Etymology

Civil War: Christiana

The "Christiana Riot" is one of the better-known stories from the days of the Underground Railroad and runaway slave resistance, in part because of the subsequent trial and in part because William Parker published his story in the "Atlantic Monthly" in 1866. The tale is set on a farm outside the town of Christiana, Pennsylvania, near the Lancaster-Chester county boundary and not far from the Mason-Dixon Line. There was a lawlessness in the region that predated slavery disputes: it was a haven for horse thieves and chicken thieves. The landscape of steep wooded hills and scrubby ravines made ideal hideouts and perfect terrain for stealthy movement. The intersection of three states and five counties within a few miles made this a legal shadowland, ideal for outlaws. Taverns, like the Line House between Pennsylvania and Delaware, were deliberately built to straddle boundaries; if the sheriff from one county walked into the tavern, all the criminal element simply shuffled down to the far end of the bar -- out of his jurisdiction. The 1980s movie "At Close Range" was based on a modern story from this region, though the setting was shifted to Tennessee. The path of Eastern Shore Maryland runaways naturally led up through this area, and the borderlands offered a haven to both runaways and kidnappers. Despite the intermittent danger from kidnappers, many free blacks settled in the area, lured in part by a population of sympathetic whites, including Quakers and plenty of farmers willing to hire runaways because they worked hard and worked cheap. Parker had lived there since he ran off from slavery in Maryland in 1839. He claimed to have set up a protective league among local blacks in the early 1840s, and to have instigated riots to free fugitives from as early as 1841. Later events can be corroborated. One incident, probably from 1850, involved slave-catchers taking a woman named Elizabeth. They stopped at a tavern, which gave Parker and his gang time to catch up to them and set a trap. One of Parker's men, mounted on a conspicuous white horse, rode behind the wagon with the captured slave. This signaled the others, in hiding on Gap Hill, which wagon to attack. They did, the woman escaped, and Parker claimed the slave-catchers were so badly beaten that up to three of them later died. Parker also arranged the barn-burning of a tavernkeeper who had said he would welcome slave-catchers, and he and his confederates attacked blacks they believed to be informers. One was badly beaten, in "an appeal to the Lynch Code," and the other had his house burned down around him, although he escaped to a neighbor's, rather than being shot to death as he ran out, as Parker had planned. Four slaves of Marylander Edward Gorsuch had escaped late in 1849, and they took refuge in the Christiana area. An informer told Gorsuch where they were in August 1851, and the Methodist deacon, known as a kind master, decided to retrieve his property. He went to Philadelphia for the proper papers, along with his son, cousin, nephew, and two neighbors. Joined by U.S. Marshal Henry Kline and two officers, they took the train to Christiana. Also on the train was a black Philadelphian, Samuel Williams, who knew that this was a posse. His purpose was twofold: to inform the refugees that they were being sought, and to let the posse see him and know that their plans were exposed. The implicit threat of violence intimidated Kline's two men, who returned to Philadelphia, leaving Gorsuch and his party of five and a reluctant Kline. Kline dragged his feet and the party lost a day, which gave Williams' warning time to circulate in the community. But it also seems that the slaves mistook the delay, and thought Gorsuch had given up. So when the posse arrived at Parker's house at dawn on Sept. 11, it took them by surprise. Kline and Gorsuch went into the house and told the slaves they wouldn't be punished if they returned with him peacefully. But the blacks on the second floor responded by hurling things at the men in the yard, injuring some of them. Kline then announced his official position and threatened to come upstairs. Gorsuch started up the stairs, but the blacks threw an axe and a pronged fish spear at him, so he retreated out of range. Kline read the warrant and both men then left the house into the yard. A shot was fired, but each side claimed the other had fired it. A couple of hours passed. Parker said he engaged in a scriptural debate with Gorsuch. There were seven whites against seven blacks, two of the latter women. The stone house was an excellent fort. Kline probably was simply seeing things in a practical way when he said there was no way to take the fugitives with the force on hand, and he advised leaving. But Gorsuch seemed to think time was on his side. If Parker's account is accurate, Gorsuch was right, as some of the band in the house, including Parker's brother and sister-in-law, wanted to give up. But the delay proved deadly. Some white neighbors, aroused by one of Parker's confederates, arrived at the same time as a large number of local blacks, well armed. The mix of motives of the white neighbors -- Quakers Elijah Lewis and Joseph Scarlett and miller Castner Hanway -- is hard to determine. One theory, plausible to me in the light of Quaker ways, is that they were mainly there to intimidate by their presence, as Williams had attempted to do on the train. But the effect on the blacks in the Parker house was to galvanize them into resistance. Kline requested aid from Hanway, who warned him he had better leave quickly or blood would be shed. Kline seemed to find this a good idea, but Gorsuch moved toward the house. The blacks attacked, and Gorsuch was killed, possibly "finished off by the women," as Parker later boasted. Gorsuch's son ran to his aid, but was badly wounded himself. The cousin and nephew, during the retreat, suffered buckshot wounds. The blacks most obviously involved in the fight -- Parker, the men in his house, the other Gorsuch fugitives, and two who were wounded -- set off for Canada that night. Parker was hidden for a time in upstate New York by Frederick Douglass. Parker's wife and sister-in-law were left behind to be arrested, only to be released when the prosecution decided it would damage its case to try women. Because of the violence, blacks were rounded up in the area and as many as six were remanded to slavery, including Parker's mother-in-law. Parker also left behind a large packet of letters from fugitives and resisters that would have incriminated many in the area had it come into the hands of the law, but a local Quaker found it first and burned it. Twenty-seven blacks and three whites were arrested and charged with treason. Lewis pretended he had acted only until he found out it was not an illegal kidnapping. Hanway pretended to be just observing. The trial for treason, rather than some more appropriate charge, was an attempt to placate Southern anger, for a slaveholder had been murdered in the course of a legal action while the North, figuratively, looked on.

Davenport

GUY DAVENPORT1927-2005 My favorite modern American writer, Guy Davenport, has died. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of him. It was an inside joke that Davenport fans were so few we could be conveniently identified with two-digit jersey numbers, like a hockey team. For instance, David Eisenman, who was re-issuing a beautiful new version of an old Davenport work, was no. 19. In 1982, I was a junior at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. Dickinson was, at the time a famously "preppie" place. It was expensive (though ridiculously cheap by modern standards), and most of my fellow students went home for the holidays to wealthy families in leafy burbs of Baltimore, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. We studied economics and political science, in classes of professors who had held government positions in the Carter Administration. The place was socially, if not politically, conservative, and the general notion of letting loose and acting wild was a beer-sodden frat party. I'm not knocking it; it was what it was; and I'm delighted that this school saw fit to hire a "poet in residence." His name was Kerry Shawn Keys, and he lived in a cabin in the woods with a very beautiful girl. He had long black hair and piercing gray eyes and he walked with a wooden staff. I met him first in the school laundromat. If you just glanced at him, you'd mistake him for a hippie poet poseur, and I think he knew that about himself and enjoyed it. Because he really had poetry in his veins. His own work was excellent, authentic, even if the frank zen earthiness of it shocked some of the Izod-clad student body. And he had an ear for the good stuff. I took his seminar that spring. He introduced us to Gary Snyder, Ted Hughes -- tough, modern verse. We brought in our own works and read them aloud. They were as bad as you can imagine, but he found what was good in them. At one point he quoted a line ... "balanced on the fine edge, now of the wind's sword, now of the wave's blade" ... from Guy Davenport's translation of Archilochos. He said I definitely should read Archilochos. By which me meant I should read Davenport, because I didn't read Greek at the time and as far as I know neither did Keys. So I tracked down "Seven Greeks" at the school library and took it home to my attic apartment and fell in love with it. Seven poets from impossibly ancient times who survive only in tatters, rags of verse from moth-eaten mummy-wrap and words quoted by other authors. Yet under Davenport's deft touch, the mere chaff of words became poetry itself. Sappho and Archilochos read as though they could have been contemporaries of Hughes and Snyder. I've bought "Seven Greeks" six times in my life. I'm forever lending it to people I know won't return it (and I don't intend them to). It took me years to discover that this Guy Davenport person had done more than translations. I don't remember now whether I discovered that by reading a review or by accident while browsing bookstores. But I do remember that "Eclogues" was the first original work of his that I picked up. Since then I've bought everything I can find, and it's not easy to find. Davenport was one of the last living disciples of Ezra Pound. He was a brilliant and learned man, but with a warm, salt-of-the-earth, Southern sensibility. Think Pound without the prickly aestheticism and the Ivy League snobbery, without the fascism. Like his fellow Southern scholar Hugh Kenner, who also died recently (and whose works Davenport illustrated), Davenport imbued Pounds "ideogramatic" idea of poetry and put it to work in prose. Pound, based on a brilliant misreading of the structure of Chinese writing, thought he saw in Chinese characters an overlaying of real things that became an insight when you saw several things through one another. Davenport, for my money, does it better than Pound. In criticism, social commentary, and historical fiction, Davenport had the knack of plunging an arm into the stream of time and pulling up luminous pebbles, then arranging them brilliantly. In one essay, "The Geography of the Imagination," Davenport relates the Dogon trickster legends of West Africa to Brer Rabbit, to an essay on furniture by Poe, to Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West" (seen in terms of World War I and the first three stories in Joyce's "The Dubliners"), to the Persephone myth (and its realization in a bit of O. Henry sentiment). It ends with a close analysis of classical imagery in Grant Wood's painting, "American Gothic." Along the way, Davenport introduces, in cameo appearances, John Philip Sousa, Heraclitus, Amerigo Vespucci, the sack of Eleusis by the Visigoths, the idea of Germany, Thomas Jefferson's dinners, the discovery of binary stars, and the industrial revolution. The essay itself is not quite 12 pages long. One of my favorite Davenport works is "The Wooden Dove of Archytas." In it, he tells two stories at once, alternately, without further elaboration. In ancient Greece, a philosopher-schoolmaster puts his class to work and devises a steam-powered artificial bird that is meant to really fly in the presence of the skeptical parents. And in the modern American South, the descendants of slaves and the descendants of local Indian tribes arrange a mourning service for a beloved pet dove. One of my favorite pleasures is reading "The Wooden Dove of Archytas" aloud -- my wife and son enjoy this enough to indulge me once in a while: it's a challenging dance to shift the accents, Greek, Cherokee, Southern black, and Davenport's ear is spot-on. The real mark of good writing is that it's better when read aloud. I understand ancient Greece far better through Davenport's fictions than I do through stilted translations of ancient poems and tragedies. It reminds me of what someone said about Thomas U. Walter, the great Greek revival architect: He doesn't just imitate the Greeks; he thinks the way they thought. This is modernism, but it's modernism with the dirt under its fingernails. It's made of real things, not abstractions, and it's made in love, of the word, of the story, of the characters, of the reader. Bruce Bawer on Davenport: Modernism was Davenport's turf, Pound his hero. But since, in his view, the twentieth century's genius was that it began "to connect what had seemed to be abrupt discontinuities of culture into whole fabrics," he did not stay put in his own period but ventured far afield, seeking out and discerning ties across cultures, disciplines, and centuries (Don Quixote's influence on Lolita; Conrad's Chance as "a translation, into another style, of Dombey and Son"), and writing stories ("Christ Preaching at the Henley Regatta") in which personages from far-flung epochs and places bumped up against one another. For Davenport, civilization was one unbroken text: If Apollinaire "could see the modern," he observed, it was "because he loved all that had lasted from before. You see Cézanne by loving Poussin and you see Poussin by loving Pompeii and you see Pompeii by loving Cnossos." Just as the North Carolina poet Lenard Moore had learned to see "tobacco country ... through the eyes of the medieval Japanese poet Basho," so was the young Davenport, an aspiring painter, helped to see his native South Carolina countryside by Constable's English landscapes ("Culture," as Davenport wrote in these pages last year, "continues"). Naturally, Davenport's disciples defy and transcend political categories and every other pigeon-hole. Like the writer himself. Davenport wrote that Lévi-Strauss was too original of mind "to be the exponent of a master or a school," and Bawer correctly observes that "he might have been referring to himself." Long a contributor to National Review, he mocked academic groupthink —- and thwacked the New York Review of Books for having "done more to discourage good writing in the United States than the Litkontrol branch of the Politburo has in the Soviet Union." But he also railed against conservative orthodoxies, reviling religious fundamentalism and decrying capitalism's obliteration of American communities. Indeed, even as Davenport rejoiced in modernism and echoed his idol Pound's determination to "make it new," he (who never learned to drive) despised modern technology, comparing the twentieth century —- the "most miserable of ages since the Barbarians poured into Rome" —- unfavorably to Whitman's time: "His age walked with a sprier step than ours; it bounced in buckboard and carriage; a man on a horse has his blood shaken and his muscles pulled. A man in an automobile is as active as a sloth. ... Dullness, constant numbing dullness, was the last thing Whitman would have thought of America, but that is what has happened." If Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art, for Davenport —- whose forthrightly homoerotic fiction celebrated active minds in active bodies —- art, ideas, and frank physicality were parts of a single whole (as a character in the title story of The Cardiff Team [1996] puts it, "Finding out about what's in books and the world and feeling great in my pants were cooperative"). In Davenport's view, modern Americans, possessed by the twin demons of anti-intellectualism and car lust, had sold both mind and body in return for a mess of pottage—and forfeited their souls in the process. And he saw this Faustian transaction mirrored in the fate of an apple and a pear tree near his Lexington house that "had grown around each other in a double spiral" of breathtaking beauty, only to fall one day to a developer's chain saw, its cruel scream "the language of devils at their business." Having watched my neighbors cut down a century-old pine tree, the better to park their six cars on their lawn (they only have five people in the family), I could only wish for the skill of Davenport to invoke down the proper curse on their heads. I became a devotee of Davenport's writing -- fiction and non-fiction alike -- long before I knew much about the man himself. And when he died earlier this year, Davenport still was someone I knew mostly by the biographical details he revealed in his writings. Now, an unsigned remembrance in the New Criterion tells me I liked him even better than I thought I did, without knowing it. A less academic personality is difficult to imagine. Indeed, although Guy was a gentle, accommodating soul, someone whose unextinguishable curiosity generally left him amused rather than indignant at the spectacle of human foibles, he made an exception for the arid, the pedantic, the politically correct, in short, for the academic —- the one term, so far as we can recall, that was for him invariably a term of diminishment, a term of contempt. And so forth. That's not the main point of the piece, which is a delightful romp through Davenport's greatest hits in writing essays and reviews.

Civil War: Keystone

Between the first Southern secessions in December 1860 and the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Northern states, as well as Border States, faced a dilemma. The union was falling apart, and the incoming administration had not yet made it clear what would be done to reform it, or to prevent further erosion. Political leaders across the North sometimes talked loyalty, but they often looked to their own interests or the good of their state, and those were not necessarily in sticking together under Lincoln. The Pacific states -- Oregon and California -- were separated from the rest by vast miles of desert and Indians. They held sudden power in a split government, and many of their settlers were of Southern origin. Rumors back east told that the western seaboard would attempt to separate. Meanwhile, across the country, New York City, behind Mayor Fernando Wood and Dan Sickles, threatened to secede and become a "free city."[1] There was a more serious attempt to form a Midwestern bloc, behind the region's Democratic leaders like Vallandigham, Pendleton, Cox, Logan, and McClernand. This region still relied on the Mississippi river for its economic prosperity, and the lower reaches of that river were now in foreign hands. That left the Ohio valley states more dependent than ever on Eastern businessmen and Republicans, something they already loathed about their position. There was talk in the old Northwest of forming a confederacy of their own, or joining with the new one. In this case, economics as well a politics favored the idea. Economics and politics, too, flowed into talk of secession in southeastern Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia and the surrounding counties -- which were so hostile to abolitionists that the Republican ticket in the November 1860 election didn't even use the party name but disguised itself as the "People's party," and took up that old Whig shibboleth, "tariff protection," as its rallying cry. The tariff issue is credited with giving Lincoln his 60 percent vote in traditionally Democratic Philadelphia. Philadelphia's economic ties to the South have been well-documented since Kenneth M. Stampp outlined them in And the War Came (1970). The city's merchants and manufacturers, like the Cotton Whigs of Boston, deplored the Republican moves during the secession crisis. They advocated letting the South go without resistance -- if they could not join it outright. There was much talk of this in the early months of 1861. The Pennsylvanian, a newspaper edited by a relative by marriage of President Buchanan, was just one voice advocating a Pennsylvania union with the Confederacy. Another city newspaper laid out the case plainly: "Can Philadelphia with the South cut off compete with New York in ships, in trade, and other branches of enterprise? We opine not." Prominent Pottsville politician Francis W. Hughes warned in February 1861 that Pennsylvania risked trading Southern customers and profits for a "place in some Northern fragment of a once-glorious Union." Not all the mercantile class interest in the South was pure greed. Pennsylvanians seemed particularly attached to Virginia -- a sentimental relic of Revolutionary days, perhaps -- and Pennsylvania's William Bigler in a Jan. 21, 1861, speech on the Senate floor proclaimed that "Pennsylvania will never become the enemy of Virginia. Pennsylvania will never draw the sword on Virginia." He supported the Crittenden Compromise and spoke for peaceful Southern secession. Some state leaders showed a personal devotion to the values represented by the Confederacy that cost them their fortunes and clearly ran deeper than craven self-interest. When it became clear that Pennsylvania would not join the Confederate States, George McHenry, former director of the Philadelphia Board of Trade, emigrated to London and advocated for the Confederate cause from there. Political and ideological forces also gave many in Pennsylvania a strong sympathy for the South. Many followed the thinking of their fellow citizen, President Buchanan, in taking a constitutional, non-coercive approach to the secession crisis. This was not a weak policy, as some would have it, but was rooted in a sound interpretation of the Constitution and old-style federalism. Robert Monaghan, a leader of the Chester County Democrats, told a militia organizer before the war started, "If you go down there to shoot, damned if I don't go down there and shoot back." William B. Reed, a leading Philadelphia Democrat, called for a Pennsylvania convention "to determine with whom her lot should be cast, whether with the North and East, whose fanaticism has precipitated this misery upon us, or our brethren of the South whose wrongs we feel as our own." Robert Tyler, former chair of the state Democratic Executive Committee, wrote, "should the Border States join the Southern Confederacy within one, two or three years, it would then become a most serious question to determine the political status of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in that relation." And George W. Woodward, chief justice of the state Supreme Court not only argued for the South's right to peaceful secession, he added, "I wish Pennsylvania could go with them." In a study of Pennsylvania newspapers before Fort Sumter, 17 of the 23 Democratic newspapers examined "supported some sort of secession." Out of the 31 Republican papers, eight also supported the South's right to leave the union.[2] The Harrisburg Patriot and Union on April 9, 1861, summed up a feeling echoed from many presses: "If this administration wickedly plunges the country into civil war, it will be a war between the Republican party and the Southern States." Mass meetings in the months before Sumter "stressed the North's offenses against the South" and called on Pennsylvania "to choose between 'fanatical New England' and 'the South, whose sympathies are ours.' " ... "Abolitionists, blamed for the crisis, were more detested than ever. ... Peace rallies persisted through January, February, and March." All this and more can be found in "Philadelphia, a 300-year History," the standard modern comprehensive history of the city, in a chapter tellingly titled "The Border City in the Civil War." There was a rush of patriotism after Sumter, and the attack on the flag galvanized the citizens behind the administration in Washington. Leading Philadelphia secessionists like Tyler were run out of town by mobs. Others kept quiet. "There are a great many men here who are for the South," a Philadelphia letter of May 16, 1861, reported, "but they cannot say a word for fear of being hung or put in prison or being shot down like dogs." But patriotic solidarity for Lincoln's war began to ebb as early as the summer of 1861. "Enthusiasm faded everywhere of course, but in Philadelphia it gave way to especially bitter dissention, as the city's traditional sympathy for the South and antipathy toward the black man once again clouded its dedication to the Union."[3] The city's first families were never for Lincoln, and Sidney George Fisher in his biography says he was the only Lincoln-defender in his social circles. A tavernkeeper, speaking at a pro-Southern meeting in Kirkwood, Lancaster County, in August 1861 said: "I am in favor of secession, and believe the South are justifiable in their rebellion and hope they may succeed. The war is an abolition war, made by an abolitionist administration for the destruction of the South. ... The object of the administration was to liberate the negroes in order that the people of the North might be enslaved. For if the free negroes come North how would the white laborer make his living?" He added, "I am for the whole country, North, South, East, and West; all except God-damned New England."[4] based on analysis of regimental records from Virginia, a startling 2,000 Pennsylvanians are believed to have fought in the Confederate armies -- and that is a "very conservative" estimate.[5] Among the best-known is Wesley Culp, born and raised in Gettysburg, who moved to Virginia before the war, enlisted in the 2nd Va. Infantry, and was killed July 2, 1863, during the Stonewall Brigade's attack on Culp's Hill, within sight of the house where he had been born.

Civil War: Desert1

The Phillips' Legion, a Georgia regiment organized in 1861, contained six infantry companies (A-F) and four cavalry companies. During the spring of 1862, three new infantry companies (L, M and O), were recruited in Cobb and Bartow counties and added to the Infantry Battalion. These nine companies served as a unit throughout the remainder of the war. As in most Confederate "Legions," the cavalry battalions were separated early in the war (in this case, July 1862). The regiment fought in western Virginia in the Army of the Kanawha under Gen. John B. Floyd. On Dec. 16, 1861, the unit was ordered to South Carolina, where the three late companies joined it. In July 1862 the Battalion returned to Virginia and the ANV as part of Drayton's Georgia-South Carolina brigade. It was reassigned to Cobb's brigade in November 1862 and continued with the ANV until late summer 1863 when it was moved to Georgia along with two divisions of Longstreet's Corps, serving in the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga and later in the Department of East Tennessee during the Knoxville campaign. Returning to Virginia in April of 1864, the unit again served in the ANV until Appomattox, except for a four-month stint in the Shenandoah Valley in the late summer and autumn of 1864. Unlike many Confederate units, full rosters survive for parts of this regiment. Furthermore, work has been done on these companies, by me and others, including cross-referencing the official CSA paperwork against other sources, such as United States records of surrenders and POW camps, military pension applications, hospital records, cemeteries, and contemporary newspapers. Here's what emerges from two of the better-attested companies: Company L ("Blackwell Rifles") and Company M ("Denmead Volunteers"), both from Cobb County. There's nothing remarkable about these 232 soldiers and officers, except that their paperwork has been better preserved and better examined than that of most of the other hundreds of thousands of rebel soldiers. The war had been on for almost a year when this unit began recruiting, and, as in the North, many of the men who enlisted had already seen service. At least one had been wounded at First Manassas and discharged. That's probably worth noting because of the general impression created by some people that every Confederate took every opportunity he could find to escape from duty or military service. Along the same lines, it's interesting to note that some 42 of the men in these two companies were captured by the North at some time during the war, spent times in Northern prison camps, and were then parolled, exchanged, or, in a few cases, escaped. These captures were spread out through the war: many came after Antietam and Gettysburg, many in the Knoxville campaign. The imprisonment often lasted for months; several privates captured at Gettysburg or in Tennessee in the summer of 1863 spent more than a year and a half at Rock Island or Fort Delaware, and one of them finished the war there. There was ample opportunity for these men to take the oath to the U.S. government and escape the CSA service that they supposedly dreaded. But they did not avail themselves of that. Of the 232, six were killed in action, and seven were mortally wounded. Another 41 were wounded and lived. At least six men were wounded in more than one battle. Pvt. George D. Rice of Marietta was wounded in the left foot and captured at Knoxville (Nov. 29, 1863), escaped and returned across the lines same day, was wounded again in action July 1, 1864 (location not stated); and died of his wounds July 3, 1864. Another 22 died of disease in camp or in Southern hospitals. Nine more died of disease in Northern prison camps or immediately after release therefrom. Another three died in service of causes not known or not recorded Twenty were discharged for wounds or disability. Five were sent home for being over-aged, and four discharged as underaged. (Sgt. James B. Young of Marietta was wounded at Antietam seven days after the special order had been issued discharging him for being only 16 years old.) One thing that emerges from studying the records of these two units is the confused state of the accounting, even in a well-documented outfit like the Phillips' Legion. This is hardly surprising, for an army losing a vast war, but it nonetheless confirms the fact that anything like "exact" or "official" numbers in the Civil War need to be taken with a big gulp of salt. For instance: A card in the record of Pvt. J.P. Dobbs Sr. of Co. M. shows him dying Nov. 13, 1862 at Winder Hospital from typhoid. But this is probably a misplaced entry for another soldier in the same company, James P. Dobbs, who died Nov. 14, 1862, in Farmville, Va., of typhoid pneumonia. J.P. Dobbs Sr. is not on rolls after July 1, 1862. He died Nov. 6, 1864, and is buried in Marietta City Cemetery. So it is likely that he was discharged in 1862. Or consider the case of Private Bryan, who was captured at Knoxville in 1863 and imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio. Almost a year later he takes the loyalty oath to the U.S. government. But then in March 1865 he turns up back in the uniform of his old regiment, in a Richmond hospital. Cases like Bryan's are interesting. The Confederacy, we are told, trails like chains of sins a long list of men marked officially as "AWOL," "no further record," or "deserter." Those are the ones that feed into those vast rolling figures laid out by some anti-Confederates, representing the "vast majority" of the South -- sometimes amounting to more than the entire white male Southern population -- who supposedly "voted with their feet" against the bid for freedom or the need to protect "homes and firesides." And in the case of these two companies, the record shows 75 men who "abandoned the cause" of the South. Yes, almost one third, from these two companies, feed into those massive round figures of Southern "desertion" and "lack of commitment." At least 17 of them turn up in federal records as having taken the oath of allegiance to the Union. But take a look at the full records, not just the statistics. It's something that generators of vast, round-number indictments rarely bother to do. The numbers in these two units confirm Mark A. Weitz's findings that Southern desertion rates spiked in units after their families ended up behind Yankee lines. So far from abandoning the "homes and firesides," these men likely were putting it first in their ethical calculations. The home district of these men was overrun by the Yankees at the beginning of July 1864. Taking July 2 (the day the county seat, Marietta, was occupied) as a watershed, only 16 of the 75 recorded desertions or AWOLs took place before that date. Most of them take place right after the occupation. Another spike, amounting to 23 desertions or AWOLs, dates from the final weeks of the war, in 1865, and there is evidence that many of these men either were on furlough or were victims of an understandable breakdown in records-keeping. A sergeant named Edwards is shown as AWOL as of Oct. 1, 1864, but federal records show the same man surrendered with a big chunk of the regiment at Sailors Creek on April 6, 1865, near the end of the war. Either way, they had served through three years, in many cases being wounded and captured; if they gave up, it was when the cause was undeniably lost. Clearly, there were some deserters in the ranks, of the kind anti-Confederates hail as the true heroes of the South. Pvt. William J. Wooten, for instance, who went AWOL May 1862 ("forged a discharge and deserted"), was captured and confined in Atlanta in December 1862, was back with the unit in March 1863, and skipped out again from a military hospital in June 1864. But at least three men were missing from the muster rolls because they were on detached duty in Atlanta, working at their trade of shoe-making, which was desperately important to the war effort. They were there until the city fell, but they are listed in the regiment as "AWOL." The army lost track of men in many ways. One private whose record ends in August 1864 had been detailed as a brigade commissary clerk and then served on the staff of Gen. Wofford. Yet he goes down in the list of "deserters" in the anti-Confederate juggernaut. Pvt. John V. Coker's last entry in the service record is from a Richmond hospital on March 3, 1863. After that, he joined the AWOL list. The Coker family bible, however, shows that he died in April 1863. Several vanish after being wounded in battle. They, too are numbered among those who "escaped from the CSA tyranny." Pvt. Henry C. Briant was wounded in the right arm at Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864, according to a Virginia newspaper (it was at least his second wound), but his army record simply ends with the roll call before the battle. Pvt. Thomas J. Meek, wounded and captured at Knoxville, was paroled and admitted to Jackson Hospital, Richmond, Sept. 22, 1864. His record ends with his furlough four days later, and he joins the ranks of the "deserters;" but in fact the 1906 Roster Commission roll notes that the wound left him permanently disabled. Pvt. James H. Sauls, meanwhile, officially became a "desertion statistic" in 1862. That was after he had been wounded at Antietam, with loss of a leg. I guess he "voted with his foot." At least three men marked as "deserters" in the Tennessee campaign turned up as POWs in Yankee hands, and were imprisoned until the end of the war. Joel C. Stancell is shown on the rolls as having deserted Dec. 4, 1863, near Knoxville, Tenn.; but federal records show him captured in action in Tennessee on Dec. 18, 1863. He was imprisoned at Rock Island, and showed no affection for his new friends, since he busted out of there Sept. 26, 1864 (entry states: "escaped by placing a board against and scaling fence"). At least seven of the 75 cited above were caught at home, on furloughs, mostly after suffering battle wounds, when Sherman rolled over Cobb County. Pvt. Alexander H. Baswell, for instance, had been wounded in the hip at Chancellorsville, wounded in left foot at Cold Harbor, and furloughed home, where he was captured by the bluecoats and held till the end of the war. But the official Confederate records only show that he was AWOL after the August 1864 roll. Pvt. William M. Barber was wounded in the hand at Spotsylvania. Barber went to a hospital after his mangled finger became infected. After listening to the screams of soldiers inside who were having limbs amputated he decided to handle the problem himself by shooting off the remains of his infected finger with his rifle to cauterize the wound. He was furloughed home and captured in Macon, Ga., on April 20, 1865. Another private, furloughed home to Cobb County after suffering a hip wound in 1863, was captured by the bluecoats on Aug. 18, 1864. A third was home recuperating from a wound that cost him the index finger of his right hand when he was captured in August 1864. And what would you make of Pvt. Toliver Y. Hughes, who was marked as a "deserter" from the Phillips' Legion while home on sick leave in September 1862; but who in fact joined up there with an artillery battery, with which he served faithfully right up to the surrender at Appomattox? Is he one deserter? Or two volunteers?
Word origin stories

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Douglas Harper is a historian, author, journalist and lecturer based in Lancaster, Pa. He is the author of "If Thee Must Fight:" A Civil War History of Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1990); "An Index of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors from Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1995); "The Whitman Incident: Revolutionary Revisions to an Ephrata Tale" (Lancaster County Historical Society Journal, 1995); "West Chester to 1865: That Elegant & Notorious Place" (Chester County Historical Society, 1999). Harper is a graduate of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., with a degree in history and English. He has been featured in a BBC production on the Welsh settlements in America, and has been interviewed as a source for historical articles by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post and many magazines. He was arguably the second-most-famous assistant city editor ever to work at the West Chester, Pa., "Daily Local News." The other was Dave Barry. The newspaper was affectionately known by its readers as the "Daily Lack of News."] Carl Sandburg writes that Abe Lincoln, in his law office in Springfield, kept an envelope marked, "If you can't find it anywhere else, look here." Everyone should have such an envelope. This is mine. This began as a site where I could share some books and writers I've loved. But since I put together the etymology dictionary, it's becoming a site for people who are curious about what sort of no-life obsessive-compulsive would do something like that. And I've also opened it up to include my stands in ongoing discussions and brawls about topics such as religion, linguistics, and the American Civil War. That's three topics, by the way; not one. In 1960, when I was born, my parents lived in a place in Pennsylvania called Exton, a village given that name, for all anyone can remember, because it was just a crossoads "X" on the map. For those of you who know the area, their house sat across the Swedesford Road from what is now the sprawling mothership of Exton Mall, but was, in 1960, a bog. Later we lived between Exton and West Chester, in a small development in the "suburbs" though that word conjures up a wrong image, one of Levittowns and asphalt avenues of identical families in pre-fab houses cut from one of three cookie-cutter designs. This was the older style of suburbs. They drilled two roads down into the old farm, staked off 20 or so quarter-acre lots, then the individual builders or families built on them according to their needs and abilities. Simple split-level ranchers, some of them little more than mobile homes, sat alongside upper-middle-class salt boxes. All these homes grew and changed over time, some getting seedier, some more posh. Older couples lived there along with the young families. Some lots sat undeveloped -- chunks of wooded ridge or field too swampy or steep to build on. We kids roamed the woods and fields, discovering box turtles, gourds, and ruins of old spring houses and root cellars. We spent hours mucking around in old farm ponds for fat frogs and tadpoles. In the few years we lived there, the balance of development and nature changed. The construction crews came and backfilled the ponds, buried the creek in a culvert, clear-cut the woods, and hacked a highway bypass through the cornfield. They built a road to connect the two streets of our little development, then built another one below that, and lined both with houses. All this seemed like more fun to us kids: a four-year orgy of bulldozers and raw earth, and we couldn't see what we were losing till it was gone. Most of the years leading up to puberty I spent out in the woods with the other neighborhood kids, getting stung by hornets, building tree forts, hiding from the local bully (now an evangelist in Virginia, I'm told). I spent summers snorkeling coral reefs in the Atlantic at my grandparents' house in Boca Raton, and winters sledding down the rough ridge back of the old farm. When we moved out, I was 11. We landed on The Main Line: that old, wealthy and sophisticated Philadelphia suburb. I entered sixth grade woefully behind all my peers in social development. I went from a place where the boys still ran away from the girls on the schoolyard to one where established "couples" had been "dating" for a year or more. One or two of each gender had even experimented with sex. I made no friends, despite the teacher assigning kids to befriend me. I really never tried to. In shyness and anxiety, I retreated into books. In part, I sought a public identity, in that competitive environment, as a master of arcane knowledge. I memorized all the flags of the world, and was probably the only 6th grader in America to answer an assignment to write a famous person's biography with a paper on Boris III, King of Bulgaria during the Second World War. It made me an object of curiosity to the other kids, but only mildly interesting and occasionally useful. The next year, when my elementary school and four others dumped into a junior high school, and the hormones of puberty raged, I lapsed into a welcomed obscurity. Too shy for sports or girls, I made myself as invisible as a tall guy could be. I got along reasonably well with most kids, but had no friends after school. I came home and read. Just so you don't get the wrong idea, I eventually did make friends, and good ones. I was a varsity swimming captain and got a lush and lovely half-Armenian girlfriend, played in bands, etc. But it took a couple of years, and even after I started adjusting I never stopped reading for pleasure. The books I remember from this time were historical adventures like "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Ivanhoe." And, of course, "The Lord of the Rings." The Main Line was dotted with hospital thrift shops, and in each one was a wall of shelves where you could pick out, for a quarter or 50 cents each, hardcover novels that had been printed in the late 1800s for Victorian families eager to load their homes with the best literature. As the old Main Line estates broke up, these books found their way into the thrift shops, and, from there, into my hands. I landed in journalism after college without having taken a single course in it or worked a day on a student newspaper (except briefly for an underground high school publication). I learned on the job, and my first teachers were editors who tended to have a crusading streak. They taught me, sometimes by negative example, that a newspaper should never think itself bigger than, better than, or somehow aloof from its community. But they also taught me that newspapers should provide a voice for the voiceless in that community, and that they should not hesitate to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Since then, I've been a reporter, copy editor, editorial page editor, and entertainment editor in various papers in southeastern Pennsylvania. Got married 1988, son born 1990, divorced 1996 (best thing for all concerned, financially ruinous). Remarried in 2004 to the prettiest gal in town (that's her in the photo at the foot of the right column); lovely daughter born 2006. Two local history books that I wrote were published by Chester County Historical Society, one a Civil War history of that county, the other a history of West Chester, the county seat, up to 1865. I've also tried my hand at poetry, usually when under the influence of some powerful emotion and some powerful scotch. Some of these, through editorial accident or oversight, have been published in microscopic literary journals over the years. I've owned so many that at times I feared structural collapse in the houses I inhabited. I've used stacks of books as furniture. I was raised on novels -- great, sprawling books like "War and Peace," Scott, Stendhal, Joyce, Dumas, Dickens, Faulkner, "Moby Dick." I was laid up with a double hernia the summer I turned 22, and couldn't do my usual summer break job on the assembly line. I used the time to read "Two Years Before the Mast" and everything written by Joseph Conrad. It wasn't just classics, though; I read Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, too. Stendhal taught me about life; Tolkien about language. Kipling, Bradbury and Chandler taught me how to tell a story. My reading friends mostly have been post-modernists and new historicists, lovers of hard bop and William Burroughs. When I'd mention a weakness for Thornton Wilder, they'd get this sad look on their faces and change the subject. I learned to not mention it. Like I learned not to mention that I was moved by "Appalachian Spring" and the "Adagio For Strings." These pieces were modern, but backward-looking, like Wilder's novels and plays. And they were "romantic." The whole 20th century has swerved determinedly away from romanticism, and especially from any whiff of sentimentality. Wilder, like Wyeth and Copland and Barber -- and John Coltrane, by the way -- could distinguish sentiment from sentimentality, and they didn't have to flee from both for fear of not knowing the difference. Sentimentality is a shoddy imitation of a fine human feeling, but in the determined avoidance of mush, many writers have abandoned valid emotions and high human feelings. Wilder was one of the few authors in the last century who attempted that dangerous ground, who walked toward sentiment with open eyes. And he did so with a craft as solid as Ezra Pound or James Joyce, the great writers who led the swerve away from Victorian pap. In 8th grade, I didn't know any of this. I was a sullen, obnoxious kid who tended to ignore reading assignments. My English teacher, Mrs. Siler, a loud, proud daughter of Dixie, assigned us to read a play, and if we couldn't find a suitable play, she'd pick one for us. If I had been my teacher then, I probably would have assigned myself something by O'Neill. But she told me to read Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth." I read it and was amazed. I date my adult interest in reading (and in writing) from that year, which was when I also read "Lord of the Rings." Over the years, I've enjoyed Wilder's novels more than his plays: "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," and then "The Ides of March," which fixed in my mind the persons of Caesar, Catullus and Cleopatra so well that, though I've encountered them in a dozen other fictions and films, if they don't match the Wilder version, I don't quite buy it. "Heaven's My Destination" is a brilliant comedy centered on the kind of earnest, polite young Christian fundamentalist that grows so thick in this corner of the world you can't toss a Bible without hitting one on the head. But it's all done with genuine affection, and fictional George Brush [!] remains my favorite fundamentalist. But "The Eighth Day" is Wilder's masterpiece, weaving beautiful symphonic music out of the vaudeville of "Skin of Our Teeth." It's as hard-headed as Ayn Rand and as hopeful as a first love. Wilder served in both World Wars; he suffered an ambivalent sexuality in an America that was intolerant of such things. And he wrote not with the grim "cold eye" of the mature Yeats (who never went to war), but with a warm, loving affirmation of the beauty in the big messy world. That's the concept Mrs. Siler, I suspect, was trying to whisper to the sullen big kid who sat in the back row of Ardmore Junior High School. Stendhal is the most amazing observer of human nature I've ever read. In his youth, Marie-Henri Beyle campaigned with Napoleon in Italy, Germany, Russia and Austria, and after the final defeat of the French he retired to Italy, took the name Stendhal, and began to write. He eventually returned to Paris and wrote novels -- first "Le Rouge et le Noir" and then "La Chartreuse de Parme," completed in an astonishing 52 days. For Stendhal, Napoleon and his career were a brilliant meteor that blazed, never forgotten, never fully understood. Balzac appreciated his work, and Byron enjoyed his company, but for the most part Stendhal was ignored by his contemporaries -- a sure mark of genius. Anyone who has ever been in love should spend some time with "De l'Amour," Stendhal's attempts to sort out his own feelings in the midst of a hopeless passion as he offers "a detailed account of all the phases of that disease of the soul called love." In a tribute to the book, the critic Michael Wood wrote, "De l'Amour is a notebook, a collection of thoughts, memories, anecdotes, epigrams, patches of analysis. It is almost always delicate, often brilliant, a book to keep quoting from. ... He knew that truth is often fragmentary, that De l'Amour ... may ultimately say more for being less composed, less like a well-rounded essay, for being drastically unfaithful to its stiff intentions."Modern readers may be delighted by the frank feminism of many of Stendhal's digressions. I also find Stendhal smiling from the shadows of some of my favorite modern fiction, such as W.G. Sebald's "The Emigrants," which blends fiction, memory, and history in just the way Stendhal does. Critics compared Sebald to Ingmar Bergman, Kafka and Proust. But "The Emigrants' " true antecedent is Stendhal's unfinished autobiographical "Life of Henri Brulard." The evocation of memory throughout the Sebald book recalls Stendhal's image, in trying to recall his own childhood, of ancient frescos in ruins. Here's an arm, precisely and vividly painted on plaster. And next to it is bare brick. Whatever it once attached to is gone beyond recall. And poetry. Oceans and oceans of poetry. Most of it pre-1950. Why the old stuff? I think here is an answer: "What we term Indo-European poetry was rather a society's sum of knowledge, which was orally transmitted. The features which our western tradition ascribes to poetry (feeling, inspiration, individualism, participation, etc.), and which the aesthetics of romanticism has particularly underscored, were for Indo-European poetry only a side issue, although they were present. The main thing was to preserve and increase cultural elements which presented something essential to the well-being, collectivity, and stability of the society. We are speaking of the magic spells which heal the sick, the legal formulas which settle disputes, the prayers which extort worldly goods from the gods, the genealogies which give to people consciousness of their past and pride in it; the eulogies which legitimatize rulers by the celebration of their greatness. He who fulfilled such important functions held a position of the first rank in his society, but his traffic with the Muses was neither particularly frequent nor paticularly necessary. For this kind of poetry one could prepare oneself only by years of study; what the Middle Irish Metrics texts tell us about the training of the Early Irish poet is basically valid for the Indo-European one as well." [Enrico Campanile, "Indogermanische Dichtersprache," 1987, Innsbruck, p.26]The clues from the Vedic texts, older than Homer, match the Irish poetic system, ancient by the time it emerges into the light of writing in the 7th century and stunningly stable for the next thousand years. Poets were a hereditary caste and closely associated with priests. Five thousand years of tradition comes unglued relatively quickly; Wordsworth turns to natural language. Romantics chafe at rhyme and meter, the artificial aids to remembrance in an oral culture. Stendhal or someone like him says rhyme was fit for cavalry orders, not for great thoughts. A modern poet is not doing what Homer did. Would Homer contribute to a "Poets Against the War" anthology? If they wonder why he was the basis of a national education system for a millenia, and they seem as ephemeral as crickets on the lawn, consider what, or whom, is served in the verse. My friend Peter and I started out with Keats when we were 17, and from there we roamed everywhere. In college, I noticed that the literature offerings skipped right from Pope to Wordsworth, omitting 50 years. So I dug up Cowper, Collins, Gray, Swift, Kit Smart, and Goldsmith and read them and thought they were great fun. The reason for their modern unpopularity jump right off the page: strict rules and a fully developed convention. Yet that's what makes this poetry so surreal. And what does it say about poetry that, from that age that wrote such controlled verse, four of the names on my list died insane? From that infatuation I retain whole chunks of Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" by heart, along with much of Collins and a few other pieces by Gray. And I have an old four-volume set of Cowper's letters. Cowper was the most timid, refined old-ladyish poet imaginable, yet he wrestled with a crushing depression that would have killed most of us. And out of it all he wrote the most charming, erudite, self-effacing letters to his friends. They are not great poets, but every reader is entitled to choose a few favorites from the second tier. Or, as Samuel Johnson said, "Parnassus has its flowers of transient fragrance, as well as its oaks of towering height, and laurels of eternal verdure." My literary love in my college years was Yeats. I found in him then a romantic intensity that matched my own, but he had wings to soar in words. I find in him now a matchless excellence as a writer. Anyone who wrote poetry in the 20th century, or who read modern poetry seriously, had to confront Yeats. Every serious writer was aware of him, either flowing through channels he cut or else trying to scramble out of them. Yeats was in many ways a bridge for the best of the 19th century to cross into the 20th, and that's a formidable legacy. Kant knew that philosophy thrived when it was deemed trivial by priests and bankers and social reformers and prime ministers. If those people had thought philosophy important, they would have sought to control it or repress it or buy it or pervert it. The quest for truth can only occur in the autonomy known by the scorned and neglected. Yeats knew the same thing about poetry when he wrote "Adam's Curse." In a modern, commercial society, unless poets and philosophers are deemed dreamers and fools, no human thought will be free. He is, I admit, a man's poet, with all the folly and foolish nobility that implies. Lately I've been reading the later Yeats: "The Winding Stair and Other Poems." I see these poems that I've known since I was 18 with fresh poignancy and power. I had read then, but never felt till now, his bitterness at leaving youth just when he'd finally mastered its arts. The powers I feel now: to please a young woman's heart, to lead her to the well of her sensual self and clear the rushes and clarify the water so that she may drink deeply and long -- all these attained powers arrive at the same time I begin to find gray hairs and my hip hurts. As a man, however, I find very little that engages or attracts me in "Jane Eyre." Emily Brontė, on the other hand: Now there's a stone-cold goddess of sadistic fiction. She out-Burroughs Burroughs. I never read a more sadistic, sexual and disturbed novel than "Wuthering Heights," and Juliet Barker's excellent biography of the Brontė sisters confirms my notion that Emily was the weirdest, most fascinating woman in literature. Anyone who's serious about American poetry, or about poetry, or about America, has to read "Leaves of Grass." But be careful what you get. The 1855 original version doesn't have some of the better-known pieces, which were added over a lifetime of revising and expanding, but it crackles with wild lightning as Whitman surveys a new reality like some Blake titan. In each subsequent reprinting, he trimmed his vision to the unmoved world. In altering his poems to fit the (mostly negative) critical reception, Whitman marred their original angelic stride. He became a poet of causes, rather than a poet who contained causes. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but fortunately the 1855 original is still printed, and often sold more cheaply than the revised anthology of Whitman's work. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am that I grew up beside a city that actually has a "Walt Whitman Bridge" as a major artery -- given that name only after an end-run around the blinder sort of Christians and patriots who despised his morals, but named that nonetheless. America surprises you in unexpected places. I've long been a champion of Robinson Jeffers. Though he's not the most popular American poet, he seems to have gained ground in recent years. He is probably the best heir of Whitman's long-line style. He's also an embodiment of whatever California used to be in the '20s and '30s: the magical, wild place before half of America moved there and trampled it to fragments. California when California was a refuge from America's vulgarities rather than their factory. Trawlers coasting slowly through the fog, heron-cries, wild horses, hawks on the headland and cruel, cruel fires. His father was a professor of Old Testament studies. He began learning Greek at age 5. Unlike many poets of his generation (Pound, Williams, Eliot), Jeffers turned his back on the cosmopolitan culture and sought the primeval, which he found on the (then) desolate California coast around Carmel. There, he felt, "for the first time in my life I could see people living -- amid magnificent unspoiled scenery -- essentially as they did in the Sagas or in Homer's Ithaca. ... Here was contemporary life that was also permanent life." An excellent book about poets, by the way, is "Their Ancient Glittering Eyes," by Donald Hall. Hall, himself a poet of some repute (I confess, I never got into his work) is a wonderful interviewer. As a young man, he did "Paris Review" style interviews with the grand old men of American poetry: Frost, Eliot, and Pound, along with the melifluous train wreck that was Dylan Thomas. What's published here are more than just interviews, however. What makes the book resound are the anecdotes about what it took to get into the presence of these men and what it felt like to be there. The book also includes Yvor Winters, Marianne Moore, and Archibald MacLeish, though they feel like something of an afterthought beside the big four. Hall writes eloquently of the down-home poet Robert Frost that the real Robert Frost wore for much of his career. Readers who only know the "Best-Loved Poems" Frost can read Hall's stories of him and better understand the nihilism of "Acquainted With the Night," the suicide musings of "Come In," or the sensuality of "Putting In the Seed." He was vain, he could be cruel, he was rivalrous with all other men; but he could also be generous and warm -- when he could satisfy himself that his motives were dubious. He was a man possessed by guilt, by knowledge that he was bad, by the craving for love and the necessity to reject love offered.Hall also writes of the anguish of the elder Pound, who saw his whole world go to hell, twice. Form is important in poetry. It's unfortunate that the very idea of form has become associated, in academic literary circles and somewhat in the common mind, with reactionary patriarchy. Take Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "powerful emotion recollected in solitude," or Frost's tighter version, "enthusiasm tamed by metaphor," and you see that form, or at least the awareness of it, is half of what allows poetry to be poetry. It is the magic ritual that allows us to approach the most terrifying aspects of our selves and our lives. Form also allows you to approach important topics that might easily slip into sentimentality. Wordsworth's "Surprised by Joy" is one of the most moving things I've ever read: a tightly controlled little sonnet by a father about his child who has died. Once again, the tight lacing of the form allows the power of the content. Poetry shares this with music, and one of my favorite albums is the set of standard ballads that John Coltrane's quartet cut with Johnny Hartman on vocals in 1963. Coltrane was already pushing the boundaries of tonality, and his foursome was forging a style of "hard, unfaltering attack and furiously intense, extended improvisations that bordered on free-jazz." But he deliberately chose Hartman, a smooth-baritone crooner, and came out of the studio with a breathtakingly beautiful set of sides ("Lush Life" may be the most perfect thing ever recorded) that was elegant, respectful, and not a bit sentimental. McCoy Tyner's rich piano fills and the thirteen tenor notes Coltrane blows at the end of "Lush Life" are as thrilling for their restraint as for the intensity beneath it. Anyway, poetry. As you can see, I can still get carried away. Such non-fiction as I first read -- Bruce Catton, for instance -- had the feel of fiction. It was books by people who are obviously in love with their discipline and fairly falling over themselves to share their enthusiasm for it, like George Gamow's books on physics. But my reading history underwent a polar shift right around the time of 9-11, and I keep waiting for it to shift back again, but it hasn't happened. I found I got restless reading any length of text -- fiction or poetry -- that didn't expand my factual knowledge. There was so much I didn't know that I needed to know. I needed to soak up more, to understand the modern world. It wasn't entirely a casualty of 9/11. It had begun a little before that. I think more than anything it was the Internet. The first thing I looked for when I went online in the late '90s (after slinky pictures of Alyssa Milano) were people who shared my love of literature. I spent an unfortunate week as a member of a Yahoo! club dedicated to "literary criticism," where I got to watch a couple of people expertly mock anyone who didn't toe the marxist-feminist line. Nobody seemed to have the slightest interest in literature. But how they loved to bicker about critical theories, and about what one critic said about another critic! It made my head spin, and I said so, and I got called a pompous middle-aged male ass or something like that, and I dropped out of it, telling them I'd rather spend an hour reading Shelley than a lifetime among their ideological duels. The passion for writing and the argument about it never seem to dwell together. It was the difference between writing love letters and collecting postage stamps. The sad thing is, the bullies in that club are all professors of literature somewhere or another. But all over the Internet, polemical debates rage like hellfires. And to navigate that landscape, you have to master great mounds of facts. After literature, my online friend and I wandered into Civil War discussions, and instantly got pinned down by withering crossfire (we were on the Southern side) that sent me scurrying for ammunition from bigger and more obscure books. Soon I had a whole shelf full of them handy (I had sold off my Civil War library after finishing my own book about it). I still understand the importance of fiction and poetry. Believe me, I preached from that pulpit for most of my life. But that flame went out in me, and I don't know if it will ever catch again.