On being purple

Nabokov calls them “bravura passages.” Somebody else somewhere else says “tours-de-force,” which is French for “feats of strength.” Same thing. The “purple patches” version is Horace’s—that is to say, Quintus Horatius Flaccus’s:

Inceptis grauibus plerumque et magna professis
purpureus, late qui splendeat, unus et alter
adsuitur pannus, cum lucus et ara Dianae
et properantis aquae per amoenos ambitus agros
aut flumen Rhenum aut pluuius describitur arcus;
sed nunc non erat his locus. Et fortasse cupressum
scis simulare; quid hoc, si fractis enatat exspes
nauibus, aere dato qui pingitur?

Ars Poetica, lines 14–21

Weighty openings and grand declarations often
Have one or two purple patches tacked on, that gleam
Far and wide, when Diana’s grove and her altar,
The winding stream hastening through lovely fields,
Or the river Rhine, or the rainbow’s being described.
There’s no place for them here. Perhaps you know how
To draw a cypress tree: so what, if you’ve been given
Money to paint a sailor plunging from a shipwreck
In despair?

The Art of Poetry, lines 14–21

Stuffy old Horace seems to disapprove. I believe we’re misunderstanding him, though; it’s not the purple he objects to, it’s the patches, the patchiness. Purple itself is the good stuff.

In the Roman world, purple signified prestige, power, wealth: senators wore togas with a broad purple stripe, the triumphing general wore an entirely purple cloak, late in the imperial period the emperor wore a purple toga, and in Constantinople the heir to the throne, le porphyrogénète, was born in the Purple Room, lined with porphyry, or purple marble. Why? Because the dye was so very costly—and so was the marble, imported from a single quarry at an isolated site in Egypt’s eastern desert, discovered in C.E. 18 by a Roman legionary named Caius Cominius Leugas; a dedicated road, the Via Porphyrites, was constructed from the quarry westward to the Nile, dotted with specially dug wells to make the journey survivable. As for the dye, the famous Tyrian purple, the color of “clotted blood” when pure (it was often adulterated with cheaper dyes to produce a violet color), its extraction required vast numbers of snails and substantial labor, some twelve thousand carcasses of Murex brandaris yielding no more than a gram and a half of the pure dye, enough to tint the trim of a single garment. Pliny the Elder described the production of Tyrian purple in his Natural History:

The most favourable season for taking these [shellfish] is after the rising of the Dog-star, or else before spring; for when they have once discharged their waxy secretion, their juices have no consistency: this, however, is a fact unknown in the dyers’ workshops, although it is a point of primary importance. After it is taken, the vein [i.e. hypobranchial gland] is extracted, which we have previously spoken of, to which it is requisite to add salt, a sextarius [about 20 fl. oz.] about to every hundred pounds of juice. It is sufficient to leave them to steep for a period of three days, and no more, for the fresher they are, the greater virtue there is in the liquor. It is then set to boil in vessels of tin [or lead], and every hundred amphorae ought to be boiled down to five hundred pounds of dye, by the application of a moderate heat; for which purpose the vessel is placed at the end of a long funnel, which communicates with the furnace; while thus boiling, the liquor is skimmed from time to time, and with it the flesh, which necessarily adheres to the veins. About the tenth day, generally, the whole contents of the cauldron are in a liquefied state, upon which a fleece, from which the grease has been cleansed, is plunged into it by way of making trial; but until such time as the colour is found to satisfy the wishes of those preparing it, the liquor is still kept on the boil. The tint that inclines to red is looked upon as inferior to that which is of a blackish hue. The wool is left to lie in soak for five hours, and then, after carding it, it is thrown in again, until it has fully imbibed the colour.

The Natural History, §62: “The Natural History of Fishes”

Oh, sorry, where was I? I’m so easily distracted.

Purple prose! That’s right.

I suppose if you can’t do it, or can’t sustain it, yourself, you might well consider it a vice. But let’s listen in on Mr. William H. Gass being not merely purple, but blue:

Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit—dumps, mopes, Mondays—all that’s dismal—low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentees of Heaven (in Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that’s empty: blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky’s turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese. . . the pedantic, indecent, and censorious. . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it’s stood for fidelity. 

On Being Blue, pp. 1–2

Thus the first sentence. If that sentence doesn’t leave you breathless with delight, well—what’s to be done with you? And in this case the writing, this higher conjuration, goes on for a lot longer, an entire (brief) book, in fact. It takes work for the reader to keep up, and some readers, I suppose, might complain—but of what, exactly? Certainly not of an ungenerous author. When such writing’s successfully sustained, the strain of reading at so continually high a pitch is tiring. So take a rest. Get some sleep. Books are patient creatures; good books throw prizes at the reader, who needs only to reach out a little to catch them; and great books heap treasures up, up above one’s head, try not to drown in them.

It seems to me that what’s faulted as purple prose is better called simply bad prose; that purple may curdle, that prose can be, and often is, bad is no serious charge—authors might fail at all kinds of efforts and effects, and frequently do. Failure is no real vice. This is why your pencil has an eraser on one end, which usually wears out sooner than the lead, and why your computer keyboard has a DELETE key. Some have two. Surely to make no effort at all is a worse fault; mass-extruded styrofoam prose (or verse, for that matter) is tedious stuff. Give it some life, give it some color!

Now, and finally, I must touch on the subject of pretension, for that is the most common charge against the purple pen. But to pretend is to lie, and therefore the fault is falsehood, not highly colored prose qua prose. Q., we may fairly say, E.D.

Soundtrack (II)

I got a $50 iTunes card for my birthday. (Thanks, Dad!) Amazingly, I did not buy any Stravinsky this time. But I did buy:

Pierre Boulez. Le marteau sans maître. I’ve been revisiting the music I loved as an adolescent. I still love it! The Laurel library shelved its audio collection—twelve-inch vinyl albums, naturally—next to the stairs to the atomic fallout shelter, with its curious yellow-and-black symbol, paired with another of black silhouettes hurrying down zigzag steps.

Charles Ives. Holidays symphony. Ives was another adolescent passion of mine. Was a strange teenager I suppose I must have been. Perhaps I’m still a little strange…?

Charles Ives. Sonatas for violin and piano. This album actually has a music video! Imagine that—what is the world coming to? I hope that their lungs didn’t suffer too much from that smoke machine.

Witold Lutosławski. Symphonies three and four. After the wars (take I and take II), eastern Europe’s music-making was dominated by the Soviet apparatus, which was just as beneficial to it as it was to art and literature. But some genius did bloom despite all that, and despite the foolish notion of musical progress that gripped both eastern and western Europe.

Witold Lutosławski. Cello concerto. Beauty that astonishes (the best kind). At first, the cellist plays alone, a virtuoso solo part, for a long time, taking the breath away, and the heartbeat, and the thinking mind….

John Adams. Violin concerto. Speaking of foolish notions, I hope that we can also stop prattling on about minimalism, new complexity, and all the other so-called schools of current compositional practice. Why not just listen to the music?

John Adams. Shaker loops. I have to confess, it was the Shaker connection here that first drew me to Adams’s music. In my early twenties, I was fairly obsessed with the Shakers—I blame Michael Dirda’s review of his Apples and pears for this—

Eliot Carter. String quartets two, three, & four. I wonder what’s wrong with the first string quartet that prevented its inclusion here.

Olivier Messiaen. Catalogue d’oiseaux, livres 1–6. For solo piano. What it says on the tin—eccentrically, weirdly even, harmonized renderings of bird calls, nature’s first music (humanity providing nature’s second).

Capacious: In defense of digression

Literature is capacious; it enfolds multitudes. (It unfolds multitudes.) And if, indeed, one aspires to depict the world (c.f. mimesis), how could lengthy digressions be avoidable?—because the world itself is all digression, and nothing but.

Digression, in short, is joy.

Look at Tristram Shandy. A book-length digression made out of piled-up asides, jokes, rants, meditations, character sketches—why, it takes the narrator a hundred pages just to get himself born. Sterne planned to keep on extending the game further and further, and he did, sequel after sequel, but then he died. Death, the ultimate digression.

Or Moby-Dick, which I read a few years back, after a lifetime of unaccountable aversion towards it (why, oh why?)—what a baggy, shapeless, capacious, astounding book. Treatise on cetacean taxonomy? Check. Meditation on why the color white is terrifying? Eubetcha. Etymology of whalers’ slang? But of course. Why not? A sermon about Jonah? Yes please. Playlets and monologs and lyrical set pieces—it’s a world, a whole world, bound, somehow, between two covers. In my edition, black ones, with gilt ornaments. Some critics argue that there’s a subtle structure underneath, ordering and controlling the material. I’m unconvinced; bookbinder’s glue suffices. And why did no one ever tell me that this book is funny?

Let us now praise Avram Davidson. There is a great and subtle art to letting a story wander, as if haphazardly, as if pointlessly, while actually secretly leading the reader by the nose. Oh! you say at the end, that was not a trackless forest, it was a topiary garden! No greater master of this sub rosa subterfuge ever lived than Our Avram. —Item, “Manatee Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight.” Which felt—to that skinny kid who gripped like a treasure, like a lifeline, the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that had (at last, at last!) appeared in his rural-route mailbox—like being struck by lightning. Also later, much later, reprinted in ¡Limekiller! I defy anyone to answer in fewer words than the text itself the question what is this story about.

So I won’t attempt it here.

(The which is not to say that there is no place for concision or shapeliness in literature.)

But every one of these masterpieces, if newly writ today, would soon find itself fallen into the limbo of the unpublishable. Exercise for the reader: Why?

Not dead yet

No, I am not dead yet. I can’t blame anyone for thinking so. (Did anyone wonder? or notice?—likely not.) In the traditional first-blog-post-after-a-long-hiatus, the blogger apologizes, sometimes offers an explanation, and always promises never again to allow such a lapse. You, O Hypothetical Reader, will find here no so such apology, nor explanation, nor promise. We all know that they’re lies.

I’m not sorry for the gap. It happened—unfortunate things happen all the time—; and on any rational scale of misfortune, my blank blog is not so much as a blip.

I won’t explain. Because there’s nothing to explain.

And I certainly don’t promise not to let postings slip again. In fact, inevitably I will, if only due to my actual death (long may it delay).

So here we are again, you and I, H.R. and feckless author. Anyone want a drink?

Notes & sources (III)

The childhood home of John Washington Steele, better known as Coal Oil Johnny
The childhood home of John Washington Steele, better known as Coal Oil Johnny

So did you read it?

Of course I’m talking about the new story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now I’m here to tell you all about where it came from and whatnot. What a lucky reader you are today!

Now, Frank Tarr was one of my great-grandfathers, and George Tarr, his brother, a great-great-uncle. The family story goes like this: one winter, when they were in their early or middle teen years, they built themselves a log raft and rode it all the way to Pittsburgh, where they shot a man who tried to steal it from them; and they were banned from that city for life.

Is it true? There’s no evidence at all apart from the tale that’s come down to me, and those who tell it can’t have been much more than children when the two of them died. I’ve scoured the crime columns in Pittsburgh newspaper archives, found nothing. Still, I have no reason to doubt the gist. My off-the-wall version assumes that the story that the boys told when they got back was not entirely the whole truth.

And I, too, have not entirely told the truth: Frank’s name was actually Franklin Washington Tarr (1863–1942), and George’s (?1866–1948) middle name is not known to me. They had two brothers never mentioned in the story, Ulysses S Grant (1870–1933) and William (1875–?), as well as a sister, Mary Melissa (1872–1969). Their father, Martin, died in 1876; their mother Caroline M. Bemiss (1837–before September 1914) remarried, to George M. Staley (c. 1825–1896), before 1880.

My great-great-grandfather Martin — who according to his Civil War draft record stood five-foot ten, blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, farmer, 35 years old — served briefly during the siege of Petersburg, participated in the fall of Richmond and the pursuit of Lee westward, and was present at Appomattox: hence, no doubt, the name of his third son.

Little Hope, Pennsylvania, was (and in a sense still is) a real enough place; I am uncertain if Raymond’s General Store existed so early as circa 1880, but I haven’t let that prevent me from placing it there then.

I’ve drawn most of the rafting lore from J. Herbert Walker (editor), Rafting days in Pennsylvania. Oil Creek is not actually a section of French Creek but an independent watercourse that joins the Allegheny at Oil City, which French Creek itself then joins at Franklin. Much of the oil region is now a state park, well worth a visit; don’t miss Coal Oil Johnny’s house! The small museum at the site of Colonel Drake’s first well is excellent. The well itself is still producing, but not in useful quantity.

I don’t know why Martin Tarr removed from Venango to Greenfield just before the oil rush began. I’ve answered the question with my best guess. I’ve also exaggerated the difficulty of Venango farmland.

The Prince’s tale of the great well fire conflates accounts of several lesser fires. The descriptions are adapted from S.J.M. Eaton, Petroleum: A history of the oil region of Venango County, Pennsylvania. Its resources, mode of development, and value: Embracing a discussion of ancient oil operations; with a map, and illustrations of oil scenes and boring implements (which quotes in turn Austen Henry Layard and Robert Pollok) and Charles H. Harris (writing as Oof T. Goof), History of the Venango oil regions: showing where petroleum is found; the production of petroleum; the effect of the repeal of the government tax on crude petroleum; the location, depth, average production, and ownership of all the wells on the Central Petroleum Company, Boyd, Hyde and Egbert, Stevenson, Tarr and Wood Farms, Bennhoff, Pioneer, Great Western, Bull and other Runs; together with sketches of Petroleum Centre, Pioneer City, Shaffer, Titusville, Pleasantville, and territories, and other places of note in the oil regions.

I’ve extracted additional oil miscellanea from J.H. Newton (editor), History of Venango County, Pennsylvania, and incidentally of petroleum, together with accounts of the early settlements and progress of each township, borough and village, with personal and biographical sketches of the early settlers, representative men, family records, etc., by an able corps of historians, with illustrations descriptive of its scenery, private residences, public buildings, farm scenes, oil derricks, manufactories, etc., from original sketches.

(You’ve just got to love those nineteenth-century titles. They want you to know exactly what the whole book’s about.)

The Prince’s account of his life is adapted from John Washington Steele, Coal Oil Johnny: His career as told by himself, plus additional anecdotes of various oil-region figures as related by Hildegarde Dolson (see below).

The second half of the paragraph that begins “The ship’s side was worked all over…” is adapted from Mark Twain, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter twelve. The disappearance of the Chinese boat at the end of that same section is adapted from Herman Melville, Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale, chapter CXXXV.

Charles-Valentin’s remarks on his art of nauscopy are quoted from a short treatise in E. Littel et al. (publisher-editors), The museum of foreign literature and science, volume XXIII, August 1833, pp. 140-144.

The Pirate Queen is based — very loosely; her actual life was far odder than what I’ve shown here — on Zhèng Yī Sǎo, or Zheng’s Widow, a prominent female pirate in middle Qing China. The names she uses for North America and San Francisco are borrowed from Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The years of rice and salt. You should read it, it’s very good!

The epigraph has been cut down to size without any editorial markings of the omissions. Go ahead and consult the source — it’s available online — if you want to know more about this fascinating subject. (All direct quotations and close paraphrases are from works in the public domain.)

Additionally, I am indebted to these secondary sources:

Robert J. Antony. Like froth floating on the sea: The world of pirates and seafarers in late imperial south China.

Mike Dash, “Naval Gazing: The Enigma of Étienne Bottineau,” smithsonian.com, October 13, 2011.

Hildegarde Dolson. The great Oildorado: The gaudy and turbulent years of the first oil rush: Pennsylvania, 1859-1880.

Peter T. Leeson. The invisible hook: The hidden economics of pirates.

Dian H. Murray. Pirates of the south coast, 1790-1810.

Joseph Needham. Science and civilization in China. Volume 4, Part 3: Civil engineering and nautics.

Thomas J. Schlereth. Victorian America: Transformations in everyday life, 1876–1915.

Alan Trachtenberg. The incorporation of America: Culture and society in the gilded age.

George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ’Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’

Like most writers, I suspect, the last piece I finished is always my favorite. So it’s great to announce that my favorite story, “George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ‘Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’” is scheduled to appear in that epitome of publications, that model of magazines, that acme of anthologies, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by the nonpareil Scott H. Andrews.

New issues are available to subscribers before the rest of the sluggardly world gets a chance to cast eyeballs at pixels, so why not subscribe today?

More soon, including the smash-hit that’s sweeping the nation, “Notes & sources (III).”

Balticon 50

I’m going to Balticon on Memorial Day weekend. Are you?

I’ll be presenting a workshop:

Typography: Beyond Microsoft Word and CreateSpace templates
(Sunday 8–9:20 a.m.) Type is the dress our words are clothed in, someone said (could it have been Beatrice Warde?). Just as saggy sweatpants are fine for walking the dog, nobody cares how your email is formatted. But your books, now — wouldn’t a neatly tailored suit, or a sweeping ball gown, or natty plus-fours, or what-have-you — wouldn’t your books look better well and carefully dressed? Type has a five-hundred year history (not to mention the history of all the lettering arts), during which thousands of artists have developed methods, standards, and strategies for best presenting printed words to the reader. Every detail matters!

And I’ll be sitting on three panels:

Poetry in prose (Friday 5:30–6:20 p.m.) The mantra for modern stories seems to be simple, straightforward writing. Is there room for poetry and craft when audiences seem to prefer to skip to the action?

Cover it! The dos and don’ts of book covers (Sunday 5:00–5:50 p.m.) Panelists discuss elements of successful book cover design, what not to do, and offer tips and advice on how to make the packaging sell your work.

Positive, utopian and optimistic SF (Saturday 5:00–5:50 p.m.) Given the recent saturation of dystopian, post-apocalyptic and grimdark F&SF, what new directions stand to be opened by examining positive futures?

If you see me, be sure to stop and say hi. I’m not as unpleasant as I look.

Notes & sources (II)

Well!

And so there it is. A new story.

Unlike most stories, which need at most a short headnote, what this one really wants is a bibliography. And an apparatus criticus.

Here they are. Enjoy, O ye pendents of this fallen world!

The story’s title is an infamous remark made by James I/VI at the Hampton Court Conference. The two earliest printed editions (1604 and 1638) of The summe and substance of the conference, which, it pleased his excellent maiestie to have with the lords, bishops, and other of his clergie, (at which the most of the lords of the councell were present) in his maiesties priuy-chamber, at Hampton Court. Ianuary 14, 1603 report his remark with slightly different wording and spelling. I’ve picked out my favorite bits from each to make a composite version.

All dates in these notes and the text are Julian, or Old Style. All direct quotations and close paraphrases are from works in the public domain; biblical quotations are from the Wycliffe translation, with spelling sometimes modernized. While I have taken pains not to explicitly contradict anything known to be true (except as noted below), I am not a historian and have omitted many facts that happen to have been preserved; and all the material has been treated fictionally — for the excellent reason that this is a work of fiction.

Specifically:

Sections I & II. Henry, James, Richard, and Thomas Waklee (or Wakelee, Wakely, Waklyn, Walklee, Wakle, Whately, Wacklea, Wackly, Whacklea, etc.; at that time spelling names consistently was not a virtue much striven for) are all documented as living in New England about 1635 (give or take two years), but only Thomas’s name appears on a passenger list, departing Weymouth, in Dorset, 31 March 1634 aboard the Recovery bound for Massachusetts Bay (Robert Charles Anderson, The great migration, ser. 2, vol. VII, pp. 188-193). That these men were related by blood seems probable, but the exact nature and degree of their relation must, absent new evidence, remain conjectural, as must their origins in England. James is said to be a weaver in tax records (see XXVII below).

III & IV. James’s wilderness incident, and how Henry led him to safety, is adapted from a story in Henry Reed Stiles, History of ancient Wethersfield, pp. 686–687. The “shining things” are described in a deposition in Charles J. Hoadley (editor), Records of the colony or jurisdiction of New Haven, vol. II, pp. 86–87.

V & VI. Rev. Stone’s sermon at the mustering in Hartford is adapted from Captain Edward Johnson, Wonder-working providence of Sion’s savior in New England, pp. 112–113; he was chaplain to the expedition. Henry was awarded land in Hartford for his volunteer service in the Pequot War and additional land for another period of service shortly after (James Shepard, Connecticut soldiers in the Pequot War of 1637, p. 31). Reading the history of the conflict, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Uncas, lacking the power to kill his political enemies, manipulated the English into doing it for him.

VII, VIII, IX. Henry married Sarah Burt, widow of Judah Gregory, 4 September 1649 (Clarence Almon Torrey, New England marriages prior to 1700) in Springfield — then in Connecticut colony — but soon removed to Stratford, where he was one of the original settlers. Their children are named in Donald Lines Jacobus, History and genealogy of the families of Old Fairfield, vol. I, p. 628. Henry’s remarks about providence are adapted from an anonymous pamphlet, New Englands first fruits; in respect first of the conversion of some, conviction of divers, preparation of sundry, of the Indians, pp. 36–39 (corrected pagination; original has two signatures with duplicate page numbers).

X. James’s remarkable record of litigation, and the peculiar circumstances of his marriage to the Widow Boosey, are documented in Arthur Adams (editor), Records of the Particular Court of Connecticut, pp. 28-30, 43, 45, 46, 49, 51–53, 62, 63, 69–72, 74, 88–91, 99–102, 106, 108, 116–120, 132, 174, 179, 195, 196, 222, 224, 227, 229, 232–236, 240, 244.

XI. Dr. Rossiter’s report on the autopsy he performed on Elizabeth Kelly is preserved in the witchcraft supplement of the Samuel Wyllys papers, printed in David D. Hall, Witch-hunting in seventeenth-century New England, pp. 154-155; see also the comments in the Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 21 (1893), pp. 661-662. I also wish to thank Anatoly Belilovsky for pointing me in the right direction about the retrospective diagnosis.

XII. Sarah F. McMahon presents an admirable quantitative analysis of the colonial New England diet in “A comfortable subsistence: The changing composition of diet in rural New England, 1620-1840,” in The William and Mary quarterly, ser. 3, vol. 42 (1985), pp. 26–65.

XIII. For the “fine midsummer’s frolic,” see, for example, James George Frazer, The golden bough: A study in magic and religion, chap. LXVII, sec. 5: “The midsummer fires” (pp. 720–732 in the one-volume abridgment). Those present are named in Rebecca Greensmith’s confession (see XXII–XXV below). James was a constable in Wethersfield: Stiles, Wethersfield, p. 309. On 14 May 1677, Alice Waklee was fined £40 — a sum sufficient to purchase a small farm — for selling two gallons of liquor to Indians (Helen S. Ullmann [editor], Hartford County, Connecticut, county court minutes, p. 220). She confessed to selling one gallon, and there is no reason to suppose that this was a new enterprise of hers.

XIV. The hearsay that Henry listens to is based on depositions excerpted and summarized in Gale Ion Harris, “William and Goodwife Ayres: Witches who got away,” The American genealogist, vol. 75, no. 3 (July 2000), pp. 197–205. The water test is reported in Increase Mather, An essay for the recording of illustrious providences, reprinted in George Lincoln Burr (editor), Narratives of the witchcraft cases 1648–1706, p. 21.

XV. The story James tells the children is adapted from one told by John Higginson in a letter to Increase Mather (Mather papers, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ser. 4, vol. 8, pp. 285–286).

XVI. Henry was appointed in November 1659 to “watch over the youths or any disorderly carriages in the time of public exercises on the Lord’s Day or other times and see that they behave themselves comely, and note any disordering persons by such raps or blows as he in his discretion shall see meet” (Samuel Orcutt, A history of the old town of Stratford, p. 167). The story of Goody Bassett is also from Orcutt, p. 148.

XVII & XVIII. The administration of Wethersfield harbor is described in Sherman W. Adams’s essay “The maritime history of Wethersfield,” in Stiles, Wethersfield, chapter XII, pp. 536–595. James’s route home is based on the admirable map published by the Wethersfield Historical Society, drawn by Arthur C. Willard and W. Dudley Birmingham (February 1951) from data in Stiles and Adams, op., as they say, cit. Sarah’s lumber pies are based on a recipe in Robert May, The accomplisht cook or, the art & mystery of cookery, pp. 222–223. For puppydog-water, see Pepys’s diary (Latham and Matthews edition), vol. V, p. 78 (8 March 1663/64) and the note in vol. X, p. 605; the formula is from Mary Evelyn, The ladies dressing-room unlock’d, and her toilette spread, together, with a fop-dictionary, and a rare and incomparable receipt to make pig, or puppidog-water for the face.

XIX. In colonial America, the untimely death of a child was an almost universal experience. Although there’s no record that any of Henry’s children died young, only the names of those to survive to adulthood are known, and Stratford vital records have not been preserved complete.

XX. Ann Cole’s strange behavior is described in Mather, Illustrious providences, pp. 17–21, which is based on a letter (4 December 1682) from the Rev. John Whiting, who had been an eyewitness twenty years earlier (Mather papers, pp. 466–469). Rev. Stone’s handkerchief was certainly illegal; according to the sumptuary laws still in effect (but widely flouted), no one of an estate worth less than £200 was permitted to own gold lace.

XXI. Usury, though permitted in the New England colonies, as in England, at rates of up to eight percent, was generally regarded as sinful and iniquitous, until the 1699 Cambridge Synod determined that charging interest was consistent with scripture; see Cotton Mather, Thirty important cases resolved with evidence of scripture and reason.

XXII–XXV. The Hartford witch panic is summarized in Charles J. Hoadly, “A case of witchcraft in Hartford” in The Connecticut magazine, vol. 5, no. 11 (November 1899), and chapters VIII and IX of R. G. Tomlinson, Witchcraft prosecution: Chasing the devil in Connecticut. James’s route through Hartford is based on the map drawn by William S. Porter (1838) in Mary Kingbury Talbott and William S. Porter, The original proprietors of Hartford. Thomas Bracey accused James at Katherine Harrison’s 1669 trial (John M. Taylor, The witchcraft delusion of colonial Connecticut 1647–1697, pp. 49–50), but the deponent likely said something similar at this time. The early Hartford prison is described in William DeLoss Love, The colonial history of Hartford, pp. 286–289; he notes: “Some prisoners took with them such articles of furniture as they needed. […] Nathaniel Greensmith had there ‘One Bed well filled,’ ‘One Boulster,’ ‘One Rugg, one Blankett’ and ‘Two Blanketts,’ valued at £6 10s” (frustratingly, Love does not cite a source for his quotations). Rebecca Greensmith’s confession in open court is summarized in Whiting’s letter to Mather, p. 468; her further confession against her husband, herself, and others still exists in the Wyllys papers supplement. James’s opinion of witchcraft, while perhaps not usual, is not anachronistic; see, for example, John Hale’s A modest inquiry into the nature of witchcraft. Similarly, contemporary reaction to homosexual behavior was, despite the rhetoric of sermon and law book, usually quite muted; see Richard Godbeer, “‘The cry of Sodom’: Discourse, intercourse, and desire in colonial New England” in The William and Mary quarterly, ser. 3, vol. LII, no. 2 (April 1995), pp. 259–286. James and Rev. Stone’s arguments about Christmas are adapted from sources quoted in J. A. R. Pimlott, “Christmas under the Puritans” in History Today, vol. 10, no. 12 (December 1960). The accusation against James that Rev. Haines reads is adapted from transcripts of the 1677 trial of Nicholas Sension, of Windsor, Connecticut, quoted in Goober.

XXVI. James first fled to Rhode Island in late December 1662 or early January 1662/63, returned by early July, was indicted again in June 1665, fled again, and this time remained in Rhode Island, forfeiting all his Connecticut assets; I have compressed these movements to a single flight.

XXVII. The lives of Ann Cole, Katherine Harrison, Elizabeth Seagar, and Judith Varlett are epitomized in Tomlinson, Witchcraft. Alice is referred to as “Widow Wakelee” in Wethersfield tax records. Her fence disputes are in Ullmann, Court minutes. James granted power of attorney to Henry, who petitioned to be released from it, and was; and both James and Alice petitioned for divorce, but were refused; see Adams, Particular Court, for this and James’s other legal woes. For Thomas Waklee’s death, see Anderson, Great migration; Cotton Mather also mentions him in Magnalia christi americana. James’s penury is reflected in the token taxes assessed on him (Horatio Rogers, et al. [editors], The early records of the town of Providence, vol. XV, pp. 195, 210; vol. XVII, pp. 47, 51). Matthew Cole’s fate is noted in Hoadly, “Witchcraft.” Rev. Stone’s riparian tumble is actually how his son, also named Samuel Stone, died, but Rev. Stone seemed to me to richly deserve such a fate; see J. Hammond Trumbull, The memorial history of Hartford County, Connecticut 1633–1884, p. 263, quoting John Whiting’s letter to Increase Mather. A letter from the citizens of Rhode Island, complaining of James’s presence, is printed in J. Hammond Trumbull, Public records of the colony of Connecticut, from 1665 to 1678, p. 527.

XXVIII. Henry’s will is abstracted in Jacobus, Fairfield; it is actually dated 11 July 1689, with a codicil added 5 April 1690, and was exhibited 8 November 1690. The quoted legal language is adapted from Peregrine White’s will (1704).

XXIX. James was still alive in early October 1690, when a court ruled in his favor; another court order of May 1691 mentions that he had died recently (Hoadly, Records, pp. 35–36 and 44).

In addition to all the above, I am indebted to these secondary sources:

Alfred A. Cave, The Pequot War.

Gregory Robert Cunningham, The history of the Wakelee family since they were known in America.

John Putnam Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the culture of early New England.

Kai T. Erikson. Wayward pilgrims: A study in the sociology of deviance.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s seed: Four British folkways in America.

Richard M. Lederer, Jr. Colonial American English: a glossary.

Walter W. Woodward, Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., alchemy, and the creation of New England culture, 1606–1676.

“Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land”

My new story, “‘Or I Will Harrie Them Out of This Land'” (yes, the double + single quotation marks are correct) is available today at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

I say “new” but its gestation is actually older than that of the earlier BCS story “Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed’t” (q.v. by all means). The series of stories that I’m currently working on — six planned, four completed, one in progress — all grew out of genealogical research.

I’m not your average genealogist. I prefer to think of myself as a scholar of ancestry. I’m not interested so much in who married whom and who begat such-and-such as I am in what can still be gleaned of how their lives were — how they felt, where they lived, what they loved. Most of that is lost, of course, irrecoverable irrevocably, since we lack time machines, which probably can’t exist; and we’re left with scraps and facts, brown-edged ledger books and lichened gravestones, locks of hair and page-shedding family bibles, deeds and plats, wills and censuses. Dust and grease. But I refuse to set any limits on the power of compassion and imagination. So I invent, I fib furiously, I conjure and conduct.

I discovered Henry and James early on in my research, although it took a while to prove the line of descent. As I turned the facts over like troweling a flowerbed, churning up rocks and roots, the fascination never quite jelled into narrative. Then another story demanded my attention, like a ventriloquist flapping his dummy’s jaw up and down; and as the rejection notes for this new story piled up, I thought: I just can’t write commercial fiction, I don’t have it in me, I should just give it up and do whatever I want. So I did.

I started (working title: “James” then “A Wethersfield Tale” then “A Witch” then “Concerning the Peculiar Incidents…” and so on) with the formal restraint that the story consist of twenty long paragraphs, each exactly five hundred words long. Each paragraph would in turn comprise five one-hundred-word sentences, for example, or ten fifty-word sentences, or what have you, in intricate patternings. Traces of this procedure still survive in the final version: dialog is preceded by an em-dash and has no other punctuation than commas and semicolons because at first the scenes were all run together into single paragraphs, and the numbering reflects the original structure of five-hundred-word chunks.

But then Scott H. Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, that prince of editors, that paragon of publishers, bought the other story, and I thought: Well, maybe, I might after all, perhaps…?

Let’s do this thing.

I relaxed all the constraints to just one: each (now numbered, with free paragraphing) section must be exactly five hundred words. Finished, the story tipped the scales at twelve thousand words, precisely, not counting a long epigraph.

Since it was written expressly for Scott, I sent it to him. He wrote back a month and a half later, asking for more time to consider it. Two months later, I queried its status, and a week after that we began exchanging long emails about my intentions and his reactions, culminating in a request to revise the story and resubmit it. I spent about two months doing so, pulling it apart, remolding the pieces, discarding and rearranging and supplementing, but still keeping to the five-hundred word rule. And it was now 14,500 words (exactly). I sent it back.

Two and a half months later, we had another spell of long emails, then Scott offered a contract. Don’t, beloved reader, count each section, because a month of adding and subtracting words saw a net loss of three hundred of them, making some sections a trifle longer, others a little shorter. And so here we are.

A story.

It’s surprising how much of it is true.

I can document that’s it true! And I even have some facts left over, like a handful of baby teeth.

(But all that’s for another post.)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

It’s time again for that most pleasant of tasks: announcing the publication of a new story. A new historical fantasy, “‘Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land,'” will appear in the April 28 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (No. 198).

It’s a modest little tale of two brothers in colonial Connecticut, and their two very different characters and fates. As before, I’ll provide copious notes on the historical and genealogical sources for the story when it appears.

Now we must wait. Hurry up, time! Faster!
 
UPDATE APRIL 22: The e-book version is now available at Weightless Books and Amazon.