Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you



In 1930, after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, author Sinclair Lewis began to receive a steady stream of fan mail, from all corners. One woman in particular wrote and offered to become his secretary, adding, "I’ll do everything for you—and when I say everything I mean everything."

The following brief letter was sent to the young lady in response; not by Lewis, but by his wife, Dorothy.

(Source: Letters of a Nation; Image: Sinclair Lewis & Dorothy Thompson on their honeymoon in 1928, via.)

My dear Miss:

My husband already has a stenographer who handles his work for him. And, as for "everything," I take care of that myself—and when I say everything I mean everything.

Dorothy Thompson
(Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you.)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The spectacle sickened me



In July of 1905, after attending a performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, renowned playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw wrote a wonderful letter of complaint to The Times. His grievance didn't concern the opera itself, but rather an extravagantly dressed lady seated in his line of sight.

The letter, seen below, was later published in the paper.

(Source: The Letters of Bernard Shaw to the Times 1898-1950; Image: George Bernard Shaw, via.)

July 3, 1905

Sir,

The Opera management of Covent Garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women?

On Saturday night I went to the Opera. I wore the costume imposed on me by the regulations of the house. I fully recognize the advantage of those regulations. Evening dress is cheap, simple, durable, prevents rivalry and extravagance on the part of male leaders of fashion, annihilates class distinctions and gives men who are poor and doubtful of their social position (that is, the great majority of men) a sense of security and satisfaction that no clothes of their own choosing could confer, besides saving a whole sex the trouble of considering what they should wear on state occasions. The objections to it are as dust in the balance in the eyes of the ordinary Briton. These objections are that it is colourless; that it involves a whitening process that makes the shirt troublesome, slightly uncomfortable, and seriously unclean; that it acts as a passport for undesirable persons; that it fails to guarantee sobriety, cleanliness, and order on the part of the wearer; and that it reduces to a formula a very vital human habit which should be the subject of constant experiment and active private enterprise. All such objections are thoroughly un-English. They appeal only to an eccentric few, and may be left out of account with the fantastic objections of men like Ruskin, Tennyson, Carlyle, and Morris to tall hats.

But I submit that what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Every argument that applies to the regulation of the man's dress applies equally to the regulation of the woman's. Now let me describe what actually happened to me at the Opera. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the Opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and stage manager — if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behavior was exemplary.

At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person; but the spectacle sickened me. I presume that if I had presented myself at the doors with a dead snake round my neck, a collection of black beetles pinned to my shirtfront, and a grouse in my hair, I should have been refused admission. Why, then is a woman to be allowed to commit such a public outrage? Had the lady been refused admission, as she should have been, she would have soundly rated the tradesman who imposed the disgusting headdress on her under the false pretence that 'the best people' wear such things, and withdrawn her custom from him; and thus the root of the evil would be struck at; for your fashionable woman generally allows herself to be dressed according to the taste of a person who she would not let sit down in her presence. I once, in Drury Lane Theatre, sat behind a matinee hat decorated with the two wings of a seagull, artificially reddened at the joints so as to produce the illusion of being freshly plucked from a live bird. But even that lady stopped short of a whole seagull. Both ladies were evidently regarded by their neighbors as ridiculous and vulgar; but that is hardly enough when the offence is one which produces a sensation of physical sickness in persons of normal human sensibility.

I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the dangers of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.

Yours truly,

G. Bernard Shaw

Monday, 28 May 2012

My dungeon shook



Early-1963, 100 years after Abraham Lincoln called for the release of all Confederate slaves by way of the Emancipation Proclamation, renowned author James Baldwin wrote the following moving letter to his 14-year-old nephew, James, and offered some advice.

The letter later featured in Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time.

(Source: The Fire Next Time; Image: James Baldwin, via NPR.)

Dear James:

I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, moody—with a very definite tendency to sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft. You may be like your grandfather in this, I don't know, but certainly both you and your father resemble him very much physically. Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him. This is one of the reasons that he became so holy. I am sure that your father has told you something about all that. Neither you nor your father exhibit any tendency towards holiness: you really are of another era, part of what happened when the Negro left the land and came into what the late E. Franklin Frazier called "the cities of destruction." You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don't you ever forget it.

I have known both of you all your lives, have carried your Daddy in my arms and on my shoulders, kissed and spanked him and watched him learn to walk. I don't know if you've known anybody from that far back; if you've loved anybody that long, first as an infant, then as a child, then as a man, you gain a strange perspective on time and human pain and effort. Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father's face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child. Let him curse and I remember him falling down the cellar steps, and howling, and I remember, with pain, his tears, which my hand or your grandmother's so easily wiped away. But no one's hand can wipe away those tears he sheds invisibly today, which one hears in his laughter and in his speech and in his songs. I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, "No! This is not true! How bitter you are!"—but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven't made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn't hard to find. Your countrymen don't know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago: and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me—you were a big baby, I was not—here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children's children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born, and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, "You exaggerate." They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine—but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, though the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for so many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shinning and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man's definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,

James

Friday, 25 May 2012

Airman Thompson



In 1956, not long after enlisting with the United States Air Force, 19-year-old Hunter S. Thompson landed a job as Sports Editor for The Command Courier, Eglin Air Force Base's newspaper, and immediately began to ruffle feathers. The memo below was sent the next year, at which point his exaggerated reporting and rebellious attitude were causing problems.

A few months after the memo was sent, Thompson was relieved of his duties at the paper. Just before leaving, keen to have the last word, he drew up a fictional news release — also seen below — and had it published in the Courier.

(Source: The Proud Highway, via Self Made Hero (huge thanks to the great BrainPicker for bringing it to my attention); Image: Hunter S. Thompson, via Wikipedia.)

HEADQUARTERS
AIR PROVING GROUND COMMAND
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
Eglin Air Force Base, Florida

ADDRESS REPLY
ATTN: Base Staff Personnel Officer

Personnel Report: A/2C Hunter S. Thompson

23 Aug 57

1. A/2C Hunter S. Thompson, AF 15546879, has worked in the Internal Information Section, OIS, for nearly one year. During this time he has done some outstanding sports writing, but ignored APGC-OIS policy.

2. Airman Thompson possesses outstanding talent in writing. He has imagination, good use of English, and can express his thoughts in a manner that makes interesting reading

3. However, in spite of frequent counseling with explanation of the reasons for the conservative policy on an AF base newspaper, Airman Thompson has consistently written controversial material and leans so strongly to critical editorializing that it was necessary to require that all his writing be thoroughly edited before release.

4. The first article that called attention to the writing noted above was a story very critical of Base Special Services. Others that were stopped before they were printed were pieces that severely criticized Arthur Godfrey and Ted Williams that Airman Thompson extracted from national media releases and added his flair for the innuendo and exaggeration.

5. This Airman has indicated poor judgment from other standpoints by releasing Air Force information to the Playground News himself, with no consideration for other papers in the area, or the fact that only official releases, carefully censored by competent OIS staff members, are allowed.

6. In summary, this Airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy or personal advice and guidance. Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members. He has little consideration for military bearing or dress and seems to dislike the service and want out as soon as possible.

7. Consequently, it is requested that Airman Thompson be assigned to other duties immediately, and it is recommended that he be earnestly considered under the early release program.

8. It is also requested that Airman Thompson be officially advised that he is to do no writing of any kind for internal or external publication unless such writing is edited by the OIS staff, and that he is not to accept outside employment with any of the local media.

W. S. EVANS, Colonel, USAF
Chief, Office of Information Services

--------------------------

NEWS RELEASE, AIR PROVING GROUND COMMAND, EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA

EGLIN AFB, FLORIDA (November 8)--S/Sgt. Manmountain Dense, a novice Air Policeman, was severely injured here today when a wine bottle exploded inside the AP gatehouse at the west entrance to the base. Dense was incoherent for several hours after the disaster, but managed to make a statement which led investigators to believe the bottle was hurled from a speeding car which approached the gatehouse on the wrong side of the road, coming from the general direction of the SEPARATION CENTER.

Further investigation revealed that, only minutes before the incident at the gatehouse, a reportedly "fanatical" airman had received his separation papers and was rumored to have set out in the direction of the gatehouse at a high speed in a muffler-less car with no brakes. An immediate search was begun for Hunter S. Thompson, one-time sports editor of the base newspaper and well-known "morale problem." Thompson was known to have a sometimes overpowering affinity for wine and was described by a recent arrival in the base sanatorium as "just the type of bastard who would do a think like that."

An apparently uncontrollable iconoclast, Thompson was discharged today after one of the most hectic and unusual Air Force careers in recent history. According to Captain Munnington Thurd, who was relieved of his duties as base classification officer yesterday and admitted to the neuropsychological section of the base hospital, Thompson was "totally unclassifiable" and "one of the most savage and unnatural airmen I've ever come up against."

"I'll never understand how he got this discharge," Thurd went on to say. "I almost had a stroke yesterday when I heard he was being given an honorable discharge. It's terrifying--simply terrifying."

And then Thurd sank into a delirium.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

I do not apologize for myself nor my fears



On December 13th of 1963, at a dinner event in New York, the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee awarded its annual Tom Paine Award to Bob Dylan, for his contribution to the fight for civil liberties. Despite not having prepared one, a nervous and slightly drunk Dylan gave a speech that evening — a controversial speech in which he expressed sympathy for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who, just three weeks previous, had killed John F. Kennedy.

The backlash was immediate, and prompted a fascinating explanatory letter from Dylan to the committee in the days that followed. Transcripts of both the speech and letter can be found below.

(Source: No Direction Home: The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan and Corliss Lamont; Image: Bob Dylan in 1963, via The Guardian.)

Bob Dylan's speech:
I haven't got any guitar, I can talk though. I want to thank you for the Tom Paine award in behalf everybody that went down to Cuba. First of all because they're all young and it's took me a long time to get young and now I consider myself young. And I'm proud of it. I'm proud that I'm young. And I only wish that all you people who are sitting out here today or tonight weren't here and I could see all kinds of faces with hair on their head, and everything like that, everything leading to youngness, celebrating the anniversary when we overthrew the House Un-American Activities just yesterday. Because you people should be at the beach. You should be out there and you should be swimming and you should be just relaxing in the time you have to relax. [Laughter] It is not an old peoples' world. It is not an old peoples' world. It has nothing to do with old people. Old people when their hair grows out, they should go out. [Laughter] And I look down to see the people that are governing me and making my rules, and they haven't got any hair on their head — I get very uptight about it. [Laughter]

And they talk about Negroes, and they talk about black and white. And they talk about colors of red and blue and yellow. Man, I just don't see any colors at all when I look out. I don't see any colors at all and if people have taught through the years to look at colors — I've read history books, I've never seen one history book that tells how anybody feels. I've found facts about our history, I've found out what people know about what goes on but I never found anything about anybody feels about anything happens. It's all just plain facts. And it don't help me one little bit to look back.

I wish sometimes I could have come in here in the 1930's like my first idol — used to have an idol, Woody Guthrie, who came in the 1930's [Applause]. But it has sure changed in the time Woody's been here and the time I've been here. It's not that easy any more. People seem to have more fears.

I get different presents from people that I play for and they bring presents to me backstage — very weird, weird presents; presents that I couldn't buy. They buy — they bring me presents that... I've got George Lincoln Rockwell's tie clip that somebody robbed for me. [Laughter] I have General Walker's car trunk keys — keys to his trunk that somebody robbed for me. Now these are my presents. I have fallout shelter signs that people robbed for me from Philadelphia and these are the little signs. There's no black and white, left and right to me anymore; there's only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics. They has got nothing to do with it. I'm thinking about the general people and when they get hurt.

I want to accept this award, the Tom Paine Award, from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. I want to accept it in my name but I'm not really accepting it in my name and I'm not accepting it in any kind of group's name, any Negro group or any other kind of group. There are Negroes — I was on the march on Washington up on the platform and I looked around at all the Negroes there and I didn't see any Negroes that looked like none of my friends. My friends don't wear suits. My friends don't have to wear suits. My friends don't have to wear any kind of thing to prove that they're respectable Negroes. My friends are my friends, and they're kind, gentle people if they're my friends. And I'm not going to try to push nothing over. So, I accept this reward — not reward [Laughter] — award on behalf of Phillip Luce who led the group to Cuba which all people should go down to Cuba. I don't see why anybody can't go to Cuba. I don't see what's going to hurt by going any place. I don't know what's going to hurt anybody's eyes to see anything. On the other hand, Phillip is a friend of mine who went to Cuba. I'll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where — what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too — I saw some of myself in him. I don't think it would have gone — I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me — not to go that far and shoot. [Boos and hisses] You can boo but booing's got nothing to do with it. It's a — I just a — I've got to tell you, man, its Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba. [Boos and Applause]
Bob Dylan's letter:
to anybody it may concern...
clark?
mairi?
phillip?
edith?
mr lamont?
countless faces I do not know
an all fighters for good things that I can not see

when I speak of bald heads, I mean bald minds
when I speak of the seashore, I mean the restin shore
I dont know why I mentioned either of them

my life runs in a series of moods
in private an in personal ways, sometimes,
I, myself, can change the mood I'm in t the
mood I'd like t be in. when I walked thru the
doors of the americana hotel, I needed to change
my mood... for reasons inside myself.

I am a restless soul
hungry
perhaps wretched

it is hard to hear someone you dont know, say
"this is what he meant t say" about something
you just said

for no one can say what I meant t say
absolutely no one
at times I even cant
that was one of those times

my life is lived out daily in the places I feel
most confortable in. these places are places where
I am unknown an unstared at. I perform rarely, an
when I do, there is a constant commotion burnin
at my body an at my mind because of the attention
aimed at me. instincts fight my emotions an fears
fight my instincts...

I do not claim t be smart by the standards set up
I dont even claim to be normal by the standards
set up
an I do not claim to know any kind of truth

but like an artist who puts his painting (after
he's painted it) in front of thousands of unknown
eyes, I also put my song there that way
(after I've made it)
it is as easy an as simple as that

I can not speak. I can not talk
I can only write an I can only sing
perhaps I should've sung a song
but that wouldn't a been right either
for I was given an award not to sing
but rather on what I have sung

no what I should've said was
"thank you very much ladies an gentlemen"
yes that is what I should've said
but unfortunatly... I didn't
an I didn't because I did not know

I thought something else was expected of me
other than just sayin "thank you"
an I did not know what it was
it is a fierce heavy feeling
thinkin something is expected of you
but you dont know what exactly it is...
it brings forth a wierd form of guilt

I should've remembered
"I am BOB DYLAN an I dont have t speak
I dont have t say nothin if I dont wanna"
but
I didn't remember

I constantly asked myself while eatin supper
"what should I say? what should I tell 'm?
everybody else is gonna tell 'm something"
but I could not answer myself
I even asked someone who was sittin nex t me
an he couldn't tell me neither. my mind blew
up an needless t say I had t get it back in its
rightful shape (whatever that might be) an so
I escaped from the big room... only t hear my
name being shouted an the words "git in here
git in here" overlappin with the findin of my
hand being pulled across hundreds of tables
with the lights turned on strong... guidin me
back t where I tried t escape from
"what should I say? what should I say?"
over an over again
oh God, I'd a given anything not t be there
"shut the lights off at least"
people were coughin an my head was poundin
an the sounds of mumble jumble sank deep in
my skull from all sides of the room
until I tore everything loose from my mind
an said "just be honest, dylan, just be honest"

an so I found myself in front of the plank
like I found myself once in the path of a car
an I jumped...
jumped with all my bloody might
just tryin t get out a the way
but first screamin one last song

when I spoke of Lee Oswald, I was speakin of the times
I was not speakin of his deed if it was his deed.
the deed speaks for itself
but I am sick
so sick
at hearin "we all share the blame" for every
church bombing, gun battle, mine disaster,
poverty explosion, an president killing that
comes about.
it is so easy t say "we" an bow our heads together
I must say "I" alone an bow my head alone
for it is I alone who is livin my life
I have beloved companions but they do not
eat nor sleep for me
an even they must say "I"
yes if there's violence in the times then
there must be violence in me
I am not a perfect mute.
I hear the thunder an I cant avoid hearin it
once this is straight between us, it's then an
only then that we can say "we" an really mean
it... an go on from there t do something about
it

When I spoke of Negroes
I was speakin of my Negro friends
from harlem
an Jackson
selma an birmingham
atlanta pittsburg, an all points east
west, north, south an wherever else they
might happen t be.
in rat filled rooms
an dirt land farms
schools, dimestores, factories
pool halls an street corners
the ones that dont own ties
but know proudly they dont have to
not one little bit
they dont have t be like they naturally aint
t get what they naturally own no more 'n anybody
else does
it only gets things complicated
an leads people into thinkin the wrong things
black skin is black skin
It cant be covered by clothes an made t seem
acceptable, well liked an respectable...
t teach that or t think that just tends the
flames of another monster myth...
it is naked black skin an nothin else
if a Negro has t wear a tie t be a Negro
then I must cut off all ties with who he has
t do it for.
I do not know why I wanted t say this that
nite.
perhaps it was just one of the many things
in my mind
born from the confusion of my times

when I spoke about the people that went t Cuba
I was speakin of the free right t travel
I am not afraid t see things
I challenge seein things
I am insulted t the depths of my soul
when someone I dont know commands that I
cant see this an gives me mysterious reasons
why I'll get hurt if I do see it... tellin me
at the same time about goodness an badness in
people that again I dont know...
I've been told about people all my life
about niggers, kikes, wops, bohunks, spicks, chinks,
an I been told how they eat, dress, walk, talk,
steal, rob, an kill but nobody tells me how any
of 'm feels... nobody tells me how any of 'm cries
or laughs or kisses. I'm fed up with most newspapers,
radios, tv an movies an the like t tell me. I want
now t see an know for myself...
an I accepted that award for all others like me
who want t see for themselves... an who dont want
that God-given right taken away
stolen away
or snuck out from beneath them
yes a travel ban in the south would protect
Americans more, I'm sure, than the one t Cuba
but in all honesty I would want t crash that
one too
do you understand?
do you really understand?
I mean I want t see. I want t see all I can
everyplace there is t see it
my life carries eyes
an they're there for one reason
the reason t see thru them

my country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory
that's where I was born an learned how t walk an
it's where I was raised an went t school... my
youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills an
sky blue lakes, willow fields an abandoned open
pit mines. contrary t rumors, I am very proud of
where I'm from an also of the many blood streams that
run in my roots. but I would not be doing what
I'm doing today if I hadn't come t New York. I was
given my direction from new york. I was fed in
new york. I was beaten down by new york an I was
picked up by new york. I was made t keep going on
by new york. I'm speakin now of the people I've met
who were strugglin for their lives an other peoples'
lives in the thirties an forties an the fifties
an I look t their times
I reach out t their times
an, in a sense, am jealous of their times
t think I have no use for "old" people is a betrayin thought
those that know me know otherwise
those that dont, probably're baffled
like a friend of mine, jack elliott, who says he
was reborn in Oklahoma, I say I was reborn in
New York...
there is no age limit stuck on it
an no one is more conscious of it than I

yes it is a fierce feeling, knowin something you
dont know about's expected of you. but it's worse
if you blindly try t follow with explodin words
(for that's all they can do is explode)
an the explodin words're misunderstood
I've heard I was misunderstood

I do not apologize for myself nor my fears
I do not apologize for any statement which led
some t believe "oh my God! I think he's the one
that really shot the president"

I am a writer an a singer of the words I write
I am no speaker nor any politician
an my songs speak for me because I write them
in the confinement of my own mind an have t cope
with no one except my own self. I dont have t face
anyone with them until long after they're done

no I do not apologize for being me nor any part of me

but I can return what is rightfully yours at any
given time. I have stared at it for a long while
now. it is a beautiful award. there is a kindness
t Mr Paine's face an there is almost a sadness in
his smile. his trials show thru his eyes. I know
really not much about him but somehow I would like
t sing for him. there is a gentleness t his way.
yes thru all my flounderin wildness, I am, when it
comes down to it, very proud that you have given this
t me. I would hang it high, an let my friends see in
it what I see, but I also would give it back if
you wish. There is no sense in keepin it if you've
made a mistake in givin it. for it means more'n any
store bought thing an it'd only be cheatin t keep it

also I did not know that the dinner was a donation
dinner. I did not know you were gonna ask anyone
for money. an I understand you lost money on the
masterful way I expressed myself... then I am in debt t you
not a money debt but rather a moral debt
if you'd a sold me something, then it'd be a money debt
but you sold nothin, so it is a moral debt
an moral debts're worse 'n money debts
for they have t be paid back in whatever is missin
an in this case, it's money

please send me my bill
an I shall pay it
no matter what the sum
I have a hatred of debts an want t be even in
the best way I can
you needn't think about this, for money means
very little t me

so then

I'll return once again t the road

I cant tell you why other people write, but I
write in order to keep from going insane.
my head, I expect'd turn inside out if my hands
were t leave me.

but I hardly ever talk about why I write. an I
scarcely ever think about it. the thought of it is
too alarmin

an I never ever talk about why I speak
but that's because I never do it. this is the
first time I am talkin about it... an I pray
the last
the thought of doing it again is too scary

ha! it's a scary world
but only once in a while huh?

I love you all up there an the ones I dont love,
it's only because I do not know them an have not
seen them... God it's so hard hatin. it's so
tiresome... an after hatin something to death,
it's never worth the bother an trouble


out! out! brief candle
life's but an open window
an I must jump back thru it now


see yuh
respectfully an unrespectfully

(signed, 'bob dylan')

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

I am greatly troubled by what you say



In 1905, the "superintendent of the children's department" at Brooklyn Public Library ordered that all copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn be removed from the room, due to their characters' "coarseness, deceitfulness and mischievous practices." Soon after, unhappy with the development, the librarian in charge of the "Department for the Blind," Asa Don Dickinson, wrote to Mark Twain to inform him of the ban. His letter and Twain's wonderfully sarcastic reply can be read below.

(Source: Mark Twain's Autobiography, Part 2)

SHEEPSHEAD BAY BRANCH
BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY
1657 SHORE ROAD
BROOKLYN-NEW YORK,

Nov. 19th, '05

DEAR SIR:

I happened to be present the other day at a meeting of the children's librarians of the Brooklyn Public Library. In the course of the meeting it was stated that copies of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" were to be found in some of the children's rooms of the system. The Sup't of the Children's Dep't—a conscientious and enthusiastic young woman—was greatly shocked to hear this, and at once ordered that they be transferred to the adults' department. Upon this I shamefacedly confessed to having read "Huckleberry Finn" aloud to my defenseless blind people, without regard to their age, color, or previous condition of servitude. I also reminded them of Brander Matthews's opinion of the book, and stated the fact that I knew it almost at heart, having got more pleasure from it than from any book I have ever read, and reading is the greatest pleasure I have in life. My warm defense elicited some further discussion and criticism, from which I gathered that the prevailing opinion of Huck was that he was a deceitful boy who said "sweat" when he should have said "perspiration." The upshot of the matter was that there is to be further consideration of these books at a meeting early in January which I am especially invited to attend. Seeing you the other night at the performance of "Peter Pan" the thought came to me that you (who know Huck as well as I—you can't know him better or love him more—) might be willing to give me a word or two to say in witness of his good character though he "warn't no more quality than a mud cat."

I would ask as a favor that you regard this communication as confidential, whether you find time to reply to it or not; for I am loath for obvious reasons to bring the institution from which I draw my salary into ridicule, contempt or reproach.

Yours very respectfully,

Asa Don Dickinson.

(In charge Department for the Blind and Sheepshead Bay Branch, Brooklyn Public Library.)

Twain's Reply:

21 FIFTH AVENUE,
November 21, 1905

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'S. L. Clemens')

I shall not show your letter to anyone—it is safe with me.

Monday, 21 May 2012

You are not lazy, and still you are an idler



Late-1850, Abraham Lincoln's step-brother, John D. Johnston, wrote to him and asked, yet again, for a loan with which to settle some debts. Said Johnston:
I am dund & doged to Death so I am all most tired of Living, & I would all most swop my place in Heaven for that much money [...] I would rother live on bread and wotter than to have men allways duning me [...] If you can send me 80 Dollars I am willing to pay you any Intrust you will ask.
On previous occasions Lincoln simply would have agreed to such a request. This time, however, sensing an opportunity to impart some wisdom, he responded with the following letter of advice and a proposal.

(Source: Lincoln and His World: Volume 3; Image: Abraham Lincoln, via.)

January 2, 1851

Dear Johnston:

Your request for eighty dollars I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little you have said to me, "We can get along very well now"; but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty; it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break the habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it, easier than they can get out after they are in.

You are now in need of some money; and what I propose is, that you shall go to work, "tooth and nail," for somebody who will give you money for it. Let father and your boys take charge of your things at home, prepare for a crop, and make the crop, and you go to work for the best money wages, or in discharge of any debt you owe, that you can get; and, to secure you a fair reward for your labor, I now promise you, that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of May, get for your own labor, either in money or as your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar. By this, if you hire yourself at ten dollars a month, from me you will get ten more, making twenty dollars a month for your work. In this I do not mean you shall go off to St. Louis, or the lead mines, or the gold mines in California, but I mean for you to go at it for the best wages you can get close to home in Coles County. Now, if you will do this, you will be soon out of debt, and, what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But, if I should now clear you out of debt, next year you would be just as deep in as ever. You say you would almost give your place in heaven for seventy or eighty dollars. Then you value your place in heaven very cheap, for I am sure you can, with the offer I make, get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months' work. You say if I will furnish you the money you will deed me the land, and, if you don't pay the money back, you will deliver possession. Nonsense! If you can't now live with the land, how will you then live without it? You have always been kind to me, and I do not mean to be unkind to you. On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice, you will find it worth more than eighty times eighty dollars to you.

Affectionately your brother,

A. Lincoln

Friday, 18 May 2012

Dear Einstein, Do Scientists Pray?



As one of the world’s great intellects and arguably the most famous of all scientists, Albert Einstein was regularly questioned about his views on religion. In January of 1936, a young girl named Phyllis wrote to Einstein on behalf of her Sunday school class and simply asked, "Do scientists pray?" Einstein soon replied.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note; Image: Albert Einstein in 1947, via Life.)

The Riverside Church

January 19, 1936

My dear Dr. Einstein,

We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered.

We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?

We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis's class.

Respectfully yours,

Phyllis

----------------------

January 24, 1936

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:

Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings,

your A. Einstein

Thursday, 17 May 2012

It has never got easier



In March of 1962, acclaimed author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to Edith Mirrielees — a lady who, as his professor of creative writing at Stanford 40 years previous, had been an enormous influence on his development as a writer and, he later claimed, one of the few things he respected about the university.

His fantastic, insightful letter later featured in the paperback edition of Mirrielees's book, Story Writing.

(Source: Story Writing; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

March 8, 1962

Dear Edith Mirrielees:

I am delighted that your volume Story Writing is going into a paperback edition. It will reach a far larger audience, and that is a good thing. It may not teach the reader how to write a good story, but it will surely help him to recognize one when he reads it.

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.

You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.

The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.

As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.

So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that you set us on the desolate lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades you gave my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterwards upheld your side, not mine.

It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done, thanks to your training. Why could I not do it myself? Well, I couldn't, and maybe it's because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

I wonder whether you will remember one last piece of advice you gave me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic twenties and I was going out into that world to try to be a writer.

You said, "It's going to take a long time, and you haven't any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor."

It wasn't too long afterwards that the depression came down. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame any more. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely you were right about one thing, Edith. It took a long time—a very long time. And it is still going on and it has never got easier. You told me it wouldn't.

John Steinbeck

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Love, Dad



In June of 1971, 26-year-old Michael Reagan married his 18-year-old fiancée in a beautiful ceremony that took place in Hawaii, but which sadly couldn’t be attended by his dad, the future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. A few days before the ceremony, however, Michael did receive something invaluable that would be treasured for years to come: a heartfelt, loving, and sage letter of fatherly advice, on the subject of love and marriage.

“It was straight from Dad’s heart,” Michael said of the letter in his 2004 book, In the Words of Ronald Reagan, “Honest, old-fashioned, and wise. I cried when I read it, and I’ve read it many times in the years since then.”

(Source: Reagan: A Life In Letters; Image: Ronald Reagan, via.)

Michael Reagan
Manhattan Beach, California
June 1971

Dear Mike:

Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won't.

You've heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the "unhappy marrieds" and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.

Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn't know won't hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn't take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn't ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.

Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.

Love,

Dad

P.S. You'll never get in trouble if you say "I love you" at least once a day.
SaveSave

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The real heroes are the parents



In July of 1918, whilst serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War IErnest Hemingway was seriously wounded in a mortar attack that resulted in both legs being "riddled" with shrapnel and a six month stay in a Milan hospital. Three months after the incident, as he recuperated, 19-year-old Hemingway wrote the following letter to his family and reflected on his situation.

(Source: Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961; Image: Ernest Hemingway in Italy, 1918, via Wikipedia.)

18 October 1918

Dear Folks:

Your letter of September 24 with the pictures came today, and, family, I did admire to hear from you. And the pictures were awfully good. I guess everybody in Italy knows that I have a kid brother. If you only realized how much we appreciate pictures, pop, you would send 'em often. Of yourselves and the kids and the place and the bay—they are the greatest cheer producers of all, and everybody likes to see everybody else's pictures.

You, dad, spoke about coming home. I wouldn't come home till the war was ended if I could make fifteen thousand a year in the States—nix. Here is the place. All of us Red Cross men here were ordered not to register. It would be foolish for us to come home because the Red Cross is a necessary organization and they would just have to get more men from the States to keep it going. Besides we never came over here until we were all disqualified for military service, you know. It would be criminal for me to come back to the States now. I was disqualified before I left the States because of my eye. I now have a bum leg and foot and there isn't any army in the world that would take me. But I can be of service over here and I will stay her just as long as I can hobble and there is a war to hobble to. And the ambulance is no slacker's job. We lost one man, killed, and one wounded in the last two weeks. And when you are holding down a front line canteen job, you know you have just the same chances as the other men in the trenches and so my conscience doesn't bother me about staying.

I would like to come home and see you all, of course. But I can't until after the war is finished. And that isn't going to be such an awful length of time. There is nothing for you to worry about, because it has been fairly conclusively proved that I can't be bumped off. And wounds don't matter. I wouldn't mind being wounded again so much because I know just what it is like. And you can only suffer so much, you know, and it does give you an awfully satisfactory feeling to be wounded. It's getting beaten up in a good cause. There are no heroes in this war. We all offer our bodies and only a few are chosen, but it shouldn't reflect any special credit on those that are chosen. They are just the lucky ones. I am very proud and happy that mine was chosen, but it shouldn't give me any extra credit. Think of all the thousands of other boys that offered. All the heroes are dead. And the real heroes are the parents. Dying is a very simple thing. I've looked at death and really I know. If I should have died it would have been very easy for me. Quite the easiest thing I ever did. But the people at home do not realize that. They suffer a thousand times more. When a mother brings a son into the world she must know that some day the son will die, and the mother of a man that has died for his country should be the proudest woman in the world, and the happiest. And how much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered.

So, dear old family, don't ever worry about me! It isn't bad to be wounded: I know, because I've experienced it. And if I die, I'm lucky.

Does all that sound like the crazy, wild kid you sent out to learn about the world a year ago? It is a great old world, though, and I've always had a good time and the odds are all in favor of coming back to the old place. But I thought I'd tell you how I felt about it. Now I'll write you a nice, cheery, bunky letter in about a week, so don't get low over this one. I love you all.

Ernie.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Ought women not to be abolished altogether?



On March 28th of 1912, an eminent bacteriologist named Almroth Wright wrote a lengthy, pompous letter to The Times in which he argued that women should not be allowed to vote, and in fact should be kept away from politics altogether, due to their supposed psychological and physiological deficiencies. Unsurprisingly his opinion generated many responses, the best of which was the following witty letter from "One of the Doomed," printed in the paper two days later. Unbeknownst to all, its sender, "C.S.C.," was 26-year-old Clementine Churchill.

Above: Louise Brealey reading this very letter for us at Letters Live.

(Source: Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage.)

March 30th, 1912

To the Editor of The Times.

Sir,

After reading Sir Almroth Wright's able and weighty exposition of women as he knows them the question seems no longer to be "Should women have votes?" but "Ought women not to be abolished altogether?"

I have been so much impressed by Sir Almroth Wright's disquisition, backed as it is by so much scientific and personal experience, that I have come to the conclusion that women should be put a stop to.

We learn from him that in their youth they are unbalanced, that from time to time they suffer from unreasonableness and hypersensitiveness, and that their presence is distracting and irritating to men in their daily lives and pursuits. If they take up a profession, the indelicacy of their minds makes them undesirable partners for their male colleagues. Later on in life they are subject to grave and long-continued mental disorders, and, if not quite insane, many of them have to be shut up.

Now this being so, how much happier and better would the world not be if only it could be purged of women? It is here that we look to the great scientists. Is the case really hopeless? Women no doubt have had their uses in the past, else how could this detestable tribe have been tolerated till now? But is it quite certain that they will be indispensable in the future? Cannot science give us some assurance, or at least some ground of hope, that we are on the eve of the greatest discovery of all—i.e., how to maintain a race of males by purely scientific means?

And may we not look to Sir Almroth Wright to crown his many achievements by delivering mankind from the parasitic, demented, and immoral species which has infested the world for so long?

Yours obediently,

C.S.C.
("One of the Doomed")

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock



In March of 1962, Alfred Hitchcock took a break during filming of The Birds in Bodega Bay and visited a local school to greet the pupils. Soon after, the school's principal wrote the following letter of thanks to the filmmaker, and described the visit's positive effect on one particular child.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Hitchcock, Piece by Piece; Image: Alfred Hitchcock, via.)



Transcript
WILMAR UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT
3775 Bodega Highway
PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA

April 3, 1962

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock Productions
Bodega Bay, California

Dear Mr. Hitchcock:

I wanted to take the time to say that your stopping one morning on your way to Bodega Bay to give a group of children a drawing and autograph of you was certainly a deed of thoughtfulness. It is realized that taking the time from your busy schedule is not an easy thing to do.

The real purpose of this letter is to inform you what your deed of kindness did for a boy to whom you gave your drawing and autograph. This boy is quite shy and does not participate readily in class activities, such as sharing his experiences before others during sharing time. He was so thrilled and moved by his experience that he proudly shared his experience and autograph not only with his own class, but in every classroom in the school. The boy never before has done such a thing. Many times it takes such a spark as this to help a youngster out of his shell and on the road to confidence. You don't realize what your act of kindness has done for this child.

I realize that many other people since then have tried to take advantage of the same opportunity and this has made it difficult and impossible for you to fulfill. None the less, your thoughtful act will not be forgotten by youngsters and teachers alike.

Sincerely,

(Signed)

Duncan Coleman
Principal

Thursday, 10 May 2012

DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable



Here's some sound, stern relationship advice from the great Noël Coward, in the form of an invaluable letter he sent to his good friend, Marlene Dietrich, in 1956. He was replying to a recent, downbeat missive from Dietrich, in which she had detailed the latest in a long line of depressing "episodes" involving her on-off lover of a few years, Yul "Curly" Brynner.

Coward clearly couldn't bear to see her suffer any longer.

(Source: The Letters of Noël Coward; Image: Dietrich and Coward in 1937, via.)

Firefly Hill
Port Maria
Jamaica B.W.I.

Oh, darling,

Your letter filled me with such a lot of emotions, the predominant one being rage that you should allow yourself to be so humiliated and made so unhappy by a situation that really isn't worthy of you. I loathe to think of you apologizing and begging forgiveness and humbling yourself. I don't care if you did behave badly for a brief moment, considering all the devotion and loving you have given out during the last five years, you had a perfect right to. The only mistake was not to have behaved a great deal worse a long time ago. The aeroplane journey sounds a nightmare to me.

It is difficult for me to wag my finger at you from so very far away particularly as my heart aches for you but really darling you must pack up this nonsensical situation once and for all. It is really beneath your dignity, not your dignity as a famous artist and a glamourous star, but your dignity as a human, only too human, being. Curly is attractive, beguiling, tender and fascinating, but he is not the only man in the world who merits those delightful adjectives...Do please try to work out for yourself a little personal philosophy and DO NOT, repeat DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable. To hell with God damned "L'Amour." It always causes far more trouble than it is worth. Don't run after it. Don't court it. Keep it waiting off stage until you're good and ready for it and even then treat it with the suspicious disdain that it deserves...I am sick to death of you waiting about in empty houses and apartments with your ears strained for the telephone to ring. Snap out of it, girl! A very brilliant writer once said (could it have been me?) "Life is for the living." Well that is all it is for, and living DOES NOT consist of staring in at other people's windows and waiting for crumbs to be thrown to you. You've carried on this hole in corner, overcharged, romantic, unrealistic nonsense long enough.

Stop it Stop it Stop it. Other people need you...Stop wasting your time on someone who only really says tender things to you when he's drunk...

Unpack your sense of humor, and get on with living and ENJOY IT.

Incidentally, there is one fairly strong-minded type who will never let you down and who loves you very much indeed. Just try to guess who it is. XXXX. Those are not romantic kisses. They are un-romantic. Loving "Goose-Es."

Your devoted "Fernando de Lamas"

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The bulk of all human utterances is plagiarism



In 1892, deafblind author Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism after a short story of hers, named "The Frost King," was identified as being extremely similar to Margaret Canby's "Frost Fairies." An investigation followed, as did a tribunal in which she was eventually acquitted. Amazingly, Keller was just 12 years of age at the time.

A decade later, her friend, Mark Twain, learned of the episode after reading Keller's autobiography. He then wrote her the fascinating letter of support seen below.

(Source: Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 2 of 2; Image: Mark Twain, via.)

Riverdale-on-the-Hudson
St. Patrick's Day, '03

Dear Helen,—

I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "There they come—sit down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger's last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well;—you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.

I am charmed with your book—enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world—you and your other half together—Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen—they are all there.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don't we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person's memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man's mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes's poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my "Innocents Abroad" with. Then years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your "Plagiarism Court;" and so when I said, "I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from," he said, "I don't remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had."

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child's heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn't sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn't know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they've caught filching a chop! Oh, dam—

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Every lovingly your friend

Mark

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

stay away from microwaves



On July 22nd of 1992, during their famous joint tour with Metallica, Guns N' Roses co-headlined at the Hoosier Dome in Axl Rose's home state of Indiana. They appeared on stage last, almost two hours after Metallica had finished their set, and were headed by an angry frontman. Two days later, a less-than-glowing review of his band's performance — which can be read below, in full, after the letter — appeared in The Indianapolis Star, written by the paper's music critic at the time, Marc Allan.

Thanks to Marc, we can now enjoy Axl's entertaining response to that piece: a defiant letter he faxed to the paper's offices that day.

Transcript follows. Huge thanks to Marc Allan for getting in touch.

(Source: Marc Allan; Image: Axl Rose in 1992, via The Telegraph.)



Transcript
W. AXL ROSE
2001 BARRINGTON #100
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 90025

GUNS N' ROSES

July 24, 1992

MARK D. ALLAN, (USED TO BE THE NAME OF OUR TRAVEL AGENT, WE FIRED THEM)

You don't get it... Wait, that's too easy... Maybe you don't want to get it - or you'd have to face yourself and oh my God that's just too scary. Maybe it's impossible and it's too late for you - you know, have someone stick a fork in your ass and turn you over you're done. Indiana needs to wake up and hey if that takes a little taunting and 2 and half hours of music + a fireworks show + cartoon for a total of 2 hours and 50 minutes to wake up maybe 5% of a 48,000 plus crowd then so be it. I can also suffer your redneck, blind, narrow minded refuse about ranting - you nor anyone will ever dictate my actions, attitudes, comments, oratation, and musical performances on stage. Don't kid yourself and act above, better than, or even comparable to me or G N' R. If that were true there'd be no reason to censor my language in your basic Indiana attempt at journalism.

I came here to enrage... Thank you, you have helped me know I succeeded. I've made my inquiries, I am your Rock N' Roll nightmare. And you... You're just gonna sit on your wanna be ass and watch me, born a Hoosier, grow larger than you could ever imagine or ever be able to stop. That's not to say I didn't appreciate your anger, hostility and general ignorance. It shows me my so called "RANTS" are a much needed, missing piece in our puzzle of society.

stay away from microwaves-

Love Axl

(Signed, 'W. Axl Rose')

P.S. Oh, and it was never a battle O' the bands, I imagined this thing, and everyone wins, as long as I show up to my own dream, that is!!!

----------------------------------------

REVIEW

July 24, 1992

MARC D. ALLAN

Guns N' Roses/Metallica

Opening band: Faith No More.
Where: Hoosier Dome.
When: Wednesday.
Ratings: Guns N' Roses 2 1/2; Metallica 3 1/2; Faith No More 1 1/2

Metallica won the Wednesday night/Thursday morning hard-rock wars at the Hoosier Dome, demonstrating how to vent anger and frustration in music without victimizing the audience.

The titans of hard rock played a taut 140-minute set that burst with brilliant flurries of music and contained no attitude other than gratitude.

By contrast, Guns N' Roses played its usual waiting game, taking the stage at 11:55 p.m. Wednesday — nearly two hours after Metallica had cleared out. Over the next 2 1/2 hours, the audience would be lectured to, briefly walked out on and forced to suffer Guns N' Roses' foolishness.

While Metallica played for its fans, profusely thanking them for their fierce loyalty, Guns N' Roses taunted the audience. At 1:40 a.m., singer Axl Rose announced that the band would take a short break until the fans up front decided to stand.

"I didn't come here with the intention of you liking my (bleep) tonight," Rose sneered at one point.

When Guns N' Roses decided to shut up and play, it successfully defended its standing in the hard-rock pantheon. Compared with the group's previous central Indiana performance, this show found the members playing as a unit rather than a loose collection of talent held together by drummer Matt Sorum.

Double-Talkin' Jive featured guitarist Slash reeling off several intricately textured runs and also spotlighted the muscular trio created when its lead guitarist, drummer and bassist Duff McKagen jammed.

Slash and harmonica player Ted Andreadis teamed for a swampy version of Bad Obsession. Later, during his solo, Slash again played the blues in tandem with keyboardist Dizzy Reed, displaying as fine a combination of speed and tastefulness as any hard-rock fan will see.

Rose's sole shining moment came during Welcome to the Jungle, a bitter assault that found him at his snapping-turtle angriest.

When Rose puts his spleen into the music, he has few peers. But his spoken tirades about Indi-(bleeping)-ana and boxer Mike Tyson's rape conviction display an arrogance and petulance that may be cute on the gossip pages but have no place in a concert setting.

Metallica wouldn't even think of wasting its audience's time with petty ranting. It knows the crowd has come to hear its engines-racing brand of music, and there's no time to waste.

The group's stripped-down set eliminated nearly all solos and occasionally created a whiplash effect by going from one song directly into the next.

During Fade to Black, Shortest Straw and One, the band entered an attack mode where it shut out everything else and played with unparalleled intensity. With guitars blazing and drums bashing, the four members sounded more cohesive than ever.

Perhaps they were trying harder, too. Metallica usually plays before its own crowd, a hopelessly devoted throng that knows every word, every beat, every stop and start.

Here, in trying to win over Guns N' Roses fans, singer/guitarist James Hetfield spent some time trying to rally the crowd, estimated at 40,000. He shouldn't have to. Metallica may not have easily accessible melodies, but that's not what its fans want. They want action.

Metallica provided that in abundance.

Faith No More ended up the big loser in this three-band bill. A miserable sound mix killed any chance the band had of trying to put across some of the considerable humor and subtlety in its music.

Confined to a small portion of the stage and forced to play while sunlight kept the dome bright, the band worked hard. But as much as singer Mike Patton tried — climbing ladders, acting like a human pogo stick, even jumping into the audience — he likely generated more cries of "what?" than "wow!"

Monday, 7 May 2012

A pantomime Aslan would be blasphemy



December, 1959: C. S. Lewis writes the following letter to BBC producer Lance Sieveking and praises the recent radio adaptation of his Narnia story, The Magician's Nephew. He then clearly states that he is "absolutely opposed" to the idea of a TV adaptation of the novels and that, to him, a pantomime Aslan would be "blasphemy."

8 years after the letter was written — 4 years after Lewis's death — ITV broadcast a 10-part TV adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (footage here). Its animal characters, including Aslan, were all played by actors in costume.

(Source: Collected Letters, Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy, 1950-1963; Image: C. S. Lewis, via.)

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
18 Dec. 1959

Dear Sieveking

(Why do you 'Dr.' me? Had we not dropped the honorifics?) As things worked out, I wasn't free to hear a single instalment of our serial except the first. What I did hear, I approved. I shd. be glad for the series to be given abroad.

But I am absolutely opposed—adamant isn't in it!—to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wd. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wd. be to me blasphemy. All the best.

Yours

C. S. Lewis

Friday, 4 May 2012

John Cleese vs The Sun



In 1982, British tabloid The Sun reported that filming on Monty Python's The Meaning of Life had been marred by an incident involving John Cleese and a group of extras dressed as Zulu warriors. According to the article, Cleese, frustrated that bad weather was slowing the shoot, had "leaped about among the extras demanding 'Which one of you bastards did a rain dance?'"

Cleese's reaction to the story can be seen below, in the form of a fruitless chain of correspondence between him and the newspaper's managing editor, Kenneth Donlan. He later reported the incident to the Press Council; they agreed and his complaint was upheld. Cleese also kept to his word and reprinted the letters in the book of the film.

(Source: Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life; Image: John Cleese, via.)

August 1982

The Editor
The Sun
30 Bouverie Street
London EC4

Dear Sir,

I am afraid I have to write to you again to complain! I hope this will not become a habit.

You wrote a story on Friday about a rather funny situation that arose during the Monty Python filming in Scotland last week which you got pretty right.

However, in paragraph 3 from the end of the story, you say "And long-legged Cleese leaped about among the extras demanding, 'Which one of you bastards did a rain dance?'"

Now this is a total invention of your writer. I never mentioned the words "rain dance" nor did the thought cross my mind. Neither did I "leap about", nor refer to the extras as "bastards".

So, the first grounds for my complaint are that the paragraph is completely untrue. The second ground for complaint is that, in the UK where there are racial tensions, it does not help my career to have attributed to me a remark which a lot of people would feel was racialist.

I know what happened. I am a zany madcap comic, and your writer thought of the joke and decided to attribute it to me. It may be a minor matter but I do think is is quite unprofessional.

I do hope you agree.

Yours faithfully,

John Cleese

--------------------

August 23rd, 1982

Mr John Cleese
[Redacted]
London W11

Dear Mr. Cleese,

I am sorry that it has been necessary for you to write to us complaining about one of our news stories.

I have made enquiries with the correspondent concerned. He says that he reported the remarks accurately and in their proper context. The reporter adds: "The remarks were not attributed to any racial group whatsoever and were generally in a voice of frustration." I hope that this observation helps to clear up any impression that this story put a racist slant on your comment. This was in no way the case and everyone in this office is constantly reminded of the necessity to avoid any hurt to any section of the community, particularly minorities.

With every good wish to you and all who make Monty Python.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Donlan
Managing Editor

--------------------

7 September 1982

Kenneth Donlan
Managing Editor
The Sun
Fleet Street
London EC4

Dear Mr. Donlan,

Thank you very much for your very kind and understanding letter.

I think somewhere along the line you may have missed the point of my letter, which was not that the remarks were inaccurately reported, or that they were not in their proper context, but that I did not make them at all!!!

However, I am sure that your correspondent is implying that I did. So I have a little suggestion.

Whether or not I made these remarks can be established because there were so many witnesses around, all of whom spent the day within a few yards of me.

So why don't we have a little sporting bet? I always think of The Sun as a fun newspaper with a bit of a weakness for a jolly wager like this. (Maybe we could even make a little "news" story out of it. "The Ministry of Silly Walks vs The Editor of The Sun" or "The Sun's Fawlty Statement".)

Anyway, what I suggest is that if your correspondent can show that I made the remark I should pay a sum to the charity of your choice. However, if the witnesses establish that the first they heard of the comment was when somebody read it in The Sun the next morning, then The Sun should pay a sum towards Cancer Research, specifically the charity run by my friend Rob Buckman. I have told him about this idea and he is rather excited.

I do hope you will agree. I don't know what sort of sum would be appropriate, but how about £10,000?

With very best wishes,

John Cleese

--------------------

29th September, 1982

John Cleese, Esq.,
[Redacted]
London W11

Dear Mr. Cleese,

I regret the delay in answering your letter which I found on my return from holiday. Your suggestion for a contest certainly has merit but is not really practicable.

Our correspondent still claims that the words were said as he reported them, and you insist that you were not the speaker. The young man is reliable and there seems no chance of reconciliation. His reporting has not been under fire previously.

The remarks were reported to voice the frustration which the weather was causing.

Perhaps you will let me know of any other original ideas that might help us to come to an amicable solution.

Best wishes,

Kenneth Donlan
Managing Editor

--------------------

6 October 1982

Kenneth Donlan
Managing Editor
The Sun
Fleet Street
London EC4

Dear Mr. Donlan,

Thank you for your letter.

Chicken!

You ask me for another idea to resolve the problem. Well the problem is, put bluntly, that your correspondent is lying through his teeth (extremely uncomfortable position).

Now, as I have said, I have sixty odd witnesses. How can I use them to convince you? Shall I ask them to write individually, or would a list of signatures on one letter suffice?

I do hope, like you, that we can settle this amicably.

Best wishes,

John Cleese

PS I hope you have no objection to our including this correspondence in the Monty Python book of the film.

PPS A correspondent of mine tells me you were recently seen running stark naked down Fleet Street shouting "Enoch Powell has a glass leg". Is my correspondent by any chance distorting the facts?

--------------------

14th October, 1982

John Cleese, Esq.,
[Redacted]
London W11

Dear Mr. Cleese,

Thank you for your letter of 6th October, 1982.

Our correspondent sticks to his version of events and I feel that there is now no more for me to contribute to our exchange of views.

I must add that we do not wish this correspondence to be included in the Monty Python book of the film.

With all good wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Donlan
Managing Editor

--------------------

20 October 1982

Kenneth Donlan Esq
Managing Editor
The Sun
Fleet Street
London EC4

Dear Mr. Donlan,

Thank you for your letter of 14 October.

I am sorry you feel you have no more to contribute to our "exchange of views".

What you could have contributed is to have listened to my witnesses. But for some reason this never for a moment interested you. Ah well...

Now I should remind you that your "view" has been printed in your newspaper, and my "view" has not (not much of an "exchange" really).

And yet, now, you don't want me to print my version.

Mr Donlan, what about the freedom of the press? Or is it only your press that is free, and not mine?

Is it equitable that you should print what I didn't say, while trying to stop me printing what you did say?

Does it occur to you that this could not possibly be a moral position?

I feel, however, that this kind of gentle chiding will get me nowhere. My faith in the professional standards of the popular press is again shaken.

So I am afraid I shall have to pursue some other avenue.

Yours disappointedly,

John Cleese