Of Adam B. Wheeler and how this youthful con man extraordinaire made the world's greatest university -- and others -- see red.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
This is the story of the world's greatest university, rich, secure, inviolate, invulnerable... arrogant... ripe for the taking.
This is the story of a talented young man, not merely good at lying, deception, prevarication and hoodwinkery... but (though connoisseurs of such matters may cavil) great.
This is the story of a young man so keen to have the good things in life that he was willing to sell his soul to get them... and of parents who so loved their son that they were willing to put him in prison to redeem him.
This is the story of the highest university officials who thought this unthinkable thing could never happen... and who drank deep from the chalice of chagrin and public humiliation when it did.
This is the story of peers who, when forced to confront this tale found that the perpetrator was cute and desirable... and therefore deserving of understanding, absolution, and a date.
This is the tale of Adam B. Wheeler. And I suspect you will find it as riveting as I did for, verily, it is a true tale of our times and, therefore, irresistible and completely appalling. Ole!
Adam B. Wheeler, a boy in a hurry
Adam B. Wheeler, by all accounts, was an average student, neither good nor bad, outstanding in no way, prosaic in all. However, such a boy could dream... and Adam B. Wheeler did so dream... of a place called Cambridge and a college called Harvard, where sport the irresistible jeunesse doree.
Adam dreamt... then despaired... for Harvard looked for the exceptional and Adam was merely average and hence beneath Harvard's notice.
So this average boy took the first extraordinary decision of his life: he decided to risk all to escape from the usual, the hackneyed, the average, the dull, the prosaic. He decided, in short, to invent the vehicle that would give him escape; he decided to craft himself.
Years later, at Adam's fraud trial, his lawyer Steven Sussman, Esq. said "There is no answer to why Adam did this. " But Mr. Sussman, like so many adults involved in this case, was wrong. Sussman has forgotten what it is like to walk high school corridors and be nothing more than one of a mass, faceless, dull, average, forgettable. Adam knew that feeling... and, with growing insistence, was ready to do everything, anything to rise and get out of this situation... to take his place, however wrongly, amongst the best and brightest of his generation. The quickest way to do that, he concluded, was by mastering the potent and practical arts of the fraudulent presentation, prevarication, deception.
And so, Adam B. Wheeler commenced, by diligent study, an ascension of trickery where each step successfully encountered fueled the next. He submitted a plagiarized school essay and winning the prize discovered the ease of deceit, thereby engendering more and greater boldness.
Audacity, he discovered, could be created by successful deceptions, which also delivered a plethora of benefits -- money, social recognition, the compliments of teachers and peers, the thrilling feeling that he was "somebody"... and, all important, further insights into how to rise higher still on his new skills and expanding confidence. Adam B. Wheeler was moving... so fast that goals once unimaginable were now within his grasp.
And so he grabbed.
Proud Bowdoin College with its picture-perfect campus gave Adam a place by deceit. But Adam wanted, had always wanted more. For such damnation as he was willing to risk, he demanded the very best.
So, then, fair Harvard's turn. Adam, now almost through his apprenticeship of deft manipulation, doctored his College Board scores and forged letters of recommendation. These were panegyrics of such transcendence that in a more perfect world they would have moved Harvard to contact him rather than he condescending to contact them.
And so Harvard, confident its summit could not be so breached, became Adam's trophy, too... and, with its welcome acceptance, gave him, he well knew, life's ticket to privilege, deference, and open doors everywhere. It was thrilling, heady... dangerous because the very ease and extent of success caused hubris, the most dangerous thing of all.
Adam B. Wheeler became an Icarus with no Daedalus to counsel and advise. But even Icarus, with such a wise and seasoned advisor at hand, was so fueled by arrogance and the certainty that only the young possess, even well-advised Icarus flew too high, too soon, too close to the sun... and so, his wings melting, plunged into death.
What chance, then, had still-learning Adam B. Wheeler to know, so soon in life, the virtue of restraint? Icarus-like, he chose to fly too fast, too high, eschewing restraint because constant victories were so exciting and gratifying...and, he had proved, so easy.
However his fall, inevitable though he never knew it, was, in the classical tradition, sharp, painful, ironic. Continuing to want the best, he fabricated a fake straight A Harvard transcript and aimed to grab a Fulbright or even a Rhodes scholarship, much desired, achieved by only the elite, amongst whom he insisted to be.
However, grinning fate was at hand with Adam's nemesis.
It was his parents, the good, decent, profoundly appalled creators of Adam B. Wheeler, his mom and dad. To save him, they laid him low, beginning his unravelling with a call to the chagrined Harvard officials whose certainty and carelessness had moved Adam so appreciably forward. They, powered by revenge and sanctimonious moralizing, happily pounced, determined to end his career and make sure This Could Never Happen Again. His Harvard status was rescinded... his trial ensued. His conviction inevitable, he plea-bargained, admitting culpability and accepting restitution for all funds and prizes falsely won. Prison was avoided but shame was not. It was the end of Adam B. Wheeler.
Or was it?
In the blog of the Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper, another stream was unexpectedly running. Here the story took another turn, for many bloggers (not just women either) saw what "Daniel" saw: "He really is totally adorable. He probably gets away with half of his shenanigans because people look into those big blue eyes and see the floppy hair and think he's adorable". Ah, too fetching to be guilty, much less locked away.
It was, under these circumstances, no doubt wise of the judge in his sentencing order of December 16, 2010 to prevent Adam from enjoying any financial gains from his story from books, stage, and screen. It's sad, though, for local boy-made-good Matt Damon, who would have done full justice to this tale of Cambridge, a place he knows so well. However, no doubt in due time, Adam B. Wheeler will find a way around this (temporary) obstacle. I hope so, for I long to see this film.
I have selected for the music to this chapter, Scott Joplin's pep machine, "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899). Pull your hat over your head, go get your best gal, come on down to the court house, where they're playing the "Maple Leaf Rag" and waiting for Adam B. Wheeler to come in from the hoosegow, and flash them baby blues at you. Oh lordy!
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's note. To get the most from this article, add the right music. Of course, it must be "When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbin' along." Written by Harry Woods, it was sung in his inimitable way by Al Jolson in the 1926 musical "Don't forget the doughnuts." Here is the link to the Jolson version. There are many other renditions... all peppy, upbeat, quintessentially American, but none like the Jolson one.
This morning... just moments ago... the world smiled and became a better place....
All of a sudden, I heard my name being called and an excited little fella, full of his news and lookin' good, flew onto a branch right in front of me. He said, and he jumped up and down as he said it, "I'm back! I'm back! And I know you're glad to see me!"
I know that's what he was saying, and he was so energetic, so happy, so ecstatic that I couldn't help reciprocating. I smiled. I grinned. I laughed aloud.
This was the sure-fire harbinger of spring, and he was letting me know, personally and in no uncertain terms. that he had returned from his winter sojourn... and wasn't I glad?
Then he sang me just a bit of his trilling tune, just to let me know he hadn't forgotten how much I like it... and then, with a bow and native civility, suitably spruce for his high business, he flew on, knowing I would understand that he had many more stops to make; where so many people would, in their turn, look up, smile, and be cheered, to go inside and spread the joy. The red, red robin was home, and not a minute too soon.
The world's most popular bird? A distinct possibility.
The American Robin also called the North American Robin (turdus migratorius) is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European Robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the
The American Robin is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. Three states think so well of this bird and its cheering song -- Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin -- that they have made it their official bird. It has seven subspecies, but only T.m. confinis, in the southwest, is distinctive, with pale gray-brown underparts.
What child, or adult, too, in the robin's territory has not seen this completely characteristic sight: our tenacious friend, legs firmly planted, tugging, lugging, pulling worms from the ground? Humans like this purposeful sight; it reminds us robins are just like us: industrious, focused, glad to be up and at their work. Yes, we like that.
The American Robin is active mostly during the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates (such as beetle grubs and caterpillars), fruits and berries.
It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range from its winter range. Its nest is so well constructed that with necessary refurbishing it lasts for years. Robins know just so how to use long coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, all smeared with mud, to give them the look and feel they desire. It is a seasonal delight for us, and perhaps for the robins too, to see them at this work. It gives both satisfaction.
Sadly, robins are not immune from troublesome predators, who see in the well-fed and always well groomed robin, a movable feast, tasty for hawks, squirrels, cats, and larger snakes. When feeding in flocks, robins have developed vigilance and a team approach to danger, which stands them in good stead. The benefits of community work for them... as for us.
A word on robin vocalization
It is the male robins who grab the spot light with their complex and almost continuous sound. This song is called cheerily carol, made up of discrete units, often repeated, and spliced together into a string with brief pauses in between. Robins in different areas have developed regional variations and different delivery times. Artists, they do not like to copy, but enjoy their unique approach to the serious business of song. They sing what they like and render it with style.
Robins in human songs and poems
It seems we humans early became infatuated with robins, who delight in cocking their heads at us, bold, curious, sympathetic to our plight, though we did, for a time, eat them. But they have forgiven us for that lapse in judgement.
Robins feature in literature since at least the 15th century and have attracted notable singers and poets to expound upon their virtues and take off on extended flights of fancy.
The best known of the several songs featuring robins is "When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbin' along." It was the perfect vehicle for the not-quite-yet famous Al Jolson, and he belted it out of the theatre into musical history. Bobby Day in 1958 gave us an entirely different sound in "Rockin' Robin"; the robins were pleased. They delight in their diverse approaches and are sorry Day is hardly remembered today, though his lively tune is.
Poets, too, write frequently about robins, but not always so upbeat as in song.
William Allingham (1824-1889) is maudlin.
""Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin dear!
And a crumb of bread for Robin,
His little heart to cheer."
Robins tell me the pathetic imagery is not to their liking.
They are baffled by Emily Dickinson's poem "I dreaded that first Robin, so." (Her dates 1830-1886).
"I dreaded that first Robin so,
But He is mastered now,
I'm accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though ---"
However, they have accepted the human explanation that no one really understands her poetry. And so the matter rests.
One poet, however, and one poem every robin knows, and wishes you to know. It is this resounding truth from William Blake's (1757-1827) "Auguries of Innocence."
"A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage."
However, let's end as we began, with Jolson. He matches the soaring optimism of the robins themselves, all great American voices:
"They'll be no more sobbin' when
He starts throbbin' his old, sweet song."
And I believe that's true.
About the author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style. To see all of his works go to www.drjeffreylant.com.
‘I’ve been workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right.’ An open letter to a young friend who wants to be a scribbler.
#writer #aspiringwriter #artofwriting
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I saw the way you looked at that photo of me on the back of my first book. I looked so young, well-scrubbed, brushed and combed, so smart with a dollop of profound sensitivity about the mouth, supposing I was ready for anything, not even knowing the questions needing to be answered, much less the answers themselves. ‘While your father, who is the best friend you’ll ever have in this world (just help him show you) uttered the expected pleasantries to ascertain how I was faring on Spaceship Earth and what mischief I was bringing to the world these days,
I really looked at you in that disconcerting way I have.Your eyes, that fleeting look offered nothing less than the first real confession of your young life. And it was nothing less than a revelation and best kept under cerebral lock and key for infrequent reminding.
You saw that picture of me and understood, if only for a minute, that I had once been as young as you are today, as young and determined, fortified by ardor and bold audacity. You saw me… and thought about yourself, as one does. It was no longer my photo on that cover… it was yours and the magic of the photographer’s craft mixed with the total fire power you packed into that glance made for an image to make the indolent world sit up and take notice. You had arrived… you were ready to astonish and awe… you had something to say and the words to say it… and were determined the world should hear it.
And then you heard your so decent, ever practical father say, “Look at the electrical outlets, son. Dr. Lant was just telling me they’re solid gold.”, and he gave one of them a good smart tap reiterating the words to ensure you understood what he’d said. Words per se might mean nothing to your dad, but words that produced the dazzling ostentation of gold electrical outlets were well worth the understanding. The man who could throw away good money on self-indulgent lavishness was a man worth knowing, and that’s a fact. And so I was…
…and so I did what folks blessed with the riches of knowledge must do to justify their existence… they must share, and not just insipid platitudes either, but as much naked, undeniable truth as their youthful auditor can stand, and even more.
For in such a conversation we elders transfer our civilization and learned achievements to the only people who matter at such a time, our successors; the people we must instruct or lose the best of who we are. And so I, notoriously brusque and impatient. resolve to speak to you slowly, with care and thoughtful consideration, but mostly and above all else with the unvarnished truth, so help me, God.
A curriculum for young scribblers, things no one but a successful writer can tell you. Every word in this intimate and necessary epistle between the present and the future which will, and all too soon, be the present some day, is vital. Every word is honest and such may disconcert and even affront you and your painfully young and ill-informed ideas. We must both understand that I know far more than you do; a thought you might not like or even acknowledge…
… this could be construed as arrogance and crippling conceit… on your part. It is certainly insensitive. Still we must both recognize that there is an urgency about our need to understand each other and a deep fear almost palpable, that I (or any writer of my generation) shall forget to tell you something of significance or, worse, that having told you something of such significance, you will not heed it, to the detriment of each generation’s master plan for keeping the whole thing rolling along and of constantly increasing utility and knowledge.
I now take this opportunity to introduce you to another writer, brilliant lyricist, heart touching songster, a master poet, hence meticulous word handler. His name is Paul Simon (born 1947), and if you are round about my age (70 this year) you would have grown up with his shibboleths, whimsies, condescensions, cleverness, never convenient truths, admonitions, larks and bombastic, hummable moralistic rages all just a radio dial away, always master of the searing truth so difficult for so many to see and acknowledge, but critical if we are ever to inhabit the Promised Land, or even find the direction to it, staying thereafter on the adamant and always challenging path.
Simon’s song “Rewrite” (from the 2011 album “So Beautiful Or So What”) should be required reading (and immediately accessible posting) by every writer, aspiring or otherwise. It is about a young writer who confides in the auditor just what his version of the writer’s craft is all about. “Every minute after midnight, all the time I’m spending/ Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right/ I’m gonna turn it into cash.”
But Simon knows, and we elder statespeople of the writer’s craft know, that Simon’s writer is delusional. He’s not a writer, he is a seeker after big bucks. If he can’t conjure what he needs from “where the father has a breakdown”, he’ll do it by substituting “a car chase and a race across the rooftops/ Where the father saves the children and he holds them in his arms. “This isn’t writing.” master stylist and writing pioneer Truman Capote once sniffed. “It’s typewriting,” that is to say bogus, facile, insincere and superficial.
If you’re destined to be a writer, you must do better, lots better, and I am doing you the favor to tell you what that is.
Memorize the dictionary.
Your writing is laboriously assembled and crafted from the words you know. The more words you know and use, the better and more completely you can render human reality… and, make no mistake about it, that is what all writers do, good, bad, or indifferent. We tell what happens to humans… everything that happens; their struggles, their dreams, their aspirations, their love affairs that end in misery, the ones that end in tears and tribulation, the ones that start in love and end in sublimity and awe.
Every word we master and use enables us to tell the more complete and accurate truth about the reality we know and can, in nuanced measure, describe more accurately once we have the words at our command, when we finally understand what love really is and can do.
We can, we must work to do this because it is only when we have the words that we can even attempt to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth…and, it is only when we have truth that writing transcends the mundane and allows us to approach God who is the embodiment of truth and the ultimate destination of every writer whatever story he tells.
On your dawning love affair with words… and the truth they reveal and convey.
How many words do you know today? To the extent to which you mean to write, the correct answer is “too few, far too few.” This is not merely a fact; it is a declaration of immediate commitment and lifelong purpose. If you mean to write, you must here and now pledge yourself to words, for only then can you succeed in achieving your objective.
Thus, pledge yourself to learning just three new words every day. “Just that?”, you say Yes, just that, which means just this.
Open the dictionary (whether online or off; I use both).
Take a 3″x5″ card and write the word you have decided to embrace.
Put it on your tongue, taste it, savor it with the understanding that if you can incorporate it into your very essence you will be a better person, a smarter person, a person with yet another puissant tool, the better to achieve your objective, and ultimately your grand goal. This is how you craft yourself. This is what you must do to be the world-changing eminence you can become… leaving the rest behind, those who might have been but without such effort they will never be.
Now use the word in a sentence or two. Do not just have the word, employ the word. The actual word and its part of speech should go on one side of the card; its definition on the reverse. These are now your flash cards. Treat them with the importance they deserve.
You have now taken the first step. You have told yourself what you mean to do… and you have begun to do it. Now continue. If this is your avocation, your mission, then do it, and it must become your destiny.
Too often #PaulSimon has come across as sanctimonious, condescending, hectoring, superior, aloof and dismissive, but not in this song or this album, to which I listened with the felicity of an open mind and ear. Now in his late sixties, he sounds like an engaging and completely charming adolescent, and for that I say, ” ‘Thank you/ I’d no idea that you were there’ pleased to meet you’ “. Go to any search engine and listen to him all over again.
Musical Note: I have selected as the music for this piece, Paul Simon's song "Rewrite (So beautiful or so what)." Click on the link below to listen and if you are a new or aspiring writer, listen carefully and never-ever include a car chase in what you write. It's the certain sign that you have a long-long way to go before you are entitled to the honorable name of "Writer".
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style.
Darlin’, everybody hustles. It’s just a question of how, when and where.’ A tale of pre-Katrina New Orleans and your business success.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I didn’t have to look for the perfect tune to accompany this article. I’ve known it for decades. “I’m still here“ from Stephen Sondheim’s incredible musical “Follies” (1971). It’s a song about grit, determination, doing what you have to do with the person you must do it with… to move up, move on, and force the big guys at the top to move over. This is the song you listen to on days when the recalcitrant world is just not going the way you want… it’s the song you listen to when you mean to change that… and try again, because that’s what winners do and losers can’t even imagine.
Go to any search engine now… go into a room all by yourself, the better to turn up the volume to the ear-shattering range… and let Sondheim’s incredible music waft you to the place of your dreams… then listen to what you have to do to get there. In the days before Hurricane Katrina, I used to frequently teach marketing communications at the University of New Orleans.
My classes were held on week days downtown and on Saturday’s on Lake Pontchartrain, whose name I loved, coming as it does from a great French statesman who had the infinite good sense to be painted by Robert Le Vrac de Tournieres (1667-1752). I loved that picture from the first moment I saw it… and I loved New Orleans, too, its people, its spirit, its often painful madcappery and self destruction.
When I came to know about “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole (published 1980), I read it with an avidity fed by its macabre history; (the author had to commit suicide before any publisher would condescend to review it; it then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize).
From the very moment I left my hotel room (where I spent the absolute minimum amount of time) adventures were drawn to me, because they knew I was completely receptive to them.
Her name was Yvette…
On my very first day in New Orleans (it was a Friday), I stayed in a big, fancy hotel just off the French Quarter. I never made that mistake again; on my many future visits I always stayed in a little hotel in the Quarter, steps from the wonderful people I met who filled me with admiration for their zest for living and unadulterated joy under unremitting duress.
The first person who met me (note the language) was a person who looked to me like Tinkerbell on something. He walked up to me and said, “Honey, I can tell you are new to La Nouvelle Orleans. Let me be your guide”. I had never, and I mean never, been spoken to like that… but I recognized in these words Fate’s distinctive messenger. I accepted, bought my guide a drink… and in due course, having gleaned without difficulty but with some incredulity that I was a writer, he said, “But you must meet Yvette.” Of course, I must. That too was Fate…
She was, as the French say, a woman of a certain age; that might have been anything from forty into eternity. I knew at once she had that unmistakable quality the Parisians call “chien”. Yes, I know that means “dog”, and its English connotations are not good… but she had, and unmistakenly, that mixture of age, chic, dress sense, allure and brass that forces one involuntarily to look back and be sad that vision is rushing to be with someone else. But this time, perhaps for the first time, this woman with a Past was going to influence my future… and I was ready to hear whatever she said.
The conversation turned to life… it always does in the French Quarter with such people as Yvette. With each drink (and there were many) came another piquant observation that convinced me “real” life and I had only a nodding acquaintance. Yvette knew the vicissitudes of life inside and out… and I was bright enough to pay close attention to her observations, often as diamond sharp as Madame de Sevigne (1626-1696). This one completely arrested my attention:
“Darlin’, everybody hustles. It’s just a question of how, when and where.” It instantly occurred to me that this is precisely the element missing from far too many of my business students and people starting and running businesses generally. They are running businesses; they are not hustling for success as if their very lives were dependant on it… and that was the reason so many of them were barely getting by and wondering why, when they were such good and proper folk.
It’s because they were missing what Yvette had to spare: hustle. In short they wanted success, but they wanted it on their terms… which just ain’t gonna happen.
YOU say you want success, but (for whatever reason) you are not willing to work all the necessary hours it takes to achieve success. SUCCESS says, “You will work as many hours as it takes to capture me… not merely the hours you wish to work.”
YOU say you want success, but are not willing to work evenings, week-ends, even standard holidays. SUCCESS says, “If you want me, you must be willing to sacrifice time you’d like to use for other things. Choose!”
YOU say you want success, but you’ll only do jobs that make you such-and-such amount. SUCCESS says, “If you want the money, stoop to conquer. When you’ve got the money you want, then you can afford to be so picky. But that day hasn’t dawned yet.”
YOU say you want success, but your spouse is doing everything but put you in a cage to make sure you can’t achieve it. SUCCESS says “Sugarbabe, there are more good women and men in the sea than those who’ve come out. Dig my meaning?”
YOU say you want success, but you’ll only look at business opportunities that cost you nothing. SUCCESS says “Lambikins, ain’t nothin’ ever come from nothin’. You’ve gotta invest to get a return on that investment.”
YOU say you want success, but you are not willing to do the necessary homework and due diligence to ensure that what you do delivers the substantial rewards you want. SUCCESS says, “Quit trying to beat the system. People who make money are constant, never-ceasing students of success. They review each and every thing to understand how it works… then follow the directions EXACTLY to achieve success. They are not trying to cut corners, because they know that doesn’t work.”
YOU say you want success but once you get some, you don’t gun it to get more. SUCCESS says, “Every successful person on earth has a success system. They know that if they do X, they will get Y results. Thus, as soon as they are successful and can prove their system delivers the desired results (or even better), they arrange their time and resources so they can replicate their successful system over and over again, each time reaping the expected (and ever increasing) benefits.”
YOU say you will study successful people to see how they do and how they work because you understand that the achievement of success is inextricably linked to studying the successful and making a point of then doing what they do. SUCCESS says, “Well, are you studying the successful? I certainly haven’t seen you around anyone but your low-down worthless friends. The only time they’ll appear in the media is for robbing a convenience store! Dump ’em.”
YOU say you want success on the Internet. Good for you; it’s where lots of people nowadays get big bucks and worldwide, too. SUCCESS says, “You’re all talk and no action You don’t have anyone to help you. You don’t have the necessary tools you need; you don’t have the training. And, as for your traffic, that’s a joke that you don’t know how to fix. Moreover, you have no way to profit 24 hours a day in this demanding 24-hour-a-day environment.
And what of Yvette?…
Let’s just say my appreciation for Yvette and what she taught me did not flag as the hours advanced. And as for her profound insight into the sustained hustling all true success seekers must engage in?… why that has now gone from just Yvette to me… and now from me to you… for my next adventure… and, by grasping this article and its recommendations, for your faster, greater, truly impressive success.
Musical Note: I have selected as music for this article, "When I Die, You Better Second Line" played by Kermit Ruffins, founder of the hellzapoppin band Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Founded in 1992, this is one New Orleans tradition that rode out #Katrina with style and bravado. Don't hold yourself back!
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. This is a story about a fruit so rich that once you start thinking about it you cannot rest until you are eating some... popping them into your mouth as fast as you can, crushing them... letting the richness of its sweet, sweet juice drip down your chin... glad to have all you can eat... joyfully careless about what you waste... for there will always be strawberries enough for you... you are absolutely sure of that!
But as Deana Carter knows, the lush abundance of strawberries is not unlimited... and so she twangs her tale of high summer, desire, a taste so sweet it maddens you and never satiates... producing a wine you can never get enough of... a strawberry wine... a wine that you can never forget... though sometimes you wish you'd never come to know.
And so, I have selected for today's occasional music "Strawberry Wine" by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, released in August, 1996. Nashville record companies found the song overly long, controversial, and not memorable enough. But when Carter sang her heart out about the summer, the boy... the strawberries and their wine... the record won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. Go now to any search engine and listen to it. You'll find yourself remembering... you'll find yourself craving... you'll want their taste again... the berries always see to that.... for they are an imperious fruit.
Her Majesty's strawberry.
On a picture perfect summer day one August I was in Scotland, in the Highlands, at Balmoral... a country castle conceived by Prince Albert, the beautiful German prince loved obsessively by Queen Victoria. For an American used to the White House with its layer after layer of security, Balmoral comes as a rather unnerving shock. "Security" consisted of a single guard, unobtrusive, reading a newspaper. There might be, there must be more... but that's all I ever saw. He barely looked at us.. smiled... and waved. Thus does Her Britannic Majesty tell you she is beloved of the people and doesn't need a legion of centurions to protect her... unlike the president of the Great Republic who always needs more... and more.
And so in due course, my friend and I found ourselves in the magnificent park, expansive, serene, as lovely a place as Earth provides. And in the park I found a kitchen garden... the Queen's garden... and in this garden I saw a strawberry, huge, perfectly ripe, ready to be eaten. And so I reached down to pluck it and enjoy... whereupon I felt a strong hand pulling me up and heard my friend's voice, no longer amiable, but commanding, imperative, stentorian: "Do not touch that strawberry.... that is the Queen's berry!" And I realized what being a subject of the Windsors meant, whilst I was the child of revolution and lese majeste/. And so the uneaten berry remained... for the delectation of the Queen.
Even dukes get only leaves.
I was crushed but as my friend was driving I had to give way, and gracefully, too – or else.
Then I had a thought that cheered me up. Even the grandest members of the nobility couldn't eat of the Royal fruit with impunity. They had to make do with the strawberries' leaves. And no, I am not making this up. A duke's coronet proves my point. When a man becomes a duke (and there are only 24 such people in the entire realm of Great Britain) he is entitled to a silver-gilt circlet called a coronet. It features eight strawberry leaves -- not one more and never a single one less. Thus does the sovereign elevate ambitious members of the aristocracy... and keep her strawberries for herself.
Other gentlemen of high rank and title are also entitled to strawberry leaves on their coronets. And here there is a most curious conundrum: marquesses who rank just below dukes in the peerage of the realm are entitled to four strawberry leaves... but earls, who rank below marquesses, get eight. What can this mean? For peers, as you may imagine, are protocol mad... and scrutinize their inferiors for any indication that they are claiming rank and privilege to which they are not strictly entitled. You can be sure there's some fiddle going on here... but if the marquesses are in a pet of high indignation, they have but to look far down at the viscounts and barons who have not a single strawberry leaf between them... and that's just the way these marquesses mean to keep it -- "Honi soit qui mal y pense.".
Strawberry leaves mean strawberry tea.
Fortunately, there is more you can do with your strawberry leaves than wait for the Queen to make you a duke. That, after all, could be a long time coming since the last non-royal duke was his grace of Westminster, in 1874. It's true that her present majesty when a young woman offered to make Sir Winston Churchill duke of London... but he declined and there the matter rests, perhaps forever.
And you'll agree, this situation could be more than irritating for those who every morning see in their looking glasses, not milord this or the right honorable that but... His Grace the Duke of... resplendent in ermine and strawberry leaves.
These men, well bred for hundreds of years, offer the correct aquiline features, the correct pedigree, with generations of the right fathers and acquiescing mothers, masters of every arcane procedure, the right words and impeccable cravat, these men I tell you are smoldering with rage, aggravation, frustration, worthies all marooned in the wrong time. For them, each of them only the calming propensities of strawberry leaf tea will do... poured in a fragile cup of Minton, delivered by Nannie who always knows just what to do. "Have some more sugar, ducks. There, there, it'll be all right."
And so does Nanny, who loves you best, goes out with wicker basket on her arm, to the places she knows well, where the fresh wild strawberries grow or the sweet woodland berries. Take 1 tablespoon of dried rose petals, 1/2 teaspoon of yarrow, 1 teaspoon of strawberry leaves, a pinch of mint or blackberry leaves. Add 1 cup of boiling water and allow to steep. Choler cannot long exist in the presence of such determined coziness.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).
It was perhaps in pursuit of these ingredients that Emily Dickinson, mistress of opaque language, stepped out, "Over the fence" ...
"Over the fence -- Strawberries -- grow -- Over the fence -- I could climb -- if I tried, I know -- Berries are nice.
But -- if I strained my Apron -- God, would certainly scold! Oh, dear, --- I guess if He were a
Boy -- he'd -- climb -- if He could!"
So, let's leave it like that, for as Deana Carter sang, "It's funny how those memories they last. Like strawberry wine... (when) The hot July moon saw everything" and the strawberries were there, bright and beckoning, just over the fence.
"Bye bye love." A silver framed photograph worth far more than 1,000 words enters The Lant Collection.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Picture if you will what I must have been like in the fall of 1970. I had come across The Pond from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was enrolled as a student at Harvard, and as soon as I arrived in Oxford, I was swept up into the happiest of situations.
Literally minutes after I hit Oxford, I knew at once like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. My dear friend William Powers Ingoldsby picked me up at the train station, scrutinized me carefully, then he flung out his instructions like a general barking orders. "Your hair must get cut! Your clothes are suburban American and absolutely unacceptable! You need black tie for a party I'm taking you to tonight."
The race was on. Could money and just a little time succeed in taking away the paltry East Coast veneer and turn me into an English gentleman? What a challenge! Oh yes, and one more thing. He handed me a copy of "Brideshead Revisited" (1945) by Evelyn Waugh. In this book, a classic, Lord Sebastian Flyte tootles around Oxford in an ultra chic sport coupe accompanied by his teddy bear Aloysius, for all the world to see, lounging in the back seat of the car... giving appropriate levels of greeting to his particular friends, snubbing the rest.
Ingoldsby looked at me upon arrival and demanded "Where is your teddy bear?" I was abashed. Having been somewhat spruced up, I was taken to the residence of Mrs. Margaret Macmillan. As a distant cousin, she took it upon herself to tutor me in the why's and wherefore's of a system designed to be esoteric and eccentric. Yes, designed to trip up all those who could not maneuver all the arcane boundaries and conditions.
Upon arrival at Mrs. Macmillan's residence, we found a summer collation was awaiting. A few minutes thereafter, I had a vision which has remained with me always. Her name was Lady Harriet Bligh, daughter of the Right Honourable Earl of Darnley, in the 3rd creation.
She was lovely, absolutely lovely and I adored her on sight, not just for how she looked, but how she talked. All good aristocrats specialize in creating language that hoi polloi can never master. She swung into the dining room like a perfume touched breeze, expecting to be noticed, expecting to be loved, and I loved her on sight.
Lady Harriet, however, did not have eyes only for me. "I've just come back from Rome," she trilled. "I lived with three gay boys in an apartment on the Spanish Steps. It was such fun... the parties never stopped." I was now smitten, sure that I would never see anything more beautiful in face or words than she was.
Mrs. Macmillan pulled me up sharp. I was not there to pick up aristos. I was there at her behest, so that she could teach me about The Family.
Thus my hostess began moving quickly to her insights into my distant cousin Harold Macmillan (1894-1986). He was the head of the family Macmillan and had fulfilled an exalted destiny. He had served over and over again in top government offices, including Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and more, moving steadily up the ladder towards 10 Downing Street.
Finally, in 1957, he became Prime Minister, serving until 1963 when medical problems intervened. It is stated that he had a prostate problem, which may or may not have been benign. In any event, he stepped down when he did not need to do so. Upon his retirement, he became the Earl of Stockton... the last British Prime Minister to receive a hereditary peerage.
His achievements were laudable and universal. For instance, on February 3rd, 1960 before the South African parliament in Cape Town, he gave what became known as the "Winds of Change" speech. In it, he told the world that the winds of change were blowing over Africa with such turbulence that the British Empire was destined, and quickly too, to melt away, as the independence of Ghana had already shown in 1957. And that, as a result, the great colonial enterprises of France, Portugal, and Belgium would soon be gone.
It was one of the most important speeches ever given to humankind. For Harold Macmillan was saying most of all that this great transfer of power involving millions of people could be done without massacres, massive dislocations, or rancor; that it could be done, and honorably for all concerned.
Mrs. Macmillan touched on the high points of Cousin Harold's achievements, but what she particularly expatiated on in a whisper with a touch of malice was the scandalous menage of Macmillan's wife, Lady Dorothy Cavendish (1900-1966), Robert Boothby (1900-1986, later Baron), and himself, the cuckold.
Nothing shows us more clearly the difference between England and America than how this top level affair was handled for utmost discretion, minimal public notice, and embarassment.
Lady Dorothy Cavendish came from the richest family of the English aristocracy. Her father was the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The noble house had started on its way through the astute manipulations of Bess of Hardwick, one of the shrewdest women in history. Bess often married, always game for another matrimonial knot, so long as the lands that accompany the deal were broad, fertile, and rich.
Over the course of centuries, the Cavendishes gobbled all. Their touch was infallible. The grandeur of their possessions, breathtaking. The Cavendishes had everything, and thought they always would have. Like many women in such positions, her actions were more like a man's than a woman's, and when she wanted something, she got it.
What she wanted during this period of her life was the amorous embraces and caddish behavior of Robert Boothby. He might have been Prime Minister himself. However, he preferred Lady Dorothy's adulterous clutches, but not to the extent of eschewing a string of macho men. Of these, the principal was Ronald Kray, a gangster who (allegedly) supplied Boothby with young men and arranged orgies in Cedra Court, receiving personal favours from Boothby in return. What a muddle.
So let us be sure we understand the players and their complicated relationship to each other... a description like this certainly helps. First, there was Cousin Harold, of the internationally known publishing house Macmillan, the family business. Then, the almost fantastic jump for this descendant of impoverished Scottish crofters to the perfumed sheets and ostentation of Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the only daughter of the 9th Duke.
Thence to her indiscriminate paramour Robert Boothby, who was called "the Palladium", because "he was twice nightly." He was gifted with prodigious energy, and no discretion whatsoever. He brought into the picture Ronald Kray, gangster and the good friend who happily took time from his illegal endeavors to assemble a daisy chain of young males whose high spirits always made Boothby happy. In return, Kray received personal favors from Boothby.
Error or destiny
Mrs. Macmillan, British lady, would not, I know, have pulled back so much of the veil. Her task was to see what kind of Macmillan I was, not to dig deep in the cesspit of aging lovers and their startling concupiscence. Was I to be a member in good standing of the Macmillan clan, or just a young man who passed on the horizon en route to another destiny altogether?
That's when I had to make a life changing decision. You see, I was in those dim distant days English to the very core, quaffing her culture, her manners, her mores, every aspect of her affairs, glorious or tawdry. And in this euphoria, I ran for the most important office in the Student Representative Council in St. Andrews, Scotland, where I resided for a year in 1968. That post was representing The Faculty of Arts, the largest part of the University.
My victory was astonishing and overwhelming, and immediately opened the discussion about whether I should become a British subject. I knew I could gain election to the House of Commons. And being an American, I knew I should become a national figure in record time. What should I do?
The pressure only increased when I was elected to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, another feather in my cap. It is hard for me today from this distance from the event to know just how I felt. But I know this: I might so easily have become a Member of Parliament, even a peer of the realm. Heady thoughts, indeed.
Of course, I went back to America where in short order I graduated from Harvard University with a history degree, well aware that I might have made my own history. Sadly, I never met Harold Macmillan, which would have been so easy to do. Today, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment... but there was some residual shyness which I must acknowledge, though I do not like the notion at all.
However, Cousin Harold entered my life yet again in a very interesting way. After he became Prime Minister in 1957, he appointed Margaret Thatcher to her first ministerial portfolio as the Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. It launched her on her startling world career.
When Britain went to war against Argentina in the Falklands War in 1982, she called upon her mentor, Harold Macmillan, to advise her on how to make war. He did. She did. The victory made her.
That I think was the reason why, when I was invited to the unveiling of her official statue for the House of Commons and told her Harold Macmillan was my cousin, she drew herself up to her full height of 5'5", straight and unyielding as a ramrod, only to say "He gave me my first ministry," a pronouncement followed by a kiss... and may I say, it was not a kiss of symbolism or politeness, but a true kiss, immediately followed by her pulling my head to her shoulder.
The hundreds of people at the London Guild Hall could not believe their eyes, for the Iron Lady's kiss she gave was not the kiss of peace, but a true and authentic one. I owed it to Harold Macmillan.
All of this came back to me today when I placed my newest Macmillan object. It is a thank-you note from Harold Macmillan and the now Lady Dorothy Macmillan, dated April 21, 1920, their wedding day.
The frame I selected for this marvelous piece was purchased at Shreve, Crump, & Low in Boston. The piece is autographed by two famous people committing to a marriage that was impossible for either to keep, and which was only maintained because of the acute discretion and care of the British political and newspaper establishment. It's a beautiful little piece, don't you think, a gem?
I was lucky to find this double autographed memento of two people connected through the vicissitudes of DNA to me, the guardian of this dazzling, lustrous objet d'art. It all came alive for me today, when I looked at this splendid piece and thought how completely unpredictable destiny and deoxyribonucleic acid can be.
The music I have chosen for this piece is "Bye Bye Love" (1957), written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and performed by the Everly Brothers. Its lyrics are telling no matter your social standing.
"Bye bye love
Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness
I think I'm-a gonna cry-y
Bye bye love, bye bye sweet caress, hello emptiness"
About the author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally for his trenchant and lyric articles, now over 1,000 in print, along with 61 books. He brings you inside the story and makes often dull events come alive with color and significance. Be sure to sign up for his list so that you can receive regular information and special offers. You can do so by going to www.drjeffreylant.com.
She made America and the whole wide world smile when we needed it most. An appreciation for the life of Shirley Temple Black, dead at 85, February 10, 2014.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. If I'd been smart, I would have met Shirley Temple Black in Prague August 20, 1968. I was finishing up several exhilarating days in the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia during the waning hours of what was called "Prague Spring." These were the glorious days when Alexander, local henchman of the USSR, played Tennessee Williams, cat on a hot tin roof.
On the most memorable day of all, just before his arrest, Dubcek went onto the great balcony of Hradcany Castle and made the graceful, long-suffering people believe that liberty was at hand... and they screamed their support, their belief, their hope that deliverance was nigh. I shouted, too, tears in my eyes (as they are now) that better days were coming, and soon.
But the subjugated nations of the Soviet dominated Warsaw Pact had other ideas, which among so many consequences would have given me a place in Ambassador-designate Shirley Temple Black's motorcade out of Prague to safety. Thus was the great square before the castle, just a day ago alive with flowers, sprayed with bullets. Where I had cheered, there were now bodies. Where I had exulted with fervent patriots, liberty their passion, there was puddled blood and the acrid smell of death.
By that point if I'd had a lick of sense, I should have been en route home, or at the very least to Vienna compliments of the U.S. embassy. But I was instead alone on the last train out of Prague, trapped at the Austrian border, what "information" there was lurid, frightening, a whiff away from panic.
Thus I never met Shirley Temple or personally witnessed the radiant smile that helped us survive the most difficult of times, uplifting then, eternal now. How had this most "girl next door" managed to charm and inspire us so, to our everlasting gratitude and awe?
Golden girl in the Golden State in the Golden Age of the movies.
One thing distinguished Shirley Temple from the moment of her birth in Santa Monica, California, April 23,1928 and that is the fact that everything connected with this entirely normal event was entirely normal and so things remained, even at the dizzying height of her celebrity. She was the daughter of Gertrude Amelia Temple (nee' Krieger), a housemaker and George Francis Temple, a modest bank employee. The family was of English, German, and Dutch ancestry. She had two brothers, George Francis, Jr. and John Stanley.
Like so many star-struck mothers, Shirley's encouraged her infant daughter's singing, dancing, and acting talents, and in September 1931 enrolled her in Mrs. Meglin's Dance School in Los Angeles for fifty-cents a week. About this time, her mother began styling Shirley's hair like that of silent fiIm star Mary Pickford. Ultimately this "do" evolved into the celebrated 56 curls that were the quintessence of "cute" and which in turn evolved into a multi-million dollar empire on which the smiles never set.
In 1932, this sunny, blissful child ,"bathed in love" as she said, was discovered by a movie agent and chosen to appear in "Baby Burlesks" , a series of sexually suggestive shorts in which children played all the roles parodying film stars.The 4- and 5-year olds wore fancy adult costumes which ended at the waist. Below the waist, they wore diapers with over-sized safety pins. It was smut in top hat and satin garter, coming perilously close to ending the career of America's Little Princess before it even got
started. Shirley Temple plays Mae West, indeed!
(Years later in her autobiography "Child Star", Temple reported that when any of the two dozen or so children cast in "Baby Burlesks" misbehaved, they were locked in a windowless sound box with only a block of ice on which to sit. Her laconic conclusion? "So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche." Nice. More revealing was her final comment on this unsettling matter, "Its lesson of life was profound and unforgettable.Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble." This was exactly what the studios wanted their "stars" to believe, say, and do... Shirley Temple, pre-schooler, was their kind of gal, and they were right. Shirley never let them down.)
1934, Hollywood "Stands Up And Cheers."
It is easy to forget just how grim and frightening 1934 really was. So much had been toppled and devastated by the Great Depression. The old verities, now twelve for a penny, were challenged everywhere, scoffed at, derided, no longer venerated, no longer the white hope of an expectant world.
There was a lot more to fear than fear itself as every ism -- Nazism, Fascism, Communism et al -- made its strenuous, plausible play for world domination. What did the Great Republic offer in response? "People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog, Rin Tin Tin, and a little girl", Mrs. Temple Black often said in her unadorned way as if these few words were sufficient to explain her astonishing success. But more explanation is necessary.
Not since Joan of Arc (1412-1431) had a great nation staked its future on a girl, much less one barely out of rompers like Shirley Temple. St. Joan, Pucelle de France, went forward with the sacred Oriflamme in her hand and the certainty of God's favor.
By contrast, Shirley conquered the world with the famous ringlets, an unbeatable smile, and the warmest possible embrace for... everyone! And this begins to explain what happened next to her, to the nation, and to a world that loved her at once, whatever their race, creed, sex, age, national origin or anything else.
Nothing like it had ever happened before... and it made people everywhere feel good; made them feel happy now and optimistic about what was to come, no matter how gloomy the current situation. She brought hope, and hope was what we all needed, and urgently...
One year, 8 films, just 6 years old.
For all that they prattle on about creativity and art, the titans of Hollywood would give their eye teeth for a film model guaranteed to coin money over and over again. In 1934 Temple became the Most Important Star by providing it. The model, first seen in "Stand Up and Cheer, had predictable, interchangeable parts that produced predictable riches.
A feisty young girl caught in a jam, no parents apparent, adventures galore, all ending in hugs and kisses on the deck of the good ship Lollipop where the minions under 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck shouted "Mazel Tov!", and tap danced around the lovable moppet who had given them all a "happy landing on a chocolate bar."
Once proven, the Hollywood Magic Machine worked overtime to provide suitable properties for their ultra bankable asset. Nineteen writers known as the Shirley Temple Story Development team created 11 original stories and some adaptations of the classics for her. They made hay with a will while the sun shined. It was good for everyone, not least the titans themselves whose studios just managed to avoid bankruptcy by standing on her girlish shoulders; one smash hit after another, each one a more perfect rendering of the golden model than the one before.
Everyone, but everyone went to the movies to see her in action. Here's what President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to say about his main competitor for America's attention, the child who was far more photographed than he was. "It is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles." Rarely has envy produced a more graceful compliment. It was completely deserved.
Needless to say, every element of a Shirley Temple film was analyzed and analyzed again. What should she wear, what should she say, to whom should she say it, how should she talk, sing, tap dance... each calculated decision contributing to her image of naturalness, naivete and tomboyishness.
The most controversial of these decisions involved the simple matter of Shirley holding hands with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a helluva hoofer who happened to be Black. After prolonged discussion, loving everyone triumphed over loving some. Their effervescent dance steps in the 4 films they made together dazzled audiences everywhere and helped move segregated America in the right direction.
All good things...
Sadly this marvelous situation couldn't last, was in fact being undermined by Shirley herself ever single day. Winsome child stars, you see, make the fatal mistake to grow up... and they are never as cute and cuddly when they are loutish teen-agers as they had been. Bad habits materialize (Shirley became a chain smoker) and adolescent sulking makes bad box office. Thus, as her age went up, her appeal went down until, after one wake-up call after another, Shirley Temple tossed in the sponge and announced her retirement. She was just 22.
What happened next defied logic, at least big studio logic.Unlike others of her ilk Shirley didn't fall apart thanks to drugs and arrogance. Instead she remained what she had always been been. For her the shibboleths of Main Street Middle America were always her bedrock beliefs and guiding lights. What you saw was utterly and completely who she was.
And so what she did was what we all do... get married (at 16) and divorced (4 years later)... only to find love and happiness for fifty-four years with San Francisco Bay area businessman, Charles Alden Black, a man who claimed he never saw any of her films. She had three children (one with John Agar, Jr., two with Black), and they had the usual problems.
She went back to work; some projects succeeded, some didn't. There was no mystery, no enigma, no hidden secrets waiting to be revealed in supermarket check out lines. Instead there was decency, patriotism, kindness, courtesy, good humor and most of all love, tolerance, and acceptance, each an attribute which helped make her the effective diplomat she became, for her embassy to the Czech Republic and its playwright president Vaclav Havel, was no sinecure. She wouldn't have taken the job if it had been, for she always valued and extolled the importance of hard work and did more than her share. She might so easily have turned out so very different...
I didn't have to think twice about the music for this article. It was "On the Good Ship Lollipop", Shirley Temple's signature song. Music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Sidney Clare, it was published in 1934, then used in "Bright Eyes." Over 500,000 copies of the sheet music were sold and on any given night in that year of worry and anxiety, families gathered 'round the piano to find uplift in its lively beat and happy lyrics. Thus she shed her grace on we. Wherever she was going, she wanted us all to go... and I, for one, am glad and grateful I did.
Go to any search engine now and remember how this pint-sized ball of purposeful endeavor and never-say-die determination made you smile. No one ever did it better.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Have you ever spent a run of uncomfortable minutes craving sugar? Have you looked high and low, in cupboard and out, trying to remember where you last enjoyed the succulence of sugar, the succulence you crave right now? Of course you have. We have all done it.
This is an article about a man named Robert Hennell I (1741-1811) who, with his extended family, created some of the finest silver during the Golden Age, which lasted from about 1720 to 1820. One of the things which kept the Hennells busy was creating beautiful objects that held precious sugar.
This morning, just before noon, there was a bang on the front door. It was the arrival of a Hennell sugar basket, and I couldn't have been happier, because this little gem, which is 15.6x9.2 cm, 159g, is a relic from the great days when sugar was an imperial product... the future of its plantations the very stuff of the highest level of diplomacy.
Ambitious people left the comforts of particularly England and France hopeful that they could squeeze great wealth under circumstances where most of them were unhappy and indeed miserable. The sugar islands were a metaphor for what man would do to achieve wealth. Nothing about the sugar islands came naturally to the Europeans, who found themselves becoming savage, and doing unthinkable deeds, all in justification of what they had to do to grow sugar. We remember the names of these sugar islands today: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Hispanola, Cuba, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, and more.
Because the owners of these islands and plantations had nothing to do at night but drink, fornicate, write memoirs, and post maudlin letters, we know quite a lot about how people lived in the sugar lands. We know the value they attached to every granule of the white gold called sugar. The plantations were often large, always staffed with black slaves, and sometimes prisoners sent out from Europe, who came to associate sweetness with prison-like conditions... and craved it anyway.
Every Frenchman, every Dutchman, every Englishman, could tell you to the very day how long they would have to serve before they had earned enough money to leave and live at home the way they always wanted to do. The sugar islands were the very metaphor for escape. The inhabitants all lived in the future, only the future; they eschewed the past and disdained the present.
Everyone, yes everyone, wanted to go to what they fondly called home, eager to leave the sultry nights and the tawdry affairs which constituted existence in some of the most important economic territories on Earth. For make no mistake about it, the sugar islands were hell paved with gold.
Imagine if you will your daily coffee with no sugar. Imagine there is no sugar in your favorite tarts, cookies. Imagine that your cakes have no sugar, not even one granule. Imagine that you wake up and suffer the violent pangs of desire because you do not have the sweetness of sugar readily at hand. There can be no candy, no confection, no sugary potations of any kind. You are confronted with a terrible dilemma because you are dependent on a product that diplomats at the highest level argue about.
One of the most glaring instances of this power of sugar comes in the French and Indian war of 1754. In the beginning of this war, the French had stormed ahead with great successes... their sugar supply seemingly confirmed.
Then they stumbled, and the English recovered, to the point where the French were faced with a terrible alternative... they could continue a war which was bankrupting them, or give up the sugar islands which they craved. The terms of this sweetest of wars were stark. Give up the vast expanses of the Canadas, or give up Martinique and Guadeloupe, the sugary jewels in the sweet crown.
M. de Voltaire (1694-1778) was a man with an opinion, usually sarcastic, on everything. No subject eluded his slashing pen, and everything that he touched was tailor made for insult and obloquy. During the course of his long career, he commented on the Canadas over and over again, each time more sardonic and disdainful. His most famous quote on the subject is:
"You know that these two nations are at war about a few acres of snow somewhere around Canada, and that they are spending on this beautiful war more than all Canada is worth."
The French took his point. The Canadas, all the Canadas, went to England, and to a great future within a great empire. The French characteristically chose comfort, and their sweet tooth over an empire which they threw away, following the pointed phrase by M. de Voltaire. Martinique and Guadeloupe were now French, whilst every Canadian since has damned him for his selfish impertinence. M. de Volatire didn't care; he was flippantly irresponsible, tossing away a continent for the sake of a splendid line.
Secretly, of course, all writers would hope for such puissance and such nonchalant brilliance... nevermind whether it's true or not. It is what sustains us. A hack writer could never write such a line. It takes a truly selfish, twisted genius to do so. Superbe!
The victorious English, of course, kept just enough of the sugar islands to sustain every sweet tooth of the nobility, and a gentry which now could not imagine life without sugar, and had extra money to spend on the often glamorous sugar boxes and baskets which were now de rigueur in every fashionable home in Belgravia and beyond.
And so these happy days, were sweet indeed for England. On the other hand, the French of course continued their spendthrift ways, for you see, once you want sugar, you want it and want it yet again. England controlled the sugar trade now; the French got sugar and emptied their pockets to get it.
"Apres moi le deluge"
It was not just the king who thought so, it was the whole nation itself, which insisted upon the expensive delicious over the sensible. From such people, Robert Hennell I made a great fortune. One aspect of his success needs to be clarified. Most silversmiths made sugar boxes, whose keys were attached to the chatelaine's belt. Sugar was so precious it was locked away in expensive boxes with at least two sets of keys. The chatelaine, or sometimes the butler, kept all such keys about her.
Sugar was so precious that not even the smallest grain could be left unaccounted for. It was simply too important. Thus, in novels of the period, one finds the chatelaine currying favor with the young master by giving him a spoonful of sugar, just like in Mary Poppins.
But Robert Hennell I crafted delectable silver baskets, where there was no top and no keys. This innovation was for rich people only, for only the very rich could afford the luxury of missing a spoonful of sugar or more. Thus, as you can see above, there is no lid... there are no keys... just noblesse oblige. The absence of a lid forced visitors to recognize how very rich you were. It was a sign... it simply didn't matter if the servants pilfered the sugar or not. Your host was so rich, so very rich, that he could afford to dazzle you. And so he did.
Robert Hennel I
At all times, when one discusses English silver of the 18th Century, one must recognize one of our civilization's great moments of design, execution, presentation, invention, and that indefinable something that suggests you're dealing with a master. Make no mistake about it – Robert Hennel I was a master.
He started in London in 1763. It was an exciting time to be a silversmith. You were surrounded by people of wealth... the nouveau riche who had it, and the talented silversmiths who catered to their every wish. In every field of endeavor, London reigned supreme. It was more than just a few relatively high nobles to cater to; their was a flourishing gentry, and a nobility awash with cash and desire to spend it to best effect.
For such people, people like Robert Hennel I were tailor made. Hennell was a smart man, a self-made man, a man who knew how to take a bit of metal, which is all that silver is after all, and turn it into magic. On this basis Hennell rose, like so many of his enterprising colleagues.
And so, as the monied classes rose, and desired the thrill and excitement of arriving, Hennell rose with them. However he had a great advantage over most silversmiths of the time... his immediate family and descendants were prodigious... and so one pillar after another of the House of Hennell emerged... Robert II, Robert III, and Robert IV, their influence going deep from Georgian to Victorian. His secret was his genetic genius for producing boys... boys with an aptitude for silver.
And so I have added this lovely little thing to The Lant Collection. Carefully engraved, its design of vegetation is precisely what one needs to see on a wintry day in Cambridge.
Sadly, the England of 1783, where this piece was crafted, was not so happy. The great American colonies were gone. A new nation conceived and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal was being crafted in London at the same time Robert Hennell I was working on this piece. But it is not true that every man is equal, for most people do not have this lovely piece to shine strong. What a tragedy for them... how lucky for those of us who do.
I have chosen for the musical note to this article a bouncy little number called "Sugar, Sugar" (1969), by the Archies. "I just can't believe the loveliness of loving you." Now sugar has a way of doing that to you. What would we ever do without it?
About the author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant has written over 61 books and 1,000's of articles. He makes history interesting, indeed fascinating. He has a way of taking you into the universe he is writing about, and that is why people worldwide love reading his prose. Be sure to sign up now for our list so that you are kept up to date on Dr. Lant and all his various fields of intellect and interest.
I don't know why just the right song seems so often to pop out of nowhere. I mean I hadn't thought of Satchmo (Louis Armstrong 1901-1971) for a good long time. Why then does it feels so absolutely normal, indeed predictable, as the first flakes of our first Nor'easter fell, the grand notes of Satchmo rising at the appropriate time for any snowstorm in the world.
I am standing at the window in my office, The Blue Room, staring out into the wintry scene now developing. There are still tufts of grass that snow has not yet covered, and though there is not at this moment enough snow to justify their presence, the snow plows are here in force with their glaring noises, and air of pomposity. This is the beginning of the blizzard which the avid weather girls now cover, for it is now the day for the cute jeune fille.
For now it is mandatory to deliver weather with sex appeal. They know nothing about weather except what they are told to read from a page. Their job is to make minimum mistakes and look like they are going to a cocktail party even though the time is 6 am.
In days gone by I would at this time of the morning (just about 9 am) be dressed in my adorable yellow all weather outfit, the outfit which when wet smells of dog. I had just enough time before school to make exuberant snow angels. My brother complained as his snow was not always neat as mine always was. I always had first dibs on the pure snow and never failed to make the boisterous model. The incidental fact that this irritated my brother was an extra benefit not to be underrated.
The snow is falling faster now but cannot beat the wild range of remembrances of snow days gone by. It seems to me my life was divided into just two days: winter with its promise of the bountious snow and ice skating on the local pond; summer with scorching temperature and pink bodies soon burnt to the consistency of French toast. Seen one snow day, seen them all, you might say, but you would be wrong, because each day of snow creates a different montage. They may look the same, but there are no two flakes in the universe that ever are the same.
My mother served as Grand Marshal of the snow parade. She knew where everything was to be found. "Yes, Jeffrey, check the hall closet under the green blanket". No request when it came to snow was too insignificant to produce the desired effect.
A lot of bubble gum could return a sled to service. How many mothers, particularly those of the millennium, could do as much?
She was young and vibrant then. Winter suited her, and Jack Frost nipped at her cheeks and created a thing of joy and beauty.
Although she had a job out of the house, she was always there to provide the breakfast she knew we would need. For once out of the house we were energy machines, paying no attention to anything but the snow which piled up outside our back door.
"Mind the ice!"
The trek to school -- for we walked everyday except the worst -- revealed new landscapes. Familiar objects were no longer familiar, but radically changed. The snow provided us with a whole new vista; one that we must touch, not just see. Otherwise, we wouldn't believe. And so the tracks of my mother's children went one way and another, thereby proving we were great explorers, not put off by the millions of pounds of snow falling from the unremitting gray sky. We defied it.
Neighbors we might not see for weeks at a time, we would take time to see as the snow fell and the blizzard blew. We all wanted to know what the old folks were doing (for any one above our tender age was certainly old no matter how young they might have been). These neighbors came out even as the first snow fell, so that they could clear the path the falling snow would obliterate in just minutes.
These folks would have to rely now on shovels and patience. Sometimes my mother would say "Knock on Mrs. Jenkins' door. Make sure she has heat and she is alright." In such ways my mother demonstrated what the word "community" really meant. Does anyone stop today to find out whether Mrs. Jenkins is comfortable at 88 and frail? Probably not. If she is lucky, someone from Community Services may take a moment to look in, but more often the line is busy. "If this is a life threatening emergency call 911."
I think Mrs. Jenkins preferred the red-cheeked banshees who sharply tapped the glass and rapped rat-tat-tat, smiling the broadest smile. She would have been delighted to invite us all in for cocoa with little marshmallows, which every marshmallow connoisseur knows are manifestly superior to their bloated bretheren.
I see a hearty traveler on the sidewalk walking diligently, no doubt to his perch in the great University which scoffs at the very idea of Nor'easters. After all, it has lived through centuries of snow and ice and wicked contours which soon become nothing but mud and housewives shouting with asparity, "Wipe your feet!"
It is a wonder to me, after so many years, and so many deserts of mud, especially those creating themselves particularly for my birthdays, that these housewives did not become murderous. A kind of patience, restraint, even sainthood was expected. It was the hallmark of the lady of the house that she did not, as a matter of course, take a rifle off the wall and blow the encyclopedia salesman to kingdom come. We knew they were capable of it; their restraint, therefore, was heroic.
As we neared the school, I sometimes thought of my paternal grandfather, Walter. He was the dark horse of the family. A contractor, he helped build the local schoolhouse... grand in a full display of continental brick work. You see my grandfather, Germanic to the core, liked things that last. And so today, when he is hardly even a memory to anyone, that brick schoolhouse he built stands solid, as good today as on its inauguration. Yes, he was a dark horse. His metier was doing, not talking, and I admire that trait today more than I can say.
I think another word is owed to Grampy. He would sit in my grandmother's kitchen each day... his chair never touched, much less sat in by anybody else. Each day after four would see him in his special chair. It was not patriarchal. It was made of aluminum, with a seat easily cleaned. This chair was as important as the Pope's, and was the scene of far more judgments rendered ex cathedra.
Brief, laconic, rendered with a certainty that must be God-like... Grampy dictated the course of world events. There was nothing shy about his delivery. There was nothing shy about where he stood. And if he liked you, you got a double portion of his favorite potation. I often tried to advise his guests that one such drink was enough, but they never believed me until it was too late.
I would arrive in this scene of unadulterated family about the time my uncles appeared (for sometimes they worked for my grandfather and sometimes they did not); no one ever questioned my right to be present; no one hesitated to make some deflating comment if they thought that perhaps I was gaining an unfair advantage. Of course I was, and I dished back just as good as I got, probably even better.
The snow continues to fall. The weather girls are making one silly comment after another. Do we really need to know the temperature in Springfield, Massachusetts, or how many tree branches have fallen off in Arlington? So much information, so little that's important.
I prefer my grandfather's way of handling it. He'd listen, he'd grunt, and everyone knew precisely what that grunt meant. No one outside this careful circle ever learned how to interpret what to us was so clear and manifest.
I had one more trek to make, "But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." The snow might abide... the drifts might grow... 'til my trusty bicycle was forced into the middle of the roads... dangerous as the sun fell low on the horizon. I was going home, and though I didn't necessarily know it everyday, it sometimes did occur to me that all the to'ing and fro'ing, all the high flying and the low flying, were nothing compared to a single word just four letters long, "home". It is a pity that I learned this lesson so late in life. Perhaps we all must be significantly detached before we see what we had, what we have lost and can never regain.
And so, in my mind's eye I see myself and think on this, my 70th birthday, how fortunate I have been. I have kept more promises and traveled more miles than most. "You'll never know how many dreams I've dreamed about you." It has all been a long, long time.
It is hard not to be seized by the wintry scene playing out before me. It is the cause of so many reflections. But when you add Satchmo to the mix, it is overwhelming indeed. That is why I have chosen "It's Been a Long, Long Time" as the music for this article. Written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, it was released in 1945. You cannot get through it without the insistant tug of memory, because that after all is the important thing... the thing that defines you... and you must not resist it.
About the author Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Over the past 50 years and more, Dr. Jeffrey Lant has written 61 books and thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics. He is the greatest lyric writer of his age. Don't just read the books and articles, enter into their flow, for they will touch your heart if you allow yourself to have a heart.
To see Dr. Lant's complete ouevre, go to www.drjeffreylant.com. You will be reminded of just how powerful the English language can be.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.