Oh, those Edwardians could stick the knife in so … elegantly. Thomas Seccombe on Thomas Love Peacock:
His philosophy was for the most part Tory irritability exploding in ridicule, but Peacock was one of the most lettered men of his age and his flouts and jeers smack of good reading, old wine, and respectable prejudices.
This from that insomniac’s friend, the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica — from the “English Literature” entry in Volume IX.
I had a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates in the run up to last nights events, about whether or not our current snarkalicious age is nastier, more insulting than any pre-‘net political or cultural affray. We both came to the conclusion it was not — and if you demur, then get back to me after you check out just about any random 19th century campaign cartoon:
But I felt there still was a difference between then and now. Last night’s 4 a.m. reading reminded me of what it was….
Style, man. Style: “…good reading, old wine, and respectable prejudices.”
That’s poetry, that is, guv’nor.
One more thing — open thread.
Image: The Judge magazine, “Another voice for Cleveland,” political cartoon in the 1884 campaign, referencing the rumors Grover Cleveland had sired an out-of-wedlock child.
Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader
I’m going to work on my style, try to class it up a little bit.
Speaking of good reading, my scholar wife, just starting her career in library science, by dint of some good detective work made some valuable discoveries recently and wrote about it here.
Frances Wolfreston: A Woman Reader of the Late Renaissance Revealed
Ma Ma Where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House Ha Ha Ha. Style, poetic at least, was variable even then. The trick is, as always, knowing when to apply the stiletto and when to reach for the fish knife. Or rusty meat cleaver v. tarnished oyster fork. Perhaps we are losing the bilingual?
Yeah, sure, but we went through a period in the middle of the 20th century were civility was the rule. Sure, there were still dirty tricks and knives in the back, but they were all behind the curtains. Out front on the stage, the suits were kept neatly pressed and blood free. The horror of today’s politics is in contrast to living memory, not two turns of the century ago.
The press has a similar arc — if you look at the age of yellow journalism, it seems very familiar to us today. But about two decades ago when news started turning away from being a public institution to an infotainment profit center, people were wondering what happened, felt like it was the downfall of civilization. It took a sense of history to realize that it was just a reversion to the mean — the golden era of noble journalism was actually the anomaly, and Inside Edition was just the rubber band springing back.
@Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:
Oh Gawd no.
Snark is probably more copious, but that just waters down the juice.
Jim, Foolish LIteralist
Parson Meacham was on MSNBC this am, flacking the paperback version of his Jefferson bio. I wasn’t really listening to the details but the talk did turn to civility and cooperation and the Good Parson had some quotes at the ready to bemoan a lack of comity. It’s been a few years since I’ve read a book on the founding generation, but didn’t Jefferson specifically hire people, including Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, to say things about George Washington (and other Federalists) that I wouldn’t have said Reagan?
Tailgunner Joe McCarthy would like a word with this thought.
My parents have the 11th Ed. EB. When I was a child, I used sift through it and randomly read for hours. It was/is awesome.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist: I had a conversation with Parson Meacham at an event at a college where I worked, and I came away stunned at the absolute lack of awareness of someone who was editing a national magazine.
@fka AWS: And look how they reacted to him. Today he’d be mainstream. You think Ted Cruz is ever going to have a lawyer hand him his head on a platter in front of a national TV audience?
@Jewish Steel: Dude, that is really fascinating. Good stuff.
@Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader: Glad to see you have returned to your first love, Thought-Leading.
Jim, Foolish LIteralist
One of my favorite political shivs came from Eisenhower, when asked in the middle of the Kennedy/Nixon race what contributions his Vice President had made to the administration: “If you give me a week, I’m sure I can think of something”
Before or after he destroyed the careers of a lot of people?
Also, I didn’t mention countless other knaves and rogues who rode waves of populist anger (George Wallace hardly kept his
suitwhite hooded robe clean, for instance) to prominence.
The Internet didn’t change political nature, it just revealed what has always been there.
@Jewish Steel: Very cool and interesting! It makes me pine a bit for the old days in college before my school shipped a lot of infrequently used books off to a warehouse, when I would find truly ancient books rumaging around in the stacks. I remember a lot of physics books in french and german from the 19th century in particular (and the frustration of not being better educated in languages).
First the political ads from Senator John Cornyn, when I’m not a Republican and I don’t vote in Texas. Now eBay.com.my wants me to buy bikinis — me, a 52-year-old dude with a beard and stuff. (Granted, the swimwear sounds like a bargain at 25 ringgit each; but it’s not my kind of thing.)
@BGinCHI: Yeah! This kind of stuff this totally my wife’s jam. Her love of scholarship and her desire to make it accessible and exciting for everyone I think will lead to good things for her down the road.
@sparrow: My wife has applied for a cataloging position along those lines. Trying to catch up with a 30 year backlog of stuff in storage. Insurmountable! But it will keep her off the street for a while.
@Amir Khalid: Are bikinis even legal in Malaysia? I know your fundies are much less common, but I heard tell there was at least some dress restrictions down there.
@different-church-lady: Yep, the mid-20th century fetishism for balance, comity, civility, and fairness was a blip. Probably born of the privilege and prosperity of the postwar boom.
@Amir Khalid: Maybe the Weltgeist thinks you’re a tourist.
Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
I’ve always appreciated the poetic takedown more than the raunchy ugliness that constitutes American dialog today. That is, however, only for my entertainment. For the purposes of governing, I think that it doesn’t matter if the insults are poetic or use bigger words….an insult is an insult is an insult…and leads only to more rancor. Not that I’ll stop taunting conservatives. How can I when most of them run around with signs on their back that say “Kick Me”.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist:
Yes, he did. He also wrote under pseudonyms himself, I think. They really went after one another and took great personal umbrage at some of it.
Civility! is infrequently (IMNSHO) used to achieve a “civil” conversation. It is used to divert attention away from the content of an argument.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist:
They also shot one another.
@Jewish Steel: They going to take advantage of the net to establish virtual libraries, reconstructions (with links) of the lost libraries now physically scattered? also, have there been “biographies” written of libraries as the develop over time? That could be interesting, provenance, diffusion of texts and ideas. . . Very interesting, thanks to you and wife.
@fka AWS: I ain’t saying there weren’t anomalies — I’m saying they weren’t treated as par for the course. Congress was very slow to tamp McCarthy down, but eventually they did. Today he wouldn’t be tamped down at all — hell, he’d be the favorite for the nomination. And who would you pick as today’s Murrow? (Sure, Olbermann did his best…)
Wallace became a third party freak show, isolated to the racist south. (Eventually he even changed his stripes.) Take a look at the 2012 GOP primary line-up and tell me that today he’d have to go rogue.
Like I said, it’s not that dirty deeds didn’t happen — it’s that there was a belief that there needed to be, at the very least, a veneer of civility (i.e.: Nixon, Richard M.). Today nobody thinks you’ve got to cover up any dark parts of your heart.
Well, you wouldn’t see me in one, that’s for sure. Your regular well brought up young Muslim woman — that too would be scandalous. But they’re perfectly legal, and commonly seen at hotel swimming pools and beaches here, even in the most conservative states like Kelantan and Terengganu. You don’t need a government permit to wear a bikini. Whereas Ke$ha, who did need a Home Ministry permit to play a gig here, had it pulled on a whim last week, the day before the show.
@Ms. D. Ranged in AZ: Up to and including duels and deaths therefrom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burr%E2%80%93Hamilton_duel
UC Santa Cruz by any chance? (I hope.)
If so, there horde of primary material on the End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement that is AFAIK still moldering away in boxes, including wire recordings and documentary film of Upton Sinclair and other people. If this stuff isn’t archived and conserved real soon it’ll be gone.
Mean, vindictive and silly.
May well describe the state of political comment.
Interesting questions. I’ll ask my wife. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this exists out there somewhere.
You can go back much further. My favorite “political cartoon” is from the 16th century, and was published by Lutherans following Martin Luther’s denunciation of the Roman pontiff as an “ass-pope” in his 1545 tract Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil.
Oh man, if only! My father used to live in Aptos CA and I spent lots of time in Santa Cruz. Loved it there. No, just a land-grant U in the Midwest.
@Jewish Steel: I would think so. I’ve seen bits of explicit georeferencing of collections too, an obvious direction for historical collections to take. Not trained in library science, but had to work in and with similar issues for work. fascinating stuff. would love to be playing in that.
Bill E Pilgrim
@fuckwit: @Omnes Omnibus:
Yes indeed. To illustrate this even further, I once saw the text of the letter that Aaron Burr wrote to Hamilton actually challenging him to the duel. The long, flowery letter would have left me unclear whether I were being invited to tea or a duel, the only indication of the latter right at the end with something like “My second shall call upon you in the morning”, this being the actual “Okay let’s go, buddy, you, me, out back” part.
So as Tom says, more elegant and long-winded yet no less aggressive than now.
Everyone who imagines knowing what actually happened in that story by the way should read this.
It’s a great book in general, and dispels most of the myths about Aaron Burr. After reading it I understood that almost all of what had become common wisdom about him was the equivalent of “Al Gore claimed that he invented the Internet”.
@scav: The wife responds!
And goes on:
Rats. I’d really like to know what is in those boxes.
I guess the Borat look is in this year.
BTW, how uptight is Malaysia about modesty in swimwear? ISTR that more extreme interpretations of Islam have not been popular in your neck of the woods, but that there’s been a general swing against more Western attitudes more recently. Would a bikini be socially acceptable beachwear for a 25 year old female Malaysian model?
@Anoniminous: My wife got started as a volunteer. Maybe they’d let you have a peek!
Speaking of Terengganu, I fondly remember when I was a vagabond traveler on the shoestring Asian travel circuit. Spent a week on Perhentian Kecil in a tiny, unelectrified, bungalow on stilts, eating rice and whatever fish I could catch that day while snorkeling (it was very easy.) The island jungle was full of huge monitor lizards. It was a blissful, white sand paradise.
That was 30 years ago. I hear it’s got a bunch of upscale hotels these days.
@Jewish Steel: Ah! So less than I thought! Must have been misled by too much reading of A Gentle Madness and and Patience & Fortitude, and the Folger going heavily digital (isn’t it?) plus the hints of Frances Wolfreston, who, by the by, seems a solid candidate for a virtual library, with that Paul Morgan article, although not all links might actually be to her volumes for all the reasons listed. hmm hmm hmm hmm. thanks again.
The insult that led to the Burr/Hamilton duel was Hamilton describing Burr as the American Catiline, which was both A) reasonably literary, calling on knowledge of Roman history and B) extremely nasty.
@scav: Our pleasure!
Found the Folger thing, Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection going fully digital, this might be a crowd to appreciate.
@Roger Moore: So he accused him of trying to overthrow the Republic. Big whoop. Happens all the time these days.
ETA Both Burr and Hamilton were brilliant. And well educated, despite being lawyers.
If I could, I would. UCSC is too far from my home to make it practical.
@scav: More still:
@Jewish Steel: Maybe she’ll get a gig at the Newberry and you all can move up here.
@BGinCHI: One of my old school mates went through the UIUC library program and ended up at Northwestern. Anything is possible!
For preference we’d like to end up, eventually, back east somewhere. We’ve got pals in NH and MA. I think my music would go over pretty well there.
@Jewish Steel: Ask your wife if she has read Jennifer Summit’s book Memory’s Library.
If not, tell her to run, not walk, and get it. I reviewed it for Shakespeare Studies a couple years ago and it is AMAZING.
A MUST read.
@BGinCHI: And they’ve got cartographic stuff! plus some digital!
@scav: They have an amazing collection.
A woman remains free to wear a bikini at the pool or beach anywhere in Malaysia. As long as a man’s Speedos cover his butt crack and wedding tackle, he’s good.
What the law says you can wear in public applies to tourists and Malaysians of all faiths alike. A one-piece swimsuit would be on the edge of social acceptability for the not-so-conservative Muslim woman, but even a thong bikini is not illegal as such; I’ve never heard of a Muslim woman getting arrested over a bikini here. I guess the state religious departments’ enforcement guys don’t hit the beaches much.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist:
Did the Parson or any other of Joe’s frat buddies this morning opine about the civility and/or comity of Senator Tom Coburn referring to his colleague Harry Reid as a “absolute A-hole”? And if so, what insult was offered up in response to validate the Village axiom that “Both Sides Do It!”?
Hey, don’t be so quick to deny yourself any fashion-curious impulses. I mean, six months ago, would you have imagined yourself with a beard?
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Thanks so much for that alert!
There’s only one reason I would wear a bikini: so I could link to the picture and trick everyone here into seeing it. But I haven’t had that impulse yet. Be thankful for that; I know I am.
The Fat Kate Middleton
@Jewish Steel: But there are some wonderful collections of incunabula here in the Midwest, esp. the U. of Iowa. You’re wife’s work/writing are wonderful, btw.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist: Another example that we are a story telling animal, not a rational animal. Except for the 1850s there has probably not been a period where the adversaries described each other other in the worse possible terms than the “the Founders” during the Federalist period. Ultimately, Aaron Burr murdered Alexander Hamilton in a duel over Hamilton’s work in destroying his campaign for Governor in 1802. Jefferson would then try to get Burr hanged for treason, until frustrated by his bitter enemy, John Marshall who presided over Burr’s treason trial (and Burr was probably guilty of treason). Jefferson and John Adams eventually reconciled their own bitter estrangement to some extent by agreeing on how much they both hated Hamilton and Burr. http://www.reeseco.com/papers/rbr33.htm
@Jewish Steel: Mr. Levenson has posted available gigs at MIT in the past, although we haven’t had a jobs thread in awhile. Maybe he can you and/or the missus a leg up on something available.
Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
@fuckwit: Indeed! I think pay per view of our erstwhile reps duking it out would be outstanding. Sans guns, of course. Fisticuffs would be fine by me.
The art of insult lasted well past the Edwardian era….case in point:
And speaking of insults and threads, there’s nothing that says “you done fucked up royally” quite like finding a red pen in the dryer with the freshly washed clothes and remembering putting that very pen in the pocket of your next-to-new cargo pants. Freshly incarnadined, they are…along with two of the daughter unit’s most prized t-shirts. Coals of abuse heaped upon my head…