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review 2019-12-08 00:06
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times - H.W. Brands

Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics.  Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.

 

Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated.  Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW.  After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson.  Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent.  As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole.  After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams.  The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt.  Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas.  After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.

 

In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of.  Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts.  While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”).  This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.

 

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life.  H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas.  Overall a very good biography.

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review 2019-11-19 19:23
Chrystal, the Newest of Women (by an Exponent)
Chrystal: the Newest of Women - Exponent

The question was not, Why had she been born? - the answer to that came simply enough; she had been born in consequence of the satisfying of her parents' instincts. The question was, What had she been born for? Finding herself in the world, a new person who had never lived before, but who was obliged to live then, she had wanted to know what was to be the purport of her existence. Mrs. Yorke had pointed her to motherhood; she had said nothing about men and women's love.... But Chrystal could answer the question for herself now. It is the cultivation of all the faculties that makes a human being complete.The passions, the affections, the physical, mental, and moral powers, must all be exercised. She had children, two acquaintances, books, and active enjoyment, but she could not be content. The New Woman wanted the New Man.

 

As a manifesto from 1896, that's not bad - there's little here that a modern woman, let alone a modern feminist, would quarrel with. The sequence of events that the anonymous "Exponent" has chosen to illustrate her manifesto is a bit more questionable: it smacks of too much selfishness, as even the sympathetic reviewer in The University Magazine and Free Review of 1897 felt bound to point out. Chrystal enters (albeit consentingly) into a more or less arranged marriage with a man who has poor health, and bears a sickly child by him. Admittedly she does not abandon the child, but she does abandon the man; she then has an affair with a man she does not love, in order to have a healthy child, whom she quite obviously favours over the first; finally, she finds a man philosophically aligned with her, and marries him for love and has a third, and most favoured child by him. The trouble is, in carrying out this highly mechanical demonstration of the steps of enlightenment in adjusting the relations between the sexes, the author manages to create a heroine who is at best unlikeable and at worst inhuman. It's a tricky business, when arguing against a social order that demands women submerge their own needs and desires in unselfish service to everyone else, to find the point at which self-assertion becomes mere selfishness, and this author, alas, didn't quite land on it. Chrystal's Progress, like that of the Pilgrim, is not the story of a real human being, but a series of scenes illustrating philosophical points.

 

Still, it's a fascinating document of its time. I found the title in the University of Toronto Libary catalogue, and read it (in a scan of that library's copy) on the Internet Archive.

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review 2019-11-19 17:06
The Canadian Girl, or the Pirate of the Lakes: A Story of the Affections (attrib. to Mary E. Bennett)
The Canadian girl; or, The pirate of the... The Canadian girl; or, The pirate of the lakes; a story of the affections - Authoress of Jews daughter

This is an enjoyably bad oddity, a romance fiction set in Upper Canada, obviously by an English author who gleaned her knowledge entirely from reading. It is confidently ascribed in various sources to the almost completely unknown Mary E. Bennett, who was sister to a publisher. The date given to the work on the copy I read (the University of Toronto, Robarts library copy) is suspiciously early, given that the only other edition available dates from 1870, and "The Jew's Daughter" referenced on the pictorial title page ("by the author of") is actually dated 1839 in some sources. Hard to say - there is no reference to confederation, and the "governor" introduced has a fictitious though plausible name, Markham.

 

Though I have called it a romance fiction, the author herself appears to have had difficulty with genre classification. "To those who think that the orders of fiction should be preserved as distinct from each other as the orders of architecture, both the treatment and design of this work will give great offence. It is not strictly a domestic or a sentimental story, neither is it an humorous or a fashionable story; nor does it claim kindred with any decided school whatever, but partakes, perhaps, of all." Actually, the structure is pretty much standard romance fiction, but it runs into some difficulties because the hero, Clinton, is at first set up as a dissolute villain who seduces an innocent damsel (named, of course, Lucy). That being the case, even when the husband of the woman he loves, Lady Hester, conveniently offs himself, he cannot be allowed a happy ending, but has to meet an untimely and entirely out-of-the blue end based on a forgotten incident from 700 pages before: his sins find him out, as it were. None of these people is the "Canadian Girl" of the title. That honour goes to Clinton's sister, Jane - that's a spoiler, sorry - a rather pallid character who ends up paired with Lucy's similarly pallid brother to provide the happy ending.

 

The setting of the novel is similarly conventional: there is the relative safety, and consciousness of social mores, of aristocratic or middle-class houses (even here in the New World, a pirate ends up actually being a nobleman, with a mansion to inherit, while Arthur & Lucy's father is a clergyman). Then there is the thrill of the uncivilized "out there" - and in Canada the wild can be much more wild than the woods and forests of England. Here, the author demonstrates the difficulties of building a world you're completely unfamiliar with, when the resources at hand were so very limited. It is true we get a fairly splendid if rather over-wrought description of Niagara Falls and that general region, obviously drawn from travel literature. However, our author fails miserably to populate early Ontario with the right kind of wild threats. There are, it is true, a couple of First Nations people, the Christianized kind, of course, introduced in the first chapter. But they are not presented as any kind of threat, and instead of having any ongoing presence are soon supplanted as primary woods-dwellers by a band of gypsies! By and large, the flora and fauna of these woods are also easily transferable back to the more familiar and comfortable British setting. It makes one suspect that an earlier attempt at a romance may have been grafted on to the more exotic setting, though that's entirely speculation on my part.

 

The Pirate of the Lakes, of the subtitle, is a quasi-sympathetic figure whose sins, by the end, are largely being excused by dint of introducing more villainous characters who are "worse" than him. Here is the last of several self-justifications (he has just poisoned himself to escape the gallows).

 

"But suicide is a great crime, my son," interposed the Pastor.


"I fear it is," gravely returned the Pirate. "Heaven pardon it! but still, to my mind, the circumstances of my case partially excuse the deed. I have never shed blood except in self-defence. I have not deserved a public death. Perpetual imprisonment, exile, any punishment short of death I had deserved - but not death. I did not feel bound, therefore, to render up myself to the gallows. No law of God required me to do so. Such being my view of the case, I felt at liberty to dispose of myself in the way I have. The honourable name I have inherited is hereby saved from some degradation, and yet i have suffered the full penalty of my misdeeds."

 

This is a Victorian novel. There's a lot of Protestant moralizing. Since it's set partly in English Canada and partly in French Canada, the characters are perforce split between Protestant and Catholic, and the dancing around the issue would provide some interesting fodder for those interested in the state of anti-Catholicism in England - if the publication date is indeed 1838, then the whole movement towards Catholic emancipation is still well within living memory for the readers. One character in a historical flashback (the Pirate's mother) is immured in a nunnery and treated harshly, but other than that the tone is often remarkably conciliatory towards, at least, lay Catholics.

 

The writing isn't bad; it's what you'd expect from an intelligent woman with a strong background in the products of the circulating library. It's both literate and thoughtful, in entirely derivative ways. Absurdities aside - or maybe partly because of the absurdities - I quite enjoyed reading "The Canadian Girl".

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review 2019-11-03 23:17
The Curse of Oak Island
The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World's Longest Treasure Hunt - Randall Sullivan

The riddle wrapped in a mystery inside the enigma that is a small island just barely off the shore of Nova Scotia has tantalized and tortured people for over two centuries.  The Curse of Oak Island by Randall Sullivan covers the history of the longest treasure hunt from the individuals involved in the hunt to the theories of what is or isn’t on the island including the History Channel reality series of the same name.

 

Building upon the Rolling Stone article he wrote 13 years before, Sullivan was invited back to the island by the producers of the reality show to write this book, appear on a few episodes of the show, and interview the Lagina brothers. Starting with the historical backdrop of the Oak Island area, Sullivan goes over the often-told discovery of the Money Pit but thorough research finds out that the named three discoverers is not agreed up as well as their biographies.  Throughout his 220 year history, Sullivan goes into the numerous lead searchers as well numerous theories of who made the Money Pit and what they believed was buried in there from pirate/privateer treasure to French Royal Jewels to possessions of the Knights Templar to cultural treasures connected with Roger Bacon.  The history of the last 60 years on the island which focuses on the now-deceased Fred Nolan and Dan Blankenship with their rivalry and how they joined the Laginas search as well as how the titular reality series came about is covered extensively compared to the earlier history as Sullivan had first-hand access to the participants.

 

Given the murky history of Oak Island, Sullivan did an excellent job and navigating everything connected with the long story of the Money Pit.  However, the biggest grip I had was with the intertwining of the history and the various theories, I personally felt that it would have been better to break up the history of the search in two and have all the theories discusses in-between.  Sullivan actually goes against the show’s narration of events several times in relating the history of the island and previous searchers, however he never discusses “the legend that seven must die” which is hinted at being the “curse” in the show’s open for the first four or five seasons.

 

The Curse of Oak Island is a fine look at the history surrounding the search of the Money Pit and the men who’ve dug on the Nova Scotia island.  Randall Sullivan gave the reader an idea about the individuals who kept the search going and what they believed they were searching for while also showing the toll it took on them and the island itself.  Overall it’s a fine book, but not laid out very well.

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review 2019-10-27 23:00
J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers
J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers - Brian Eugene Strayer

An Advent preacher when he joined the embryonic Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1852, John Norton Loughborough would spend the next 72 years as a preacher and administrator before being the last of the pioneers to pass leaving lasting legacy to the denomination only behind Joseph Bates and the Whites.  Brian E. Strayer’s J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers is the first major biography of influential preacher, missionary, and Church historian that was a little man who cast a long shadow.

 

Strayer begins with an impressive family history that gives background not only to Loughborough but how he was raised, including the influence his grandfather had on his spiritual life, and how in his youth he was influenced by the Millerite message.  Loughborough’s resulting spiritual wandering in the years after the Disappointment before deciding to become a “boy preacher” at age 17 among the Advent Christians then his introduction to Seventh-day movement and later conversion to Sabbath were give significant time as well.  Yet 85% of the book took up Loughborough’s 72 years among the Seventh-day Adventist movement covering his time as a preacher, president of numerous conferences, missionary to fields both domestic and foreign, and finally Church historian who was the last link to the “early days” for 3rd- and 4th-generation Adventists in the late 1910s and 1920s.  Throughout Loughborough’s relationships with other important and influential denominational leaders was examined including Ellen White whose admonishments were welcomed by Loughborough in contrast to other Adventist leaders some of whom would later leave and attack not only the denomination and White.  Strayer covered in detail Loughborough’s fight against apostacy and his role as the first Church “historian” as well has the lasting influence he had in both areas among Adventists.

 

Given the place in denominational history that Loughborough, Strayer used a wide range of sources to give a thorough look at his subject including what surviving letters he could find (Loughborough burned his own) and Loughborough’s own diaries (that was saved by a nurse instead of destroyed upon his death).  Unlike the only other biography of Loughborough that followed the subject’s own apologetic look at Adventist history, Strayer brought a critical eye to his subject including Loughborough’s Church history books that influenced Adventist historiography for half a century.

 

  1. J. N. Loughborough is a well-written, well-researched look at the last pioneer of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Brian Strayer showed the large footprint and long shadow this “little man” had had until this very day. This is a highly recommended biography for anyone interested in Adventist history.
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