That Wide Ocean

America’s top official in France from 1785-1789, forty-something Thomas Jefferson, came to believe U.S. diplomats should not be overseas more than about eight years at a stretch. He felt if they (and they were then only men) were, they would lose touch with events and opinions at home. As a result, they would eventually be incapable of representing America properly.

He grew concerned also about young men “without attachment” becoming “involved” with European women, and felt their being overseas too long made such “intimacy” almost inevitable. The young women they encountered in diplomatic and social circles (and who, in France and elsewhere on the continent, could speak English) were overwhelmingly aristocrats. He believed “relationships” with those women could damage those “impressionable” young men’s “republican” sentiments and alienate them from the outlooks of most of their fellow Americans at home.

A few years before, a 16 year old future U.S. president became rather “enthralled” by young women he met while visiting Sweden. Yes, it’s a shocker: An American teenage boy loose in Scandinavia notices girls. Yet in that he demonstrated Jefferson’s concerns were perhaps not groundless.

Then lacking the television, internet, etc., that we take for granted, one could see Jefferson’s point about being too far removed from home as well. It took three months minimum for a letter to travel from Europe and to receive a reply from America; and that was usually during the summer months. Far fewer ships risked crossing the Atlantic between December and March – and even navies weren’t keen on it if they could possibly put it off until spring.

Sunset, Soulac-sur-mer, France, over the Bay of Biscay, which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Sunset, Soulac-sur-mer, France, over the Bay of Biscay, which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. [Photo by me, 2016.]

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Home And Hearth Centuries On

I like to joke occasionally that I consider the eighteenth century the beginning of everything. That’s an exaggeration, I know. But by that I mean the second half of that century sees the beginnings of “ourselves” in a myriad of ways that we today would easily recognize.

We have moved well-beyond what nearly all of those people living then would have imagined the future to be. While, for instance, Thomas Jefferson, who owned enslaved persons, held that African men in that degraded position still possessed an innate human equality with white men, he also wrote (privately) that he could not abide the idea of any woman in government. (A “woman’s trade” was to produce children and maintain “domestic felicity.”) It was still widely accepted that a man should own a goodly amount of property (usually land) in order to vote (because owning property meant you had a true stake in the society). The likes of LGBT equality would have simply been unfathomable to them.

Yet Jefferson’s noting he believed women were unsuited to government also meant that he had at least thought about it. It was by then among the many other no longer “unthinkables.” He, and so many others of that time, helped get “a process” started.

French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]
French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]

With France’s defeat by Britain in America in 1763, we see the beginnings of the “modern” Great Britain, France and United States that we all live in today.

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“Gee, I hope no one else reads this…”

You may have read by now that former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has had his email hacked. In emails dumped out for public consumption, various strong and private opinions are there for all to read. What has most caught media interest naturally are his personal views on the current major candidates for U.S president, and especially his, shall we say, “colorful” use of the English language several times.

We all write at times stupidly and unguardedly in email as if it were a private conversation. Happenings like this are reminders some say that we should perhaps save such opinions for the telephone (assuming that’s not being tapped). A quiet corner of a room whispering into an ear might be safest of all – although arranging that may prove difficult with someone who is NOT in that same room, of course.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a blue mail box.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a blue mail box.

Or we might also consider penning letters again as in… the eighteenth century! But even letters then were sometimes intercepted by third parties and published in unfriendly “news”papers. And governments read letters, too.

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From Our Forebears

If you write historical fiction, this sort of stuff is great to encounter. It gets you thinking. How our world continues to evolve:

Screen capture of the Guardian.
Screen capture of the Guardian.

Objectively, that’s essentially true: our norms are “male.” However, it is also true that such is due to our social heritage. It hasn’t come about in an historical vacuum.

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Richard And Janet

Richard Montgomery was born in 1738 in County Dublin, British Ireland. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, for two years, until his father, insisting on a military career for him (as had been common for men in the family for generations before), bought him a commission in the army. (One did not achieve officer status in the British – or French or Spanish – army in that era unless one was both gentry and usually well-enough off to be able to “buy” an officer’s commission.) He became a junior officer in an Irish Regiment.

"General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel," by Hal Shelton. [Photo by me, 2016.]
“General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel,” by Hal Shelton. [Photo by me, 2016.]

He fought against the French in America between 1758-1763. After the end of that war, his unit was sent to the frontier (what is today Michigan), and on his way through the Hudson Valley in 1765 he briefly met his future wife, a just out of her teens Janet Livingston. It seemed a cordial encounter, with no romantic overtones.

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View Of “UK Resident Of American Origin”

As you may have heard, a man with a knife slashing at people killed sixty-four-year-old American Darlene Horton and injured half a dozen others in London’s Russell Square on Wednesday evening. If learned, as of this writing his motive has not yet been made public. (“Mental health” issues have been cited by police.) As to a description of him circulating in British media, including on the BBC, ITV news’s Charlene White took issue with it on Twitter:

Via Wikipedia, one uncovers that Ms. White was born in London. That same source also states her parents were “Black Carribean.” Given her tweeted reference to Jamaica, I will assume for discussion’s sake that means they were born there and moved here to the United Kingdom.

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Sophie Deserves A Mention, Too

I’ve got so much going on right now. My head’s spinning. To better explain what I mean, first here’s that excerpt again in case you missed it the other day:

Sneak Peek into  "Conventions." Click to expand.
Sneak Peek into “Conventions.” Click to expand.

I’ve got that French ship captain, who I’m finding is quite an interesting man as a write more of him. And of course there’s the “heroine” in that scene as well (but I don’t want to tell you yet who she is or what she’s doing where she is). That’s just for starters.

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Staying In The Past’s Present

One last major piece of work here in the new house. I decided to attack it first thing this morning. Yes, I managed to get a bathroom mirror and shelf affixed in the cloakroom:

Cloakroom mirror and shelf. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Cloakroom mirror and shelf. [Photo by me, 2016.]
I also managed to do it without “wrecking” the wall, which is no mean feat. Drilling into plaster walls is definitely not like tacking something up on a wood-walled American house. Whew.

Oh, and speaking of America, “he” is now unpacked in my new office and watching me:

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Freedom Of Speech, Until…

You never know who is reading you. Something I wrote about the Catskills a couple of years back attracted a response from a Turkish woman. She wrote to me that she knew the area well: she had attended (of all places) the State University of New York at Binghamton!

We had a laugh. She had also left the US recently and was living once again in Istanbul, but remained interested in south-central New York state, where Binghamton is located, in particular. Occasionally, she’d ask me about the snow and frigid temperatures – she didn’t miss either in Istanbul! she always said – and inquired harmlessly about other aspects of life thereabouts. She also knew I-84 pretty well, and we’d joked about that “endless” and “dull” highway.

Free Stock Photo: Flag of Turkey.
Free Stock Photo: Flag of Turkey.

We ended up following each other on Twitter. She tweeted mostly in Turkish, which left me mostly at a loss. But she did offer an occasional observation in English and/or a link to something in English; usually it was innocuous and apolitical. Often what she shared was humorous.

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Tell It To Elizabeth I

The contest to be Conservative party leader in the House of Commons, which almost assures succession currently to the prime ministership, has now come down to a choice between two women. So it is almost certain now that the United Kingdom will have its second woman in that highest government office. You may also have read about the debate in British media set off this weekend over comments made to The Times newspaper by one of them.

Both women are in their 50s. Andrea Leadsom, challenging presumed frontrunner Theresa May, stated to the paper that she, Leadsom, has “a very real stake” in the future of the country because she had children. (May and her husband did not.) Leadsom doesn’t attack May directly, but if you listen to the recording of her observations, Leadsom’s inference is plainly obvious: she holds that she’d be a better prime minister because she has had children:

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