Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Milestone Reached—A Million Hits On the Old Man’s Ramblings

My Celebratory Facebook meme.

Sometime after 2 pm CST yesterday this blog got its one millionth hit since migrating to Blogger in July 2011 as noted by super fan Richard Piszczek who has been breathlessly tracking the approach to the milestone for months.  The exact millionth customer slipped by the register of my little pop stand at the dead end of the cul-de-sac unnoticed and thus missed the balloons, confetti, Dixieland band, and valuable cash prizes.
Of course in the world of internet media taking six and a half years to register that number makes this offering small potatoes indeed.  But it impresses the hell out of me.  Allow me a moment to gloat.
Of course, there are caveats to the statistic.  It includes a bunch of my own clicks while searching the blog.  And Blogger’s statistical analysis shows tens of thousands of hits from Russia, Ukraine, China, India99% of which are web crawling bots.   Also, research shows that page hits do not translate to readers.  Most linger for a few seconds to scan the headline and maybe first paragraph.  Only about 10% of visitors read any or all of a post.

The Old Man and Chief Bloviator on the job scouting a story.

But like any other self-promoter I’ll whistle past that grave yard and hype the eye-popping but deceptive stat.
I can also take comfort that the total does not include the blog’s early incarnation over on LiveJournal 12 years ago on January 17, 2006.  Of course in the earliest days I would be fortunate to get a dozen hits a week.  And LiveJournal turned out to be a platform rushing to oblivion, especially after it was bought by Russians and moved its servers to Moscow. Which is why I moved to Blogger.  I probably had 100,000 or so collective hits on the old site.  And thanks to Google searches some of the old posts still get hits.
I started out thinking I might become an internet sensation and go-to pundit.  Those were the early glory days of blogging and anything seemed possible.  More obscure writers than even me were becoming electronic celebrities overnight.  Me, not so much.

A screen shot of the first Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout blog entry on LiveJournal

The blog has evolved and changed focus several time over all those years.  Once or twice it nearly petered out.  But I have soldiered on and today present a mixture of posts heavy on history, with some poetry, memoirs, and political rants thrown in for variety.
I hope to keep at it for a while yet.  I may be old, but ain’t dead.  And since I am retiring from the day job in a couple of month, I am thinking of putting together an anthology of some of the most interesting or entertaining posts. We’ll see.
But for now, thanks for kindly droppin’ by and all come back now, ya hear!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lust, Seduction, Incest, and Suicide—First American Novel Had it All

The Power of Seduction: or, The Triumph of Nature, first edition with a sensational front piece. 

When The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature was issued anonymously in Boston on January 21, 1789 the publisher, Isaiah Thomas & Company, promised that the book was, “Intended to represent the specious causes, and to Expose the fatal CONSEQUENCES, of SEDUCTION; To inspire the Female Mind With a Principle of Self Complacency, and to Promote the Economy of Human Life.”  And sure enough the book was salted by pious admonitions to virtue and all of its sinners met disastrous ends. 
But perhaps the readers snatched up copies for another reason—the plot of what is considered the first American Novel was “ripped from the headlines,” a Roman à clef on a still fresh and juicy scandal involving Perez Morton’s incestuous seduction of his sister-in-law Fanny Apthorp who became pregnant and committed suicide, while Morton escaped legal punishment. And, hey, who wouldn’t want to read about that?

Perez Morton, the real life weathy cad who ruined a woman, drove her to suicide, betrayed his wife, and walked away with no legal consequences.
The author, William Hill Brown happened to be Morton’s neighbor and knew all of the juicy details, but the case was gossip fodder in Boston.  Brown was the son of a famous clock maker—the one who built the big clock for the steeple of the Old South Church.  He was born to the craftsman’s second marriage in 1765 and was always sickly.  He was encouraged to take up literature by his older step brother, the artist Mather Brown.  He would go on to have a romantic story, Harriot, or the Domestic Reconciliation published in the first issue of Massachusetts Magazine later in the year.  He would follow those up with a play based on the capture and execution of Major Andre in the Benedict Arnold West Point spy case, a series of verse fables, Penelope a comedy in West Indies style, essays, and a short second novel about incest and seduction, Ira and Isabella, all published posthumously.   

Sarah Wentworth (Althorp) Morton, the agrieved wife and sister to the disgraced and doomed mistress.
Later in 1793 Brown went south to study law in a climate more suited to his health.   He died of tuberculosis in Murfreesboro, North Carolina on September 2, 1793 at the age of 28.  His literary reputation did not long out live him.
Of course not putting his name on that novel didn’t help.  Novels, which were coming into vogue in England, were considered trifles for bored housewives and probably dangerous to their morals.  The women of Boston were snatching up copies practically from the docks.  Preachers thundered condemnation of them as salacious, seductive, and sinful.  And of course most were, which was their appeal.
Gentlemen read lofty thingsendless volumes of sermons from the leading divines, bare knuckle partisan newspapers, the classics in Greek and Latin, philosophy in French and German, and, of course, poetry both epic and lyrical.  They could not deign to read such trash.  But if truth be told, late at night safely locked in their studies, I suspect many more than would admit it found themselves aroused and titillated by the popular tales of lust and just retribution.  

It is natural then that throughout most of the 19th Century The Power of Sympathy was popularly supposed to be the work of a woman, as were so many of the English titles reaching America shores.  When Arthur Bayley, editor of The Bostonian, republished it in serial on its centennial, he attributed it to Sarah Wentworth Morton, a poetess and the wife of Perez Morton and sister of Frances Apthorp.
It did not take later scholars, however, too much digging to uncover the true author.
As for the novel as an art form, it took decades to shuck its reputation—and in the loftier precincts of the New England elite never quite did.  As many remember banning books in Boston—mostly novels—was still a big deal into the 1950’s. 
Slowly in the 19th Century British imports from Austin, Dickens, Thackeray, et al raised the level of respectability among the middle classes—but still mostly women.  James Fennimore Cooper in America began popularizing more masculine novels as adventure stories, broadening the appeal.  Serious writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville began working in the form—Hawthorne bringing a new depth to the traditional tales of the wages of sin and Melville having a hard time making a living peddling adventure yarns with, you should pardon the expression, depth.  Julia Ward Howe became the first American to have a run-away, must-read best seller with her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin that blended the novel’s traditional shocking themes with a searing abolitionist message.
It was not until the second half of the 19th Century that the novel really took off as a popular and literary art form in America and not until the early 20th Century that it finally blew poetry out of the water to become the pre-eminent literary form.

The Penguin paperback edition is just one of several reprints available of a book almost no one has read.

The book that started it all, The Power of Sympathy, being out of copyright and therefor cheap, can be found today, if you look very hard, in paperback editions, including a Penguin Classic edition. 
 I never found any one who read it.  And neither have I.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Murfin Verse Old and New—A Bitter Day and an Inspiring One

Protests in Washington on the day of the Inauguration in 2017.  Some thought it was rude.  It was.  Good for rudeness.

Yesterday was the bitter first anniversary of the Trump inauguration.  No matter how bad we imagined it would be, it has been worse—a catastrophe picking up victims like mud on a rolling boulder.  I won’t go into the litany of abuses, outrages, and insults.  But you already know them by heart, don’t you.
The day after the Electoral College certified the disaster I wrote:
Electoral College/Solstice
December 2016

What if this time the fading Sun
            does not heed the beacon fires,
            the prayer pyres,
            the incantations,
            the invocations? 

What if a conclave of warlocks
            and necromancers
            have found a new God
            and armies
            more powerful
            than the Light?

What if day by day the new God
            consumes the Sun
            and all upon it shines
            until Darkness is total?
Then, my friends,
            we take up our yew bows
            and from the fastness
            of the deepest, darkest forests,
            light the eternal night
            with our flaming arrows.

We gather kindling and fuel
            far and wide,
            haul it stealthily
            to the foremost alp
            and bide our time.

We seek out the allies
            from the corners
            of the gloom shrouded earth,
            learn alien tongues,
            make brothers and sisters
            of strangers,
            build leagues of comrades.

We find new prayers,
            we fashion with our own hands
            new amulets, totems, and fetishes,
            forge new singing swords,
            invent our own magic.

We carry in our hearts
            the sure knowledge
            that no darkness
            can ever be truly eternal,
            no god or demon can survive
            if we no longer give him
            power over our imagination.

Now has come the time, my friends,
            to set out in our own
            epic saga.

Take heart and make it so.

—Patrick Murfin
From Resistance Verse, a homemade chapbook, 2017.

We did take heart from the very beginning, greeting his residency on the first day with the largest inaugural protests in the street of Washington, D.C. in history.  Then we followed it up with the massive Women’s March on Washington and scores of record breaking Sister Marches, including one in Chicago I was privileged to participate in.  But many thought we would get bored, discouraged, or intimidated and would give it up after a tantrum or two. 
But we persisted.  There were giant marches all over the country to defend reproductive rights and health care; to protest the Muslim ban, deportations, and to defend Dreamers; a March for Science; actions to protect voting rights and ballot access; to demand sane gun policy and an end to senseless domestic carnage; we marched because Black Lives Matter and White Nationalism and its symbols suck.  

We marched on Earth Day, May Day, and any damned day we pleased.

And we invaded the Halls of Congress in wheelchairs and with prayers; stormed state capitols and city halls; hunted and haunted the Republican Congressional fronts for the oligarchy who try to hide from the Voice of the People.  And were have been ready for thousands of local actions organized in rapid response to any outrage by ordinary citizens many of whom had never before organized anything more dramatic than a bake sale or spaghetti dinner.
And more.  We have registered, walked precincts, circulated petitions, and run for office.  Tens of Thousands of women, Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Gays, Transgender and non-conforming, the disabled, progressives of every sort—even White men and—gasp! Atheists.  And we have won!  Race after race, state after state even in the deepest red bastions.
The Resistance grows stronger day by day.
And it was evident in the Women’s Marches held yesterday and today that shattered even last year’s records.
I marched in Chicago with 300,000 of my closest friends.  This morning, after recovering from the beating on my old body and with a few moments to reflect after an overnight shifts and brief nap before church I scribbled this on a scrap of paper:

I may not look like it but today I am a Woman!

Today, I Am a Woman
After the Chicago Women’s March
January 20, 2018

Today, I am a woman—
            a put-a-bag-on-her-head-woman,
            a never hit on by Cosby, Weinstein, or Trump woman,
            a lumbering lummox of a lady,
            a barren womb non-breeder,
            a hairy-legged horror,
            a gawky, graceless girl,
            a disappointment all around.

But Sisters, today, I am a woman—
            if you will have me.

Tomorrow I will be just another prick.

—Patrick Murfin