The President’s Man

by Steve Hartshorne on December 15, 2014


Elliott Roosevelt

After watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the Roosevelts, I decided to read a book I picked up at a tag sale years ago: The President’s Man by Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son.

Elliott Roosevelt served with distinction in the Army Air Corps in World War II during the Allied invasion of North Africa,  but later in the war he was involved in some shady dealings, including a procurement scandal involving lots of parties and  presents and Hollywood actresses provided by Howard Hughes. He got involved in more  scandals after the war, during what Wikipedia calls “a business career marked by ties to organized crime.”

The President’s Man also deals with organized crime. It’s set just before FDR’s election in 1932. When FDR receives mysterious death threats from  organized crime figures, he calls on his old college chum Jack Endicott to protect him.

Endicott is the archetypal suave old-money Boston boy who owns a yacht and a speedy roadster and an airplane and a townhouse and a  place  on Cape Cod. He is very resourceful because he’s so rich and has so many rich friends.

He meets with Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano and Al Capone and  lots of other underworld figures, and of  course they all try to kill him, but he thwarts all their evil plans with the help  of  an African-American cab driver and a hooker with a heart  of gold.

Not only that, he wins a sailing regatta and flies Lucy Mercer to the Democratic convention, so she can see FDR nominated.

There are some interesting glimpses into the FDR household from someone who was there,  and there are cameo appearances by Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, but other than that, not a lot of substance. Still,  it’s a fun read.

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Henry James Drowns Dresses in the Venetian Lagoon

by Steve Hartshorne on October 16, 2014


Henry James

“In April 1894, a middle-aged gentleman, bearing a load of dresses, was rowed to the deepest part of the Venetian lagoon.

A strange scene followed: he began to drown the dresses, one by one. There were a good many, well-made, tasteful, and all dark, suggesting a lady of quiet habits and some reserve.

The gondolier’s pole would have been useful for pushing them under the still water. But the dresses refused to drown. One by one they rose to the surface, their busts and sleeves swelling like black balloons.

Purposefully, the gentleman pushed them under, but silent, reproachful, they rose before his eyes.”

This passage is quoted from Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Henry James. The dresses in question belonged to Constance Fenimore Woolson, who had been James’ very close friend.

One problem with making historical friends, which, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful thing to do, is that you get caught up in the lives periperal to theirs, so you really have to find out all about them, too.

I am a big admirer of Marian (Clover) Hooper Adams. I’ve written at least a half a dozen entries about her. I spend an entire summer immersed in her letters to her father.

She is known as a woman who took her own life and was commemorated in a sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens, but was left out completely from the memoirs of her husband, Henry Adams, as if she had never existed

The concensus among historians is that he loved her so much that he couldn’t write a word about her, and I do not doubt that this might be true.

It wasn’t his duty to overcome his pain and use his extraordinary talents as a writer to present her to us as she was in life…


Constance Fenimore Woolson

But, I keep thinking, I would have done that if I had been her husband.

When someone takes their own life, they tend to be regarded as a tragic figure, but Clover was such a lively intellect and such a loving, life-affirming human being, that it is wrong for us to think of her only in those last tragic throes of melancholy, when we should remember who she was when she was herself.

Certainly that was what Clover’s nieces had in mind when they published her letters. And that’s why I want to read everything ever written about Clover Hooper Adams.

Well, it turns out that entails reading all about Henry James and Constance Fenimore Woolson, who jumped out of a window in Venice and did not survive. She’s the original owner of the dresses that Henry was trying to push down into the canal.

James was a close friend of Clover’s. He called her “Voltaire in petticoats.” And there’s no higher tribute than that.

I always thought the prognosis on Henry James was “gay gay gay.” He seemed to be what my grandmother called a “confirmed bachelor,” but Gordon seems to think that he just got into homoerotic fantasies “later in life.”

She plays up his relationships with Fenimore Wilson and another woman from his youth named Minny Temple, but I just don’t think so. He liked them as friends, and I think Gordon miscontrues his use of the word “intimate.”

Remember, homosexuality was illegal in those days.

To me and to other historians, James memoirs strongly suggest homosexual activity with Oliver Wendell Holmes, later chief justice of the US Supreme Court.

Now there’s something that might become a thing. I’ll present the textual evidence in my next entry.

But none of this begins to answer the question of why Henry James was pushing down those dresses in the Venice canal.

Do I have to do everything around here?


House of Card (UK): Fiendishly Delightful

by Steve Hartshorne on October 13, 2014


Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart

I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night when I found that Connecticut Public Television was airing the four-part 1990 BBC series House of Cards. The screenplay was adapted by Andrew Davies from a novel by Michael Dobbs, former chief of staff at the Conservative Party.

They’ve made an American version starring Kevin Spacey, but this is the original British version, set at the end of the reign of Margaret Thatcher, as conservative members of Parliament elbow one another to become prime minister.

Ian Richardson is fiendishly delightful as Francis Urquhart, who speaks directly to the viewer, introducing the principals, and guiding us through intricacies of the political process.

Urquhart is chief whip of the Conservative Party, marshalling the ‘back benchers’ and ‘putting a bit of stick about to watch them jump.’


Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin

He knows everybody’s foibles and peccadillos, and he uses his knowledge to take down his rivals, one by one, all the while seeming to be the loyal party man who has everyone’s back in a tight spot.

Most of the time he has this devilish twinkle in his eye, and he looks a great deal like my grandfather, so he’s really the most lovable villain since J.R. Ewing.

The backdrops are wonderful — the chambers of Parliament, Urquhart’s town house and his country home and the famous landmarks of London, and the cast is absolutely brilliant.

Susannah Harker gives a magnificent performance at Mattie Storin, a young journalist befriended by Urquhart, and the two have these exquisitely crafted interchanges where Mattie guesses what’s going on and when she’s right, urquardt says, “You might think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment.”


Miles Anderson and Alphonsia Emmanuel as Michael O’Neill and Penny Guy

Diane Fletcher plays Urquhart’s wife Margaret, who is complicit in all his dastardly deeds and even suggests he have an affair with Mattie, who seems to have an Electra complex, because she likes to call him ‘Daddy.’

Miles Anderson does a star turn as Michael O’Neill, the cocaine addict/party public relations director, who is compelled to further Urquhart’s schemes, and Alphonsia Emmanuel does a great job as his beautiful mixed-race girlfriend Penny Guy, who bears a striking resemblance to Diana Rigg, my favorite actress of all time, and the only one who ever played the part of Mrs. James Bond.

Another great character actor, Colin Jeavons, plays Urquhart’s ruthless henchman, aptly named Tim Stamper. Jeavons is an experienced villain, having also portrayed Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, Adolph Hitler and Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.

The series was a huge success in Britain and the United States and the BBC followed it with two sequels based on Dobbs’ novels To Play the King and The Final Cut, which follow Urqhart’s career as prime minister.

Of course he continues his nefarious ways: whenever he wants to get rid of someone he has their car blown up and it’s blamed on the Irish Republican Army.

The fact that Francis Urquhart’s initials are ‘F U’ is deliberate. That’s why the star of the American series is named Frank Underwood.


Books About Lincoln

by Steve Hartshorne on October 5, 2014



I’m devouring two delicious books about Abraham Lincoln that I found at the Whately Antiquarian Book Center: Lincoln by Philip Kunhardt Jr. and his sons Philip and Peter, derived from a documentary made for ABC, and The Lincoln Reader, edited by Paul M. Angle.

Lincoln is such a well-known figure that a lot of people think they know all about him — Honest Abe, born in a log cabin that he built with his own hands — but there’s so much to learn about this complex individual, who played such an important role in preserving the United States of America.

I truly believe he did what no other man could have done. The other day I saw some history professors speculating about what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the election of 1864, as almost everyone thought he would.

As president, George McClellan would have sued for peace and recognized the Confederacy as a nation. The split would have ‘Balkanized’ North America and all the evils of the Old World would have made their way into the New.

It’s certain we would never have become the colossus that intervened decisively in World War I and World War II.


Philip Kunhardt Jr., Philip Kunhardt III and Peter Kunhardt


Paul Angle and the Kunhardts give us an intimate portrait of Lincoln and the communities from which he came, and it’s a delightful tour of the world that is no more.

Angle presents selections from different biographical sources, and the Kunhardts detail all of these sources and add photographs from the collection of Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, their mother and grandmother, which she inherited from her father, Frederick Hill Meserve, and made many additions.

Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, I should add, is the author of a work that I appreciated as a very young child, first published in 1940, which is still a bestseller TO THIS DAY! It’s a book called Pat the Bunny.


Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and her father Frederick Hill Meserve


The Meserve-Kunhardt collection is a wonderfully comprehensive collection of photographs, showing the prairie giant at every stage of his career.

New Salem, the town to which Lincoln went to escape his family and grow into manhood, disappeared from the map shortly after Lincoln left, but it is here that he ‘wrassled’ Jack Armstrong, leader of the Clary Grove Boys, and licked him fair and square.

They became fast friends and Jack gave Lincoln a place to stay when he was broke. Lincoln later returned the favor when Armstrong’s son Duff was accused of murder.

One witness claimed he saw Duff Armstrong strike the fatal blow, although he was 150 feet away. It was 11 o’clock at night and the witness claimed he could see clearly by the light of a full moon.

In Duff’s defense, Lincoln introduced into evidence an almanac that showed a new moon on the date in question, and a new moon that set before 11 p.m. It was forever known as the “Almanac Trial.”

And there’s so much more: Lincoln’s romance with Annie Rutledge and her tragic death, his courtship of Mary Todd and their tempestuous marriage, his law practice, his service in the Blackhawk War, his election to the state legislature and the US Congress, even the morbid poetry he wrote as a young man.

For anyone who thinks they know Lincoln, these works show there’s always more to learn.



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The White Mule of Popocatapetl

by Steve Hartshorne on September 14, 2014


I learned a lot reading Bruce Catton’s book Grant Takes Command, and it was enjoyable reading, given the grim subject matter.

The book, the third in a series begun by Lloyd Lewis, begins right after Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, and gives a great description of his subsequent victory at Chatanooga.

After that Lincoln made him commander of the Union Armies, and he set about the long, slow process of defeating Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

After taking Petersburg and Richmond, Grant made good his victory with a rapid pursuit that cut Lee off from his supply lines and forced him to surrender at Appomattox.

There is a curious reference, in Catton and elsewhere, in which Grant is talking to General Rufus Ingalls, who served with him in the Mexican War, when they returned to camp after the surrender.

“Ingalls, do you remember the white mule that so and so used to ride in the City of Mexico?” And Grant went on to talk about the animal’s antics on an excursion to Popocatapetl, Mexico’s highest volcano. But there is no explanation of what called the mule to mind.

I was curious to know why the General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, after one of the most important military victories in American history, would be thinking of a white mule on a Mexican volcano.

I looked into it a bit further and found the full story in Grant’s Memoirs.

Turns out Grant’s party, which included many officers who later fought on both sides of the US Civil War, was traveling on a narrow cliffside road with a “yawning precipice on one side, hundreds of feet down to a roaring mountain torrent below.”

“One of our mules, loaded with two sacks of barley, one on each side, the two about as big as he was, struck his load against the mountain-side and was precipitated to the bottom.”

“The descent was steep, but not perpendicular. The mule rolled over and over until the bottom was reached and we supposed, of course, that the animal was dashed to pieces.”

“What was our surprise, not long after we had gone into bivouac, to see the lost mule, cargo, and owner coming up the ascent.”

“The load had protected the animal from serious injury, and the owner had gone after him and found a way back to the path leading up to the hut where we were to stay.”

I think Grant was thinking of his long and checkered military career, and how he had finally made it up the mountain, like the white mule of Popocatapetl.


The New France Festival

by Steve Hartshorne on August 24, 2014


My breakfast nook at the Chateau Frontenac



“Le canard, le saumon, et le couchon
Ont donné leur vies
Pour provider mon bon petit déjeuner
Au Chateau Frontenac.”

“The duck, the salmon, and the pig
Have given their lives
To provide my lovely breakfast
At the Chateau Frontenac.”

Just two days in Quebec, and I’m writing poetry in French, celebrating my lovely breakfast of duck pate, lox, bacon, and sausage, with some lovely strawberry jam [confiture] from a confiturerie [jam maker] on the Ile D’Orleans.

You see I’m building my word power by eating delicious food.

There are more than one million reasons to visit Quebec, but the first one has to be the food. Restaurants here have always relied on local ingredients since the 1600s, mainly from the Ile D’Orleans, an island on the St. Laurence River known as the “Garden of Quebec.”


Vineyards on the Ile D’Orleans


The island, which is about 20 miles long and five miles wide, is reached by a long bridge from the mainland, and the road the runs around the perimeter is dotted by little villages with farms and artisan studios and art galleries.

We toured a confitururie, a 17th-century manor house, a vineyard, and a farm that grows black currants used to make wine, and sweets, and a delicious liqueur known as creme de cassis.

At the confitururie, Tigido, we met Vincent the confiturier, and sampled some jams made from the luscious berries that abound on the island. The strawberry jam was a triumph in its own right, but we also tried strawberry with lavender and my favorite, strawberry with basil.


At the manor house, we were transported back to the household of a wealthy doctor in the colony, and all the housewares and artifacts and costumes, as well as the architecture and decorations of the house itself, really gave a vivid impression of what life was like in the early years of the settlement.



Anne Monna at Cassis Monna et Filles


At the Cassis Monna et Filles, we learned the many wonderful uses of the black currants they gro. Founded by Bernard Monna in 1971, and now run by his daughters Anne and Catherine, the farm is known around the world for its award-winning wines, liqueurs and syrups.

We met with Anne and Bernard, who described their plans for a major renovation of their farm and restaurant.

Then, on the mainland, you have a European walled city with cobblestone streets and beautiful ancient architecture that allows you to travel back to the seventeenth century without the bother of crossing the Atlantic.

And during the New France Festival, you’ll find all kinds of concerts, demonstrations and reenactments to help you visualize the busy New World city that was Quebec.



Many Quebecois are decked out in period costumes: lots of beruffled aristocrats in waistcoats and knee breeches and their ladies in elaborate gowns and coiffures, and soldiers and trappers and blacksmiths and Native Americans and bourgeois like me.

My costume had a lot of bling — ruffles and satin and gold lace — but it was blue to distinguish it from the burgundy outfits worn by the nobility. So I was “new money,” but hey, I’ll take it. Like they say, new money is better than no money at all.

We attended one of the splendid banquets held nightly on the Quai de Pionniers, where we enjoyed five sumptuous courses paired with sprightly local wines.


New money is better than no money at all.

Foie gras poêlé [pan-seared foie gras], purée de topinambours [Jerusalem artichokes], grenadins de veau [veal grenadin], champignons sauvage [wild mushrooms], crème mascarpone [Italian cream cheese] aux petits fruits de saison — now that’s what I call building your word power!

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the legendary hospitality, the foot-stomping music, the iconic Chateau Frontenac, where FDR and Churchill met to plan strategy in World War II, and the importance of festivals like this for passing along the province’s French heritage to future generations.

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Vive Quebec! Vive La Nouvelle France!

by Steve Hartshorne on August 19, 2014

Just back from the New France Festival in Quebec, where I had an absolutely fabulous time. I stayed for four days at the iconic Chateau Frontenac, toured the verdant countryside of the Ile D’Orleans, dined at all the magnificent restaurants, and dressed up in elaborate 17th Century costumes to celebrate the heritage of this wonderful province.


With the Count de Frontenac in the lobby of the hotel that bears his name



With our hosts in the harbor



Roast duck and asparagus at the Champlain Restaurant at the Chateau Frontenac



Statue of Bacchus at a winery on the Ile D’Orleans



Everyone has a great time at the New France Festival


A Delightful Garden Party

by Steve Hartshorne on August 5, 2014

Last Sunday I got a chance to visit with Joe McCarthy of Greenfield, one of my favorite artists, who was displaying some paintings from his gold period at a delightful garden party with lots of delightful people.







Joe McCarthy in his studio





A Brilliant Foreign Policy Success

by Steve Hartshorne on July 26, 2014

If there’s anyone out that who doubts the efficacy of our foreign policy in Libya, they should read the most recent State Department Travel Advisory for that county. Clearly our decisive intervention has brought about another resounding foreign policy success:

“The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.

“In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.”


Grant Takes Command

by Steve Hartshorne on July 25, 2014

Sometimes I like light reading in the summer, especially from my favorite authors like Georges Simenon, Sue Grafton and Rex Stout, but sometimes I’m ready for heavy reading, a big ol’ hefty tome that tells you more than most people know about some period in history. Barbara Tuchman is in this category, and I recommend every book she ever wrote.

I also loved The Armada by Garrett Mattingly, which taught me much more than I ever knew before about that epic battle, and C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War, which gave me innumerable new insights into the history of Europe in the 17th Century.


I was looking for some heavy reading this summer, and at a tag sale last week I found a copy of Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton. It’s the third volume in a biography of Grant begun by Lloyd Lewis and continued by Catton, one of the great historians of the Civil War. It begins just after Grant’s victory at Vicksburg and the opening chapters describe the Battle of Chattanooga, which, together with the ‘lucky’ victory at Gettysburg, marked the real turning point in the war.

For a reader like me, this means that I don’t have to read about thousands of men dying, only to have their sacrifice go for nothing because of massive incompetence by Union generals, which was the story of the war up to that point. At Gettysburg, things just seemed to go the Federals’ way, partly because they were on their own ground defending their own people, and partly because the Confederate generals started making the same kind of stupid mistakes the Union generals had been making for years. And in my opinion, it showed that Lee’s army was not the same without Stonewall Jackson.

But in the West, Grant was making his own luck, and the Battle of Chattanooga is a great example. The layout of the battle was much like Gettysburg in reverse, with the Confederates entrenched on Missionary Ridge, but unlike Pickett’s fatal charge at the Union center at Gettysburg, which failed utterly, Thomas’ charge at the Confederate center was a brilliant success because Grant had mounted massive attacks on both flanks.

The Confederate commander, Major General Braxton Bragg, thought his center was invulnerable and dispatched more and more of his troops to meet the attacks on his flanks. General Joe Hooker (born in Hadley, Massachusetts) having taken the heights on Lookout Mountain, was attacking on his left and General William Tecumseh Sherman was attacking on his right.

Both attacks were stalled, and Grant ordered General George H. Thomas to attack the Confederate center and take the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was the Union equivalent of Pickett’s charge, and it could have failed just as miserably as Pickett’s, but when the troops took the rifle pits at the base of the ridge, they found they were easy targets for the Confederate gunners above them. They were like the US troops on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Every soldier could see that they were dead where they were and the only way to save themselves was to move forward.

At Chattanooga, Thomas’ army scaled the ridge, drove off the Confederate defenders, and drove Bragg and his army back into Georgia. It was a miraculous victory, and I really think it gave the people of the North the feeling that God was on their side for a change. But General Bragg, besides sending troops to oppose Sherman and Hooker, had previously sent two divisions off to East Tennessee to harass General Ambrose Burnside. Had he not depleted his center in this way, he could easily have held his center on Missionary Ridge.

I love this book because it talks a lot about logistics. Courage is great in war, and strategy, but really it is logistics that really count in the end. When Eisenhower met the Russian generals after World War II was over, they didn’t ask him about tactics or strategy. They asked how he supplied his troops in his whirlwind advance across France, and he told them about the Red Ball Express — but that’s another story you can read about in his book Crusade in Europe.

The Union army in Chattanooga was crippled by a lack of pack animals. The mountainous country thereabouts couldn’t supply an army with provisions, and the troops could only carry a few days rations in their knapsacks. It took many months to supply them with horses and mules to carry supplies and artillery, and, of course, the thousands of pounds of forage to feed them.

I also like the way that Grant, after his great victories,  turned down all the imbeciles that wanted him to run for president. Everywhere he went he was greeted with public acclaim. Lincoln was at that time one of the most unpopular presidents in history. “It’s not my job to make speeches,” he said. He even refused to deny that he was a candidate, because that would sound like he was asking to be drafted.

Unquestionably, Grant caused the death of hundreds of thousands of his soldiers. Lincoln chose him to command the Union armies because he was the only one who could see that this sacrifice was the only way to bring the war to an end.

I have to mention here that when Lee saw the terms that Grant offered at Appomatox, he was surprised. Lee actually thought that he and his officers would be tried for treason and executed. One has to ask why he wasn’t told before that he could have surrendered under these generous terms. It would certainly have ended the war many months earlier and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.