November 23, 2014

“He who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”


In the 1630s, England’s infamous “Star Chamber” (sort of a politically-oriented version of the Spanish Inquisition) banned the printing or sale of “any seditious, scismaticall, or offensive Bookes or Pamphlets.”

The Star Chamber was abolished in 1641.

But two years later, the British House of Commons passed a new censorship law.

Although it was called a book “licensing” law, it was more about limiting free speech and creating publishing monopolies for politically-connected publishers than it was about protecting the rights of authors (or readers).

Books deemed to be in violation of the “Licensing Order of 1643” were seized and destroyed. And, the writers, printers and publishers of those books faced prison sentences.

This angered England’s great poet John Milton and inspired him to write a “speech” urging more liberal publishing laws.

The full title of the printed version was Areopagitica; A Speech of Mr. John Milton For the Liberty of Unlicens’d Printing, To the Parlament of England. (The complete text is online here.)

Now generally referred to as Areopagitica for short, it was first published, in pamphlet form, on November 23, 1644.

Milton’s Areopagitica (a word alluding to ancient Greek judges) is among the most famous historical documents advocating freedom of the press ever written.

One line in it is still frequently quoted today and included in many books of quotations:

“As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”

Milton’s eloquent words failed to persuade Parliament to change its book “licensing” and censorship regulations. They remained in effect until 1694, 20 years after Milton’s death.

Of course, in the centuries since then, censorship of books has significantly and steadily decreased, at least in the United Kingdom, the United States and other Western democracies.

But even in those countries efforts to ban books from public libraries has continued.

For example, during the first decade of the 21st Century, the American Library Association documented more than 4,000 attempts to have various book removed from local libraries here in the US.

Some modern self-appointed censors want to ban books that conflict with their religious or political views. Some want to block access to books they deem “pornographic.”

Other reasons given for requesting books to be banned from American libraries in recent years include things like sexism, “anti-family” content and uses of the N-word, one of the common complaints lodged against Mark Twain’s classic novel Huckleberry Finn.

In fact, the targets of people and groups who want to ban books at their local libraries include many major literary classics, such as: 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1984 by George Orwell
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild by Jack London

You can read a longer list of examples on the “Banned & Challenged Classics” page of the ALA’s website.

If John Milton were still around to see that list, I’m pretty sure it would make him angry.

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November 21, 2014

“Coffee, Tea or Me?” – the catchphrase popularized by a hoax based on a joke...


Back in the 1960s, when air travel was more pleasant and our culture was less politically correct, airline stewardesses were hot – at least in terms of their popular image.

Most stewardesses were young and single. In the media, they were often portrayed as both desirable and attainable – as women who liked to fool around with pilots, passengers and lucky local citizens at stops along their routes.

The airlines tried to cash in on and promote this image in the mid-Sixties with ads that featured beautiful stewardesses and taglines like “I’m Cheryl. Fly Me.”

Then, on November 21, 1967, the Bantam paperback edition of the book Coffee, Tea or Me? was published, about a month after the hardcover edition had been released by Bartholomew House.

Subtitled The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses, this widely-distributed, wildly successful paperback further popularized the stereotypical image of fun-loving, promiscuous stewardesses.

It also made the sexually provocative phrase “Coffee, Tea or Me?” a familiar saying.

The book was portrayed as a humorous but fact-based memoir co-written by two stewardesses named Rachel Jones and Trudy Baker.

When it was published, two young women using those names went on a media tour to promote it.

Soon, Coffee, Tea or Me? became a national best seller, then an international best seller. 

Three sequels were published and credited to Rachel and Trudy.

In 1973, Coffee, Tea or Me? was even made into a TV movie starring Karen Valentine and Louise Lasser.

Decades later, it was revealed that the real author of the Coffee, Tea or Me? books was Donald Bain.

Bain was working as a public relations man for American Airlines when he wrote Coffee, Tea or Me?  

Thanks to its success, he went on to become a prolific full-time novelist and ghostwriter who has since penned dozens of popular books (including many of the Murder She Wrote novels).

“Trudy Baker” and “Rachel Jones” never existed.

The women who went on the book tour were two actual Eastern Airlines stewardesses, but they were hired by the publisher’s publicity agent to pose as Trudy and Rachel.

It was a supremely well-executed hoax that generated a ton of money for Bain and a memorable phrase that’s still used and lampooned today.

In the introduction to later reprints of the book, Bain wrote that the title Coffee, Tea or Me? came to him halfway through writing it after he heard someone recite an old airline joke that used the phrase.

If you’re old enough, you might remember the joke: A stewardess enters the cockpit of a commercial airplane and asks the pilot, “Coffee, tea or me?” The pilot says, “Whichever is easier to make.”

Bain says in his intro:

"Little did I know in 1967 that the book I was writing with a title lifted from a lame old joke would go on, along with its three sequels, to sell more than five million copies, be translated into a dozen languages, cause anxious mothers to forbid their daughters from becoming stewardesses, spawn airline protest groups, have its title inducted into the public vocabulary and be republished thirty-six years later, branding me the oldest, tallest, bearded airline stewardess."

Speaking of lame jokes, there’s a funny coincidence about the illustrations used on the covers and interior pages of the Coffee, Tea or Me? series. They were drawn by Bill Wenzel, one of the greatest of all adult cartoon artists.

Cartoons featuring Wenzel’s bosomy, airheaded babes, typically accompanied by classically lame and sexist captions, appeared in countless men’s girlie and humor magazines from the late 1940s into the early 1980s. He also did many paperback covers.

You can read more about Wenzel in the excellent book about him that was published in 2000 and in the authoritative posts done about him by vintage paperback and magazine maven Lynn Munroe. You can also see scores of his cartoons in this Google image search.

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November 19, 2014

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – and Lord Buckley’s “hip translation” . . .


On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a brief speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the dedication of a cemetery for the Union soldiers who had died in that bloody Civil War battle four months earlier.

Lincoln’s remarks came to be known as “The Gettysburg Address.”

It’s his best known speech and includes two of his most famous quotes.

One is the opening sentence:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The other the closing line, which contains the oft-cited phrase: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

As noted by many sources, Lincoln appears to have based his memorable of/by/for the people line on words used in a sermon by the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker.

During the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon gave the president a book of Parker’s sermons and speeches. It included a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People,” which Parker delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858.

In that, Parker said: “Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

According to Herndon, Lincoln marked that sentence in pencil in the book before he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

Parker had used similar words in earlier sermons and speeches.

For example, in a speech he gave in Boston on May 29, 1850, he defined democracy as “a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” However, the of/for/by the people formulation was not coined by Parker.

Scholars have found several of/by/for the people quotations that predate Parker’s.

In the decades since 1863, there have been countless other uses and variations inspired by the Gettysburg Address. (See this post on my Quote/Counterquote site for some examples.)

My own favorite adaptation of Lincoln’s address is the hipster version done by the late, great Richard Buckley, aka Lord Buckley.

Buckley performed as a vaudeville-style comedian from the late 1920s to the late 1940s.

Starting in 1947 and throughout the 1950s, he performed as the character “Lord Buckley,” an ultra-cool hepcat who told wild stories and recited poems using the hipster slang of black jazz musicians and beatniks.

In 1956, HIP Records released a recording of Buckley doing his “hip translation” of the Gettysburg Address. It’s included on a CD issued by Rhino in 1993 titled His Royal Hipness: Lord Buckley.

As I write this, there’s a copy you can listen to on YouTube.

Lord Buckley made it clear in his introductory remarks that, although his version is humorous, he had great respect for Lincoln and he believed Lincoln would have been able to appreciate it.

I agree. So, to honor two of my favorite orators, here in a historic side-by-side “appearance” are President Abraham Lincoln, reciting the Gettysburg Address, and Lord Buckley reciting his hip translation...



Abraham Lincoln:
The Gettysburg Address***
 


Lord Buckley:
The hip translation…
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Four big hits and seven licks ago, our before-daddies swung forth, upon this sweet groovy land a swingin’, stompin’, jumpin’, blowin’, wailin’ new nation, hip to the cool groove of liberty and solid sent with the ace lick dat all the studs, chicks, cats and kitties – red, white, or blue – is created level in front. In straight talk, the same, dig what I mean?

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

Now we are hung with a king-size main-day civil drag, soundin’ of whether that nation or any up-there nation, so hip and so solid sent can stay with it all the way.

We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.

We’s here to dig this chop-beatin’ session on the site of the worst jazz blown in the entire issue – Gettys-mother-burg.

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

We have stomped out here to turn on a small soil stash of the before-mentioned hassle site, as a final sweet sod pad for those who laid it down and left it there, so that this jumpin’ happy beat might blow forevermore.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. And we all dig that this is the straightest lick ever dug.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

But diggin’ it harder from afar, we cannot take no wailin’ bows, we cannot mellow, we cannot put down the stamp of the Nazz on this sweet sod, ‘cause the strong non-stop studs, both diggin’ it and dug under it, who hassled here have mellowed it with such a wild mad beat that we can hear it, but we can't touch it.
The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. Now the world cats will short dig, you hear what I say, short dig nor long stash in their wigs what we is beatin’ our chops around here, but it never can successively shade what they vanced here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.

It is for us, the swingin’, to pick up the dues of these fine studs who cut out here and fly it through to Endsville. It is hipper for us to be signifyin’ to the glorious gig that we can’t miss with all these bulgin’ eyes.
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

***NOTE: There are
five written versions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with slight wording variations among them. The version above is from the “Hay Copy,” stored in The Library of Congress. Some scholars believe it is the version Lincoln used, but this is not known with certainty.

That from all these A-stamp studs we double our love kick, to that righteous ride for which these cats hard sounded the last 'nth bong of the bell of their bell. That we here want it stuck up straight for all to dig that these departed studs shall not have split in vain; that this nation, under the great swingin’ Nazz, shall ring up a whopper of endless Mardi Gras, and that the Big Law of you straights, by you studs, and for you kitties, shall not be scratched from the big race.”

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November 17, 2014

Strange but true / There are lines by the poet Lord Byron you probably didn’t know you knew…


Although Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron) is a very famous English poet, few of us recall many lines from his poems.

Byron’s best known bit of poesy is “She walks in beauty, like the night,” the first line from his poem “She Walks in Beauty” (published in 1815).

Thanks to movies like Ken's Russell's Gothic (1986) and the BBC drama Byron (2003), many of us are also aware that Byron had an outrageously wild personal life.

It was crammed full of sex (possibly including affairs with both male and female lovers and his own sister), drugs (opium in particular) and rocky relations with the British Establishment (which he repeatedly poked in the eye with his scandalous lifestyle and radical liberal politics).

As memorably summed up by one of his many lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

In fact, I’d guess more people are familiar with Byron’s reputation than his poetry.

However, there are some words from a Byron poem that are familiar to almost everyone, in addition to “She walks in beauty...”

On December 17, 1823, Cantos XII, XIII and XIV of Byron’s epic satirical poem Don Juan were first published.

Canto XIV contains the lines:

“‘Tis strange — but true; for Truth is always strange;
       Stranger than fiction.”

Those poetic words by Byron are generally credited as the origin of the proverbial sayings “strange but true” and “truth is stranger than fiction.”

So, although most people don’t know it, they are paraphrasing a quotation by Byron when they use those phrases — both of which could aptly be applied to Byron’s life.

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November 12, 2014

The genesis of “the Almighty Dollar” – from Genesis to Washington Irving...


The word almighty, used in connection with God, appears 57 times in the King James Version of the Bible.

Starting in the Book of Genesis, God is variously referred to as “the Almighty God,” “God Almighty” and, most often, simply as “the Almighty.”

The English idiom “the almighty dollar,” which is commonly used to mock the worship of wealth and money, does not come from the Bible.

It was coined in 1836 by the American author Washington Irving, whose best known works include the short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

There is an earlier, similar term. In 1616, the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson used the term “almighty gold” in his poem “Epistle to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland.”

But the more familiar “almighty dollar” first appeared in a travel story Irving wrote about a steamboat trip he took through the Louisiana bayous.

The story, titled “The Creole Village,” was originally published in the November 12, 1836 issue of Knickerbocker Magazine.

Irving was impressed by the laid back lifestyle of the Creole people who lived in Louisiana’s bayou country and by how unconcerned they seemed (at least to him) about making or having money.

He wrote in his travel piece:

“The inhabitants, moreover, have none of that eagerness for gain and rage for improvement which keep our people continually on the move...In a word, the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.”

Near the end of the piece, Irving opined:

“As we swept away from the shore, I cast back a wistful eye upon the moss-grown roofs and ancient elms of the village, and prayed that the inhabitants might long retain their happy ignorance, their absence of all enterprise and improvement, their respect for the fiddle, and their contempt for the almighty dollar.”

I suspect this romantic vision overestimated how content the locals were to be poor.

Of course, in 1855, when “The Creole Village” was included in a collection of his stories called Wolfert’s Roost, Irving made it clear that he had meant no offense — to the almighty dollar, that is.

In a satirical footnote in that book (later included in larger Irving anthologies like The Crayon Miscellany), Irving wrote:

“This phrase [the almighty dollar], used for the first time in this sketch, has since passed into current circulation, and by some has been questioned as savoring of irreverence. The author, therefore, owes it to his orthodoxy to declare that no irreverence was intended even to the dollar itself; which he is aware is daily becoming more and more an object of worship.”

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