Saturday, January 28, 2023

Small Towns That Inspired American Novels


Monroeville Court House

Sunnyside in Tarrytown

From Fodor's Travel:

There is nothing like a great book to take you away when you can’t travel. When a great book makes a lasting impression, there is an almost universal desire to visit the place that inspired the author. Being able to walk the same roads as a favorite author or memorable character allows a reader to understand their favorite books in a new, intensely different way. While many great novels are inspired by the lights of big cities like New York City or Los Angeles, small towns across the country have been inspiring authors for centuries. These 12 small towns inspired some of the best and most popular American novels that have stood the test of time.


Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville and drew heavily from her hometown to create Maycomb, the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird. Visitors can tour sites from Lee’s most significant novel. Local actors have been performing the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird for over 30 years. Devotees of the novel can also see the town’s iconic courtroom where Lee watched her father practice law as a child, which inspired the book’s dramatic courtroom scene. The courthouse has historical photos of Lee and her friend Truman Capote. The town also features a “Birdhouse Trail” lined with birdhouses depicting scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird. (Read more.)



Keeping the Matter Quiet

 From The Post Millennial:

The White House reportedly colluded with the Justice Department to hide the fact that Joe Biden had classified documents in his personal possession. According to the Washington Post, "Early on, Biden's attorneys and Justice Department investigators both thought they had a shared understanding about keeping the matter quiet."

"The White House was hoping for a speedy inquiry that would find no intentional mishandling of the documents, planning to disclose the matter only after Justice issued its all-clear. Federal investigators, for their part, typically try to avoid complicating any probe with a media feeding frenzy," the Post reports. After the discovery of the first batch of documents at Biden's office at UPenn in November of last year, "in a communication that has not previously been reported, a senior official in the Justice Department’s national security division wrote a letter to Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney, asking for his cooperation with the department’s inquiry."

The official from the DOJ asked that Biden's attorneys refrain from reviewing the UPenn documents or any that could be found at further locations. The DOJ further asked for permission to review the UPenn documents and they asked for a list of locations where more documents could be found.

The White House adopted a "strategy of caution and derference" after those communications with the DOJ that included keeping quiet about the documents to better "move in coordination with federal investigators." (Read more.)


 The difference between Biden and Trump in regard to classified documents. From Victor Davis Hanson at American Greatness:

First, a stranger would face a far greater challenge entering a post-presidential Mar-a-Lago than a pre-presidential Joe Biden’s home, office, or garage—or who knows where?  

Secret service agents and private security were stationed at Mar-a-Lago. Prior to the 2020 presidential election they were not at citizen Biden’s various troves for most of 2017-2020 much less prior to 2009. 

Second, we seem to forget that for much of the developing controversy, Joe Biden’s own team was investigating Joe Biden. 

On the other hand, the Biden Administration’s Justice Department and the FBI were not just investigating Trump as an outside party, but as a former president—and possible 2024 presidential candidate and opponent of Biden himself. 

Remember, the narrative of the first Democratic impeachment of Donald Trump was the allegation that Trump had used his powers of the presidency to investigate Joe Biden and his family, a likely 2020 challenger to Trump’s reelection bid.

Third, no one in a position of government authority had passed judgment on Joe Biden’s alleged security violations. 

That was not the case of the still alleged violations of Donald Trump. 

Joe Biden, as president, had weighed in, during his own Justice Department’s ongoing investigations of Trump. Indeed, he proclaimed the former president to be guilty: “How could anyone be that irresponsible?” In contrast, he also dismissed the ongoing investigation of himself with “There is no there, there.” 

Fourth, Trump is certainly right that as president he had a far more substantial claim of declassification rights than did Biden who took the papers out either as a senator or vice president. 

Fifth, the FBI was not merely asymmetrical in melodramatically raiding the Trump home while allowing Biden lawyers to inspect various Biden stashes. The FBI also leaked the purported contents of the subjects of the Trump classified documents (falsely spreading the lie of “nuclear codes” and “nuclear secrets”) in a way it has not with the Biden cache. 

The FBI went so far as to scatter the documents on the floor for a fake news photo-op as if the papers were so messily arrayed when they arrived. 

So far, the FBI has come lightly and belatedly to the Biden case without the SWAT team get-up, and only under pressure from the public and the Republican opposition. 

Six, Biden did not “self-report.” Biden’s team did not call the relevant government authorities the minute they discovered the classified documents in Biden’s office and home and garage. 

In truth, Biden, or someone close to Biden, certainly knew that he or someone close to him had illegally removed classified documents when he left the vice presidency in 2017—or years earlier as a senator. 

For at least the last six years—at least—Biden has felt no compunction to confess to authorities he illegally was in possession of classified documents. 

Indeed, the only reason the current troves are coming to light was apparent White House paranoia that the media, the Biden Justice Department, and the special counsel were so fixated on the Trump documents that they likely feared someone might raise the logical question of whether a hypocritical Biden himself might be guilty of exactly the crime for which they were pursuing Trump. 

Worse, Biden and his staff knew classified documents were in his possession before the midterms, but deliberately suppressed that information until after the elections were over. 

Seventh, Trump’s documents were stored only at one place—Mar-a-Lago, and only for about 19 months. Biden’s were stashed at various locations for nearly seven years—or perhaps over a decade. There were far more opportunities of time and space for those without security clearances to have access to the Biden documents than to the Trump files. 

Eighth, the press has exhaustively speculated, usually wrongly, about how the documents reached Mar-a-Lago and what they contained. In contrast, no one knows or even asks why Biden took classified documents, what they concerned, or who if any in his family circle had access to them. 

Ninth, Trump’s documents did not expose other liabilities of the constantly investigated Trump. The Biden files so far have directed attention to the mysterious tens of millions of dollars in Communist Chinese money that poured into Biden’s think tank at the University of Pennsylvania, the proximity of members of the quid pro quo Biden consortium to these classified papers, and the files’ relevance, if any, to the Biden family’s overseas businesses. Did Hunter Biden ever consult or view classified documents while living in a home with them? Will there be fingerprint or DNA tests on the documents? If Hunter consulted any of these classified documents, then the Biden presidency is finished. (Read more.)

From Red State:

Among the myriad of questions, one is paramount–and its answer is potentially the most revealing:

Who leaked Biden’s documents and why?

The conspiracy theorist keyboard jockeys — God knows the last thing we need is even more conspiracy loons — have been spinning their theories on social media from the outset, but the question remains: Who hung Biden out to dry and for what purpose? Prior to the leak to the media, only a select group of White House and Justice Department officials knew about the document violation and potential security breach.

As The New York Times reported, the original plot — the plot to hide the scandal in the first place — was initially designed by eight of Biden’s closest confidants, with apparent approval from Merrick Garland’s Justice Department. (I know; try to control your shock and amazement.)

The handful of advisors who were aware of the initial discovery on Nov. 2 — just six days before the critical midterm elections — gambled that without going public, they could convince the DOJ that the matter was little more than a “good-faith mistake,” unlike Donald Trump’s “hoarding of documents at his Florida estate.” (Don’t you just love the NYT’s venomous descriptions of all things Trump?)

However, the plot to hide the scandal was abruptly leaked to CBS News, 68 days after Biden’s personal attorney “discovered” the first batch of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center — funded in part by anonymous Chinese donations. Why did it take so long for the documents to be “uncovered” and ultimately leaked? (Read more.)


How to Live a Life of Honor

 From Return to Order:

This understanding of the epoch is what makes A Knight’s Own Book on Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charny, such an important read. Written in 1352, Charny’s recently-republished manuscript could be considered chivalry’s last gasp in a process that has led to the modern world’s complete loss of the notion of honor. Honor is the central tenet of chivalry and therefore a reoccurring theme of the book.

The introduction of this work, which takes up nearly half of its 107 pages, was written by Dr. Richard Kaeuper. While he presents some insightful pearls about Charny and his book on chivalry, he has other perspectives which leave the reader disappointed. One example is the historical fact that Charny was the first known owner of the Shroud of Turin, the famous burial cloth of Christ. Dr. Kaeuper unnecessarily devotes a lengthy paragraph presenting arguments that the Shroud is not the actual burial cloth of our Lord, but rather a piece of cloth which dates to the fourteenth century.

However, the setting of Charny’s thesis as presented by Dr. Kaeuper is most useful. The treatise came about during the turbulent war between French and English armies known as the Hundred Years War. When King John II acceded to the French throne, he noticed the decadence of the chivalric ideal. To counteract this downward trend, the king founded a new order of chivalry called the Company of the Star.

Knights who belonged to this distinguished group wore red mantles adorned with a circular badge on the collar bearing a single white star below a crown. Their motto, Monstrant regibus astra viam (The Kings’ star shows the way), was inscribed on the circumference. This was a reference to the Three Magi Kings who followed the Star of Bethlehem to the manger of the King of Kings. Therefore, the goal for this new order was clearly a quest for a greater union with the ideal man, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Geoffroi de Charny was the best person to write a treatise for the Company of the Star since he was considered a “perfect knight” by medieval standards.

Since Charny was a devout Catholic, he understood that those seeking Christian perfection could reach a high degree of honor if they simply followed the succinct counsel of Our Lord: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Self-denial for Charny meant truly denying himself daily. For warriors of the time, this entailed honing military skills in jousts and tournaments in preparation for local and distant wars. Since each step toward armed combat brought a greater degree of honor, he constantly reminds the reader that “he who does more is of greater worth.” (Read more.)


Friday, January 27, 2023

Direct from Paris


From The Greenfield Recorder:

With admission now free until April, through March 12 at Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute you can view Parisian drawings and prints from the 1700s, ranging from colorful views of flowered landscapes to the mysterious and the fantastic. “Promenades on Paper” is the exhibit’s title as well as its companion catalogue (CAI; Yale University; 260 pgs. $50).

Many of the images have never previously been exhibited and several were once in the collection of royals. The show is composed of more than 80 art works and features several drawing devices commonly used in the 18th century. Its creation required the combined work of institute curators in tandem with Bibliotheque nationale de France (BNF) staff over the course of some 18 months. The Parisian institution is a repository of virtually all printed matter in the country, employs 2,500 people and has an annual budget of €254 million.

Clark Curator Sarah Grandin and BNF Deputy Head of Prints and Photographs Corinne Le Bitouze led a press reception through the galleries.

“They really rolled out the red carpet for us and made the work as easy as possible,” Grandin said, referring to the cooperation provided by the BNF through visits, Zoom conferences and emails.

There are some 15 million images of virtually anything in print from the country stored at the Paris site and due to its cavernous accumulation of paper works it’s one of the few places in Paris where smoking is forbidden.

“We don’t know exactly what we have,” Le Bitouze said at one point. “We have too many images. It’s impossible to know what we have.”

Available online is a brief, 1956 documentary about the BNF which filmmaker Alain Resnais titled “All The World’s Memory.” It depicts overwhelming canyons of papers and files. Following a recent 12 year renovation, however, the visual riches of the institution are now available digitally online at


A brilliant botanical example is the work of Madeleine Francoise Besseporte, who in her mid-30s became the first female designated as the King’s official garden painter. She was also influential with the King’s mistress Madame de Pompadour, convincing him as to the importance of horticultural science. Besseporte also decorated porcelain and textiles and would whimsically add spiders and colorful moths to her flower studies.

There are also works by Emilie Bounieu who created virtually photographic depictions of biological and botanical studies. As one catalogue writer noted, one realistic drawing “seems to escape the two-dimensional confines of the page.”

At the time, women were barred from studying human form and the Royal Academy of Sculpture only allowed four women to enroll annually. They were not allowed to attend workshops....

For the privileged, a popular avocation was the promenade. Leisurely walks were taken through park pathways as a way of being seen and seeing. The exercise was so in vogue that many green spaces set aside special hours and days for such frivolity. You were also considered out of the loop if you didn’t carry a long cane.

Sophisticates were also wild about having their portrait created and the semi-automated “physiognotrace,” invented in 1783, was a remarkable aid to artists. It was several steps beyond the technique of tracing a person’s profile in the shadow of candlelight. The device allowed the artist to outline a sitter’s face with a stylus, while the movement was copied, with great detail, on paper nearby with another drawing instrument. There’s a model of this innovative apparatus in the Clark exhibit, alongside a finished product.

A camera obscura device, dating to the late 18th century, is also on view. With simple optics, an artist could trace a scene entirely as it was projected. When stowed, the antique, with flowered borders, simply collapsed into a cabinet no larger than a suitcase. (Read more.)


Conspiracy to Silence Wuhan Lab Leak

 From Becker News:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, once considered America’s ‘top Covid doc,’ conspired with influential scientists around the world, including at the World Health Organization, to quell concerns that SARS-CoV-2 may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, newly unredacted emails show.

The newly released emails raise questions about Dr. Fauci’s motives in dispelling public scrutiny over the potential the novel coronavirus had escaped from the Wuhan laboratory. Fauci had misled Congress over the extent that the National Institutes of Health had funded the Wuhan lab as a subcontractor of EcoHealth Alliance. The Wuhan laboratory was also funded by the Pentagon, contract awards show.

The unredacted NIH emails show how public questioning that SARS-CoV-2 may have escaped from a laboratory was a concern for the group’s scientists lest it become a “conspiracy theory.”

Emails were exchanged among Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief; Sir Jeremy Farrar, a top scientist at the World Health Organization; Kristian Andersen, a leading immunologist and microbiologist with Scripps Research; Professor Edward Holmes, a biologist at the University of Sydney; Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the National Institutes of Health; Chris Elias of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; George Fu Gao of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention; Viktor J. Dzau of Duke University; and various other influential scientists and philanthropists around the world.

An academic paper, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” published on March 17, 2021, had definitively propped up the rival theory to the lab leak theory that SARS-CoV-2 had natural origins. But the final form of the paper was far afield of its initial stages, as shown by the NIH emails. The influential academic paper evolved from its early stages seriously entertaining three rival hypotheses (the bioengineered theory, the lab leak theory, and the natural origins theory) to one that attempted to close the book on public inquiry into the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped from the Wuhan laboratory. (Read more.)


A Real Papist Plot

From TLS:
Garnet referred to “King Henries papers [that] I have ready but expect [i.e. await] meanes to send them”. Garnet’s own missive has not survived, but we know of it because another Jesuit, Christopher Grene, made notes in the 1660s from English Jesuit materials for the great historian Daniello Bartoli SJ. Until now no one has remarked that Grene not only jotted down the quoted summary, but also annotated Garnet’s letter as follows – “litterae Henr. VIII ad Annam Bolenam quae nunc sunt in Biblioteca Vaticana”.
In other words Grene identified the “papers” with the collection of love letters written from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, which is now indeed to be found in the Vatican Library. These seventeen letters, written in English and French, have long provided inspiration for popular historians and novelists. Henry’s wish to be soon in the arms of his “sweet-heart” Anne, “whose pretty duckys I trust shortly to kiss”, has proved irresistible.
But it has always been a mystery how the letters ended up in, of all places, the Vatican Library. From the seventeenth century to this day people have speculated about how they got there. Lord Herbert of Cherbury, for example, believed that the luggage of the departing Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio – the papal legate appointed to hear the king’s petition for the annulment of his marriage – was searched in 1529 by royal officials in an attempt to reclaim the letters, but they had already been dispatched to Rome. Lord Herbert gave no source for his story. The modern consensus seems to be that they must have been stolen in the 1530s from Anne herself, but there is no evidence for this.
Grene’s scribbled note may provide the answer. If it is correct, that means the letters were kept somewhere in England for about seventy years after the amorous king put pen to paper, and before they went to Rome. Could they, for example, have been retained in the possession of the Howards (Boleyn’s own family)? Anne Dacre-Howard, countess of Arundel, had Jesuit chaplains. We know that one of them, Robert Southwell, sent some of his political writings abroad before he was arrested in 1592, at which point his own papers appear to have come into Garnet’s possession.
Moreover, this makes sense because we know that at precisely this period Garnet was sending various manuscripts to Parsons in Rome in order to serve the polemical needs of the moment. Parsons was turning out huge quantities of polemic at this time. One of his projects was his “Certamen ecclesiae Anglicanae” – a truly vast projected Latin history of the English Reformation. The extant manuscript volumes go from the time of Henry VIII to that of Edward VI.
Parsons followed the line set out in the salacious account penned by the priest Nicholas Sander in his De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani. In certain parts of Catholic Europe Sander’s work provided the basis for the official account of the English branch of the Reformation for centuries. Here, Henry’s depraved lusting after the entirely corrupt and corrupting Anne Boleyn was the immediate cause both for the rupture with Rome and for his descent into tyranny.
Sander portrayed Anne not merely as “full of pride, ambition, envy and impurity”, but also as someone who had “sinned first with her father’s butler and then with his chaplain”. Furthermore, as the offspring of her mother’s affair with Henry, Anne was, in fact, Henry’s daughter, so the Reformation in England under their daughter, Elizabeth, was the product of a vile incestuous union, and Elizabeth herself was doubly illegitimate.
Sander’s scurrilous tell-all book was first published in 1585, and it was later updated and seen through the press again by Parsons himself. Cardinal Allen extended and expanded the Catholic account of the sexual corruption of the Tudors in his tract of 1588, Admonition to the Nobility and People of England, designed to accompany the Armada and to justify the deposition of the queen through a vivid depiction of her sexual depravity and political tyranny.
This was a genre of libellous secret history in which original documents were used in order to reveal what had really gone on at the Tudor court. It is therefore not difficult to imagine what use Parsons would have made of the letters. But his “Certamen” was, for whatever reason, neither completed nor printed, though the surviving manuscript (at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire) informs us that Parsons was anticipating the arrival of the letters from England.
We cannot yet be sure precisely when the letters made their way into the Vatican Library. Nor do we know that they were immediately shown to visitors when they did enter the collection. Nevertheless, various travel accounts – including relations of the journeys made by John Raymond, Lord Willoughby and Lady Catherine Whetenall – suggest that, by the middle decades of the seventeenth century, viewing Henry’s letters in the Vatican was an aspect of the developing grand tour. The letters could still be made to serve polemical ends while being presented to curious travellers, eager to see the treasures of the Vatican. In his published correspondence the Whig churchman Gilbert Burnet described his visit in 1685:
When it appeared that I was come from England, King Henry the VIII’s Book of the Seven Sacraments, with an inscription writ upon it with his own hand to Pope Leo the X, was shewed me; together with a collection of some letters that he writ to Anne Bolen of which some are in English, and some in French. I that knew his hand well saw clearly that they were no forgeries.
Burnet had his own, very different historical agenda. His monumental History of the Reformation was published in three volumes (1679, 1681 and 1715), at least in part, as he said, in response to the “fictions” of Sander. Despite his confessional distance from Garnet and Parsons, Burnet also sought to enlist the love letters, but in order to counter previous “popish” claims about the divorce. Burnet wrote in 1715 that he did not think it “fit” to copy out the letters himself in the Vatican Library. Instead he had prevailed upon his friend James Fall “to do it for me”. Because, Burnet explained, “those at Rome” hailed the letters, in “derision”, as “the true Original of our Reformation”, and actively “encouraged” travellers from England to “look on them”, he could neither suppress nor ignore them. Burnet gave Fall’s copy to the printer and “ordered” the letters to be printed as a separate publication, a more “proper” place for “such stuff” than the august pages of his History.
Love-Letters from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn was published in 1714 by John Churchill, publisher to both Burnet and John Locke. In the preface to this compact edition the nameless editor worked hard to put a favourable gloss on the letters, placing isolated “indecent expressions” in historical perspective: the “simplicity and unpoliteness” of the Tudor age had “allowed too great liberties of that sort”. Like Burnet the editor emphasized that the letters showed Henry’s “affection” for Anne to have been “altogether upon honourable terms”.
For the cost of a shilling the edition provided a potted version of Burnet’s account of the Henrician divorce to “arm” the “ordinary reader” against the “calumnies of the papists on that subject”. Here the letters are still central to a coherent polemic about the (Long) Reformation. But the edition’s title, Love-Letters from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, also places them in the flourishing contemporary market for passionate epistolary literature, including Aphra Behn’s much reprinted Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684–87) and Roger L’Estrange’s popular translation of the Lettres portugaises (1669) as Five Love-Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier (1678), an edition of which appeared in the same year as Henry’s letters to Anne.
Love-Letters from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn suggests an association between a certain sort of text-based historical scholarship and the wider reaches of fictionalized cheap print and sensationalized, sexualized popular history, which the recent fascination with the love lives of the Tudors has continued into the twenty-first century. The urge to engage as wide a public as possible has supplanted the urgent ideological zeal of the priests and Jesuits who first sought to bring the letters to a wider audience. One is reminded of Marx’s dictum about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. (Read more.)


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Gathering the Book Club

From Victoria:

Much like our initial 2023 book club selection, for our initial book selection of 2021, the Victoria Classics Book Club chose to indulge in not one but two noteworthy titles. Both At Home in Mitford  and Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good are hinge books in Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford series. We celebrated the author as Victoria’s 2021 Writer-in-Residence as we explored the pages of these volumes alongside both newcomers to the series and already dedicated fans, ideally in the presence of a well-brewed cup of tea! An homage to Esther Bolick’s signature dessert in the treasured Mitford series, our Mini Orange Marmalade Cakes feature ribbons of marmalade between layers of fluffy cake crowned with creamy vanilla frosting and fresh begonias. In one of our initial book club selections for 2023, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, a fantastical wintry treat tempts our hearts as it did Edmund’s within the pages of the story. Turkish Delight beckons dreams of Narnia with notes of Chambord, rosewater, and raspberry. (Read more.)


Ten Million Mail-In Ballots 'Unaccounted For'

 From Human Events:

A leading watchdog claims that tens of millions of mail-in ballots in California went unaccounted for after the state implemented a universal mail-in voting program in November's elections. The Public Interest Legal Foundation found in an investigation that "after accounting for polling place votes and rejected ballots in November 2022, there were more than 10 million ballots left outstanding," meaning "election officials do not know what happened to them." 

"It is fair to assume that the bulk of these were ignored or ultimately thrown out by the intended recipients," the group said, adding that universal mail-in voting rules "have an insurmountable information gap." "The public cannot know how many ballots were disregarded, delivered to wrong mailboxes, or even withheld from the proper recipient by someone at the same address," the report stated. The group added that "226,250 mail ballots were rejected by election officials" in the 2022 midterm elections, many as a result of signature problems or late submissions. (Read more.)


Meanwhile, chaos and uncertainty in Arizona due to voting fraud. From The Federalist:

While the GOP and conservative media have largely moved on from Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and the systemic failures that occurred in Maricopa County on Nov. 8, court testimony and eyewitness reports from the Lake trial include allegations that Arizona’s largest county violated state law by failing to implement chain-of-custody documentation for Election Day ballots, resulting in a mysterious 25,000 extra votes added to Maricopa County’s official tally within a 24-hour period — more than the margin of victory between Lake and gubernatorial victor Katie Hobbs.

It was about 10:00 on election night when Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation vendor, Runbeck Election Services, received its first truckload of Election Day drop box ballots. While Runbeck received seven truckloads total (the last was completed about 5 a.m. the following morning), Runbeck staff thought it odd the deliveries did not come earlier throughout the day. But that wasn’t the only glitch. There were no chain-of-custody forms delivered with the ballots, a stark departure from typical procedure. (Read more.)