Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Badge and Harry Cole by Clifton Adams




 A drop of sweat fell from the point of Grady’s chin and splashed silently to the stock of his rifle. I’m scared, he thought in silent wonder. It was not a new sensation; he had known it many times before but had always kept it in check. It was nothing to be ashamed of or worry about. Everybody got a little skittish before a fight—unless your name was Harry Cole.

A rock-solid novel.

It is formulaic and yet has a maturity that sets it head and shoulders above many a predictable oater.

Adams does not mind giving us long pauses between the action so we can live with characters outside of violence to feel them live and breathe, suffer disappointments, struggle with decisions, you know, the stuff of life.

Composed of many fine scenes—I am struck that James Garner in his prime would have done well by Harry Cole. Affable when he needs to be, stern when called for.

Human through and though.

Calls to mind the work of Frank O’Rourke, and that is fine praise indeed.

I repeat, a rock-solid novel.

A drop of sweat fell from the point of Grady’s chin and splashed silently to the stock of his rifle. I’m scared, he thought in silent wonder. It was not a new sensation; he had known it many times before but had always kept it in check. It was nothing to be ashamed of or worry about. Everybody got a little skittish before a fight—unless your name was Harry Cole.

A rock-solid novel.

It is formulaic and yet has a maturity that sets it head and shoulders above many a predictable oater.

Adams does not mind giving us long pauses between the action so we can live with characters outside of violence to feel them live and breathe, suffer disappointments, struggle with decisions, you know, the stuff of life.

Composed of many fine scenes—I am struck that James Garner in his prime would have done well by Harry Cole. Affable when he needs to be, stern when called for.

Human through and though.

Calls to mind the work of Frank O’Rourke, and that is fine praise indeed.

I repeat, a rock-solid novel.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The American Spirit in Literature : A Chronicle of Great Interpreters by Bliss Perry

 


A little change of pace. In this 1918 volume, Mr. Perry, attempts to proffer a theme for what makes American literature/culture unique to itself and not necessarily reflective of the European world that so many of the nation’s earliest authors came from or were deeply influenced by.

It has more than a little to say about East vs. West, read that Soft vs. Will, or Assumed Knowledge vs. Applied/Tested Knowledge.

"We are but strangers in an inn, but passengers in a ship," said Roger Williams. This sense of the transiency of human effort, the perishable nature of human institutions, was quick in the consciousness of the gentleman adventurers and sober Puritan citizens who emigrated from England to the New World. It had been a familiar note in the poetry of that Elizabethan period which had followed with such breathless interest the exploration of America. It was a conception which could be shared alike by a saint like John Cotton or a soldier of fortune like John Smith. Men are tent-dwellers. Today they settle here, and tomorrow they have struck camp and are gone. We are strangers and sojourners, as all our fathers were. This instinct of the camper has stamped itself upon American life and thought. Venturesomeness, physical and moral daring, resourcefulness in emergencies, indifference to negligible details, wastefulness of materials, boundless hope and confidence in the morrow, are characteristics of the American. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the "good American" has been he who has most resembled a good camper. He has had robust health—unless or until he has abused it,—a tolerant disposition, and an ability to apply his fingers or his brain to many unrelated and unexpected tasks. He is disposed to blaze his own trail. He has a touch of prodigality, and, withal, a knack of keeping his tent or his affairs in better order than they seem. Above all, he has been ever ready to break camp when he feels the impulse to wander. He likes to be "foot-loose." If he does not build his roads as solidly as the Roman roads were built, nor his houses like the English houses, it is because he feels that he is here today and gone tomorrow. If he has squandered the physical resources of his neighborhood, cutting the forests recklessly, exhausting the soil, surrendering water power and minerals into a few far-clutching fingers, he has done it because he expects, like Voltaire's Signor Pococurante, "to have a new garden tomorrow, built on a nobler plan." When New York State grew too crowded for Cooper's Leather-Stocking, he shouldered his pack, whistled to his dog, glanced at the sun, and struck a bee-line for the Mississippi. Nothing could be more typical of the first three hundred years of American history.

·        An entire early nation shaped upon either being “those who venture” or immediate relatives or in immediate association with those who venture.

·        There is an influence there that is well-nigh impossible to imagine now.

·        The early centuries were shaped by a questing force that we cannot imagine.

·        Even if one were at the time someone who stayed behind, you were still awash in a culture that valued, vaunted or were at least deeply aware of a large contingent that rejected your “stay put” ways.

·        Today we turn to fiction, film, Netflix to vicariously see Questors; imagine no need of such fictional expressions when one has “You know my Uncle Jeremy loaded up the family and went over the Alleghenies.”

·        We are all stay-putters now.

·        Does this speak well of our inherited Legacy?

The traits of the pioneer have thus been the characteristic traits of the American in action. The memories of successive generations have tended to stress these qualities to the neglect of others. Everyone who has enjoyed the free life of the woods will confess that his own judgment upon his casual summer associates turns, quite naturally and almost exclusively, upon their characteristics as woodsmen. Out of the woods, these gentlemen may be more or less admirable divines, pedants, men of affairs; but the verdict of their companions in the forest is based chiefly upon the single question of their adaptability to the environment of the camp. Are they quick of eye and foot, skillful with rod and gun, cheerful on rainy days, ready to do a little more than their share of drudgery?

·        Esteem was placed on the “cash value” of demonstrable ability, character in a crucible of trying circumstances.

·        Judging someone at assumed potential, birthright or bloodline, what a certification claims, or any unsubstantiated pedigree holds no weight in reality.

·        We need a life of ease and abstraction to fall prey to such possible humbuggery.

Some such unconscious selection as this has been at work in the classification of our representative men. The building of the nation and the literary expression of its purpose and ideals are tasks which have called forth the strength of a great variety of individuals. Some of these men have proved to be peculiarly fitted for a specific service, irrespective of the question of their general intellectual powers, or their rank as judged by the standard of European performance in the same field. Thus the battle of New Orleans, in European eyes a mere bit of frontier fighting, made Andrew Jackson a "hero" as indubitably as if he had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. It gave him the Presidency.

·        A New World and new circumstances altered evaluation.

·        Sometimes to the bafflement of those not steeped in it.

It was not in vain that John Smith sought to correct the early laxness at Jamestown by the stern edict: "He that will not work, neither shall he eat."

·        This early iteration of self-reliance as law of necessity impressed itself upon the new culture in a way that mere arguments for “Here’s how things should be...” never can.

·        Reality requires initiative in a way that comfortable living never does.

William Bradford's quiet words, "It is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again."

·        Another common expression of the mindset of the early venturesome mindset.

·        It takes a different breed of human to brave the ocean, the forest, the plains, the deserts.

·        Calls to mind the Texas Proverb.

“Cowards Never Started

The Never Got Here

& The Unfit Don’t Stay.”

[Regarding the robust and wise Rober Williams.]

There is glorious writing here, and its effect cannot be suggested by quoting sentences. But there is one sentence in a letter written by Williams in his old age to his fellow-townsmen of Providence which points the whole moral of the terrible mistake made by the men who sought spiritual liberty in America for themselves, only to deny that same liberty to others. "I have only one motion and petition," begs this veteran pioneer who had forded many a swollen stream and built many a rude bridge in the Plantations: "it is this, that after you have got over the black brook of some soul bondage yourselves, you tear not down the bridge after you."

·        Mr. Perry makes a gorgeous observation, that this man who had faced true pioneering hardships for sake of freedom of body and mind saw no grace in becoming yet another tyrant in a new country.

·        Why imitate what one presumably leaves behind?

[I offer no “lesson” here beyond this glimpse at just how copious the early record, journals, letters, town minutes are concerning “Indian Affairs” both violent and otherwise. There is an entire universe of information out there to those who dig.]

Typical pamphlets are Mary Rowlandson's thrilling tale of the Lancaster massacre and her subsequent captivity, and the loud-voiced Captain Church's unvarnished description of King Philip's death. The King, shot down like a wearied bull-moose in the deep swamp, "fell upon his face in the mud and water, with his gun under him." They "drew him through the mud to the upland; and a doleful, great, naked dirty beast he looked like." The head brought only thirty shillings at Plymouth: "scanty reward and poor encouragement," thought Captain Church. William Hubbard, the minister of Ipswich, wrote a comprehensive "Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New England," bringing the history down to 1677. Under the better known title of "Indian Wars," this fervid and dramatic tale, penned in a quiet parsonage, has stirred the pulses of every succeeding generation.

 

"You have better food and raiment than was in former times," wrote the aged Roger Clark, in 1676; "but have you better hearts than your forefathers had?"

·        A wise question to ask these 348 years later.

[I offer this passage as Mr. Perry gives us a wise order to consume Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales.]

Two generations have passed since then, and Cooper's place in our literature remains secure. To have written our first historical novel, "The Spy," our first sea-story, "The Pilot," and to have created the Leather-Stocking series, is glory enough. In his perception of masculine character, Cooper ranks with Fielding. His sailors, his scouts and spies, his good and bad Indians, are as veritable human figures as Squire Western. Long Tom Coffin, Harvey Birch, Hawk-Eye, and Chingachgook are physically and morally true to life itself. Read the Leather-Stocking books in the order of the events described, beginning with "The Deerslayer," then "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Pathfinder," "The Pioneers", and ending with the vast darkening horizon of "The Prairie" and the death of the trapper, and one will feel how natural and inevitable are the fates of the personages and the alterations in the life of the frontier. These books vary in their poetic quality and in the degree of their realism, but to watch the evolution of the leading figure is to see human life in its actual texture.

[This extract for his “best” of the Transcendentalists. I admit a huuuuuuge spiritual affiliation with Emerson. His 1st and 2nd Book of Essays are in constant rotation in my Bible.]

Channing and Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller and Alcott, Thoreau and Emerson, are all representative of the best thought and the noblest ethical impulses of their generation.

[Emerson on the “West” as opposed to the effete East; that is the “stay putters.”]

For thirty years his lecturing trips to the West brought him, more widely than any New England man of letters, into contact with the new, virile America of the great Mississippi valley. Unlike many of his friends, he was not repelled by the "Jacksonism of the West"; he rated it a wholesome, vivifying force in our national thought and life.

[Mr. Perry on Thoreau. I offer my bias—I consider Thoreau’s Walden one of THE most significant books I have ever read. I add to that his unfinished volume on American Indian History and Ways—Superlative Life-Changing stuff for this Old Man.]

Ten years passed. The young man gave up school-keeping, thinking it a loss of time. He learned pencil-making, surveying, and farm work, and found that by manual labor for six weeks in the year he could meet all the expenses of living. He haunted the woods and pastures, explored rivers and ponds, built the famous hut on Emerson's wood-lot with the famous axe borrowed from Alcott, was put in jail for refusal to pay his polltax, and, to sum up much in little, "signed off" from social obligations. "I, Henry D. Thoreau, have signed off, and do not hold myself responsible to your multifarious uncivil chaos named Civil Government." When his college class held its tenth reunion in 1847, and each man was asked to send to the secretary a record of achievement, Thoreau wrote: "My steadiest employment, if such it can be called, is to keep myself at the top of my condition and ready for whatever may turn up in heaven or on earth." There is the motto of Transcendentalism, stamped upon a single coin.

[A few more Thoreau offerings from Mr. Perry.]

"It seems as if no man had ever died in America before; for in order to die you must first have lived.... I hear a good many pretend that they are going to die.... Nonsense! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't got life enough in them. They'll deliquesce like fungi, and keep a hundred eulogists mopping the spot where they left off. Only half a dozen or so have died since the world began."

Such passages as this reveal a very different Thoreau from the Thoreau who is supposed to have spent his days in the company of swamp-blackbirds and woodchucks. He had, in fact, one of the highest qualifications for human society, an absolute honesty of mind. "We select granite," he says, "for the underpinning of our houses and barns; we build fences of stone; but we do not ourselves rest on an underpinning of granite truth, the lowest primitive rock. Our sills are rotten.... In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the postoffice [social media]. You may depend upon it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long time."

This hard, basic individualism was for Thoreau the foundation of all enduring social relations, and the dullest observer of twentieth century America can see that Thoreau's doctrine is needed as much as ever. His sharp- edged personality provokes curiosity and pricks the reader into dissent or emulation as the case may be, but its chief ethical value to our generation lies in the fact that here was a Transcendentalist who stressed, not the life of the senses, though he was well aware of their seductiveness, but the stubborn energy of the will.

·        Mr. Perry’s volume reminds us that a close reading of early American history and fiction shows a uniting thread of Will, Grit, Venturesome Nature, a Good Will and Tolerance for those who differ and those who try.

·        These qualities, he claims, erode as “Eastern Ways” stake squatter’s claims into the once untamed but now safe Frontiers.

The question to ask ourselves, with which mindset do we wish to affiliate ourselves: Those who Quested, or Those Who Waited for it to be comfy and then pulled up an easy chair so we could text and swipe and scroll until the grave?

Thursday, February 15, 2024

A Man Called Sledge

 


Is it or is it not a Spaghetti Western?

It’s got the grime, the grit, the garish set-pieces, and a largely Italian crew, but you have James Garner at the helm [against charming type as a cynical bad man], along with Claude Aikens and an excellent [I repeat] excellent Dennis Weaver.

The film was directed and co-scripted by actor Vic Morrow, who seems to bring a bit more of Samuel Fuller to the proceedings than mere Leone knock-off.

The script is far more coherent than most Spaghetti Westerns, and Morrow stages very well, it must be said.

This strikes me as a “fallen thru the cracks” picture. While no classic, if it were a pure Spaghetti Western it would be in the Top 10.

Released as it was in 1970 in the time of Westerns moving towards cynical portrayals [The Wild Bunch etc.], it still holds its own.

Perhaps the “against type” Garner performance was the holdback; I don’t really see why as he is top-notch here.

The film is mighty fine and deserving of a far better reputation.

One Last Note: Garner forgoes cowboy boots and wears low-cut moccasins throughout. Something that hews to fact more commonly than thought, but I can’t recall another film where a non-Indian character sports this authentic footwear.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The American Mind: The E. T. Earl Lectures by Bliss Perry

 


There is but one lumberman in camp who can play the fiddle, though the whole camp can dance.

A little change of pace, this book of printed lectures was published in 1912. Within, Mr. Perry, attempts to proffer a theme for what makes American literature unique to itself and not necessarily reflective of the European world that so many of the nation’s earliest authors came from or were deeply influenced by.

Rather than looking to the Old World, Mr. Perry’s theme is that the continual pushing of physical frontiers shaped the American cultural mind—even if one were not a frontiersman himself, the early American mind lived with a great awareness that there were territories to be explored, “places beyond” civilization,

This awareness of an unbounded world and mixing with a humanity who was willing to chance it, shaped a culture, dyed a society in a way that already settled regions back in Europe could not even imagine.

His theme seems to be a literary version of Frederick Jackson Turner’s historical offering The Significance of the Frontier in American History.

While not strictly an examination of Western literature as a genre unto itself, I was continually struck that his theme of what made early American literature distinct from the Old-World literature of the time seems to carry on into present day Western genre writing.

The themes of pluck, self-reliance, perseverance, no need of obeisance to mere opinion.

Themes that are lost in much present-day literature be it Western, literary, or most genres overall.

A few extracts from Mr. Perry’s work.

"'T is best to remain aloof from people, and like their good parts, without being eternally troubled with the dull process of their everyday lives.... All I can say is that standing at Charing Cross, and looking East, West, North and South, I can see nothing but dullness."—John Keats

·        Here, Mr. Perry remarks upon the Old-World attitude. A crowded civilization lapses into either taking one another for granted or, well, a bit of annoyance. [Social media anyone?]

·        Mr. Keats’ observation may be true [may] but it also fails to take into account that He is also part of that civilized press, and He too may in fact be viewed as engaging in the dull process of everyday living.

"Men speak too much about the world.... The world's being saved will not save us; nor the world's being lost destroy us. We should look to ourselves.... For the saving of the world, I will trust confidently to the Maker of the world; and look a little to my own saving, which I am more competent to!"—Thomas Carlyle

·        Another Englishman with a bit of a grouse, but the grousing points the way to what was burgeoning on the American Continent, an increasing number of folks who “didn’t follow fashion” and set out to forge themselves in this new world rather than decry how the world was in arrears.

·        The New World man was seen to Face the World, not lament it.

"If Æschylus is that man he is taken for, he has not yet done his office when he has educated the learned of Europe for a thousand years. He is now to approve himself a master of delight to me. If he cannot do that, all his fame shall avail him nothing. I were a fool not to sacrifice a thousand Æschyluses to my intellectual integrity."—Ralph Waldo Emerson

·        Mr. Perry offers this from Emerson’s journals. This foretaste of his “Self-Reliance” essay.

·        We are not to be impressed by classics, or the past, or tradition, or what “Good society” dictates simply because “That is simply how it is done.”

·        We are meant to be the test of all for ourselves.

·        We are not to read Shakespeare because he has been pronounced Good.

·        We are to read Shakespeare because we enjoy him.

·        If we do not, he is nothing to me, or to you.

·        On the opposite side of that coin, if we find no charm in Shakespeare or Aeschylus we do not attempt to dissuade others from reading him by dint of our mighty opinion, that would be just as dogmatic as the Powers That be declaring Shakespeare divine.

·        We are the measure for ourselves.

·        We are too busy tasting, reading, engaging in the living experiment of life for ourselves to dictate to others.

·        We push and explore frontiers.

·        We do not set boundaries for others.

“The lack of discipline is the chief obstacle to effective individualism.”

·        Here Mr. Perry rounds into his overall theme.

·        The rugged individuals of the Frontier weren’t “Individuals” because they wore the T-shirt, sported the bumper-sticker, posted the correct meme or social media profile, they were because they Bucked up and Went and Did it.

·        Individualism without the Discipline and the Act, is simply the cant of the child who says, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be…”

“I think it was [James Russell] Lowell who once said, in combatting the old aristocratic notion of white man supremacy, that no gentleman is willing to accept privileges that are inaccessible to other men.”

·        This comes after passages reflecting on how clustered civilization seems to “sort” humans, foster class distinction, foment prejudice.

·        The European continent had its ancestral lines [royal and feudal.]

·        The New World attempted to duplicate that with “Good Families” from “Good areas.”

·        It seems the Frontiers were the true melting pots. It is here we find, not necessarily harmony, but white men, black men, Native Americans, different social classes all more likely to mix, work along side one another, marry, fight together, rejoice together and live together than we see in the cosmopolitan regions where ideas are discussed but not lived.

·        In a natural world that can cut men and women down to size in a lighting stroke, Dems and Maga would be less important than, “John’s a good man to hunt with” “Carol Ann, is potting a stew tonight.”

·        Civilization without the daily fight for survival allows for free time to “think” and sort others into needless categories.

·        Put people together in a survival situation as we see in modern post-disaster scenarios and abstract differences fade away and realities intrude revealing, “Hey, this guy is all right!”

“I heard a doctor say, the other day, that a man's chief lesson was to pull his brain down into his spinal cord; that is to say, to make his activities not so much the result of conscious thought and volition, as of unconscious, reflex action; to stop thinking and willing, and simply do what one has to do.”

·        And that…That is the theme of life.

·        Life Large or small.

·        Stop thinking.

·        Start Doing.

·        In the beginning, we all have to think about how to ride that bike, finger that chord, pop that jab.

·        But, we keep at it and keep at it, and then there you go.

·        It becomes a natural act.

·        The jab becomes easy, the chord is a snap, the kind unjudgy act is buttery smooth and automatic.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes

 


At last, in mid-afternoon, we approached the Pass, a narrow defile winding down between high hills from this table-land to the plain below. To say that we feared an ambush, would not perhaps convey a very clear idea of how I felt on entering the Pass. There was not a word spoken. I obeyed orders, and lay down in the bottom of the ambulance; I took my derringer out of the holster and cocked it. I looked at my little boy lying helpless there beside me, and at his delicate temples, lined with thin blue veins, and wondered if I could follow out the instructions I had received: for Jack had said, after the decision was made, to go through the Pass, "Now, Mattie, I don't think for a minute that there are any Injuns in that Pass, and you must not be afraid. We have got to go through it any way; but"—he hesitated,—"we may be mistaken; there may be a few of them in there, and they'll have a mighty good chance to get in a shot or two. And now listen: if I'm hit, you'll know what to do. You have your derringer; and when you see that there is no help for it, if they get away with the whole outfit, why, there's only one thing to be done. Don't let them get the baby, for they will carry you both off and—well, you know the squaws are much more cruel than the bucks. Don't let them get either of you alive. Now"—to the driver—"go on." Jack was a man of few words, and seldom spoke much in times like that.

This nonfiction memoir first published in 1908 details the observations of a young army wife in early Arizona. We follow her as she moves from young unprepared woman to lovely Woman of Experience.

I adored this book, but rather than me sing its praises I will allow two others to do so.

Both are from gentleman who wrote letters to Mrs. Summerhayes after having read the volume—one of the letter writers I believe you’ll recognize.

My Dear Mrs. Summerhayes: Were I to say that I enjoyed "Vanished Arizona, "I should very inadequately express my feelings about it, because there is so much to arouse emotions deeper than what we call "enjoyment;" it stirs the sympathies and excites our admiration for your courage and your fortitude. In a word, the story, honest and unaffected, yet vivid, has in it that touch of nature which makes kin of us all. How actual knowledge and experience broadens our minds! Your appreciation of, and charity for, the weaknesses of those living a lonely life of deprivation on the frontier, impressed me very much. I wish too, that what you say about the canteen could be published in every newspaper in America.

Very sincerely yours, M. F. WESTOVER, Secretary Gen'l Electric Co.

Dear Mrs. Summerhayes: Read your book—in fact when I got started I forgot my bedtime (and you know how rigid that is) and sat it through. It has a bully note of the old army—it was all worthwhile—they had color, those days. I say—now suppose you had married a man who kept a drug store—see what you would have had and see what you would have missed.

Yours,

FREDERIC REMINGTON.

A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...