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In the summer of 1838, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, then the Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard, opened his public lectures on “Literature and Literary Life” by stating that he would be considering “Authors as Artists.” Asking that his auditors “Think not that thus I degrade the Poet's high vocation into a base handicraft,” Longfellow explained:
It was with no sarcastic meaning that the Icelanders of old called the Poet a Rhyme-Smith. He is God's workman; and amid the smoke and sparks about him, on his sound anvil forges the broad shield of Truth and weapons of her warfare.
Longfellow offered an analogy between poet and smith which hinged on conscious effort and on the service provided by the tangible products of that labor. Poems were “forged” objects, artifacts consciously produced by “God's workman.” Two years later, in autumn 1840, Longfellow composed “The Village Blacksmith”; the poem concluded:
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
By 1840, Longfellow no longer explicitly identified the poet's labor with the active work of the blacksmith. Having witnessed or imagined a blacksmith at work, Longfellow organized his impressions into “The Village Blacksmith,” which presented a particular interpretation of those perceptions – the moral of the poem – for the instruction of its readers.
The analogy between the poet and smith turned only on the lesson that the fact of each man's labor could provide to others. The poet was no longer a Rhyme-Smith; instead, he was an instructor who created abstract moral imperatives rather than tangible products.
In his diary in July 1946 Senator Claude Pepper of Florida noted that Great Britain was “showing considerable progress in [a] year under its socialist government – nationalization of [the] Bank of England, coal mines … . They have enacted [a] housing program and extended [the] social security system and a national health system. That is the direction of things everywhere but here.” The question of why American social democracy did not take off in the same way after World War Two as elsewhere in the industrialised world has become an important issue in recent American historiography. Indeed, the question of what was left, in both senses of the word, of “liberalism” after the death of Franklin Roosevelt assumes particular importance when one considers the fact that there were in the United States in 1946 a fair number of liberal political thinkers who were committed to using the New Deal and wartime experience as a launch pad for further left-of-centre political experimentation. Claude Pepper, Henry Wallace, Helen Douglas, Harold Ickes, Rexford Tugwell, Paul Douglas – all were in positions of political or intellectual influence at the end of the Second World War. Yet, by 1950, they would all experience either political defeat or a shift away from vocal commitment to social democratic values.
In her 1980 interview with Charles Bukowski, Italian journalist Fernanda Pivano posed what seemed at first an innocuous question: “Why are you called Charles in the books and Hank in your private life?”
Addressing the opening night rally of the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) Convention on 31 August 1967, the executive director William F. Pepper informed the several thousand delegates that:
Historians may well count your presence here as the most significant gathering of Americans since the founding of our nation. Never before have so many Americans, from so many different living conditions, come from so many diverse sections of the land to dedicate themselves to the rebuilding, indeed to the reclamation of their government and their destinies.
Pepper concluded his remarks by declaring that “it may well be that what you begin here may ultimately result in a new social, economic and political system in the United States.” Outside the auditorium a bongo group was chanting “Kill Whitey.” The convention was one of the most ambitious attempts to forge a broad political alliance of antiwar organisations, New Left insurgents and the radical wing of the civil rights movement in 1960s America. It was planned by the NCNP, a co-ordinating organisation that hoped for a fundamental reconstitution of the American socio-economic and political order. Scholars have largely ignored the NCNP, and although the 1967 convention makes brief appearances in the literature it is generally portrayed as a farcical horror show. However, the motives behind, events of, and reaction to the convention reveals much about “the movement” in late sixties America.
I want you to have power because I will have power.
Roscoe Conkling Simmons (1881–1951) was an African American journalist and
lifelong Republican, frequently acclaimed as the greatest orator of his day. He wrote for
the Chicago Defender, the nation's largest black paper, and was later a columnist
for the Chicago Tribune. A sometime advisor on black affairs to Republican
administrations during the 1920s, Simmons seconded the re-nomination of Herbert Hoover
for president in 1932, where “His exit from the platform was blocked by senators,
committeemen, governors and others high in the public life who sought to touch ‘the hem
of his garment.’” Throughout his career, the Colonel, as Simmons was often called,
forged close links with black organizations. On regular speaking tours, he participated in the
affairs of fraternities, churches, and educational institutions nationwide. Simmons was a social
chameleon, on familiar terms with black America's most powerful businessmen and editors,
entertainers and mobsters, but equally comfortable among the working men and women with whom
he gossiped in barber shops and at church picnics. Senators, mayors, and aldermen admired his
talent on the speaking platform and valued his connections to the black community. When white
Republicans needed help in rallying northern black voters, Simmons was the fixer they summoned.
He gladly obliged, out of loyalty to the Grand Old Party and in anticipation of reciprocal
Not many private relationships in history have received as much press attention in recent years as that between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. First alleged in 1802 by the journalist James Callender, who based his account on stories that had been current in Virginia for some years, the affair has since then been debated both in the scholarly community and by the general public to an unparalleled degree. The results of the DNA tests on male descendants of the Jefferson and Hemings families that were published in 1998 have added fuel to the debate. Meanwhile, its focus has shifted. The majority of those who have publicly expressed an opinion on the case, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation which owns and administers Monticello, now seem to agree that a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings did exist, and that it resulted in a number of children. The questions addressed today primarily concern the implications of the affair. What does the liaison between Jefferson and Sally Hemings mean for our understanding of the man Thomas Jefferson, and how does it affect the accomplishments he has generally been credited with? Given the little we know about her, how do we view Sally Hemings's role in the relationship, and how do we come to understand her as an individual living out her life in bondage? What, if any, are the consequences the affair has for an evaluation of interracial relationships as they existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries?
Joe Christmas, the central figure of William Faulkner's Light in August (1932), is in many ways the archetypal character of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, largely because his engagement with so many regional and theoretical archetypes undermines the authority of any one of them while displaying dramatically their cumulative effect as a multiform, created life. Such is the complexity of his presence and role in Light in August and Yoknapatawpha, that he suggests himself strongly as a means of considering the personal manifestations of the county's sprawling network of readings and writings as a theoretical mass. Indeed, for one of the most apparent characters in Faulkner's work, in terms of the strength of his actions and their results, he is phenomenally hard to pin down; this, indeed, is at the root of many of his problems and the problems of those who try to define him. To an extreme extent, Christmas forces us to see creative activity on every level of the fictive process: Faulkner and his reader, Joe himself and the numerous interpreters he has in the novel, and, crucially, in the encounters and tensions between them. As such, he is a pertinent means of comprehending the analogous nature of the writing and reading to be found within Yoknapatawpha with that of the series of novels in which the county is sited. In attempting to understand Joe Christmas, therefore, we must abandon any hope of discovering any singular or defining answers, and engage with him on the dialogic terms he demands.