinal Del Monte. The Cardinal was taken with the young artist’s unique techniques. So much so, that the Cardinal had Caravaggio move into his palace and he began to actively promote the young artist’s works. This marked Caravaggio’s entrance into high society. (Read entire article.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011


25% Off Hollywood Blvd. Skirt= 'Day8'
More of the "Tinsel Town" collection from Shabby Apple. Remember that through November 23rd, all black dresses are 15% off with code 'BLACKOUT'. The skirt above is one of my favorites and is 25% off just for today. Share


Some tips from Kids Help Phone:
Listen. If a young person reports a bullying incident to you, either as a target or a bystander, act immediately. Your child needs to know that you can and will help. If the bully is a student consider reporting it to the school principal. If you feel that your child is physically at risk, call the police at once.

Stay aware. Keep the family computer in a central location where you can easily monitor it.

Be supportive. Don't under estimate what your child is going through. Listen to your child and try to understand the impact the bullying is having on them, and assure them that you are on their side.

Encourage them to do the right thing. If your kid is a bystander, explain that it's important that they don't stay a silent witness. You might want to ask things like, "would you want someone to have your back if you were the one getting bullied?"

Don't tell them to fight back. Be assertive, not aggressive. Fighting or responding to online abuse or rumours with more of the same doesn't help anyone. (Read entire article.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Queen Intervenes for Prisoners

From Vive la Reine:
Marie Antoinette reigned not only by her grace, but by her goodness.…She obtained a new hearing in the case of Messieurs de Bellagarde and de Moustiers, who had been pursued by the spite of the Duc d’Aiguillon; and when their innocence had been established, the two prisoners, set at liberty, came with their wives and children to thank their benefactress, she replied modestly that justice alone had been done, and that one should congratulate her only on the greatest happiness arising from her position - that of being able to lay before the king just claims.

As a token of gratitude, Madame de Bellegarde had a picture painted in which she was represented with her husband kneeling before the queen … the queen was greatly touched, and placed the picture in her apartment.

-The Life of Marie Antoinette, Volume 1 by Maxime de la Rocheterie

Blessed John Henry Newman and Sophie Scholl

Stephanie Mann posts on how the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman inspired Sophie Scholl, a Lutheran, to take a stand against the Nazis.
Sophie Scholl, White Rose objector to Nazi rule in Germany, was born on May 9, 1921; she was guillotined on February 22, 1943. Scholl is one of the most admired women in 20th Century German history--but what does she have to do with the subject of this blog?

According to this Catholic Herald story from 2009, she and her White Rose compatriots were very much influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman, particularly by his teachings on conscience:
Cardinal John Henry Newman was an inspiration of Germany's greatest heroine in defying Adolf Hitler, scholars have claimed.

New documents unearthed by German academics have revealed that the writings of the 19th-century English theologian were a direct influence on Sophie Scholl, who was beheaded for circulating leaflets urging students at Munich University to rise up against Nazi terror.

Scholl, a student who was 21 at the time of her death in February 1943, is a legend in Germany, with two films made about her life and more than 190 schools named after her. She was also voted "woman of the 20th century" by readers of Brigitte, a women's magazine, and a popular 2003 television series called Greatest Germans declared her to be the greatest German woman of all time.

But behind her heroism was the "theology of conscience" expounded by Cardinal Newman, according to Professor Günther Biemer, the leading German interpreter of Newman, and Jakob Knab, an expert on the life of Sophie Scholl, who will later this year publish research in Newman Studien on the White Rose resistance movement, to which she belonged. (Read entire post.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pierre Toussaint: Slave, Saint and Gentilhomme of Old New York, Part IV

The following is the conclusion of the guest post by James Sullivan, whom I asked to share with us some of his research on Pierre Toussaint, about whom he is writing a book. Part I, Part II, Part III.

Catherine (“Kitty”)  Church Cruger, two years older than Toussaint, would become one of those key clients and friends.  She was the daughter of John Barker Church (who would give the pistols to Hamilton for the duel in Weehawken) and Angelica Schuyler, the muse and confidante of Hamilton and Jefferson. Kitty lived abroad in the 1780’s and 90’s and attended school in Paris at the Abbey de Panthemont where she was a classmate of Jefferson’s daughter’s Patsy and Polly.  She dined at the Hotel de Langeac with the Jefferson family and undoubtedly knew Sally Hemmings and Mr. Jefferson’s adored friend, Maria Cosway.  In 1797, at age 18, Kitty Cruger returned to New York with her parents, the very same year as the arrival of the unknown and unheralded slave from Saint-Domingue.  Kitty took up residence with her parents on fashionable Broadway while Pierre occupied the third floor of the wooden and brick home on 105 Reade St., a decidedly mixed neighborhood in Ward 5, Manhattan, with a blend of skin colors and trades – coachmen, tavern owners and assorted mechanics.  Abraham Bloodgood, a city assessor and member of the Common Council owned the house. Bloodgood was a Democratic Republican and his name appears in correspondence with Jefferson regarding New York political initiatives. 

Catherine’s education in France fulfilled a concern of her mother, Angelica and the Schuyler family. Catherine’s grandfather, General Schuyler was conscious of the need of his girls to learn French.  Educated in New Rochelle by a French Huguenot schoolmaster, Schuyler urged the girls to be fluent in French.  Angelica wrote to sister Elizabeth, Hamilton’s wife to recommend French, although Eliza never mastered it.  Hamilton himself was fluent in French. General Schuyler had served in locis parentis for Madame de la Tour du Pin, when she and her husband and family had escaped the guillotine and arrived in Troy, New York, 1793. Catherine’s exposure to Parisian schooling confirmed in her a lifelong admiration for France and sympathy for Catholicism. Josephine DuPont, wife of Victor somewhat sardonically describes the teenage Kitty upon return to New York City as “giving her arm to the first Frenchman she meets, although she shows considerably more restraint toward the local man-in-the-street.”   Kitty married Betram Peter Cruger, thus allying two of New York’s most distinguished Dutch families. Bertram Cruger was son of Nicholas Cruger who had flourished with Cornelius Beekman in the West Indian trade. Nicholas would hire a young clerk, Alexander Hamilton and show him the mercantile opportunities and high Federal connections in New York City which would contribute to Hamilton’s future.  One might say that two young men would benefit from attachment to the Cruger name:  Pierre Toussaint and Alexander Hamilton.

Kitty would console Toussaint in 1829 when he lost his adopted niece, Euphemia at the age of fourteen.  The little girl had been Rosalie’s daughter, Pierre’s sister who had come on the Pulaski with the Berard entourage in 1797.  Pierre adopted Euphemia and raised her as a daughter.  In 1829, upon the little girl’s death from tuberculosis, Kitty would write: 

“My tears have flowed with yours, but I could not weep for her, I wept for you. When we resign to the Eternal Father a child as pure as the heavens to which she returns we ought not to weep. Her short life has been full of happiness, raised in the wealthiest and most elevated classes, the gentlest virtues and affections have surrounded her from her cradle.  If death had struck you instead of her, to what dangers might she have been exposed?  May the consciousness of the duty you have so faithfully discharged mitigate this most bitter sorrow?”

This letter allows us to see that Toussaint’s “humble calling” was hardly a barrier in forming a bond with Catherine Cruger and many other people of means in New York City.  It also enabled Euphemia and Pierre’s wife, Juliette to live in the company of New York’s gentry while contributing to Pierre’s growing clientele of notable New York ladies. Euphemia left her own record, although living only to the age of 14.  Pierre had asked her to compose two letters to him each Friday, one in English and the other in French, so as to monitor her progress in composition.  It was also a way of staying in closer touch with his adored niece, since the hairdresser’s rounds kept him gone from home for long hours each day.  These letters survive in the Toussaint Collection and provide a unique teenage perspective on events occurring in New York from 1822 to 1829.  Euphemia’s piety reflects the manner in which she was raised by Pierre and Juliette, while not altogether suppressing a young girl’s enthusiasm for events around town, and her own progress on piano.  Referring to the Garcia family and their celebrated arrival in New York,  she demonstrates a braggadocio in claiming that one of her girlfriend’s is vocally superior to Madame Malibran, the diva in the group. She gently pesters him about her plans, “Uncle, take me to the theater, you said that you would.”  Noting the presence of anti-Catholicism in her own day, she asks rhetorically, “Uncle, why do they hate us so?” And sensitive to the precariousness of life and the ravages of yellow fever and cholera, she writes to Toussaint that she will be glad to live yet another year.  Given her short life span, her prayer that she be permitted another year strikes us with poignancy but also deep realism. Her passing floored the saintly Toussaint, and letters flowed in to encourage him through her loss.

Other friends in the Toussaint circle, include Cesarine Meetz and her father Raymond Meetz.  They played a special role in Toussaint’s life.  Cesarine was Euphemia’s first tutor on the piano.  A prodigy of sorts, Cesarine gave recitals at City Hotel and her father owned Raymond Meetz’s Musical Depository on Maiden Lane while also being a minor composer and teacher of music. Toussaint purchased two pianos from Raymond and the Meetz family would remain principal correspondents with Pierre long after their return to France in 1827.  Cesarine married well. In 1827, Bishop Henry Hobart officiated at her wedding to Charles Moulton at Trinity Church. Moulton had evidently scored in New York’s real estate boom. We have a precious glimpse of the nuptials from little Euphemia, who had attended with her aunt, Juliette.  In a note scribbled to Pierre, she writes: “Oh I wished you could have been at the wedding.  Miss Meetz kissed me and my aunt.  Only Miss Meetz could have done such a thing!” The moment is not lost on Euphemia or us.  The racial divide is obliterated, as Cesarine embraces her loved piano student and the little girl’s  aunt. We may assume, wrongly, that race hatred would be the norm in old New York.  Not quite, as this account at Trinity demonstrates.  The year 1827 is notable also for the abolition of slavery from New York. 

The racial divide could cut more harshly however.  In 1842, on his way to church at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the 58 year old Toussaint was barred entry by a young usher who told the hairdresser that blacks were not admitted to the service. We have no idea if John Hughes the Archbishop was informed or had a thought about the confrontation. Louis B. Binsse, Trustee of the Cathedral and close friend of Toussaint immediately wrote to him. “It would be difficult for me to express to you the grief which has been caused me by the insult you have received.”  The rebuke by the usher was even more insulting given the fact that in 1808, Toussaint had made a lead gift for the construction of the Cathedral.  Only a saint could suffer such an indignity friends thought. The incident shows only too well, however, the racial antagonism building in New York as the antebellum years wore on. Moreover, given the fact that racial discord only intensified as the decades drew closer to the Civil War, how was it that this black hairdresser, a devout Roman Catholic seemed only to grow in the esteem and affection of New Yorkers no matter their religious background? In a eulogy to Toussaint appearing in the Home Journal, essayist Henry T. Tuckerman would write, “often strangers paused to look with curiosity and surprise upon the singular tableaux presented in Broadway of the venerable negro with both his hands clasped in greeting by a lady high in the circles of fashion or birth, and to watch the vivid interest of both, as they exchanged inquiries for each other’s welfare.” 

Over the divide of race and religion, Toussaint found a way to bridge differences and unite, even as he suffered his own rebuffs. As the leading hairdresser in New York City, he evidently always refused to take public transportation.  Public omnibuses, in service throughout the city, were not available to blacks.  The forensic examination of his bones in 1990 by the Manhattan Forensic Anthropology Team  revealed severe osteoarthritis in both knees testimony to the miles he had walked from the Battery to Bond St. Nor was he willing to suspend the discriminatory code in his own case.  When Juliette died, Pierre asked that only blacks be allowed to walk behind her coffin to its resting place in Old St. Patrick’s, with white mourners arriving at the cemetery in carriages.  While we perhaps cringe at such respect to practices now long shunned, yet who remembers the white mourners in carriages?  It is the interred Toussaint’s that live in the historical consciousness of New York today.

John Cardinal O’Connor adopted Toussaint when he came to New York as Archbishop and pressed for canonization.  An exhumation of his remains was requested of the court, no living descendants of Toussaint remaining.  In November, 1990, one year before the celebrated remains of old New York’s Negro Burial Ground would be unearthed, Toussaint, Juliette and Euphemia’s remains were uncovered in Old St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  O’Connor desired to transfer Pierre’s remains to St. Patrick’s Cathedral crypt, on 5th Avenue so that the veneration of Pierre by the faithful could be done more easily. (Today, Toussaint is entombed beneath the high altar at St. Patrick’s, the only layman, the only African-American to lie with New York’s Archbishops and Cardinals.)  When skeleton #6 was determined to be a black male at about 5’ 11” probability rose that the remains were those of Toussaint.  Yet a final ingredient was needed.  Spencer Terkel, Assistant Director of the Manhattan Forensic Anthropological Team was aware of a photograph, an original wet plate in the Columbiana Collection taken by Nathaniel Fish Moore, President of Columbia from 1842 to 1849.  The photo had appeared in John A. Kouwenhoven’s 1953 work, The Columbia Historical Portrait of New York with the caption “Unidentified Black Servant.”  Over the years, sympathizers of Toussaint including The Pierre Toussaint Guild had believed that the photograph of the elderly black man sitting in an ornate chair was Toussaint. It was known that Toussaint was close to the Moore family and that Nathaniel’s sister, Sarah was a client and friend of the barber. Terkel decided to input the photo, an exact-sized copy obtained from Holly Haswell, Curator of the Collection into a computer.  After a 7-hour process of comparing a video image of the skull against the stored photograph, a perfect match was obtained. “I have no doubt at all, said Professor Terkel that the remains were Toussaint’s and the photo is of him.”

In 1991, a copy of the photo as well as documentation to include all of the letters written to Toussaint and corroborating material was sent to Rome, a part of what is called the Positio, a catalog raisonne so to speak of the candidate for sainthood by the New York Archdiocese.  In 1995, Pope John Paul II declared Pierre Toussaint, Venerable, an indication that he was a person of heroic virtue and thus on the road to possible canonization.  Two miracles must be obtained, however, which would be required to bring Pierre into the official catalog of declared saints of the Catholic Church.  Strong possibility exists that the first miracle may actually have been obtained.  The case concerns Joey Peacock, a 15 year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland.  At the age of 5, Joey was suffering from acute scoliosis or curvature of the spine.  His parents had heard about Pierre through an article appearing in The Washington Post.  They began to pray to Pierre to ask his intercession in the case of their son.  Some 5 months into the boy’s disease, doctors at Johns Hopkins reported a spontaneous, near instantaneous remission. Now ten years later, Joey appears completely cured of scoliosis, yet Rome hesitates, wanting him to reach adulthood with no recurrence.  Eventually this could be the miracle that vaults Pierre to the stage of “Blessed” what is termed in the process, beatification. Having been beatified, one more miracle would be needed before the Pope could declare Toussaint a saint.

Shortly before becoming Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked by Raymond Arroyo of EWTN network what Catholics should do who were buffeted by the bad news of clerical abuse.  Ratzinger said that recourse should be made to the Saints, but not to the saints alone, but also to “holy men and women who live within the ranks of the faithful. “ These could also have a salutary effect and show that despite degeneracy of various forms infiltrating the Church, there remained providential signs of hope.  Unquestionably Pierre Toussaint appeared to so many who knew him in antebellum New York as precisely that type of providential sign.  Mary Ann Schuyler called him “My St. Pierre.”  Her niece, Amelia Briggs, daughter of Kitty Cruger would write to Toussaint a few months before his passing: “If it would please God to give me holiness, it will happen.  If not, I remain content as I am. Yet, my dear Toussaint, I wish to be a Christian as you are a Christian.  Pray for me, for I believe in the prayers of the just, and I desire to love God above all else and to serve him faithfully.” Catherine Cruger tells Toussaint in a letter that she would call him the finest man in New York, except that she would not dare risk his falling away from modesty on her account.  And while we wait for Rome, we allow the voice of the faithful in New York City to speak about one of its own. 

Copyright © James Sullivan, 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.

Working Mothers and Their Babies

Is breastfeeding possible? An intelligent article.
Back in the day, breastfeeding was the only way to go because formula was not a safe option. In fact, the rates of death were somewhere between 50 and 90 percent, and the concoctions were something like bread broth, crumbs cooked in milk or water, or even milk with eggs and spices and sugar. Yiiiiikes! So the babies who did live on artificial food usually weren't exactly thriving.

In the industrial 18th century in the UK, there was a drop in breastfeeding, likely because more women went out to work. The amount of women in the workforce seems to be directly related to the drop in breastfeeding. It's not like they had laws to provide them with time and a place to pump breastmilk. I'm sure they didn't even have good breast pumps.

This detail was put together by researchers at Oxford University. They recovered 162 skeletons from a graveyard in Spitalsfield, London, and ran a bunch of tests on them. Of the 72 child skeletons, 32 were babies who died before their second birthdays. By looking at levels of isotopes in the bones using a method called 'stable isotope analysis,' they were apparently able to see which babies were breastfed for certain amounts of time and which were not, along with seeing cultural trends in breastfeeding as well. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pierre Toussaint: Slave, Saint and Gentilhomme of Old New York, Part III

Slavery in America

The following is a continuation of the guest post by James Sullivan, whom I asked to share with us some of his research on Pierre Toussaint, about whom he is writing a book. Part I is HERE, Part II is HERE.

Upon arrival in New York, Berard  apprenticed Pierre to a Mr. Merchant to learn the hairdresser’s craft.  This decision was of signal importance and would provide Pierre with a livelihood that would make possible his numerous charities.  Merchant’s name appears nowhere in City records but the period of apprenticeship could well have lasted three years, until about 1800.  In the meantime, perhaps 1798, Berard returned to Saint-Domingue to reclaim the plantation.  Toussaint Louverture had invited former plantation owners to return so that the agricultural economy could be reconstituted and attain to production rates at pre-revolutionary levels.  The now emancipated slaves would be required to work as free peasant-farmers and Berard took the chance to return to l’Artibonite.  A letter, however, soon arrived at Reade St., from Saint-Domingue indicating his death from pleurisy.  Marie Berard’s two sisters, Marie Ann Dessource and Adelaide Bossard had also returned to Saint Domingue  but died there in circumstances undetermined. 

  Marie was now alone in New York, the last surviving white from the original entourage that had arrived at New York Harbor in 1797. At this point, while still a slave, Pierre began to take chief responsibility for the welfare of his mistress and the other slaves.  He paid off the debt to Merchant for his apprenticeship and continued to see to it that Marie Berard’s needs were met.  Although she eventually remarried in 1802  to Gabriel Nicolas, an emigre planter from Saint-Domingue, the new husband’s odd jobs as a musical performer were not sufficient to maintain the household and Toussaint remained the principal wage-earner.  

For Toussaint, the hairdresser’s trade consisted of two sorts of clients.  On the one hand he began to develop a list of subscription customers whom he would visit in their homes, often on a weekly basis or even twice or three times a week.  He also maintained two salons; on Chapel St. (now West Broadway) and the other on Canal St.  In the case of subscription clients, Toussaint was advantaged by working in the French colony in New York. He spoke English poorly; it was always his second language.  But French constituted his native tongue and it gave him an important entry into the community of French émigrés now living in  New York. He dressed the hair of many of the important personalities living in the City.  Although he left no list of customers, we know from letters and odd notes that he was a familiar presence at the homes of the Bancel’s, Binsse’s, LaRue’s and LaFarge’s.  Jesuit priest, John LaFarge, S.J., founder of the Catholic Interracial Council in New York would recall how Toussaint did his grandmother’s hair.  Moreover, his client contacts among New York patricians: Schuylers, Hamilton’s, Steven’s and Cruger’s  made him a familiar figure within New York’s Knickerbocker elite.  These two  communities gave Toussaint the income with which he would turn to philanthropic and charitable endeavors.  His letters reveal a steady request from various sources for funds.  Seminarians and newly ordained priests ask for money; widows complain about their malhereux and the need for a pittance to see them through.  George I. Paddington, a remarkable figure asks Toussaint for a bourse or stipend.  Ordained in Haiti by Bishop John England of Charleston, S.C. in 1836, Father Paddington floats without a parish and appeals to his friend Toussaint. Paddington may well be the first black man to be ordained by a U.S. Bishop, and our knowledge of him comes solely from his correspondence with Pierre Toussaint.

The correspondence became an early archival gift to the New York  Public Library in 1903 from Georgina Schuyler, daughter of George Lee Schuyler and Elizabeth Hamilton Schuyler.  It constitutes 5 boxes of letters, pew receipts, invitations to events at St. Peter’s and St. Vincent de Paul and other personal papers, including his manumission in 1807 and his will. After living in New York for ten years and earning the cash to support Marie Berard, Toussaint was freed in Marie’s final days. Of his own freedom, he seemed unconcerned.  “My freedom belongs to my mistress,” he would say. Yet his earnings allowed him to pay in part or in full for the manumission of others.  To defer one’s own manumission in order to assist other’s in gaining their freedom strikes us today as abjectly servile. Yet Toussaint saw it differently.  In his own mind, he felt the need to put the good of others ahead of his own needs and desires. Writing many years letter, Amelia Briggs tells “Mon Toussaint” that it is rare indeed “to be a man who asks for nothing for himself.” 

With his steady work and growing income, Toussaint becomes a lead donor to capital projects at St. Peter’s Church, Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Vincent de Paul Church.  In the case of the latter church, Pierre makes a major cash donation to create a French parish on Canal St. French Catholics who knew Pierre in New York and had returned themselves to France write constantly to inquire as to whether he has heard any good sermons in French.  One of these, Jean Sorbieu, a best man at Pierre’s wedding whose wife has become a lady in waiting since the Bourbon restoration and returned to Rouen, writes pointedly to Pierre about the sauvage Irlandais. We see in such letters the friction between French and Irish played out in the early years of St. Peter’s Church.  Toussaint’s style was acute but as far as we know non-controversial.  His friends were less demure. How did Toussaint view the tension at old St. Peter’s between the minority of French parishioners and the more numerous Irish? Regrettably we cannot answer that easily. We know that he was strongly pro-French in his circle of friends.  Of course this francophilia had sources of support in New York. Democratic-Republicans would swing the 1800 presidential election to Jefferson, and they represented the pro-French faction as against Federalists who were more supportive of Great Britain.

Yet money is not Toussaint’s only means of showing charity. We have a short note in the Collection urging Toussaint to get fire wood to a widow on Wooster St. Then there are the letters from an L. Emmerling, a prisoner in Bellevue. Prison ministry is a cliché term nowadays but the reality of visiting those incarcerated has a long Christian tradition and was obviously practiced by Toussaint. A woman in Paris thanks Toussaint for his counsel and good advice. “You know my character,” she says, hinting at a certain instability or manic disposition. 

Pierre’s charitable activities are hardly undertaken in a vacuum, as his wife Juliette is also deeply involved.  Her cousin, Fanny Montpensier is a black Catholic in Baltimore very involved with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first black order of nuns in the U.S. Fanny writes continuously of the progress of the Sisters and the need to support the Sulpician priests who help the order.  Food stuffs are requested, that should be forwarded to Rev. Deluol at St. Mary’s in Baltimore.  In repayment for the expense, the Sisters of Charity on Prince St. will recompense Toussaint.  Fanny notes in one letter that she would herself enter the Oblate order but she lacks sufficient financial resources to afford the dowry. She represents a forgotten group of free blacks, not rich, yet striving to do an immense charitable work for the establishment of a religious order of women of color. Toussaint, with much deeper pockets than Fanny, proves that he is not limited to helping his near neighbor, but considers it his responsibility to help others at a greater distance.

In 1815, Toussaint is summoned to the City Hotel, New York’s finest inn of the time. A French woman has arrived and is in need of a hairdresser. Madame de Brochet informs Toussaint that although New York is not lacking in amenities, it cannot take the place of Paris and the dear friends she has left behind.  One in particular, Aurore Berard, she longs to see again. Toussaint is struck by possibilities.  Could this be the same Aurore, the youngest daughter of the Berard family, his godmother?  Indeed, it is.  Thus begins a chapter of correspondence between Pierre and Aurore which will last until her death in 1835.  A constant theme in their letters is whether Pierre will relocate to Paris.  At length the decision is to remain in New York.  Aurore meets Pierre’s friends, Jean Sorbieu and Kitty Cruger in Paris and each one seems to urge the wiser counsel that Pierre stay put.  Even if he has the money to support an Atlantic crossing, Paris would hardly replicate the business resources that he has built up in New York.  While the Frenchman in Pierre and the good godson wants only to assist Aurore, a single woman living alone in Rue de Tournon, the more circumspect decision is to remain in New York.  
 (To be continued.)

Copyright © James Sullivan, 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.

Shabby Apple Sale, Day 5

25% Off "Antiquated" Dress= Use Code'Day5'
As I said a few days ago, Shabby Apple has a new line called "Tinsel Town" and it is inspired by old Hollywood. They are having a sale which runs through November 23rd, including 15% off all black dresses with code 'BLACKOUT'. The dress above is 25% off just for today.

The North Carolina Eugenics Project

One of the victims has recently come forward.
Elaine Riddick was 13 years old when she got pregnant after being raped by a neighbor in Winfall, N.C., in 1967.  The state ordered that immediately after giving birth, she should be sterilized.  Doctors cut and tied off her fallopian tubes. “I have to carry these scars with me.  I have to live with this for the rest of my life,” she said.

Riddick was never told what was happening.  “Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember, that’s all I remember,” she said.  “When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.” Riddick’s records reveal that a five-person state eugenics board in Raleigh had approved a recommendation that she be sterilized. The records label Riddick as “feebleminded” and “promiscuous.” They said her schoolwork was poor and that she “does not get along well with others.”

“I was raped by a perpetrator [who was never charged] and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina.  They took something from me both times,” she said.  “The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God given.”

It wouldn’t be until Riddick was 19, married and wanting more children, that she’d learn she was incapable of having any more babies. A doctor in New York where she was living at the time told her that she’d been sterilized.

“Butchered.  The doctor used that word…  I didn’t understand what she meant when she said I had been butchered,” Riddick said. North Carolina was one of 31 states to have a government run eugenics program.  By the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized as a result of these programs. (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pierre Toussaint: Slave, Saint and Gentilhomme of Old New York, Part II

  The following is a continuation of the guest post by James Sullivan, whom I asked to share with us some of his research on Pierre Toussaint, about whom he is writing a book. Part I is HERE.

Toussaint was born in Saint-Domingue on the Berard plantation near the town of St. Marc in the l’Artibonite Valley about 1781. The French colony of Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti) was at the height of its prosperity –the richest colony in human history. It surpassed Jamaica, the British colony in sugar production, accounting for 40 % of the world’s crop.  Sugar cane was harvested on about 800 plantations, perfected by French irrigation techniques, resting on the labor of a slave population (500,000) that outnumbered the white master class, 10 to 1.  Underneath a tripartite caste system – whites, mulattoes and black slaves –  discontent was roiling however.  This volcanic mixture would burst forth in 1791 in the north province with the firing by black slaves of plantations outside Cap Francais, a city described by 18th century European visitors as equal to any second-tier city in Europe.  The Haitian Revolution was fueled not only by the wretchedness of slavery but equally by revolutionary movements in the mother country (the French Revolution) and the earlier success of the American Revolution. 

Events in France in 1789, would electrify white colonialists in Saint-Domingue who sought the reduction of the commercial  hegemony exerted by the French Crown.  The mercantilism of France required that the vast spoils of Saint-Domingue; its coffee, sugar, indigo and cotton be exported to the mother country, exclusively.  White planters looked approvingly at American rebels who had gained their own liberation from the British.  But just as the planters of Saint-Domingue looked with admiration  on the efforts of Franklin, Adams, Washington and Hamilton, they resisted, even more adamantly any calls to unite abolition with free trade.  Their republican identification drew a line regarding slavery.  Les Amis des Noirs, a club in Paris  led by Brissot and Abbe Gregoire which aimed at abolition held no appeal for the planters as they saw slavery as an economic fundamental in the their rise to incredible wealth. At the same time, the middle group, people of mixed ancestry or Free People of Color saw their opportunity for political parity with the white planters.  Soon, these two groups would feel the grievances of the third constituency, the dispossessed slaves.   Fighting continued until 1804 with the ouster of Napoleon’s forces and the establishment of Haiti, the first Black Republic. 

Although a slave, Pierre’s condition was ameliorated by being removed from the debilitating work of field labor.  A house slave, he was a quite capable correspondent and his gifts as a letter writer were acquired on the plantation. Beyond his secular studies, his education also involved an acquaintance with French spiritual writers.  Emma Carey, a mid- 19th century convert to Catholicism, who knew the hairdresser when she was a young girl in New York City noted that Toussaint was entirely conversant with such authors as Bossuet and Massilon.   In knowing Bossuet, Toussaint had a connection with Thomas Jefferson who kept a copy of the French Bishop’s political writings in his library at Monticello.  It is also reasonable to infer Toussaint’s acquaintance with the thought of St. Francis de Sales.  Many French homes of the haute bourgeoisie contained a copy of Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis’s famed treatise on the possibility of living a spiritual life even while immersed in a worldly profession. It would be surprising indeed, given Toussaint’s knowledge of Bossuet and Massilon that he did not also have a working knowledge of Francis de Sales gained through his reading in the Berard library.

We do not know who taught Pierre, whether it was his omni-competent grandmother, Zenobie Julien or perhaps his master, Jean Jacques Berard or whether a parish priest may have been his instructor. In any case he lived the life of an “elite slave,” with a suitable education alongside the accoutrements necessary to the refined  life on the plantation.  We know he could play the violin and piano, had a fine singing voice and also doubled as a dancing  master. Indeed, a scrap of notepaper found in his personal effects, reads; “En avant 4 et en arriere & chasses & dechassee sans rigidon / balances vos Dames  a vos place & un tour de main…”  One imagines a ball at City Hotel or a fancy party where Toussaint’s services were required.  We know that he was summoned on occasion to dress the hair of a room full of youngsters at Madame Bancel’s school. His grandmother, Zenobie lived in the Berard household as a free black having acted as a governess for Jean Berard and his brothers and sisters who were sent to Paris for formal education. She made five Atlantic crossings to France and in some cases remained several months while each child became acclimated to their Parisian setting.  For her service to the family, she was freed yet remained a trusted servant continuing to live on the plantation. She would remain in Haiti and correspond with Pierre in  his early years in New York.  Eventually, her letters to “Citoyen Toussaint” would end.  Her final years in Haiti are unknown.

The fact that the Toussaint family lived an intact status suggests that the Berards were conscious of their obligations under the Code Noir, a 17th century document issued by Louis XIV which sought to regulate the lives of slaves and to mitigate the onerousness of a life of bondage. Regarding home and family life, the Code maintained that slaves were not to be seized and sold separately while belonging to the same master.  Children, under fourteen years of age, were not to be separated from their parents.  Sales in violation of this provision were declared null and void.  Much discussion has ensued over the last 200 years as to how effective the Code was and how many planters even honored it.  Pierre Vaissiere, an historian of the early 20th century admitted abuses by colonists, but argued that the more responsible planters approved the Code.  On the other hand, a majority of contemporary historians following Carolyn Fick and John Garrigus see the Code as largely abridged by the planters.  Certainly, the practice of the Berards was more in line with Vaissiere’s understanding and may explain why Toussaint’s plantation life fails to excite any interest among those historians too eager to view the majority of colonists as derelict in adhering to the Code.
Pierre’s life has been  handed down to us in a memoir by Hannah Sawyer Lee,  the sister of Mary Ann Schuyler.   A Unitarian and an abolitionist, Hannah penned Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, (1854) based on actual meetings that she had had with Toussaint, as well as notes provided by Mary Ann Schuyler. She is quick to extol the benignity of the Berard’s, insisting that “slavery was but a word” for them.  Published in Boston, a year after Toussaint’s death it is the primary source for his life.  Although a progressive in her own time and an abolitionist of “gradual” predilections, she would on occasion rinse the record of more egregious forms of racism.  Still her Memoir is the foundation stone for Toussaint’s career.  Over the years, other biographies have emerged, yet each must follow the treatment of Hannah Sawyer Lee.  In 1955, Arthur and Elizabeth Sheehan coauthored, Black Pearl: The Hairdresser From Haiti, a slightly fictionalized yet charming hagiography of Pierre as seen against the backdrop of Old New York. This was followed by Ellen Tarry’s book, The Other Toussaint written at the request of Terrence Cardinal Cooke.  Tarry, who recently died at age 101, a black Catholic writer with connections to the Harlem Renaissance dedicated her book to the Sheehan’s.  Arthur Jones authored Pierre Toussaint: a Biography, 2003, the most recent account.  Jones was able to update the Toussaint history with crucial new material concerning time of arrival in New York, as well as a better fix on Pierre’s birth date. A former editor at National Catholic Reporter, Jones gave a fulsome defense of Toussaint’s life, although occasionally wishing him more in the mold of a fighter. 

The plantation l’Artibonite lay in the West Province of Saint-Domingue below the area of the initial fighting.  The plantation was indeed wealthy, estimated at 2,500,000 livres.  It was most certainly a sugar plantation, says historian Stewart King, and could have easily numbered as many as 300 slaves. The Berard’s were the plantation owners and had been fixtures in the life of Saint-Domingue going back generations.  Jean Frederic Berard, the senior member of the family belonged to the Club Massiac and was a notable personality in the region of St. Marc and West Province.     

We lack many of the details concerning how the slave revolt affected the Berard’s and their plantation.  We do know that the family sought to steer a middle course during the conflict; most likely sensitive to republican sympathies.  Pierre’s mistress, Marie Bossard Berard had seen her own family plantation in Dondon captured, while a sister had married General Dessource who would lead troops allied with British forces and directed against the slave insurgents.  The British were attempting to capture Saint-Domingue and add this wealthy prize to their other  possessions in the Caribbean. They also were holding out hope to the planters that slavery would be retained, provided they could overcome Toussaint Louverture, the principal leader of the slave insurrection. By 1797, with the collapse of the British offensive, Jean Jacques Berard made a decision to evacuate Saint-Domingue for New York.  In August of that year, he took his wife, her two sisters and 5 slaves of the plantation, including Pierre and departed out of Cap Fraņcais -through the Windward Passage – on the Pulaski.  For Pierre, a chapter had closed and he would never see the island of his birth again. 
 (To be continued.)

Copyright © James Sullivan, 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.