“Why aren’t you in the library!?”

Years ago, when one of my post-graduate instructors back at university on Long Island encountered any of us “loitering” around in the offices, or in any way NOT engaged in our studies, grinning, he used to question us loudly: “Why aren’t you in the library!?”

Naturally we would seek to offer rationales – some reasonable, some decidedly less so – as to why we weren’t where he had thought we should be.😜

Then again, just because you are tucked away in bookstacks, or locked in your dorm room surrounded by books you’ve borrowed from the library, neither means you are reading what you are “supposed” to be reading:

[Excerpt from U.S. Grant’s Memoirs, on Kindle for iPad. Screen capture. Underlining by me.]

Ulysses S. Grant would of course twenty-five or so years later command what would be for a time the largest army in the world in winning the US Civil War. A few years after that, he would be elected to two terms as US president.

Small reading world. The “Bulwer’s” Grant notes there is Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote The Last Days of Pompeii, among many others. Pompeii may be his most famous today: it has been adapted for stage, television and film numerous times.

Bulwer-Lytton lived just up the road from where I’m typing this – at Knebworth House, here in Hertfordshire, England.

A pic I have taken of Knebworth House:

Knebworth House, Knebworth, Hertfordshire. Photo by me, 2016.]

As a group the novelists Grant mentions are of varying familiarity in our current day. Bulwer-Lytton, James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans – you should certainly know!), Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), and Washington Irving (The Sketch Book, which includes short stories such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”), remain reasonably well-known and read. On the other hand, Frederick Marryat and Charles Lever are rather more obscure looking back from our now 21st century.

In his last months, Grant would also write what is still the most highly-regarded presidential autobiography – from where that paragraph comes. Recounting his life only up until 1865 (the end of the Civil War), he died of cancer just five days after completing the manuscript in 1885. Since its publication, it has never been out of print.🇺🇸

“Much of the time, I am sorry to say, was devoted to novels.” Hmm. Seems he had no reason really to be “sorry.” Reading those novels didn’t appear to hurt him too much. 🙂

To conclude, here’s some social media fun. Yesterday, for the benefit of those perhaps unfamiliar with it, I had directly @’d Knebworth House itself in my Instagram post on this. This morning, I found that Henry Lytton-Cobbold, great-great-great grandson of Bulwer-Lytton, had “liked” that post, too.😂📸📚🇬🇧

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world.😊

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for reminding me about U.S. Grant, which revived my long-forgotten admiration for him. I’ve only read the Conclusion of his memoir (it’s amazing how fresh that writing feels!), so I’ve put his book on my list for next month’s delivery from the shut-in service of my local library. Since I hope someday to write a novel that will have something to do with a Union soldier who is somehow connected with some of the characters in my first novel (now that’s a fuzzy elevator pitch!) I should probably start clearing, tilling and seeding that mental ground now.

    Learning about Grant’s academic truancy brought to mind the circumstances surrounding the writing of that novel. It began when I was in the midst of graduate school, and by the time I’d transitioned from scribbled notes to typing (after about six weeks and 45,000 words scattered across various chapters), university work had moved to a lower priority. But I did keep up with my classes (graduating with a 3.912 GPA), so my brain must have needed the rest that creative writing provided, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, among all those dry academic papers I had to write. (It took another 2 3/4 years to finish the novel.)

    Ah, Baron Bulwer-Lytton! Where would we be without his dark and stormy night? (See my post at Thanks for giving a glimpse of his home. I remember seeing The Last Days of Pompeii in my mother’s large personal library, but I never got around to reading it. The Baron will go on my library TBR, too.

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    • I’ve been reading Ronald White’s “American Ulysses” as well. One story about Grant really struck me.

      In 1859, at possibly his lowest financial moment (he had the year before pawned his watch to buy his wife a Christmas present), when he by chance also owned a slave who had been tied to property his father-in-law had owned in Missouri, Grant freed thirty-five year old William Jones uncompensated. He simply went to court and signed a document freeing him… when he could have gotten at least $1,000 for him had he sold him – a then huge amount of money his family could really have used.

      And Grant never spoke about why he did that. We all know the Civil War “Grant and Lee” stuff. But Grant overall is a man worth us all knowing a lot more about.🤔

      Yes, and Bulwer-Lytton’s Knebworth House is a great place.👏 I couldn’t resist sharing that given Grant’s reference to the Baron’s books!😊

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