"Green grow the lilacs, all sparkling with dew." Haunting, evocative, elegiac, the lilacs return to Brattle St... Cambridge, May 7, 2011.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I was out early today. Even before dawn's first light, I was up and about and soon on my mission... to find the first bunches of lilac, and drink in their unmistakable scent with the pristine dew.
What passersby (not too numerous so early) must have thought to see the flowers held against my face, though gently so as not to crush them, I cannot say. I did not care. The lilacs that I love to excess have returned to Cambridge... and with them every memory of this most evocative of flowers and their flagrant, haunting fragrance.
Beloved of Russian empresses...
One day the great Empress Catherine of all the Russias (1762-1796) went walking in her garden of Tsarskoe Selo and found a branch of lilacs, so perfect she was sure it would be picked to amplify the bouquet of some lovelorn lad to his much desired lady... so she stationed a soldier next to this lovely branch. In 1917, a soldier was still stationed where the plant no longer flowered or even existed. But then Tsar Nicholas II wasn't surprised... for his wife Alexandra, called "Sunny", loved lilacs to distraction, too... and created a room in the most palatial of palaces where everything was in a shade of lilac. It became, in due course, the most famous room of the empire...
My grandmother Victoria had this same tendresse for her much loved and coddled lilacs. She craved their scent and their colors, too, in every shade of purple... heliotrope, mauve, violet, lavender, puce, and all the other variations. Even my grandmother's perfume, Muguet de Bois by Coty (launched 1941) featured lilac... and lily-of-the valley. Proust-like, that scent brings her back... as does my mother's Chanel. Lilac is like that. It will not be denied and can never be resisted.
And now the lilacs are in rampant bloom along Tory Row on Brattle Street, breathtaking, sensual, glorious. The Loyalists would have remembered them for all the rest of their long lives; the merest hint of their scent would trigger the painful memories that come with unending exile.
A few facts about lilacs.
You may be surprised to learn (I was) that syringa (lilac) is a genus of about 20 to 25 species of flowering woody plants in the olive family (Oleaceae) native to woodland and scrub from southeastern Europe to eastern Asia.
They are deciduous shrubs or small trees, ranging in size from 2 to 10 meters (6 feet 7 inches to 32 feet 10 inches) tall, with stems up to 20 to 30 centimeters (7.9 to 12 inches) in diameter.
The leaves are opposite (occasionally in whorls of three) in arrangement, and their shape is simple and heart-shaped.
The flowers are produced in spring and are bisexual, with fertile stamens and stigma in each flower. The usual flower color is a shade of purple (generally a light purple or lilac), but white, pale yellow and pink, even a dark burgundy color are known. Flowering varies between mid spring to early summer, depending on the species.
The fruit is a dry, brown capsule, splitting in two at maturity to release the two winged seeds that have within them everything that produces the lustrous magnanimity of the lilac and commands your eye and reverence.
The poets irresistible attraction to and understanding of lilacs.
Poets, including many notable poets, saw lilacs and wished, in words, to produce the lyric quality of their scent. The scent, the unforgettable scent, swept them away. It was exuberant, excessive, a warning to the dangers of immersion in a thing so powerful, so rich, so cloying; a thing that draws you away from the little duties and miseries of life and whispers of pleasures you want beyond reason. Too much of this unalloyed richness gives way to madness... and exultation.
Amy Lowell (1874-1925) knew the potency of lilacs. She wrote
"Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England...
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom...."
"You are everywhere.
You were everywhere."
Lilacs know their power and seduce you with it, every wind wafting the scent into your brain and memory. They offer you the same terms that a beautiful woman offers the man distracted by her -- none at all, just surrender. Lilacs are the sorceress of blooms, enchanting, elusive, sharing their magic for an instant... leaving you longing for what you fear you will never have again.
The flower of elegy, mourning, decay, death.
Lilacs are the flower of remembrance. After the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and the entire structure of tsardom, the ex-emperor and his wife Alexandra found themselves prisoners of the new regime, forbidden even to walk in the magnificent park at Tsarskoe Selo. Alexandra looked out upon an ocean of lilac, once hers, now as distant as the moon. Her haunted look, beyond mere dismay, touched the heart of a simple soldier. He gave her a sprig. His officer saw this as "fraternizing with the enemy" and had him shot.
Amy Lowell, too, saw lilac as an accoutrement of death.
"The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
and let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems."
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) also knew the immemorial association between lilacs and death, and he gave us the simple words that bespoke the greatest tragedy:
"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring."
He picked a sprig of lilac and thought of the passing into eternity of Abraham Lincoln, "Night and day journeys a coffin." It is unbearably painful for him, only the simple words – and the lilac -- with its promise to return -- giving solace, for that is within the power of the lilac, too, which Whitman knew and relied on:
"Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death."
But this cannot be the last word on lilacs, not this.
Think instead of Lynn Riggs' 1931 play "Green Grow the Lilacs", the basis for the libretto of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," a musical about real people and their real concerns. They brought lilac seeds with them to beautiful their often difficult lives because they couldn't bear the thought of life without its beauty, comfort and serenity. And I cannot either.
The first, the last, the epic journey of RMS Titanic, and you are there. Some centennial observations.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. You know Titanic. She is the most famous ship that ever sailed... and the most famous ship that foundered, listed, and sank. It is this ship I ask you to board with me now, having cleared your mind of everything you know, every thought and impression you have ever had about this great ship, and so recapture the state of mind you would have had when you boarded her at Southampton, England 10 April, 1912. For you are weighing anchor towards destiny... but do not know it, no one does.
The Ritz afloat.
The White Star Line was an enterprise that dreamed dreams of magnitude, dreams of floating palaces, of luxury that made you catch your breath and hurry back to record what you saw in your diary, which your grandchildren would savor, a treasured heirloom forever. They brought the very idea of awe to their work... and it was nothing but the very truth, a source of pride to an empire that existed solely because of its command of the seas.
Born in Belfast.
The idea for Titanic and her sister ships RMS Olympic and RMS Britannic commenced in mid-1907 when White Star Line's chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, met with American financier J. Pierpont Morgan, the man who controlled White Star Line's parent corporation, the International Mercantile Marine Co. These men had everything... and so, of course, they wanted more. And they had the means to get it.
They insisted, they were adamant, Titanic must be the ultimate in every single element, every feature, every component, the dernier cri, the ship for which even the word acme was not good enough.
Thus they hired the renowned firm of Harland and Wolff, giving them carte blanche, with but a single command: the result must be the best, unrivalled, unexampled; colossus in the age of colossi, the incontrovertible symbol of this greatest age of man and his wondrous works.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, was stinted for Titanic, and if six men were killed constructing her, with 246 injuries overall, 28 of them "severe" (meaning loss of limb), why, what did that signify... great enterprises have great costs.
Launched 31 May, 1911.
Of the many proud days in Belfast, this was amongst the proudest for this was a day when the intricate skills of the men of this turbulent city were on best display. Project supervisor Lord Pirrie, J. Pierpont Morgan and J. Bruce Ismay were joined by over 100,000 jubilant, God-fearing people who cheered to the very echo the ship, its sublime grace, the officials who dreamed, the designers who imagined, and the small army of workers who constructed this masterpiece.
So you who read of these happenings longed to be part of Titanic and her gilded future... rather impulsively buying two tickets, a present (rather expensive to be sure) for your wife, for an event you would never forget, of that you were sure.
Thus you found yourself in Southampton... head high, walking up the gangway... where you heard the unmistakable sound of a fashionable waltz, "Songe d'Automne"... it was exquisite... if a trifle sad for such a glad occasion. Yes, haunting, beautiful... mentally noting you would ask the band to play it en route when you wanted just the right sound for a perfect evening...
Thus did the great ship sail on... with no one imagining that she would soon become renowned not for every aspect of nautical expertise, but for hubris, arrogance, ineptitude and for an end that would rival the very essence of Hell itself.
11:40 pm 14 April, 1912. The end begins.
At 11:39 pm of its final night afloat, the magnificent Titanic was a glorious vision, lighting heaven itself, steaming to a ceremonial entrance in New York City, the happy berth of 2,223 people, including the creme de la creme of European and American Society, names you knew, admired, envied.
Just one minute later, suffering a glancing blow from an iceberg whilst maneuvering to avoid it, Titanic began its transformation into a metaphor, not for man's greatness and technical abilities but for his littleness in the face of unkind and unrelenting Nature, becoming a matter of myth, not merely history.
"No, 't is not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 't is enough, 't will serve." ("Romeo and Juliet").
And so it did... a mere gash in the pristine hull an invitation for the gelid waters of the ice-flecked Atlantic to rush in, mocking the high works of man, drowning them without any effort at all, their merest motion enough for the gravest consequences.
In such times, the very best and the very worst of man's behaviors are evidenced... how one demands that half-filled life boats be lowered into the calm sea, the only chance to live, while another, unbidden, gives up a place of safety in that very boat, to ensure the life of a total stranger. The remaining moments on doomed Titanic evince all, telling evidence of who we are and what we may do at anytime, to anyone, for good or ill.
Then came the moment you had to decide...a single moment that shows who you are... and determines what you must do. The moment is charged with importance; it is a life or death decision... and you must make it now, decisively, without regret or recrimination, and absolutely no opportunity to alter it, even if you could.
"Darling, get in the life boat."
And so you, like every other passenger traveling with a loved one, must act. Must do the right thing, although that thing may cost you your life. And this action must be prompt, for the great thing that was once astonishing Titanic is sinking faster now, its frightful end apparent, and with it your fate.
Thus, you look into your beloved's eyes and realize that your lives are now separating forever... and the pain is more than you can bear. Then, as her life boat is lowered, you remember a token, sacred now, in your pocket. A locket... with pictures of you both and the single line, "Remember, 14 April, 1912", the happy day you meant, a lifetime ago, to memorialize... Giving this is the last time you touch her hand... a fact she will never forget and will cherish forever.
Now trapped on the sloping deck, you search your soul for whatever comfort you can derive... and resolve not to die here, passive, but to jump to your fate. As you do, you hear the band still playing; the song you first heard upon boarding, the "Songe d'Automne", now not merely a waltz... but a hymn for a ship, an era... and now... for you.
Author's note: Of all the people who sailed on Titanic's only voyage, just 710 survived. The remainder heard the valiant band play on, until it reached its final arrangement. There is good reason to suppose that was the "Songe d'Automne". It was composed by Archibald Joyce, the "English Waltz King". We shall never know for sure, because the entire band went down with the ship.
Click here to listen and think on its pathetic history and its final performance on the fateful ship Titanic.
'My name is Friday. I'm a cop.' What we must do to ensure our safety in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombers and other manifestations of ruthless terrorism. Some thoughts.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. We Americans are at our best when we have identified a pressing problem, then set about the task of solving it, no matter how difficult. Right now, the problem is terrorism... what it is, how it works, the people who perpetrate the outrages... and what we as a nation and as individuals and potential victims must do to ensure that they are stopped dead... and never be allowed to practice their malicious craft ever again, against anyone, anywhere.
You might think such a high and strenuous goal is just too difficult, indeed that it is beyond the capacities of mere mortals. But you'd be wrong. Terrorism is manmade and as such it can be minimized, curtailed, and through assiduous, unflagging effort wiped out by man. A man like Joe Friday.
"Just the facts, ma'am."
Joe Friday is arguably the nation's best known cop. He was created and played by American actor, television producer, and writer Jack Webb (1920-1982) on "Dragnet". The series first ran on radio (1949-1956) and television (1951-1959) and again in 1967-1970. There was also a theatrical film (1954) and a TV-movie (1969).
Why was this show with its unmistakable opening of blunt words and blunter music so popular? Because it dealt with real people ("the names have been changed to protect the innocent") and solved real crimes. Jack Webb was so perfect in his role that when he died in 1982 he was buried with full police honors, a rarity for someone who was not a policeman.
Friday was all about getting down to business, identifying problems, brainstorming solutions and using the incomparable Yankee brain power to defeat the wicked. He was thorough, indefatigable, high minded, and honest. In other words, he had what was required for success, including the absolutely necessary skill of being willing to grow, listen to others, and work together for the common good. He was never a show-off with a "hey, look at me" mentality.
This is the kind of person we need at the front lines of our great war against terrorism, for this unadulterated cruelty knows no barriers, no limits, and absolutely no humanity at all. It is the very definition of evil and must be treated as such. Its perpetrators are pernicious vermin, and deserve neither charity nor forgiveness, for they give none to anyone. Sadly, we are not yet fully equipped to deal with this mobile menace of ingenuity and increasing expertise and sophistication. And the extent to which we are disorganized, inefficient and disarranged is the very measure of our danger and risk.
"Russia alerted US repeatedly about suspect...."
The headline in The Boston Globe of Wednesday April 24, 2013 was sickening, alarming, enraging. Here's why:
"Russian authorities contacted the US government with concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev not once but 'multiple times,' including an alert it sent after he was first investigated by FBI agents in Boston, raising new questions about whether the FBI should have paid more attention to the suspected Boston Marathon bomber..."
What's worse, this is just the tip of the ice-berg on intelligence and overall communications break-downs. The agencies on which we spend billions and billions of dollars are, day by day, shown to resemble the Keystone Cops, to the extent that with the Boston Marathon case we may be seeing the development of the greatest intelligence failure and scandal in the entire history of the Great Republic. And remember this; when intelligence agencies fail, people die... regular ordinary people, including a disproportionate number of children and young people. Indeed the word "scandal" is not remotely satisfactory to label this botched mess showcasing one problem after another that makes them anything other than intelligent. This is a crisis of the first magnitude.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the Solons of the capital are and will be tripping over each other to identify and solve such problems; that is until something easier and less demanding arises. Thus, Solon or not, I have something to say on these matters. And Joe-Friday-like I intend to make my comments and recommendations, terse, pointed, and do-able.
"C'est la guerre."
In 1953 a brilliant historian named Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote a brilliant book which ought to be required reading for anyone connected with the war business, which is a veritable army of people as General and President Dwight David Eisenhower once memorably reminded us. Its title is "The Reason Why" on the famous charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War (1853-1856) when the best cavalry on Earth rode directly into the unremitting and pitiless cannons of the Tsar. "C'est magnifique" said the French commander Pierre Bosquet, "mais c'est pas la guerre."
It was one of the greatest blunders ever and it was the result of one communications and strategic error after another, as the bleeding remnants of this foul-up confirmed. When you run your "intelligence" departments this way, I remind you: people die.
War must be treated accordingly and never regarded as merely a job. That ensures error.
2) To establish in the minds of service personnel and citizens, the significance of their work give it a name, a name like World War III. Right now terrorism is regarded as a tragedy, to be sure, but one which is episodic, occasional and random; something perpetrated by highly efficient but small cells, mostly fighting under the leadership of extreme (and therefore limited) religious leaders and zealots.
Instead, it needs to be recognized that each supra-national cell regards itself as a sovereign power, not just a faction. Thus, as with the Axis powers in World War II, people with quite different points of view and objectives band together for the sake of victory. Pseudo-sovereigns they may be, yet they ally as nations do, future problems to be resolved later. Thus, to find a single terrorist is to find a useful link to still others. Since these alliances are forever shifting due to constantly changing circumstances, when we discover such links and the people who create and profit from them, we must move swiftly to eradicate the menace, for to wait is to hand them an unnecessary advantage... and thus our people die.
3) Share intelligence, fully and promptly. A war, any war, is far more important than any of the hundreds of thousands of agencies, organizations and personnel it takes to gain victory. Sadly, you'd never know it from the unending "turf wars" waged by bureaucrats and officials who are supposed to be on the same side and work together for the common good.
The Boston Marathon case is a perfect example of what happens when information is hoarded, rather than shared. After having stolen two cars, the suspect Tsarnaev brothers seized the driver of one. They unaccountably let him go but kept his cell phone. When the police "pinged" that cell they got the direct bearings of one, and therefore inadvertently, the two get-away cars. Had this godsend not occurred the brothers might well have slipped out of Massachusetts. Authorities now believe that iconic Times Square in midtown Manhattan was their next target.
The consequences of an incident there defy imagination. It is now clear that lack of sharing information gave the brothers their opportunity to outrage... and that this failure might not have occurred had the sharing of pertinent details been the rule, rather than the exception. When that is the case, innocent people, in the wrong place at the wrong time, die.
4) Unified intelligence. Right now, when coherence, centralization and efficiency of intelligence should be the objective, there are at least five "watch" lists, competing, overlapping, duplicating. These five include Terrorism Identification Datamark Environment (TIDE); Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB); Selectee List; No-Fly List and Disposition Matrix. Each has its own criteria for getting on or getting off a given list. Thus the anomaly arises that a suspect may be on one list, but not on another.
This was the case with Tamerlan Tsarmaev... and as a result people died. Experts must find a way to solve this problem, but I can give them a suggestion to start. Don't allow self-interested bureaucrats to persuade you that their department is necessary and that their list and information should be kept for them. Instead come up with what should be on ONE list and arrange matters accordingly.
5) Test the system. Then re-test. Every human system and enterprise is subject to human error and so is this one. Only here there is this major difference: when errors occur, people die. That is why there must be constant, thorough and thoughtful testing of every aspect of this system. There must be no "sacred cows", but only people who need cutting-edge tools and intelligence and are willing to do the necessary to get them... for you see when our side offers responses which are sluggish, outmoded and inadequate, people die. Thus, we must test, review test results, and improve. There must be no question about this, and no one's interests must be allowed to trump the ongoing training and perfecting.
Last Words... for now.
As a citizen of Cambridge, Massachusetts I watched in horror and disbelief as these events took place in my very neighborhood. It is not too much to say that they changed me forever. Thus, I tell you this. In World War II and our other conventional wars, we could mark victories and defeats with pins on a map. "Roumania allies with Axis," then "Roumania surrenders." You knew where you were and what was happening.
That is not the case with terrorists.
When the discussion focuses on terrorism, the focus must be on what hasn't happened. It is not just that such silence is golden but that with each day that goes by we are successfully meeting the unending challenge of terrorism and the villains who use it to humiliate, humble, frighten, and cow us. To keep outrages to the absolute minimum we must understand that this war has no end, no boundaries, no flags flying marching garlanded through the streets of even the smallest hamlet. No indeed. This war demands constant, unflagging effort. Otherwise, good people will die and our great national purposes be obliterated and defeated by a few... to the lasting detriment of the many. That is why defeat in this war of stealth and subterfuge is unthinkable and why we must work together Joe Friday-like, for only therein is victory and the peaceful and harmonious life we all want so very much but can so easily lose in an instant, mayhem we might have stopped... but didn't.
'And the ladies they will all turn out.' How war came to Main Street enlisting every single one of us. Some thoughts.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. I was restless the evening of April 18 and so did what I almost never do, turning on the television for some light entertainment. This, however, was not destined to take place. Indeed, there was to be nothing light and no mirth at all for that day and the excruciatingly long day to come...
I saw the feature that so often distinguishes late night newscasts, video feed from a crime scene, the place usually being somewhere in the inner city no sensible person would ever go to, much less in dead of night. Sirens blared. The sharp reds and blues pierced the night. Police swaggered, made the kinds of adamant gestures which look so officious and ridiculous but which we card-carrying members of the middle class are glad at moments like this are on our side.
Yes, it was the usual late-night distraction that would be buried on page 8 or so in tomorrow's paper. Nothing to do with me... not even the caption on the bottom of the screen: "MIT security officer killed." But from then on, through the long night and the longer day that followed everything was direct, personal, everything to do with me.
The reporter noted the crime scene as Vassar Street, Cambridge while the on-screen video showed a great fortress-like structure that was a building well known to me. There the overflow of my pack-rat life is stored... copies of my books and articles, my father's letters from the Pacific front in World War II, both sides of the voluminous correspondence when my mother and I were working out the rough patches in a relationship where loving each other did not keep us from saying the sharpest, often wounding of words, she in her copperplate hand, mine rushed and illegible.
Such things and so many others were the crucial artifacts of life, things to be stored in boxes now, to be considered at leisure, some day, I promise... It was all in the building behind the reporter... and I glanced at the time, just about 11 p.m. Life was about to change forever as the total war of our times swept me up, imperious, without thought of who I was, what I had been doing, no matter how important. My desires, wishes, priorities counted for nothing... and neither did yours.
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
The lyrics to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"' were written by the Irish-American band leader Patrick Gilmore. Its first sheet music publication was deposited in the Library of Congress on September 26,1863, with words and music credited to "Louis Lambert", a pseudonym Gilmore unaccountably used instead of his own name. The copyright was retained by the publisher, Henry Tolman & Co., of Boston.
Determining who actually composed the music is much trickier. There is, for instance, a melodic resemblance to an earlier drinking song entitled "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl". Someone named J. Durnal claimed credit for its arrangement, though not its composition. This in turn had a distinct melodic resemblance to a tune by Robert Burns, "John Anderson, my Jo", which harked back to a tune of 1630 entitled "The Three Ravens,"... which harked back to... but you get the picture.
The important thing is how popular it became both with Confederate and Union troops. And no wonder... it's a grand marching song... the music urging tired feet to go farther and never waver... while the lyrics remind them of the delights of home, theirs soon to savor and enjoy, just one more battle... just one. Before continuing, go to any search engine where you'll find several fine versions. Listen carefully to lyrics which are now ironic and as far away as ancient Troy.
"The men will cheer and the boys will shout."
This was how wars were fought in those days... and, until just the other day, in ours. We knew who the enemy was. We knew where he was. We knew what he was fighting for and we knew he had a martial code of honor which would (at least occasionally) cause him to think twice before doing the unspeakable. To be sure, it was a code more often honored in the breach... but it did exist, if only in one Geneva convention or another.
Thus did our much loved troops dress up in battle kit, self conscious about the last kiss to girlfriend or wife; these held back the tear that will surely fall when alone just minutes from now when the beloved is gone, perhaps forever. Fathers hugged the children they would not recognize when they returned; they grow so fast.
This was the war we knew... cheers on departure, certain victory for our cause was always right and our resort to warfare always reluctant and unwilling... then loud, sustained, enthusiastic cheers when Johnny comes marching home.
Now that kind of antediluvian warfare is only a thing of memory, resemblance, and wishful thinking... for now we do not go to war in full regalia, flags flying, the music brassy, suitable for the high affairs of the Great Republic. No indeed. For now we do not go to and return from the war. That war comes to us and confounds our lives more than even the greatest of battles... for we are all of us fully engaged in this new kind of undeclared, limitless war without any rules and procedures whatsoever, war where the first casualty may well be a child of 8, his life sundered and blown to bits by malefactors whose movements are secret, stealthy, and murderous, utterly without meaning, honor and the respect soldiers in the other wars might give their worthy opponents.
But this new kind of war is entirely different, insidious, taking prosaic objects and situations, turning them into the weapons of fear, anxiety and random death. This is a world where evil can lurk behind young and boyish faces and demeanors. Where there are no military helmets, but rather baseball caps, worn backwards in approved adolescent chic. This is a world where the element of deadly surprise always belongs to the attackers and thus can be wielded with merciless accuracy and acute precision.
This is a world where the elements for the bombs made to maim, dismember, and destroy are no further than your local hardware store, for amidst the waxes, sprays, paints and screws are the essential tools of pitiless catastrophe and the reverberating fear that paralyzes a great city whilst causing millions more worldwide to wonder if this could happen to them, knowing full well in their anxious hearts that these purveyors of death could already be about their cruel, selfish work; perhaps the surly young man who scowled when greeted today... worse, perhaps the handsome young man who smiled, offering a friendly quip or passing pleasantry. You see, the agent of mass pain and suffering can so easily wear the most amiable of faces.
These are the aspects of our new kind of war, the war, here now, here for the rest of our troubled, fretful lives.
"Stay in your house. Do not open your door."
I had never received such a call before, but I feel sure I will get others like it in the years ahead. I had decided to go out and see what I could see. But I never got the chance because the Cambridge Police Department called to say I was to stay at home and to make sure I didn't let any strangers in. They called this lockdown; it turned me, and hundreds of thousands of others, into a legion of the interned...
And so all of us, surrounded as we are by a plethora of communications devices, used them to feed our anxiety and disbelief. On the firing line as we were, we listened intently for each piece of often inaccurate, incomplete, and alarming detail. Like any good journalist, we examined, reviewed, made deductions, listened to more suppositions and soon-to-be-discarded "facts"... veering first one way, then another as events unfolded; our attention rapt and disbelieving that so much was happening, so close, so unaccountable, in my city, my neighborhood and on my very doorstep.
It was surreal, unforgettable, riveting, frightening, the new reality of our challenged, jittery, insecure times. And it can all take place anywhere at any time against any of the peoples of this Earth, people whose race, creed, color or disposition are deemed unsuitable by some "superior" group whose first target is killing the very idea of diversity. For in a world which must necessarily value, strive for, and cherish the diverse; they aim for just one truth, theirs, and as such are willing to go to any length, destabilize any society, engage in any barbarity to secure their way. These are the absolutists of world politics... the lordly thugs who hold the rest of us and everything we value at risk... they offer hate, violence, an agenda of unmitigated evil and unrelenting malice.
Against such a litany of horrors all the good people of this planet must stand united for our credo, tolerance for all, acceptance, humanity, diversity, inclusion and always love, for without love there can be no lasting peace... and lasting peace is what we strive for. This way, the way of unity and community, is the only way. Otherwise random death and the awesome apparatus of response will be our portion... Thus to save our freedom we are forced to give up our freedom, losers whatever happens. We are already on this perilous road, right to be apprehensive and filled with grave foreboding and growing alarm.
"And let each one perform some part/ To fill with joy the warrior's heart/
And we'll all feel gay/ When Johnny comes marching home."
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. To experience the joy of spring in New England and in its first and principal city since its inception in 1630 you must have faced and survived the very real rigors of the New England winter as only the genuine New Englander can do... resolute people... determined people... people for whom the very idea of tenacity was created.
These are the people who know the rancor in the bone rattling chill the old Atlantic has thrown at its stubborn inhabitants each wintry season since there were such inhabitants; daring them to spend yet another exacting season on this inauspicious pied-a-terre the Pilgrims audaciously decreed would be their Godly capital. And so fearing nothing but God they began, little knowing how many challenges there would be, but bolstered by the living God facing each one as it came, no matter what it was or how it seared us.
These are the kind of people who in this often grim, demanding geography built their Shining City on a Hill... these are the kind of people who sustain it. For we are a stern and rigorous people who have grown up sometimes daunted, sometimes misguided, sometimes stumbling, but always advancing... renewing... improving; even when our heart is breaking... as it most assuredly is breaking now.
For the musical accompaniment to this article, I have chosen one of the most soothing and uplifting compositions because I feel sure composer Aaron Copeland meant it especially for moments like now. This is "Appalachian Spring", and I recommend you go now to any search engine and listen to it carefully... for if your soul has no immediate need of it, there is sure to come the day when it will.
This radiant achievement was first recorded October 7, 1945. It caught the sound of the Great Republic as she moved out of the massive burden of war and took her great place on the world stage as the one certain hope of every person who loved freedom and all its works.
One of the first recordings was made in Boston, the uneasy, restless, aspiring city where every corner, every location, every crooked, narrow lane revealed another aspect of what this place and its people had done for themselves as they forged revolution here in order to secure liberty everywhere. The world took note of Boston and knew that here important things had been done... things which might benefit them.
And so the unyielding land of New England and its principal city changed the world while admonishing the good people everywhere to see what they had done to shape the better life, urging them to do as much for themselves and to do it as well.
Into this great city of liberty came people determined to use that liberty to confound that liberty, wreak grievous havoc, and inflict mayhem and pain on a perfect April day when spirits were high and joyous and all New England was garlanded by the flowers of springtime we had all been waiting for. These people came to kill... and they did kill. Came to maim... and they did maim. Came to show what purposeful menace might do... and they did show.
Thus a mother heard in disbelief and horror what her son called on this April day to say, "Ma, I'm hurt real bad." He had lost both legs to the people of purposeful menace. Then shortly after she learned a second son had lost both his legs, too, her dismay now complete. In this way the bright promise and happiness of the day died... to be replaced by disbelief, lamentation, and wonder that the work of so few could disrupt so many, so completely, and create so much pain. The universal question was 'How could this happen?"
Of those killed, I felt an immediate affinity for Martin Richard. Why? Because he was a boy who wrote improving messages on poster board. What's so important about that? Just this: I was such a boy myself and spent happy world-changing hours crafting my posters with Magic Markers like Martin, just so: school election posters, powerful lines taken from a well-thumbed "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations", the ones designed to decorate my room (often featuring the strongest possible warnings to a younger brother who wanted in when I was determined he should stay out) and, of course, the pieces de resistance, master works laboriously created, to be displayed in presidential elections, then kept proudly for years in my clothes closet, until they, tattered, still venerated and profoundly admired, were in shreds.
He was just 8 and his latest beauty, hand-lettered as usual, said a mouthful, "No more hurting people. Peace." It was festooned with those hard-to-make symmetrical hearts beloved of the very young and the very young in spirit. The peace symbol anchored the bottom standing alone in majesty, the better to make sure people knew it was a thing of the utmost significance and Martin's credo.
Of course, as many different colors as the young inventive mind could conceive, were riotously used to create this baby. He reckoned that such an important message called for such an abundance of color as the world had never seen. Thus he applied his choices with verve, lavishly, restraint unthinkable.
In perhaps the last picture of Martin he stands before the world, a wisp of a lad, no heavier than a sack of potatoes as my grandfather used to say, his smile a tad sheepish, proudly showing the message that was the heart of his endeavor.
He died in an instant, his mother and sister were severely injured. And so the youthful advocate for what the world needs now became a mangled thing of blood, disfigurement, and death.
Thus he touched the world and became the very symbol for what we so desperately need and can never have enough: peace. One hopes for the existence of God, if only so that Martin Richard can abide through eternity in serenity with the peace he urged upon us all... the peace he had for himself such a little time.
4:21 p.m. Eastern. "Are you alright?"
The voice at the other end was the best of friends. "Turn on NPR at once. Are you alright?" And so the great matter was brought with urgency to my attention, by someone who watches out for me. By that time, the cell phones of the world were overwhelmed by the calls of the near, dear and concerned, all having but a single refrain: are you okay?
In such ways does love work... and if there was malice that day on the part of a handful, millions demonstrated love. And as these calls were made, so numerous that even the most sophisticated systems were overburdened and crashed, the people of Boston did what they have done since 1630 in the face of every calamity: they said a little prayer, dusted themselves off, and helped the sore afflicted as best they could until the great resources of the great city could be summoned and brought to bear.
For this is the city of the living God, as eternal as the Eternal City itself, the city the Pilgrims wrought from the inhospitable and daunting terrain, the very definition of fortitude, endurance, courage and unflinching resolution. This is the city which gave the men of '75 the ideas that changed the course of world events and the lives of millions, including generations yet unborn.
We are the people of Boston, current custodians of her universal renown. And if our pain today is sharp, deep, and acute, we have not bowed before the unfolding tragedy. That is not the way of this place and its people even under the greatest duress. There have been great tragedies in these hallowed precincts before; there will be great tragedies again. We shall rise to every occasion, just as we have risen to this one. In this way we honor our ancestors and provide the righteous example for those who, in the fullness of time, will take on this essential burden of our greatness and humanity.
Tragedies like this one must be remembered. Yet remembrance is difficult in a society where tragic incidents come thick and fast. We want to remember, we try to remember, but all too soon we cannot remember... and something essential is lost to us and our posterity.
Let us learn from London, a city of important incidents, people and events, all memorialized by blue historical plaques reminding us of what transpired in these critical places, each a thing which might well be forgotten if no conscious effort was made to remember. Yet remember we must for the consequences of negligence put all our crucial memories at risk... and this is unacceptable.
The past is prologue, and we must do everything to ensure that its significance is never lost. Otherwise, the senseless deaths of Martin Richard and his companions for eternity will be unmitigated, their oblivion making a great tragedy more tragic still; thereby further blighting these once perfect spring days in the city of godliness, revolution, and unceasing incident.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
The older I get, the less current holidays mean to me... and the more those from years, even decades ago. I see the vivid Easter displays; (these days pharmacies seem to have the most and largest.) But these festive aisles and windows, the bags of candy, and, of course, the seasonal cuddlies do not speak to me. They merely mark the calendar as just another day.
That was not always the case, but years and unrelenting death have so thinned the ranks of the significant players in these annual rites that the dead now significantly outnumber the living, of whom, graying, I am yet one.
I do not mind giving up this present holiday; there is little enough to lose.
But I would mind relinquishing my memories of Easter days gone by, for there are my beloved ghosts, each and every one as vital in my mind's eye as quick, not long defunct.
And because these folks are even more precious to me now than then, I wish this Easter to remember them through the medium of eggs, colored eggs, hidden eggs, Easter eggs.
My mother's Easter eggs.
Without any effort whatsoever, I see her in the way the narrator in Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town" (1938) saw his characters and Granite state denizens. She was young and beautiful then, far, far younger than I am now. She worried, as so many women before and since, about whether she was a "good mother" because she had outside work responsibilities. When I was much older, she would ask me if I minded her being away when I came home from school. I was too young to know just what I should have said. So, I stumbled through an answer I hope gave comfort, but must doubt.
Perhaps it was some scintilla of this guilt (I cannot be sure) that drove the yearly Easter Egg Project, or perhaps it was simply that this messy business was sure to make her laugh. I was there but perceived little; today I see much more, all impressions secure in my mind's eye.
I quite recall we'd go to Woolworths, first, and then our local general store and post office, run by Mr. and Mrs. Mackey (I never called them anything other); folks who knew all, but were most times (gratefully) discrete.
Both places would have had the Eastern egg coloring kit (by PAAS?) that was de rigueur for this annual kitchen table rite. This kit had the necessary color pellets, special "swirl" colors, too, for advanced egg coloring.... and a host of decals with seasonal themes. We only used the secular ones. Some of these were certain to be later found in my brother's hair and clothes; he tried to do as much to me, but I was older and wise to his tactics. He can hardly laugh about it even now...
At first. there was strict order and efficiency. Uncolored eggs here; table spoons for these eggs for dipping. Hot water (mind it needed vinegar) on the stove... pellets here... decals there. This sensible ordering of the event was gone in an instant, submerged in uncouth behaviors, reachings around and over, and of course clever sibling sabotages.
And always and again, laughter that firmly established more than any query ever could, that yes she was the best of mothers, how could she even wonder? Thus, some telltale signs of the battle still table top, the now colored eggs packed up (except a few) and driven purposefully to Grammie's house, where we rambunctious and much loved, visited most every day. Grammie had a task for these eggs... and we knew partly what it was, for these rituals were yearly done.
Each year, Grammie and Grampie, their four adult children and their spouses, would mastermind the family Easter Egg Hunt. There was never any question where it would be held. And while it was not so grand as the nation's Egg Rolling at the White House, it was as meticulously arranged and punctiliously celebrated.
All aunts contributed the necessary elements -- colored eggs of course (always the subject of high scrutiny and devastating comments sotto voce); home-made cookies (the honor of their sex ensured we never had others); and mountains of Easter candy that started with chocolate rabbits and ended with jelly beans. Then circled back to chocolate again. Excess was the order of the day.
Children were encouraged to play outside. Important doings were underway... in the kitchen and in the "rec" room below where the men had the task of determining the hiding places in and out... and carefully writing each location down. These men might grumble... but they never missed this crucial aspect of the affair. They would have been there anyway; we all ended each day in Grammie's house and kitchen perforce, no invitation ever needed.
At the appointed hour Easter Day, after church and a heavy, formal luncheon which lost nothing of our solid living Hanoverian ancestors, the grandchildren (and that meant every last one of us) were gathered at the starting point in the garage, where on ordinary days Grampie was not above showing off his latest Oldsmobile and his automated garage door. His children, as yet, had neither.
The grandchildren's Easter eggs.
Grampie and his two sons and two sons-in-law including my father were in charge of Order and Efficiency. This year would surely not be a repeat of what happened last year. But it always was...
The children were all sternly and solemnly admonished to put what they found in their Easter basket and, Above All Else, to let one of the hovering adults know Where They Had Found It.
As always, the organizing theory was excellent... but the reality ensured the customary mass chaos (and much laughter).
The youngest grandchildren could never recall where they had found that chocolate bunny, which was already absent an ear. The oldest grandchildren (inspired by me, the oldest of all) were practised predators. We knew all the best hiding places and went to them like a bat from hell, erasing all order as we went.
Such perhaps was the truest indication that we were a family, each and every one of us.
Unwilling to end this giant game of hide and seek, the grandchildren hid and re-hid the eggs (now mostly broken and inedible) and candies, too. There were only to be found when one of the uncles was sure to find in humid July in the toe of his winter boots, a very jaundiced and pungent Easter egg artifact. So, that's where that one went....
No Easter, however, would have been complete without my father taking us to the feed store and reviewing the new colored chicks and ducks (red, blue, purple, green). We were allowed a half a dozen or so; before we left Grammie's we got to show our less fortunate cousins What We Got... pets all, none ever to be eaten.
Now all this exists only in my mind's eye... but, because I've summoned this story, it is all quite clear, so many fond details not lost, but here after all and after all these years.
And so I say to every parent, grandparent and distant aunts and uncles, too: this day, live this day and hug every memory close. Each one is yours... and precious, too; not one to lose. It all starts with a colored egg, my privilege too long forgot, to do this day, in remembrance of all, each one alive in me as I in them.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
You know John Lennon's famous song, don't you (1968)? Everyone does. "You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world..." but at Harvard, not too fast. Literally word by patient word.
The issue at the World's Greatest University is this. The alma mater of the University, "Fair Harvard", was written in 1836. It is to be sure a sluggish hymn, played to the dewy-eyed undergraduates when they arrive, and to the misty-eyed when they graduate... when they take the Harvard brand into the real word.
The do-gooders have got the usual bee in their bonnets. They want to change the last line, which reads "Till the stock of the Puritans die." This implies, so say advocates for change, that when the last Puritan dies, Harvard will cease to be the notable institution it has been for centuries.
So important is this issue, the President of Harvard Drew Faust has created a commission titled Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. This commission is currently in the midst of removing the Puritans and entering the diverse and nonjudgmental world of their imagining and constant search.
This commission, like all kangaroo courts, is not asking the University community whether they wish to continue with an historic song, known by every Harvard student and alumnus... no, they've already decided that the line about the Puritans must go.
They've appointed themselves the re-lyricing folks. They don't like the line, they don't want anyone else to like the line, and they certainly don't want to ask the University community whether it wants to keep the line. Democracy, you see, is for other people, not Harvard poohbahs.
So far, these pocket revolutionaries have announced that all the University community is invited to participate in changing the last line of the alma mater to bring it into contemporary usage... never mind that the song in question has been on the lips of virtually every Harvard student who matriculated since 1836. "What's wrong is wrong," they say. And truth must prevail against all comers.
This situation is tailor made for Voltaire (1694-1778), "History is a pack of lies... the living play on the dead." Time and other precious resources are being utilized this very minute to "improve" what needs no improvement. But what is worse, is that these people, with all their exalted academic titles and colorful gowns, are dealing with literally one word. At this rate, it will take a millennium for these valued academics to fulfill their wishing. Yes, so far, their one "achievement" is proclaiming a contest in two parts.
Part one: a new, more "correct" and contemporary wording. And also, even more extraordinary, to select new music, including such suggestions as hip-hop and electronic. Now our lucky graduates can move the committee so that at future graduation ceremonies, new students can bugaloo, or perhaps reggae. Never let us ask what is appropriate for the ceremony, let us only inquire whether every strain of music has been given the chance to modernize the high festivities and events which characterize the life of a great university.
In addition, they have created a website called the "solution space", which is designed to circulate their fatuous and jejune views.
But now I have something important to say to this committee and to the University community. If the goal is to diminish the reputation of the Puritans, then they are certainly going about this matter completely incorrectly. Sixty people were appointed by the president to this commission. Sixty people for one word... Puritans.
However I am like Louis Antoine de Saint-Just (1767-1794), the "Angel of Death" of this situation... the beautiful revolutionary. He changed the debate for the direction of the French Revolution in one sentence... that "One cannot reign innocently: the insanity of doing so is evident". And on this basis, they guillotined his Most Christian Majesty, Louis XVI. It is now time to strike a blow for this nonjudgmental, diverse, all inclusive revolution. To take it out of the hands of people who think removing a single word is triumph, and to get to the heart of the matter.
That single word – Puritans – shows us that we remain enthralled to our ancient heritage when so much of this palaver does not enhance the debate.
In 1898, Emile Zola wrote perhaps the most famous declaration ever written, "J'accuse…!", where he changed the debate on the Dreyfus Affair (1894), a shameful exhibition of the abuse of power. But Zola and his unforgettable language changed a culture, and aroused a great nation. Now it is time to do this with Harvard, a name universally known, a destination that thousands of young people all over the world chart from an early day, and go to bed every night in hopeful expectation that they may have the great good fortune of going to Harvard and being a part of its community.
Towards this end, I suggest with complete humility this truly new idea: the name Harvard must be stripped off the University. I am not being facetious, or cantankerous, or quarrelsome; I am presenting the solution to the problem of diversity and inclusion.
Let us commence by looking at who this John Harvard was and remember that this is the man who we revere and venerate as a founder and benefactor of the great University and its worldwide reputation and dealings.
John Harvard was born in 1607, and died in 1638, just 31 and a half years old. He bequeathed half his extensive property (over $2 million dollars in today's currency) and a great collection of his books. Since 1636, no one has bothered to go beyond the resource giver and look at his views, prejudices, and positions which so embarrass us today.
In a way, of course, the University was enormously fortunate that so little is known about John Harvard, and even better that virtually all the books that he donated to Harvard, most of them on theological subjects, were destroyed in a fire in 1764. These books would have told us some inconvenient truths about this man, his mission, and what he wanted for Harvard.
Fortunately, the Puritans were epistolary masters, and fastidious diary keepers. If we cannot see into the heart of John Harvard, we can learn a great deal about how he thought by examining places and people he engaged with. At the commencement, the members of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, themselves Puritans, said in their remarks upon accepting his bequest that “He is a Godly gentleman”, in other words that he was a great and good Puritan, and they like him more because they all agreed.
Here are some things which in their eyes made all Puritans great, including John Harvard.
1) They condemned to eternal damnation and the fires of Hell anyone who was not saved. Since only Puritans could be saved, it was a select group. John Harvard was part of it, and he participated in the strongest possible measures to exile and remove those who did not concur with his select opinion.
2) The Puritans were anti-Roman Catholic. The Bishop of Rome was their particular nemesis. Within Puritan communities, Roman Catholic clergy and missionaries were all evil and could be literally thrown off the land and killed because they chose to follow God in their way, which no Puritan could ever allow.
3) They were anti The Church of England. It had not purified itself of Roman influence, and as such was anathema.
4) They opposed Quakers and Baptists, several of whom were hung by the neck until dead… because they chose their way of godliness, and the Puritans could never agree. Tolerance was not their metier.
5) They oppressed women. Running through the Puritan literature, adhered to by John Harvard, women were to be kept for breeding and cleaning… and of course to provide ongoing ecstasy upon demand to their lord and master. John Harvard believed this, because every Puritan believed it.
6) John Harvard believed as every Puritan believed in demons. He along with other Puritans was confident that the demons could do most anything to hurt and harm, malign and destroy any life… and therefore the strongest possible response was not only necessary, but essential. And so other colonists went to the stake, so they might expiate their sins in the fiery flames of Hell and eternal damnation.
The Puritans did not believe in changing their treasured opinions. Those who advocated change were wrong now, wrong then, and wrong forever. They did not need committees of the well meaning, they had God, and He was sufficient. The sad truth of this matter is that it is the very paucity of information about John Harvard and his views that have made him such an attractive founder. There is no opposition to John Harvard because so very little is known about him.
It is altogether fitting and proper that the famous statue in Harvard Yard is not of John Harvard at all, but someone quite different. And so, I charge you Danielle Allen, University Professor, Co-Chair of this commission, and all your 60 members, to drop the petty crusade against a single word and to go to the heart of the matter.
Change the name of the University. Remove it from every degree. Remove it, root and branch, from everything touched by the name John Harvard. Your committee members may well blanch at this startling and long overdue recommendation. If you truly want diversity and inclusiveness you can have it.
Of course some narrow minded people will say things like “They don’t care about inclusiveness and diversity. They didn’t come to Harvard for that, but for degrees which lift them high and above others who attended other, less rigorous educational institutions.”
The very name John Harvard and everything that is known about him and his Puritan colleagues demands that it be excluded from every aspect of the University and its history. And to those who complain I say this: the motto of this great institution is still Veritas; so cease focusing on the insignificant, and focus instead on cleansing Harvard of Harvard.
"You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead"
Click here to listen to the song.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It is the beginning of April. A lovely time of year here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I am writing you. The sun is brilliant; leaves are bursting out all over. It is going to be 82 degrees out today; it was just 30 last week.
These rapid fire changes are, of course, the norm in New England. Temperatures may drop sharply yet again, but the odds are we are now on the necessary path to deliver spring for sure.
I ought to be outside. I’m 70 now, you know, and I’m supposed to be retired. Instead I found that word almost ludicrous in the extreme. There is no rest for the weary.
One reason why is the stack of auction catalogs which I cannot quite reach by leaning backwards in my desk chair. Every day now, the best that major auction companies (and some small ones too) can offer is just about a finger’s length away. They taunt, they point, they arrange themselves in a seductive pattern on the floor, they teeter in makeshift towers which are anything but stable, and fall frequently, giving me yet another look at the bounty inside… bounty that I want.
I thought I’d write this article for you, to show you what you must do if you plan on becoming a major collector, or even an episodic superficial one. There are steps you must take. There are actions and procedures you must learn. As always, you must restrain yourself; it’s part of what being a connoisseur is all about. Focus on the best. Never be or remain satisfied with anything other than quality.
For many years now, I have regarded April, when the first major auctions take place, as the true beginning of auction season. The auction schedule is clogged for this month, May, and June. The loveliest things in the world go on the block during this period, and must sell now before the summer descends, when the unrelenting heat crushes our desire to sit inside and make learned remarks about things we probably cannot afford.
The first thing you need to know about auctions in this season or any other, is that homework is required. Collections are built through assiduous effort, constant viewing and reviewing of objects and offers, constant communication with your stable of experts, and frequent attaboys to keep your spirits up and, as they said in the Revolutionary War, to keep your powder dry.
Upon receipt, review your catalogs at once.
True connoisseurs, that is to say people who play the game better than anyone else, want information early, thorough, and precise. Thus, when a new catalog arrives (that could well be every single day), you must sit down and glance and skim every page. When you get good at this game, this review will only take 10 minutes or so.
As you skim, mark each page that contains something of potential interest. The best thing to do is when you have a little bit more time, create bookmarks by cutting up scrap paper and keep a jar full of them so you’re prepared when the catalogs arrive.
This preliminary review gives you a sense of what may become important over the next days and weeks before the auctions. The goal is not to make a decision now, it is simply to give you a bird’s eye view of everything that is coming up at the auction houses you follow.
Thanks to contemporary universal communications, you may have auctions you’re interested in in Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, New York, and other major cities, whereas in the olden days, before the internet and computers, you probably couldn’t follow more than one auction house in one city at a time. These days it is perfectly common to follow both major auction houses (Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Dorotheum), and some localized regional houses.
Let’s be honest with each other: this is not easy to do. It takes sustained focus, and a willingness to do what is necessary so that you will not be intimidated when you look for goods in Sweden or Madrid. The worldwide communications revolution has quite clearly fundamentally altered communications, and they have made it possible to learn about, study, and acquire the lots of your highest interest. Craziness extra.
Once you have accomplished your preliminary review, consult your bank book. As I so well know, being a connoisseur with a desire to achieve a splendid collection of international importance selected from the widest variety of goods, you must follow up your preliminary review with a more thorough secondary review.
It is a wise idea to organize this review by date. Remember, when you’re dealing with many auction houses worldwide, your life will be like a popcorn machine, with new sales popping up all the time. Thus, organize your catalogs in chronological order. Don’t just mark the objects you’re interested in, mark the objects you need help with.
I can recall one instance, for example, when I was purchasing Swedish silver sugar bowls from the 18th Century and before. Some of the best silver of this kind was produced in Stockholm, which was then a major political force in Europe. The silver bowls produced in Sweden, however, did not feature elaborate family coats of arms, or other heraldic markings. I was curious, because the objects would have been so much more dramatic, at least in my opinion, with these engraved devices. But it was not the custom to engrave silver as they did in every other major European power. Chacun à son goût.
So… review all your catalogs… mark the items you are interested in… and be clear on the sales date for each catalog you’re interested in. Here is where strategy comes into play. You may see, as I often do, a lovely item on page 1, that is not quite as lovely as an item on page 6, that is not quite as lovely as an item on page 52. Connoisseurs have a constant dilemma. Should you nail down the first item in an auction, even though that may constitute all your available resources, or should you pass on the first item to get to the second, doing the exact same thing to get to the third item. This is a conundrum, a puzzle, an ongoing test of your strategic abilities.
Very few of us have unlimited resources. We must, like I have done throughout the years, work harder, research more thoroughly, and enter the auction arena with nerves of steel. In the auction game, things change with lightning speed. Items which you think you couldn’t afford all of a sudden are selling for fifty percent of what you thought they would. You have to be ready to make the appropriate move, and you must never regret it if your strategy doesn’t work out. Learn from your failures.
By the same token, when you get something that you didn’t expect to get, and you get it below the low estimate, do a happy dance around your desk and whoop it up. Napoleon Bonaparte used to say “Give me the lucky man.” The more you play this game, the luckier you will get.
This brings me to the spring silver sales now underway. I have been spending the last few days in my usual state of anguish and anxiety. All three major European auction houses are having silver sales of the exact things that I crave and cherish. Two of the companies have their silver sales on the same day… different companies, even different continents… same day. This has happened to me on other occasions, where I have one company on hold on one phone and one company on hold on the other. Complete control and clarity are essential in this situation.
Mark the lots that you most want. Do this in all the sales catalogs you have. Do not give way to over-enthusiasm, to an “I must have” attitude. No matter how rare the item you want, there will always be a rarer item coming down the pike.
When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I lived like most graduate students. That is to say, I was a man of empty pockets and unyielding dreams. If some wise acre had told me forty years ago that I would be playing this game with some of the biggest international players, I would not just have disbelieved, I would have scoffed. Such things may happen in fairy tales, but not to graduate students without a schilling in their pocket. But my dream indeed has come true.
Just this morning, I purchased an early 19th Century Venetian seascape by Giacomo Guardi (1764-1835). It is a lovely picture hitherto down on its luck, needing TLC and lots of it. Luckily, it found me, and it now has a chance of life again, and grandeur. This afternoon I’ve been working on my silver collection. Each of these numerous items is an asset. As I have said for so many years, all assets in play. Do not just sit on an asset and look at its thrilling aspects. See it not just as a stationary thing, but as an asset to leverage more. To be a connoisseur is to be not just a finder of beauteous objects, but an economic wizard, seizing a thing, twisting and turning that thing, until you have another thing, and the process takes place all over again for the rest of your life.
Musical note from Grace Jones “Art Groupie” (1981)
I’ve turned to my friend Grace Jones for a comment or two on this matter. Grace is never less than totally frank, which makes so many people squirm, knowing that they may be the next one in her sights.
“Don't ask me any questions,
My personal life is a bore,
Admire me in glory,
An Art Groupie. That's all.”
“I'll never write my memoirs,
There's nothing in my book,
The only way you see me an Art Groupie,
And so am I.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
As you may imagine, it is difficult to keep up the oldest commissioned naval vehicle, but without thorough review and constant care, it would soon be past any chance of keeping it from the scrap heap.
That is why it is good to see that a complete refurbishment of the ship is going on right now at Charlestown Navy Yard. Nearly 100 new white oak planks have been added, and over 2,200 fresh copper sheets on its recaulked hull.
This extensive re-outfitting has not stopped the ship from receiving its regular, heavy flow of visitors. That is why you should make it a point when in Boston to visit "Old Ironsides" and thrill, for she is one of the reasons why the new Republic prospered and grew.
The stamp of approval. U.S. Postal Service recognizes the USS Constitution, the world's oldest floating commissioned naval vessel.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. For this article no other song would do besides the jaunty, rousing fight song of the United States Naval Academy, "Anchors Aweigh." Strongly associated, too, with the United States Navy, it was composed in 1906 by Charles A. Zimmerman with lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles. Zimmerman was at the time a Lieutenant, and had been bandmaster of the United States Naval Academy Band since 1887. Miles was Midshipman First Class at the Academy, in the class of 1907.
The song was originally written for the class of '07 to be used as a football march. It takes great fortitude and control not to jump and march when you hear its unmistakable sound. I own up to having neither when the band in full swing goes by playing this. Go now to any search engine and find the rendition you like best. Then play it loud and clear to get yourself into the mood for this tale of "Old Ironsides."
"Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!"
Perhaps the most perilous battle she faced, literally a matter of life and death occurred in September, 1830 when the pettifogging bureaucrats in the naval department, eager to pinch pennies, ordered the greatest ship of the young Republic, now past her prime, to be broken up, just so much salvage.
A young Boston Brahmin named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. learned of this intended act of short-sighted barbarism while at breakfast reading the "Boston Daily Advertiser." At once he decided to take action to save the ship which could no longer fight to save herself. He titled his fast-penned poem "Old Ironsides" and it ran September 16, 1830.
"Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea.
Oh, better that her shattered bulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to her mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lighting and the gale!"
By the evening of the 16th, author Holmes was famous... and his fervent verses, overwrought, overdone, overfraught, were making even the most committed pennypinchers abashed and ashamed. "Old Ironsides" was saved... but it was a very close run thing. One shudders to think what would have happened had young Mr. Holmes not been of a poetical disposition.
The great warship is born, 1797.
Now that the former American colonies had become the new American nation, the powerful British fleet, which had always protected them and cost them nothing, became the new nation's prime antagonist. Thus, this nation found itself in the unenviable position of having virtually no ships to protect them and their crucial maritime commerce. Constructing a navy became a priority, at least for the mercantile East and New England. It was their ships and cargoes, after all, their British antagonists aimed to capture and disrupt.
And so, the USS Constitution, named by President George Washington, was authorized as one of 6 original frigates by the Naval Act of 1794. These ships were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period, a fact which was very important for all six ships, but particularly Constitution, which used this advantage to earn the most glorious battle record of them all.
Right from the first, she was needed and served in the Quasi-War with France (1798) and in the war against the Barbary pirates, practiced thieves of North Africa who had hitherto preyed with impunity on American vessels and crews. Constitution helped win the First Barbary War (1801). But these useful services were just a preface to her greatest service in the otherwise lackluster and regrettable War of 1812, a conflict both Americans and British wanted, but brought neither laurels, treasure, territory or satisfaction.
In this conflict, only the Constitution and its string of oceanic victories stood out, so much so that the British Admiralty ruled that warships combating Constitution and her sisters should never fight alone, only in packs. It was testament to just how good these vessels were, especially Constitution. She defeated one of His Majesty's ships after another... each victory thrilled a nation irritated, frustrated, exasperated by what the American army couldn't seem to do... and by a similar lack of results by other ships of the brand new navy.
But Constitution caused Americans to rush to the harbor and shout "Huzzah" as news arrived about victory... first, over the Guerriere. This was the engagement which gave Constitution its celebrated sobriquet. For cannon balls shot from the doomed British warship seemed to bounce off Constitution without effect. An unknown sailor shouted, "Her sides are made of iron!"... and the nickname stuck, to thrill the proud nation which looked for any hopeful news to cheer at in this
entirely unhappy war.
HMS Java was next... then HMS Cyane... and HMS Levant... and HMS Lord Nelson, bearing the most famous name in British naval history... captured as a prize along with everything needed to celebrate Christmas, a meal they so enjoyed... with one toast after another heartily drunk from the defeated captain's fine liquors. How sweet that was... and sweeter still the cheers, plaudits, and resounding thanks of the nation when on 15 May, 1815 she came home, full of honors and renown.
As navy men will tell you, each new ship embodies the best of current technology; as these ships are launched they push previous vessels to obsolescence and the scrap heap, for there is nothing so useless as a vessel, costing money everyday, without the ability to fulfill its bellicose purpose. No ship, not even ones covered with glory like Constitution, can avoid this sad fate. Thus as she aged, the vultures and scrap metal merchants circled... and for all her victories, she also would have been broken up, no more to sail, protect the nation, and make every citizen proud. Sic transit gloria mundi. But providence intervened in the person of Mr. Holmes and his facile pen.
The subsequent history of Constitution and how she continued to serve is mundane compared to her maritime glories. No matter. She survived, though there were always those ready to sacrifice the legendary vessel to save a few pence. Her luck held... not least because of the many who worked mightily to save her and give her the honorable place in the Navy as the world's oldest floating commissioned warship along with a museum which opened in 1976, the same year H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip trod her decks when they visited Boston as part of the nation's Bicentennial observations. Her ancestor George III, owner of the ships humbled by Constitution, no doubt spun in his imperial grave.
Now, just in time for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the U.S. Postal Service has released the design for an "Old Ironsides" stamp. The beleaguered postal service, in the process of closing 3,700 post offices throughout the United States, hopes to use Constitution to sell commemoratives for needed funds. And because closing post offices means losing such sales... they have launched this new stamp on Facebook, thereby hoping to reach millions of folks of philatelic bent. So her good uses continue... her future now, we hope, secured. Next time you visit Boston, do visit, for she has always been one of the glories of the nation and so she remains.
“My Salad Days”… A Silver Bowl, Tiffany & Co., circa 1940. Important Americana added to The Lant Collection.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I was in London on one of my many formative voyages, sitting in the balcony mesmerized by The Royal Shakespeare Company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra” (1623). There was a chatty little fellow sitting right in front of me who couldn’t have been any older than 12, and his mother was on a marathon shushing expedition, trying to get her annoying darling boy to hush.
Then Cleopatra started her famous speech to Julius Caesar at the end of Act I:
“My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…”
Without dropping a beat, the kiddo asked his mother in a stage whisper, “Does this mean she was Caesar’s salad?” And of course, not only did the audience lose it, but the cast lost it too, and for a moment we gave way to hearty laughter… no doubt the young man was happy with his results. It certainly left a happy impression on me, for this incident took place over 40 years ago and is as clear to me today as the evening I too joined in the infectious mirth. Only in England.
My mother was not a notable cook; quite the opposite. But she knew the importance of green leafy vegetables, and a host of other healthy ingredients from which she created salads that were hearty and nutritious… and which she hoped would obliterate the memory of her main courses, which were entirely forgettable, and quite possibly dangerous.
I can see the salad bowl now. It was used every night, and only rarely at mid-day. It was wood, and came with a pair of wooden tongs. It followed us on our peregrinations from Illinois to California, and over the years to many other places. There are few serving dishes which have the impact that these did.
That is why, when I became aware of this important American silver salad bowl, I gave it a good long look, which included returning to this item many times. I found it on the internet, on the 1stdibs website, which is a cornucopia of interesting things. Once such a sight catches my eye, I feel constitutionally obligated to read all the entries. 1stdibs is so large, that laudable activity is impossible. There is just too much to look at and take in.
I found myself thinking about this dazzling object, and kept saying to myself “You don’t collect American silver, you don’t collect things this late”. But I remembered what one well known collector had told me some time ago… “Never be a prisoner to your collection. Don’t just collect one kind of thing from one period, show that you are above such petty constraints. And if the object in question is quality, even though it is in a period you know nothing about, buy it, and learn. Remember, every object is a teacher. Never forget that you are a connoisseur above all else.”
Thus emboldened, I crept back to look at “my” salad bowl, as I already thought it. It was lovely. Designed by Olaf Wilford, from Tiffany & Co. New York circa 1940, it had the strong bold design of a master. This was no mere salad bowl; it was like all good art a statement by an accomplished master about his vision for the object in question.
A designer like Wilford (1894-1980) aims to seize your brain by showing you how even a common object can be turned into art, and seize your eye. Curiously, the bowl was not designed first, as one logically might suppose. No, the first objects to be designed were actually the pair of parcel-gilt silver salad servers, serving spoon and fork. They were designed in 1937 as part of a limited edition.
These were followed in 1940 by the silver salad bowl. This striking object, in the Art Deco fashion, was featured in Tiffany’s display at the House of Jewels Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1939-40. Although these items were not created to be a set, they look so good together they soon became one de facto.
The bowl itself, with its tomato or pumpkin vine design (not oranges, as was mistakenly written in the original description of the item), was well liked. Thus, Tiffany decided to make a limited number of bowls and serving instruments, and did so until the early 1950’s. Thus right from the start this was a popular pattern, and it was illustrated in Jewel Stern’s “Modernism in American Silver” p. 177 fig. 8.15 and 8.16.
A closer look at the bowl and serving instruments.
The plain hemispherical bowl applied with five vertical panels, stylized tomatoes and foliage, with a conforming salad serving fork and spoon, chased on the reverse, with foliage marked on base of bowl and numbered 22888, servers marked on reverse all with star mark. Here are its dimensions: diameter 9 ½ in, 24 cm; 15 oz 4 dwt, 095g.
These three objects had the undeniable “Wow Factor”, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by a master and offered to the public by Tiffany & Co., a brand name we are all familiar with.
A few words about Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany was founded September 18th, 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young. The reason Tiffany has been so successful over time is the quality, originality, bold display, and cunning designs which cause you literally to stop and stare the way Audrey Hepburn did in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Even if you’re broke like Holly Golightly, Hepburn’s character, just standing in the window can transport you to a place you want to be, and with the money you’ll need to achieve your goal.
Tiffany is all about dreams, social success, and one-upsmanship. Anyone who looks at a diamond or any of the high grade Tiffany products cannot fail to be excited by them. Tiffany supplies the goods, and your imagination – and deep pockets – does the rest.
From time to time, Tiffany has deviated from its core principles, and paid the price. It is easy to see how low grade executives in Tiffany’s board room might argue strenuously about the common sense of expanding the gold Tiffany’s name to sell lesser merchandise. However, time after time, Tiffany’s has discovered that it isn’t just the name that’s so important, it’s what that name offers, and stands for.
In this connection, I read with the greatest interest and awe of some of the projects that Tiffany’s has been involved with over the years. I can mention only a few of a very great number.
For example, Tiffany & Co. was the first U.S. firm to win an award for excellence in silverware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. Tiffany designed the logo for the New York Yankees in 1909. In 1887, Tiffany bought the French Crown Jewels. In 1942 Tiffany created a new design for the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1968, First Lady Ladybird Johnson commissioned Tiffany’s to make a new set of White House china on the theme of American wildflowers, her particular interest. If the subject is quality, Tiffany & Co. is the answer.
“A pretty girl is like a melody that haunts you night and day”
As part of the 1919 “Ziegfeld Follies”, there was a famous tune by Irving Berlin, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”. It describes the tormented process every collector goes through when they see something they want and must have despite all logical reasons, like: not now, you don’t have any money, you don’t need it, another one will be coming along in a minute. All such concerns are rendered meaningless when the connoisseur connects with the object of his affections, and cannot think of anything else.
“Just like the strain of a haunting refrain,
She'll start up-on a marathon
And run around your brain.”
I have personally experienced this fateful and inconvenient summons, which overturns all of my good intentions for frugality, for saving, for going slow, for being patient, and for never going beyond your capacity. But you know as well as I do that it is the experience of going beyond, of taking the risk, of seizing the object (or the person) and making it yours, totally, unquestionably yours, that thrills you. Connoisseurs can never be attracted to the pedestrian. We crave the different, the unusual, the unique, and we go through much suffering to ensure we get them.
That is why after I had read and reread the description of these marvelous objects, I had to do what was necessary to get them, planning wisdom be damned. Your happiest moments in collecting will be those that deliver a new level of excitement.
“You can't escape she's in your memory.
By morning night and noon.”
So I took the plunge and acquired this item for The Lant Collection.
People ask me will I use this item… will I use any of the many silver serving dishes I’ve acquired? The answer is always a resounding “I do.” And if you think that your salad tastes the same in wood as it does in sterling silver, you need to adjust your palette… for it is impossible to live with and use a beautiful object without yourself being uplifted by the experience. This is the importance of my collection… and when you see it, you are not just experiencing the item or how it looks, but what it can do to improve your life.
“She will leave you and then come back again
A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune”
This lovely three-part set proves this again, for it is never just an implement, it is a way to deliver perfection… and that must always be the overriding goal.
N.B. I take this opportunity to thank Michael Johnson of Eiseman’s Jewels in Dallas, Texas. One of the great things about collecting is the tremendous people you meet along the way, people who know more than you do and are happy to share it. Michael Johnson is such a person. He generously made time to discuss these lovely items and provide me with photographs.
Of course he wanted to make the sale; and he did. But more importantly, we both made a new friend and a new source of valuable information. Thank you, Michael.
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.