Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)

Long, complicated, and a little difficult to follow.

It was OK, except for the "death potion" gimmick,.
Where as in Ivanhoe the ghost was used to complete the story and would have been difficult with out it, I don't think Dumas needed it.

I see a common thread between this and the Country Parson; in that story Balzac is very interested in and well versed in finance too. I'm getting the impression that the French may have been the early capitalists? People from low places moving up the ladder, people from high birth falling in disgrace all based on finance.

For some reason I did not feel much for these characters, Dumas is a little dry.

The slow and obscure way that the revenge plot was revealed made for anxious reading.

The number of names was overwhelming so I needed and recommend a character list, to keep track of them.

I am convinced that this requires a second reading to smooth out the stammering story.

We learn about Carnival in 19th cent. Rome that was very interesting and that there is an actual island named Monte Cristo!

A nice 1984 printing with not enough illustrations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don Quixote by Cervantes (1605-15) Charles Jervas Translation

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, are Dumb & Dumber. 

The 1st half of the book is without question the best part, the second half is a little contrived. 

Can't figure out when my copy was printed, early 1900's. It has 3 illustrations; one across from the Title page and two others that must have come from another book that was being printed in the shop that day; they are completely pointless pictures simply tossed into the the book, probably to make it an "illustrated" printing. 

So we are learning about obsession and the self delusion of a "leader," and the blind following of a hopeful believer. Similarities to today's political figures are hard to ignore. 

It could be that this story is / was just an entertaining folly for the diversion of those who could read at the time of publication. 

It's relevance today is to me in Sancho's observations and reactions to the callings, musings, and actions of his Knight. 

Sancho has visions of grandeur... remember when you were told the "you can be anything you want" fable?
That only worked to disappoint those of who dream big. For those who had no dream we have the dutiful follower Sancho. 

Sancho is the real "every man" mostly concerned about his next meal, and where sleep is to be had at the end of the day. 

His endless quotes are excellent; Cervantes clearly had seen and listened allot. 

Our Don on the other hand is like so many of us; looking for relevance by creating a world (in his head) where perfection lives, where rules are defined, and where I am special because I declare it. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Country Parson by Balzac (1839)

My 1st attempt at Balzac, very interesting, very surprising.
I had no idea what to expect; it is typical in many ways of the period even references J F Cooper's The Prairie. Balzac makes many references to the great expanses of the French country and as with many of his contemporaries waxes on about the beauty.

Without an in depth knowledge of French History it is a little hard to get the whole intent of the Author. I have never read of such things (in the last 1/4 of the book) regarding the politics of family and State economics. The issue of land divided equally between all siblings bringing about the ultimate result of  a "land rich, income poor" populace.
It was very difficult for me to determine which side of the politics he is on. In one moment he praises modern developments, the next he yearns for a return to the Church as central to daily life. Disdain for the ruling bureaucracy is clear but the hope of fixing it with the new young people is clear as well.

In general a very optimistic look at how and and what makes a comfortable society. He was influenced by the great outlook that was at this point of time in history, one of Science and Engineering. It was only at the very end that he gets almost as sappy as does Burnett in the The Secret Garden.

One of those books that intrigues and echos thru your head over and again.

Found this 100 year old copy; I think that the translation is excellent.

Hard to see the lining but nice Art Nouveau decoration.
No print date, beautiful floral decor.

A I love to read "books that are referenced in books" Balzac has Madame G reading and being transformed by the Paul et Virginie, I wonder if there is a good English trans?

Many insightful comments:
Ever since that event the profound politicians who exercise the censorship of sentiments, and settle other people's business in the intervals of whist. 

He made it clear that great things would be the result of the presence of a rich and charitable resident in the parish, by pointing out that the duties of the poor towards the beneficent rich were as extensive as the rich towards the poor.

In Gerard's letter to Grossetete he is disappointed with his life:
Again and again in fact we have admitted to each other in confidence that we are victims of a long mystification which we only discover when it is too late too draw, back when the mill- horse is used to the round, and the sick man accustomed to his disease

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1910)

What an outstanding book.
I didn't know what to expect but it is such a pleasing story. A children's book yes, it has that feel but it covers many of life's major problems much of them with fine Yorkshire honesty.

This is an excellent book for children to read and discuss; so many spot-on life lessons are laid out clearly and plainly. 

Found this when I ran out of reading material up north.
It has a beautiful cover made of some faux leather like material.
The characters are great, and the 1st half is with out flaw, the second half brings in the power of positive thinking; a new concept in the early 1900s and it gets just a little thick at times.

Ben gives a little insight into his opinion on authority:
“Th’ best thing about lecturin’,” said Ben, “is that a chap can get up an’ say aught he pleases an’ no other chap can answer him back. I wouldn’t be agen’ lecturin’ a bit mysel’ sometimes.”

Mrs Sowerby steels the show at times with her wisdom.
“Two worst things as can happen to a child is never to have his own way - or always to have it.”

“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it.”  
I have noticed this year especially that the Robins are some of the most friendly and least fearful of the birds in the neighborhood.

“Listen to th' wind wutherin' round the house," she said. "You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight."
Mary did not know what "wutherin'" meant until she listened, and then she understood. 

  Martha may be the most fun to read of all.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Overland to Cariboo: an eventful journey of Canadian pioneers in 1862 By Margaret McNaughton (1896)

Found this old gem recently, payed $2 for it, can't find any better on the net for under a $100.

It is an "account" of what happened in second hand by the wife of one of the adventurers.

An astonishing account of perseverance, blind stupidity, and luck (by most) in trying to get to the Gold rush site in Cariboo.Once again greed is a substantial motivator. The Great Expectations of many are met in spades but only after substantial hardships.

And as in Great Expectations these men have forged life long alliances with their fellow travelers that served them well through out their remaining years.

The book has many pictures (some useless) but all intended to capture the moment which they do.

Really nice condition copy.
The stout looking Margarete.
Let's go!
Are you kidding me? Wooden wheels NO metal parts, what a nightmare.

The Canadian Indians of the day were much friendlier than our Western Indians; Canadian Eh?
Without their help at critical points some of the travelers would not have made it.

A 50hr trip by car!

The Panama Canal was under construction at the time of the writing but the only other way to get there in 1862 was around the Horn.

I didn't count how many times "the boat overturned and they lost every thing" came up but it was a lot.

The book ends with a one page Bio for some of the key players and illustrates how hardship can make the man. And how hardship endured together can forge a future

Kudos to all the Canadians and the Immigrants that accomplished this dream.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

I did not like it as much as David Copperfield however it is very good. As relevant today as when written.

As with all Dickens it has the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Evil, the Kind, the Smart, the Dumb, the Intelligent, and the Common folks depicted in very insightful ways. Oh, and redemption too.

I would say that the 1st half sort of plods along but it takes all that to set the stage for the second half.
The 2nd half becomes a whirl wind of action, intrigue and adventure.

Got tired of waiting to find a better one at the estate sales so I picked this one up.

No date, maybe early 1900's

Pretty good condition.
Don't know how they served themselves or the readers by leaving out the details but this is all you get when it comes in a set.
The only illustration was a very poor choice but, they often are.

Amazing contrasts between city and country characters.
The city characters all have a forced duplicity in that they are play acting when at work and more real to their nature when at home. Wemmick is so likable at home and I wish he were a friend of mine; able to switch from business to personal and keep the two in their own compartments. I guess I have known many who can and cannot make this transition; if required it is the better way to go, duplicity that is.

 One of the searing quotes:
"All other swindlers on earth are nothing to the self-swindlers" never heard it put so sharply.

Pip to me becomes a good "every-man" in-spite of his (and others for him) Great Expectations. Oh to recall my own Great Expectations and to now confront the reality of a life where much good has been achieved, many missteps taken and my Great Expectations won't be achieved.

The young many about town, having fun spending all his money, getting in debt and finding out he is a fraud. So as soon as he discovers his benefactor's real identity we as readers are forced to decide what we would do; keep riding the gravy train comes to mind. Pip has a young man's idealism and decides otherwise.

Although he never "goes back to the farm" he admits several times he may have been happier staying there.

Magwitch is one character that is a product of his upbringing (this of course could never happen today) but strives to good for his own legacy. He however is chained to his inescapable past doings, as are we all.

The concept of a benefactor is the only device that on the surface seems rare however social privilege has in fact a similar effect. And too the benefits of making and retaining friends through out the course of life is a critical take away and should be heeded well by the young reader. Loosing all your formative years friends is a mistake. FYI by formative years I mean your late teens and twenties, friends after that (in the words of my stepfather) are most likely just acquaintances. 

Several times we wish Handel would stop over thinking things and consider the better option or just take it all in instead of coming to things with a preconceived notion.

The book has many lessons for those of you living a dream. I think the hardest lesson to see is how each life event is going to force a future upon you, and how to shape that event outcome for the best; the forest for the trees issue. The old adage: life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, could be calculated for each of the characters in the novel, it would be fun to place each of them on an X Y chart.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Crittenden: A Kentucky Story of Love and War by John Fox Jr. (1910)

Without question, the most racially charged jingoistic book I have ever read. Fox really bought the American Exceptionalism thing and was peddling it with every bone in his body. In fact every aspect of this writing is over the top. The love of country, the purity of the American Soldier, the depth of love, the height of compassion, etc. Like The Long Rifle by White it seems to have been written in a style from about a century earlier. White, however, does not devolve into the preachy. 

Its an OK quick read and fits well within the "where does America come from" theme that I have been on but is patently out of fashion in its portrayal of all things. It had to offensive, even for its time?

Fox was a Rough Rider in the Spanish American war, was a correspondent, and was from Kentucky so this is him speaking. Clearly proud of his service in the war he takes the whole thing a little too far at times. The war scenes are, however, well rendered and he holds no punches, making several references to the amount and severity of the various illness available to one on campaign in the tropics. He also portrays battlefield horror in fairness and in detail (I have no experience) and so was likely changed by it.
Military service as pure and redemptive; in modern parlance: as a team building exercise, that leaves one whole and completely in love with ones fellow man and his Country. There are however lesser beings who should be cared for and snickered at for they are simple.

He speaks of this war as a turning point (which lets face it most people don't even remember it ever happened) in which America becomes a world power. That is interesting because most of us think of WWII as having that effect. I guess the last war we fight is a new turning point. And any war I fought in was a big deal; it has to be...

Fox presents this war as the first unifying event after the Civil War and goes on at great length about how the North and South came together to form this irresistible force.

Highly classicist he outlines the "blood line" nepotism that permeated every aspect of Southern life. These guys speak about the every-man but revere the blue blood.

A nice 1910 printing
It has the very raged edges by design on very thick paper which become more endearing the more you fiddle with them.
The Coon rendering is magnificent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Long Rifle by Stewart Edward White (1932)

Excellent; I'm getting a picture of the tide that swept over the continent, White's book is a wonderful "101" regarding the American expansion west into the Rockies. This is a story about the Mountain man; the Original Mountain Men of the Rockies. I am very happy to have found this and hope to move on to other White stories. It literally takes off from the D. Boone Bio. I finished prior to my workshop.

Like our hero Andy, the story leaves me a little sad.

So the Brits had the Northwest, the Mexicans had the Southwest, and the Americans had the middle, we all know how it turned out.

I guess if it wasn't land that was "free for the taking" it was beaver. And freely they took it, although not without hardship, but still free for the taking. We venerate these men for public and private reasons; what they did was hard and when they survived year after year doing it we are amazed and can only hope or wish we had that kind of fortitude.

So although this was written in the 1930s and I am devoted to the 1830s writers White seems to be from the earlier time. I have lost much interest in the "modern" writers and their sardonic views. 

I found a 1st Edition 3rd printing in Xenia Oh. at the stunning Blue Jacket Bookstore on my way to my Flintlock making workshop.

The inside covers outline some of their stops along the way.

White spent time in the wilderness of the early 1900's and seems to know his stuff. He provides many details about life in the mountains. He researched hundreds of early documents to achieve the level of historical accuracy he needed for this Historical Fiction.

A little of White's wisdom that I like:

"He did, however, gain by this experience the knowledge that things pass; and nothing is more quickly forgotten than discomfort"

"No administration can be over-set in prosperous times: no administration can stand in adversity: even miracles can loose the potency of novelty" 

"Andy was cursed by the necessity of taking the other mans view; he could not help it"

Only and older man can write with this wisdom-air.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America by Merideth Brown (2008),204,203,200_.jpg

In preparation for my upcoming Flintlock making workshop I decided to get into the proper frame of mind.
I went with a more modern publication because the older stuff is reported to have a lot of myth sprinkled in. Lots of good illustrations of rel event documents.

This version is a little plodding but an historical outline can be that way.

With this however one is able to begin to piece together the American psyche at it's core or at least at it's beginning.

Maybe our fascination with winning the lottery, the robber barrons, discovery, individual dreams, even "finders - keepers" etc. comes from the earliest settlers / immigrants.
These people were keenly aware of the very simple concept of buying land cheap, getting people to move into an area and selling bits off at a time.
This included George Washington and any one with money; all you had to do is "settle" it. by means of buying it or taking from the Indians.
Not that complicated but not that easy. Boone was a skilled outdoors man and with fearless determination went into the wild. He was not successful in becoming rich during this part of the American land grab but everywhere he went people followed.

The American Myth:
America has had a never ending search for a Mythological beginning the earliest version seems to have begun with J F Cooper's fictional writings about a Boone like character named Hawkeye and his American made Rifle, the later version that sticks is O Wister's The Virginian.
Not sure who The Virginian was modeled after but Natty Bumpo was very Boone like.

Both of these fictional heroes take on the self reliant noble individual that is the ideal the hard working every man of America.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter (1810)

 An outstanding but tragic story; long fallen from favor The Chiefs is a gushing romance. With its many pages of truly over the top praises of Wallace's saint like attributes it can be a real eye roll.

The action scenes however are as compelling as any and completely make up for some of the more tedious parts.

A fictional history about the 1st Scottish wars for independence, the Scots seem to be in a never ending war with whomever decides they need to be concurred.

The Scots I think may have been a bit of an easy mark due to their general lack of unity and sophistication. This particular chapter in the History of their struggles starts with the naiveté of thinking that the truthful, honest, and benevolent Edward I (what the hell were they thinking?) had their best interest in mind when they called on him to mediate the succession to the throne after Alexander's carelessness led to his own death in 1286.

Ed had only one thing in mind, expansion, subjugation, and domination.

Having said all this the Scots are a unique and wonderful tribe that without which the world would be a lesser place. Obviously I enjoy the literary contributions of the Scots, and have added Jane Porter to my list. Our present day girls could add her to their list of originals when sighting the great but  forgotten leaders of their sex.

This is a rather good condition 1875 printing from Philly.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Legend of Montrose by Sir Walter Scott (1819)

Back to Sir Walter, I believe this is one of his best, I finally got the answer to "where are the Scottish speaking charterers" although there isn't much there is more than any other of his books that I am familiar with.

This is a good story that moves along nicely, has lots of good charterers, and we learn a lot about the Highland v Lowland history.

I have a nice 1890's printing from New York.
The only reference to the printer is Trow's bookbinding for the Syndicate Trading Co. 

The Dalgetty character is just great, a bombastic war veteran who's motivation is financial reward but his allegiance is on wavering (until the contract is up.) Really a fun part of the story.

The rest of the combatants are either very smart, very emotional, or very tragic.

Of course this is a story of one of the few success in the (endless) Scot's against the English.

The Children of the mist are a real thing, who new? But the understanding of the Scot & Irish lands and weather leads me to believe that in fact these peoples could have been living in a similar manner as when the Roman's got there.

Here is a little of the ancient rhetoric referances that I like:

“By my honour, Allan,” said Lord Menteith, “you will weary out your friends with this intolerable, froward, and sullen humour ­But I know the reason,” added he, laughing; “you have not seen Annot Lyle to-day.”
“Whom did you say I had not seen?” said Allan, sternly.
“Annot Lyle, the fairy queen of song and minstrelsy,” said Lord Menteith.
“Would to God I were never to see her again,” said Allan, sighing, “On condition the same weird were laid on you!”
“And why on me?” said Lord Menteith, carelessly.
“Because,” said Allan, “it is written on your forehead, that you are to be the ruin of each other.”  So saying, he rose up and left the room.
“Has he been long in this way?” asked Lord Menteith, addressing his brother.
“About three days,” answered Angus; “the fit is wellnigh over, he will be better to-morrow. ­But come, gentlemen, don’t let the tappit-hen scraugh to be emptied.  The King’s health, King Charles’s health! and may the covenanting dog that refuses it, go to Heaven by the road of the Grassmarket!”

Aye, the "Grassmarket" 

The MacEugh as a Highland outlaw so tragically causes the death (by hanging) of all his sons and yet has a redemptive side (however small) that we come to in the end. 

In this passage Scott reinforces the opinion that many of us still maintain; Bagpipes are mostly horrid!

At length, however, as the black-cocks towards the end of the season, when, in sportsman’s language, they are said to flock or crowd, attracted together by the sound of each others’ triumphant crow, even so did the pipers, swelling their plaids and tartans in the same triumphant manner in which the birds ruffle up their feathers, begin to approach each other within such distance as might give to their brethren a sample of their skill.  Walking within a short interval, and eyeing each other with looks in which self-importance and defiance might be traced, they strutted, puffed, and plied their screaming instruments, each playing his own favourite tune with such a din, that if an Italian musician had lain buried within ten miles of them, he must have risen from the dead to run out of hearing.

The poor Italian was awoken from the dead so he could flee further.

The 1600's saw the shift from swards, spears, and bows to the musket. Scott explains some of the issues surrounding these changes and how the world of war was effected.

Before that period, the Lowlanders were as constantly engaged in war as the mountaineers, and were incomparably better disciplined and armed.  The favourite Scottish order of battle somewhat resembled the Macedonian phalanx.  Their infantry formed a compact body, armed with long spears, impenetrable even to the men-at-arms of the age, though well mounted, and arrayed in complete proof.  It may easily be conceived, therefore, that their ranks could not be broken by the disorderly charge of Highland infantry armed for close combat only, with swords, and ill furnished with missile weapons, and having no artillery whatever.
This habit of fight was in a great measure changed by the introduction of muskets into the Scottish Lowland service, which, not being as yet combined with the bayonet, was a formidable weapon at a distance, but gave no assurance against the enemy who rushed on to close quarters.  The pike, indeed, was not wholly disused in the Scottish army; but it was no longer the favourite weapon, nor was it relied upon as formerly by those in whose hands it was placed; insomuch that Daniel Lupton, a tactician of the day, has written a book expressly upon the superiority of the musket.  This change commenced as early as the wars of Gustavus Adolphus, whose marches were made with such rapidity, that the pike was very soon thrown aside in his army, and exchanged for fire-arms.  A circumstance which necessarily accompanied this change, as well as the establishment of standing armies, whereby war became a trade, was the introduction of a laborious and complicated system of discipline, combining a variety of words of command with corresponding operations and manoeuvres, the neglect of any one of which was sure to throw the whole into confusion.  War therefore, as practised among most nations of Europe, had assumed much more than formerly the character of a profession or mystery, to which previous practice and experience were indispensable requisites.  Such was the natural consequence of standing armies, which had almost everywhere, and particularly in the long German wars, superseded what may be called the natural discipline of the feudal militia.
The Scottish Lowland militia, therefore, laboured under a double disadvantage when opposed to Highlanders.  They were divested of the spear, a weapon which, in the hands of their ancestors, had so often repelled the impetuous assaults of the mountaineer; and they were subjected to a new and complicated species of discipline, well adapted, perhaps, to the use of regular troops, who could be rendered completely masters of it, but tending only to confuse the ranks of citizen soldiers, by whom it was rarely practised, and imperfectly understood.  So much has been done in our own time in bringing back tactics to their first principles, and in getting rid of the pedantry of war, that it is easy for us to estimate the disadvantages under which a half-trained militia laboured, who were taught to consider success as depending upon their exercising with precision a system of tactics, which they probably only so far comprehended as to find out when they were wrong, but without the power of getting right again.  Neither can it be denied, that, in the material points of military habits and warlike spirit, the Lowlanders of the seventeenth century had sunk far beneath their Highland countrymen.

The citizen soldier is not a full fighting machine, and as such the musket was the weapon of choice.