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Novel History

Maybe my case is not that unusual?  But when I was in school (thru high school), I believe that I only took history classes when I had to. I don’t think I really got any pleasure out of them. I recall paging through review books, to get the lowdown on main events, so that I would do respectably on the tests. In English, at least I recall one teacher (in junior high) who kind of gave off sparks, and got me interested. But in history, nary a one do I remember.

In college, as you might guess, I was not inspired to take any history classes at all. But since then, I now realize I’ve creepingly worked my way into an interest in — and a reading acquaintance — with history. I still, even now, don’t think of my self as “reading history”. (I am, rather, a novel addict.) But here (roughly chronologically) are some ways in which I’ve managed to learn a bit about the past, with interest …

Books on the history of certain major technological advancements. I’m especially thinking of David McCullough. I know I’ve read his The Great Bridge, and The Path Between the Seas, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, respectively. I’ve also read books by others on the creation of the transcontinental railroad, and the first trans-Atlantic telephone cables. (The latter being Voice Across the Sea, by Arthur C. Clarke, who this time is not writing science fiction.)

What one might call “popular history”. I’m thinking right now of the writers Barbara Tuchman (e.g. The Guns of August, on the start of World War I) and Collins-Lapierre (Freedom at Midnight, about the Indian independence movement).

Various readings about the history of mathematics. I’m especially interested in the work of Archimedes, who figured out such matters as the area between a parabola and a straight line, with methods that can be hard to understand today, but which were in some ways as powerful as calculus, which didn’t emerge until almost 2,000 years later.

The New York Review of Books is my favorite periodical.  (Yes, even including the New York Times.)  I have been recently catching up on several months of past issues.  (I used to allot this journal to my subway reading, but for obvious reasons that option was not a good one during the past year.)  Here, from the April 5, 2018 issue, is an example of their coverage of books of history: one about George Washington’s relationship with Native Americans.  (Spoiler: “[Washington] was the only prominent founder to invest his enormous prestige in a just solution to America’s Native American dilemma”.)

 

Unconventional views of history. I’m particularly thinking of David Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which presents events not from the “winner’s” perspective — the way one usually gets history — but from the point of view of those downtrodden over the centuries: Native Americans, Blacks, women …

Podcasts. My favorite podcast is the ongoing History of the English Language.  This non-trivial endeavor began in 2016, and now comprises 146 hour-long episodes, not to mention “bonus episodes” (for Patreon contributors), stand-alone audiobooks, etc. The creator/narrator, Kevin Stroud,  takes the broad view, demonstrating how developments in the English language cannot be understood without investigating political, economic,and social developments. True to my affinity for “non-standard” history, Mr. Stroud does not even have a degree in linguistics! He is only driven by curiosity, dedication … and an obvious love for his subject.

I have just recently come upon Mike Duncan’s podcast, The History of Rome. Begun in 2007, this project was completed in 2012, after 179 episodes running a total of 73 hours. I hope my interest in this will hold … in that case I have a lot of enjoyable listening ahead of me.

Heather Cox Richardson is an historian. On her Facebook page (and also, some days after their Facebook appearance, posted to YouTube) she makes two one-hour videos every week. Tuesday is devoted to current political events in USA. On Thursdays she speaks about topics in American history, particularly as they relate to our present situation.

Recent example of HCR’s video talks:  On March 11, 2021, a fascinating discussion of how the Republican and Democratic parties have essentially reversed roles policy-wise, since the time of Lincoln (who, as you possibly might find surprising , was a Republican).

HCR is one of the only people, for whom I would say that their videos are more interesting to me than their prose output. (I normally avoid informational videos as much as I can, since — despite YouTube, for example, allowing one to speed them up — I get impatient, and would usually much rather scan through a written document, pausing where I want/need to pick up information.)

My last category, books about history by writers who are primarily novelists, consists (at least so far) of only one book: Son of the Morning Star, by Evan Connell. I read this some years ago, and it has managed to “haunt” me, so that I just gave it another read recently (an unusual event, since I’m typically eager to go on to the next book). I believe that it is quite unusual for a novelist to write a history book. (Note that I am not talking about an “historical novel” here, but rather bona-fide historical non-fiction.)

The special quality of this book starts, for me, with its title. This is the story of George Armstrong Custer, known especially of course for his “Last Stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876). Custer was, after his death and the loss of all his men in that battle, originally greatly admired, as a tragic fallen hero. But as Connell says, nowadays his “stock sells for nothing”.  Nevertheless, Connell chooses to name his book so as to cast a romantic kind of glow upon him. (“Son of the Morning Star” was a name conferred upon Custer by the Arikara Indians, apparently from the appearance of Venus at dawn, during a battle in which Custer figured.)

Connell, while I believe sticking to facts, nevertheless takes liberties with his narration that conventional historians would normally not allow themselves to do. He dwells on apparently minor figures for pages at a time, just because he finds them interesting. (As do I.) He digresses to discuss Native American artistic practices:

A gunshot was represented by fan-shaped lines diverging from the muzzle, just as European artists tried to represent a shot, except that this symbol might appear without the gun — indicating that a shot had been fired at a certain time or place. Similarly, a club or a bow or a whip might be shown in contact with an enemy although the owner might be some distance away, meaning that this weapon did at one time strike the foe.
They had no concept of perspective and almost never attempted to foreshorten. In a trail of hoofprints passing out of sight the farthest would be as large as the closest for the very good reason that whether a horse is close to you or far away his hoofprints will be the same size.

Connell pauses to muse on the images that we have of Frederick Benteen, an officer in command of a battalion at Little Bighorn:

In not a single photograph does he look formidable, not even very military. He appears placid, gentle, benevolent, with feminine lips and prematurely white hair. Only after contemplating that orotund face for a while does one begin to perceive something rather less accommodating. Embedded in that fleshy face are the expressionless agate eyes of a killer. One might compare them to the eyes of John Wesley Hardin or Billy the Kid. Now, this sinister absence of expression could be nothing more than a result of myopia, a condition afflicting him after the Oklahoma winter campaign of 1868-9 when he lent his protective goggles to a regimental surgeon. Still, in Civil War photographs he has almost that same look.

Connell does not bind himself to the chronological narrative of the typical historian. For instance, he begins his book with the shock of the first revelation of the Little Bighorn battle to the outside world.  Initial assumptions had to be soon reversed:

… a party of at least sixty United States cavalrymen — or what resembled cavalry, proceeding by twos, with a guidon flying — rode into view. A second cavalry unit then merged with the first and Lt. Roe understood that they were hostile Indians dressed in Army clothing.

About this time Lt. Bradley returned from the other side of the river to say that the dark objects on the hillside thought to be buffalo skins were, in fact, dead horses. What had been mistaken for skinned buffalo carcasses were the naked bodies of Custer’s men. Bradley had counted 197 dead soldiers.

I would be grateful to find out about other works of history, written by authors who normally are novelists. At least up to now, history books by conventional historians just do not seem to do it for me …


WELL —  now that I have put all my sources for historical information down in one place — maybe I have been able to compensate just a bit, for neglecting the normal, formal history book?

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Bobbing in Finnegans Wake

The Resident
Michael Hofmann

We have the White Louse. His name is Donal Dump.
He is the Resident, and he heads the Dump
maladministration, squillionaires and a
sprain-surgeon, a Cabinet of all the talons. They
call him a racial spigot. He sees it as he calls
it, which makes him spigot. He squitters Twitter on
the shitter, and we titter after. He only squeaks
for us. He is our mouth-squeeze. He has a
background in constriction. Bill the Wall! Bill
the Wall! He owes the Dump Hotel, wright here in
DeCease. He is a self-dealing man who once in his
youth wore out the uniform. Then bone spurts
struck, and he invalidated to the venereal front. A
ployboy and a much-married man and father to the
fair Larissa-without-portfolio who he’d love to give
one to. Or even several. A stately plump buck who
takes the time to vent before the chopper with his
luxury hair and tie blowing bravely in all
erections. Fake nudes! Fake nudes! To me he is a
crevice to the orifice. The economy is re-relegated
like you wouldn’t believe. Unvironment too.
Offense Dept. going bangbusters. Eye ran. Blat!
Mixed Tans. Blat! Gerry mans. Blat! He achoos
new tariff-farts every day, whining easy-peasy dread
wars, slapping stanchions on Shiner and our other
alloys. (All except Rusher, on account of Poo-in.)
He is surely flushing in the dawn of a brand-new
Yellow Rage. Grate again! Grate again! GAGA!
GAGA! We are a Nation of Lawns. (He flogs golf off
a tetchy handiclap.) We have the suppuration of
pars. There is the Supreme Bought, also the
Senilate and the House of Unrepresentatives (tho
cuntly in Demographic hands). We stand by the
corruptibility of our unstitutions, and the wisdom
of the Foundering Fathers.

 

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Classic audiobooks on your smartphone… no charge

Much as I would like to denounce the smartphone as the nemesis of literature, with nary a redeeming quality …

The iPhone has a (free) “Podcasts” app available. If I search a bit on this app, I can find a (free) podcast (but really an audiobook) of Gibbon’s DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. A book I might never get to, in its printed form. (Impure reader as that may make me.)

If you “subscribe” to the podcast, the app even goes automatically to the next section, when it gets to the end of the one you’ve been listening to. And it remembers where you left off, when you come back to listen later.

So… a neat way to access a great work one might not otherwise read … while doing your laundry or whatever.

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The Grey Lady adds a bit of color

Headline:  “A Portrait of the White House and Its Culture of Dishonesty”

Date:  April 18, 2019

Is this the first time the New York Times has printed the F-word?  I do not recall seeing it before.

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How to ruin a pretty good piece of music

This past August, I was once again a participant at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference, at the like-named college in Vermont.  At one of the faculty concerts, there was performed a work already familiar to me:  Anton Arensky’s String Quartet in A minor, Opus 35.  (It is very unusual, as string quartets go, in that it is scored with two cellos, instead of two violins.)  I had always had some liking for the piece, though perhaps finding it a bit on the “kitschy” side.

But, a few months before I re-encountered this piece at Bennington, I learned something about it — not for the better — that now is indelibly connected, in my mind, with the music itself.

In March of this year, I myself played the viola part in a New York City performance of this Arensky quartet.  Actually, we just performed the famous second movement  (sometimes heard in a string-orchestra version), called “Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky”.  I wanted to learn about this background of the piece, so I started to do some research …

The theme of the Variations movement is described in the Bennington program notes as a “solemn, lyrical hymn”.  But there is much more to it than that.  The theme is from the fifth of Tchaikovsky’s “Sixteen Songs for Children”, Opus 54, composed in 1883.  The text that Tchaikovsky set (in Russian, as you might expect) is a poem called “Legend” by Alexey Nikolayevich Pleshcheyev.  Now, here is where things get interesting.  The Pleshcheyev poem (as you can read, in detail, here ) is a translation of an 1857 poem called “Roses and Thorns” by the American poet Richard Henry Stoddard (1825-1903).

Richard Henry Stoddard

Here is Stoddard’s poem:

The young child Jesus had a garden,
Full of roses, rare and red:
And thrice a day he watered them,
To make a garland for his head.

When they were full-blown in the garden,
He called the Jewish children there,
And each did pluck himself a rose,
Until they stripped the garden bare.

“And now how will you make your garland?
For not a rose your path adorns.”
“But you forget,” he answered them,
“That you have left me still the thorns.”

They took the thorns, and made a garland,
And placed it on his shining head;
And where the roses should have shone
Were little drops of blood instead!

So the Jewish children took all the roses away from Jesus, and placed the crown of thorns on his head.  If this is not emblematic of the centuries-old anti-Semitic trope of the Jews being responsible for Jesus’ death, I don’t know what is!

One might hope that Pleshcheyev’s translation — which was what Tchaikovsky actually used — altered the text to get rid of the anti-Semitic venom.  But a Google translation that I did from the Russian — laughably crude though it is — indicates that this is not the case:

There was a garden for Christ the Child,
And he made many roses in him;
He watered them three times a day,
To make a wreath myself then.

When the roses blossomed,
He called the children of the Jews;
They tore the flower,
And the garden was completely devastated.

“How will you weave a wreath now?
There are no more roses in your garden! ”
– “You forgot that spikes
Remained to me, “said Christ.

And they made spikes
A wreath of spiny for him,
And drops of blood instead of roses
The man decorated it.

If anything, this more condemnatory to the Jewish children than the original English.  (“They tore the flower, / And the garden was completely devastated”)

Lest you, dear reader, think that I am just being too sensitive about this issue, let me show you that others share my aversion to the anti-Jewish message.  On YouTube , one can find Tchaikovsky’s song rendered by the USSR State Academic Russian Chorus.  The notes supplied with the video provide this translation of the text:

When Jesus Christ was yet a child,
He had a garden small and wild,
Wherein He cherished roses fair,
And wove them into garlands there.

Now once, as summer time drew nigh,
There came a troop of children by,
And seeing roses on the tree,
With shouts they pluck’d them merrily.

“Do you bind roses in your hair?”
They cried, in scorn, to Jesus there.
The Boy said humbly: “Take, I pray,
All but the naked thorns away.”

Then of the thorns they made a crown,
And with rough fingers press’d it down,
Till on his forehead fair and young,
Red drops of blood, like roses sprung.

“The Jewish children” has here managed to become “a troop of children”.  Nice and harmless, for the English-speaking web surfer …

One more “alternative version of the facts” … this from the GodSongs website.  At least they are honest about their version’s antecedents:  “The lyrics of this song were translated by American author and translator Nathan Haskell Dole (1852-1935) from the Russian poem Legenda by A N P [sic], which is itself a translation of the poem “Roses and Thorns” by American Richard Henry Stoddard”.  Here is the GodSongs version:

Christ, when a child, a garden made,
And many roses flourished there.
He watered them three times a day
To make a garland for His hair.

And when in time the roses bloomed,
He called the children in to share.
They tore the flowers from every stem,
And left the garden stript and bare,

“How wilt Thou weave Thyself a crown
Now that They roses are all dead?”
“Ye have forgotten that the thorns
Are left for Me, the Christ child said.

They plaited then a crown of thorns
And laid it rudely on His head;
A garland for His forehead made;
For roses: drops of blood instead.

Again, the Jewish children have conveniently disappeared.  Some may say that this makes things OK, and that I am being unduly sensitive.  But how can one forget the words that Tchakovsky set … which he was certainly aware of, and which, by setting them to music,  he gave his tacit approval to?

Others will perhaps argue that Stoddard, Pleshcheyev, and Tchaikovsky were simply the product of their times … which like many (most?) past eras and societies, were inherently anti-semitic.  I may somehow understand this, intellectually.  But getting my feelings to go along is another matter …

I confess that I have been influenced in my views, on the bearing that “extra-musical” matters have on the “music itself”, by the writings and talks of the contemporary American musicologist Richard Taruskin.  On YouTube there is, for exmple, this talk of his called “Did Somebody Say Censorship?”.  And here, from Volume 2 of his Oxford History of Western Music,  is part of his discussion on perhaps the most famous, arguably anti-Semitic work of all:

… the turba [“crowd”] in the [J.S. Bach] St. John Passion, following the Book of John itself, is identified not as “das Volk” or “the people” (as it is in the Matthew Passion), but as “die Juden” or “the Jews.” An accusation is being made, one that is no longer supported by responsible historical or theological scholarship, that the Jews rather than the Romans were responsible for Christ’s death. That accusation, now often called the “blood libel,” has had a bearing on a history of bloody persecutions, culminating in perhaps the most horrible page in the history of the twentieth century.

Obviously, Bach had no part of that. Nor was he, as far as anyone today can guess, personally anti-Semitic as the term is understood today, except insofar as he probably subscribed to Luther’s doctrine that the Jews should submit to conversion on pain of punishment. In all likelihood he rarely, possibly never, met a Jew and thought little about them. The St. John Passion was intended for performance before a congregation of Christian believers for whom the Gospel text was … well, Gospel. The insult it contains to Jews was wholly incidental to its purpose.

But today it serves other purposes and is performed before other audiences. Bach is long dead, but the St. John Passion lives on. Jews not only hear it nowadays, they often participate in performances of it, and are sometimes shocked to learn what it is that they are singing. Are they wrong? Does Bach’s music redeem the text? Would it impair Bach’s work from the standpoint of its present social use if the text were emended to exclude the blood libel?  And if people disagree about the answers to these difficult questions, on what basis can they be adjudicated?

 

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What should I read next?

I have long been interested in giving variety to my reading choices, so over the years I have accumulated a repertoire of tools that would give me new ideas for books to delve into.  In no special order,

  • Friends.  Of course.  But I always wish I had more people in my life who share my reading patterns.  In our Internet age, Facebook has helped.  (Strangely enough, I have not had much luck, in recent years, with online literary discussion groups.)
  • Publications I read.  The New York Review of Books has been fruitful.  The New York Times, not so much.  (I have never had any great love for their Sunday Book Review section … though admittedly, I have not checked it out in quite a while.)
  • Public libraries.  Especially the “new books”, “classics”, and “mystery” sections.  Often these days, I will just note down a book of interest, and download it to my e-reader later, from another source.
  • Bookstores.  They can also of course supply information — though some new-book vendors can succumb to the faddish in their stock.  I used to haunt used-book shops.  I still remember that fateful moment when a sales person at New Haven’s Paperback Trader made me aware of Ed McBain and his police procedurals …
  • Thrift shops.  This also is past rather than present.  But I am nostalgic for these funky storefronts that almost always had a couple of racks of books somewhere in the back …
  • “Greatest” lists.  “Best novels of the twentieth century”, “Greatest police procedural writers”, etc.  Easy to Google these, in various flavors.
  • Wikipedia articles, e.g. “Mystery fiction”, “Victorian literature”, etc, etc.
  • References to other writers, in novels I am currently reading.  I think that often this is a way of paying homage.  I believe I found Lindsey Davis’ series of ancient-Rome mysteries in this fashion.
  • Literary calendars.  At least in printed form, this is a beast that unfortunately seems to have gone extinct some years ago.  Perhaps this is related to the rise of the Internet, … but online versions have been hard to come by.  (SUGGESTIONS WELCOME.)

One such defunct printed calendar was “On Writers and Writing”.  An instance from a year long gone still survives on Amazon:

Every week, you could turn the page to read about a different author.  To my liking, it emphasized “literary” writers, delving back into former decades and centuries.  I might be reminded about a writer I had once enjoyed … or perhaps told of one who was unfamiliar to me.

My current choice for literary calendar is Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac”.  Though I don’t consider myself as a bona-fide writer, this doesn’t deter me from my visits.  🙂   There is a new “page” to read every day.  (Or, as you can see, to listen to instead if you wish.)  Things always start with a poem:

Following this, there are a number of descriptive entries, tailored to the current date, e.g.

Unfortunately for my purposes, not all the entries are about writers, … though many of them are.  If I see a name that intrigues me, I may follow up by reading the Wikipedia article on the given person.  There is also the (happily online) Columbia Encyclopedia, with a succinct (and usually spoiler-free) account of the writer in question.  Usually these sources are a help to me in deciding which of this author’s books I should start with.  (Sometimes it will be the most celebrated one.  But often I will choose the work written the earliest … especially if it is part of a series.)

Can anyone suggest other places to get reading ideas?  For instance, are there any websites (or apps) that, if you input your reading tastes (Authors A, B, C), will suggest that you should try Author D?

 

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What’s in a word?

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Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobil, recently faced a Senate confirmation hearing to determine his suitability to be President Trump’s Secretary of State.  During this session, Mr. Tillerson said that there would be a “fulsome review” of the United States’ policies on climate change.

When I heard Mr. Tillerson use “fulsome” this way, I immediately cringed.  This is a man, I told myself, who doesn’t know what “fulsome” really means … what kind of negative load this word carries.  When someone receives “fulsome praise”, for example, it connotes remarks that are so glowing, so effusive, that they are distasteful in their excess.

Did I over-react?  Does it really matter if some public figure misuses a word?  Maybe not.  On the other hand, maybe this is the tip of the iceberg.  Maybe we are here getting a flash of how uneducated this person really is.

 

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A Mathematician’s Lament

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

That’s the beginning of Paul Lockhart’s essay “A Mathematician’s Lament”.  As someone who loves mathematics, but didn’t do so till many years out of school, I find it to ring true.  For the entire essay, just click below.

MATHEMATICIANS LAMENT lockhart

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The history of goodbye

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For a while now, I have been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux.  I will admit that it’s not the most engrossing book I’ve ever read.  But I am keeping at it for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, though its coverage of Victorian politics is (to me) mostly forgettable, its dialogue is sparkling.  Secondly, I am working my way through Trollope’s “Palliser” series, and I don’t want to disturb the continuity by aborting my reading of this volume.

Since my attention is not riveted, I find myself digressing at times, to think about particular words that Trollope makes use of, and possible differences in their meaning (or shades of meaning) between 1873 (when PR was published) and the present.  Take this letter embedded in the novel, from a young woman, to the man she is engaged to.  I will reproduce only the ending:

I shall send this to your club, and I hope that it will reach you.  I suppose that you are in London.

Good-bye, dearest Gerard.

Yours most affectionately,

Adelaide.

If there is anything that troubles you, pray tell me.  I ask you because I think it would be better for you that I should know.  I sometimes think that you would have written if there had not been some misfortune.

God bless you.

I started thinking about the “Good-bye” in “Good-bye, dearest Gerard”.  I had some inkling that “good-bye” came from “God be with you”, but wasn’t sure when or how that transition occurred.  As usual in such cases, I consulted the mighty (unabridged, of course), unique, and almost unfathomable … Oxford English Dictionary.

oxford_english_dictionary

Being “on historical principles”, its principal claim to greatness — for me at least — is that it provides examples of the usage of a word (or phrase) down through the hundreds (nay thousands) of years that the English language has existed.  The first such quotation represents the earliest known use of the given word.  (And in the case of obsolete terms,  the last quotation is from the period when the term was last in use.)

Before actually looking up “good-bye”, I tried to guess (as is my custom) when the word first appeared.  Or more precisely (in this case) when the first appearance of the modern “good-bye” — approximately so spelled — took place.  My guess was around the beginning of the 1700’s.  Here is the relevant part of the OED’s “good-bye” entry … which, as usual, clearly delineates the evolution of spelling, and meaning.  You will be able to see if I was correct in my “timing” guess, or not:

good-bye

. . . . . . .

1.1 As an exclamation:  A form of address at parting; farewell.  Also in”to bid”, “say good bye” (to).

1588 Shakes.  L.L.L. iii. i. 151, I thanke your worship, God be wy you.

1591 ? 1 Hen.  VI, iii. ii. 73 God b’uy my Lord.

1600 Heywood 2 Edw.  IV, Wks.  (1874) I. 141 Gallants, God buoye all.

1602 Shakes.  Ham. ii. ii. 575, I so, God buy’ ye [1604 Qo. 2 God buy to you].

1607 Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girl D j b, Farewell.  God b’y you Mistresse Gallipot.

a 1652 Brome City Wit i. ii.  Wks. 1873 I. 289 Heartily Godbuy, good Mr. Crasy.

a 1659 Cleveland Lond.  Lady 54 But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b’ wy.

[1668 Pepys Diary 6 Aug., To Mr. Wren, to bid him ‘God be with you!’]

1694 Acc.  Sev.  Late Voy. ii. 152 He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b’wy.

1707 E. Ward Hud.  Rediv.  II. ii. 6 So to a Feast should I invite ye You’d stuff your Guts, and cry, Good bwi’t’ye.

1719 D’Urfey Pills III. 135 Good B’ w’ ‘y! with all my Heart.

1811 W. R. Spencer Poems 141 When How-d’y-do has failed to move, Good-bye reveals the passion!  [emphasis mine]

1818 Byron Juan i. ccxxi, And so your humble servant, and good-b’ye!

1860 Tyndall Glac. i. xviii. 122 We then bade Ulrich good-bye, and went forward.

1874 F. C. Burnand My time x. 87 Then he said good-bye to me..and so left me.

As in the case of many other words, Shakespeare seems to be the first source.  (Though, to be sure, “God be wy you” still seems more like a phrase than an actual word.  Also note that the first given source of the NOUN “good-bye”, not shown here — as distinguished from the exclamation we are discussing — is a letter written by one G. Harvey in 1573.)  In any event, you will see that my guess about the 1700’s was wrong; in fact, “Good-bye”, so spelled, first arises in a poem by W.R. Spencer, in 1811!  (Note that this is NOT the same writer as the more celebrated Edmund Spenser, who along with spelling his last name differently, lived in the 16th century.)

Let us come back to the Trollope for a minute.  After I absorbed the OED information,  Adelaide’s  “Good-bye”, in her letter, seemed different than the plain “farewell” I had construed it to be at first.  I believe that there really still is an element of the “God be with you” sense here.  First of all, it seems a bit odd to bid a overt “farewell” to another person when you write to them (especially if you are attached to them); after all you have not been physically together with them.  Secondly, consider the “God bless you” at the letter’s very end.  It seems to resonate with the “God be with you” aspect of the “Good-bye”.

OK, so let us now bid Good-bye to that little digression … and let us march bravely forward with Phineas Redux!

*************

Update 16feb2016:  I am very glad that I stuck with Phineas Redux.  A bit more than halfway through, a dramatic event occurs … and the book catches fire!

 

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Buried Treasure

Sue_Grafton_-_X_Cover

Know that theme (now science fiction, perhaps to be a fact someday) of finding a worm-hole in spacetime, and using it to squirt yourself to some other distant part of the universe?  (Or, to another universe?)  Well, I experience something along these lines — if not quite as exotic — in reading, when I get a pointer to some other writer.  And if I am fond of the original author, the chances are rather good that I will find what is pointed to, to be of interest.

Recent example:  I was immersing myself in Sue Grafton’s latest “alphabet” detective novel, entitled (surprisingly), X.  (Yes, just X.  Not “X is for something”, as has been her pattern for the previous 23 letters of the alphabet.)   I came across this:

Westlake_page

You’ll see the Donald Westlake reference.  (Highlighting by me, not by Ms. Grafton!)  To be sure, I had dimly heard of Westlake, but had so far never ventured into his crime novels.  Once done with the Grafton (which was grand, as usual), I decided to do a bit of research on Donald Westlake’s writings.  As often, I went to a Wikipedia article.  The general Westlake entry gave just as much information as I wanted … without any of those terrible “spoilers” which would blithely give away the plot:

Wiki_Westlake

I have hightlighted the reference to Westlake’s God Save the Mark.  I decided on this one, both because it garnered that Edgar award, and because it’s a relatively early work.  When possible, I like to go through a writer in (more or less) chronological order.  In case there are any recurring characters or themes in an author’s work, this obviously will help avoid confusion.

god_save_the_mark_original_1

Upon starting God Save the Mark, I confess that I was a bit put off by the rather comic tone.  However, I managed to override my perhaps stuffy attitude — being buoyed perhaps by Kinsey Millhone’s interest in Westlake’s output.  (Millhone is, for you benighted non-detective readers, Sue Grafton’s female private eye.)  I am glad that I stayed with the Westlake work!  Beneath its jokey exterior can be found the sturdy framework of a well-plotted crime novel.  I am looking forward to reading more of his books down the road.  And who knows … perhaps there too will be lurking a literary worm-hole, which will shoot me into yet another reading universe.

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