Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, July 13, 2020


Openers:  My uncle was a genius and a poet -- of course, he was as poor as David's rat, and lived in a garret.  He was a kind-hearted man, and I loved him too sincerely to hesitate at putting my neck in jeopardy once a day by climbing the crazy ladder, which afforded the only means of reaching his celestial abode.  Yet after taking all this trouble it frequently happened, that I found my uncle too busy with the Muses to bestow any of his attention on so insignificant and animal as his nephew.  On these occasions he contented himself with shaking me by the hand in silence, laying his finger on his lip, and pointing to a joint-stool, which stood close by the window, for he occupied himself the only chair in the room, and even that had but three legs to boast of:  the joint-stool therefore though not so dignified a seat, was in fact a much more secure and comfortable one.

But when I found myself established on my joint-stool, how was I to employ myself?   -- When my uncle was seized with one of these fits of inspiration, they frequently continued for a considerable time:  where then was I to find amusement during this interval?  My uncle was too much an author to think any body's works worth reading except his own; for those I happened to have no great taste, and I did not care to affront him by asking for the productions of any other brain.  Reading then was out of the question; but in order that my eyes be not quite idle, I employed them in examining what was going on in the house opposite to us.  By the help of a pocket telescope, [I] could distinctly see every thing which passed our neighbour's first and second floor; and after indulging myself for some days kin these observations, I became so well acquainted with every member of this unknown family, that I felt myself as much interested about their proceedings, as if I had been a member of it myself.

You will say that this systematic espionage was not very honourable:  I allow it -- But then, on the other hand, it was very entertaining; and I am now going to bribe you to approve of my conduct, by admitting you to a partnership in my stolen knowledge.

-- M. G. Lewis, :"My Uncle's Garret Window:  A Pantomimic Tale" (from Romantic Tales, 1808)

Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) was most noted for his early Gothic horror novel The Monk, first published anonymously when he was 19.  It was an immediate sensation and often decries as semi-pornographic.  The novel concerns Ambrosio, a monk with a flawless reputation who is nonetheless a lecher, rapist, and murderer, and Matilda, a young novice whom Satan uses to propel the monk deeper into villainy.  It is considered one of the most influential of the early Gothic novels.
Inspired by Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and Anne Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, Lewis went a step further, eliminating the sentimentality of those novels and vividly describing horrors rather than obliquely alluding to them.  Another influence may have come from the German genius Goethe, whom Lewis met during a sojourn to Weimar in 1792; at the time Goethe was formulating his Faust, portions of which are reflected in The Monk.  Unlike what might assume from the  novel, Lewis himself as not a profligate, but rather was a sensitive, intellectual, and kindly man.  When it came time for a second edition of the book, Lewis toned down the novel, publishing it now as Ambrosia; or, The Monk, but even this somewhat milder version was considered scandalous.  Throughout his lifetime, Lewis became known as "Monk" Lewis.

The son of a diplomat, Lewis had been trained to follow in his father's footsteps.  His father at one time served both as the Chief Clerk of the War Office and Deputy Secretary of War.  Lewis' mother left her husband when Lewis was six, going off with the family's music master.  Divorce was seldom granted in those times, and his parents remained married, although separated until his father's death in 1818.  Lewis sided with his mother and was upset at the relatively poor financial condition his father had left his mother; when able, he supported his mother, who eventually became a Lady in Waiting for the Princess of Wales.

Lewis was also a member of Parliament and he owned two large tracts of land in Jamaica, along with 500 slaves.  In a "have your cake and it eat" mode, Lewis was supportive of the antislavery movement and made arrangements for his slaves to be freed upon his death.

Lewis was an active writer and translator.  He composed many plays and translated some works, other foreign works he freely adapted for tales of his own.  Many of those stories -- both fantastical and not -- are included in his four-volume work Romantic Tales.  He also wrote a number of poems, including "Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogene," which was the inspiration of  "The Hearse Song" (Remember when you were a kid, singing "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,,," to the tune of Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette"?)  For the curious see Today's Poem, below.

Lewis died of yellow fever at age 42 while sailing from Jamaica to London.  Fearing contagion, the captain buried him at see.  In a final macabre twist, the weights meant to sink the coffin broke loose, and the coffin holding the author of The Monk floated off into the distance, heading who know where.

Yahoo, Seriously?:   From a text conversation between our daughters and my wife:

J:  I had to listen to a coworker today rant about how the virus is a Democratic hoax to get Trump out of office.

Kitty:  For real?

J:  100% believes it.  Won't wear a mask, the flu kills more people than the "so called virus" and it's just a cold.

Kitty"  OMG, I hope she doesn't spread it to you.  You're immunity compromised.  [Note:  My daughter battled breast cancer last year]  Which one is she?

J:  I'm not compromised.  My immune system is just fine.  She's the hick from Alabama.

Kitty:  OK.  I thought it might be.  Loves Trump, right?

J:  Yup.

B:  Is this the same lady whose son has good arguments for being a flat-earther?

J:  It is the same lady.  Hick.

     And a couple of days later:

J:  The hick has now started going on about how quarantine is infringing on her civil liberties.

Kitty:  Oh, mercy me!

B:  Exactly how is she doing that?  What is it that she wants to do so much that she is being prevented
from doing?

Kitty:  Does she want to go to buck-a-beer night somewhere?

J:  Her grandchildren live in Texas, and that is a hot spot state, so if she visits, she has to self quarantine when she returns.  Unpaid self quarantine.

Kitty:  Aha!  Inpaid is against her rights.  Why don't they come to her?

J:  A____ can't afford to get her and the three boys here.

B:  She can go and just not tell anyone she did it.  They don't ACTUALLY lock you up for a self quarantine.

Kitty:  Just goes to show that kids and parents should live in a 10 mile radius of each other.

     Please not that the term "hick" does not apply to all Alabamans.  The vast majority of Alabamans are intelligent, reasonable people.  But, if the shoe fits...

School Days:  So Trump wants all the schools to be open in the fall, coincidently just before the November election.  Brick and mortar, person to person learning.  Most states seem to be willing to go along with this, although a growing number of individual school districts are pushing back.  If states are again closing bars and restaurants because of Covid-19 resurgence, why are we reopening schools?

Don't get me wrong, I want the schools to reopen safely.  I just don't think they can.  Not the way Trump and the Republicans think they can.  Public schools have always had to fight for their budgets.  Most classrooms are overcrowded and small.  Teachers have had to purchase student school supplies out of the own money.  Kids are apt to forget or ignore pandemic safety rules.  In Florida, schools are mandated to open August 10 and the recommended guidelines should be followed "as feasible. "  So many things, however, such as social distancing are not feasible.

Some claim that children are far less likely to catch the disease and far less likely to infect others.  In truth, we have no idea what rules Covid-19 follows.  We have no idea what this disease is capable of.  We're learning more and more about it every day and what we're learning is increasingly scary.  Many school children are in close contact with those we know can be harmed by the disease; many live with their grandparents or someone else who may be compromised.  The potential effect on teachers and staff may be significant.  Remote learning is possible but not ideal.  Many students do not have access to a computer.  Many do not perform well with remote learning.  Developing and monitoring a curriculum for remote learning takes a lot of time and technical skill that some teachers just do not have.

In higher education, many colleges are shifting to on-line classes.  This puts foreign students (who provide a good percentage of a school's income) in a quandary.  If these students are not attending brick and mortar classes, they will be deported -- many will have a hard time returning to this country once the pandemic is over and things return to sort of normal.  Some schools are opting to have their foreign students to attend one on campus class a week to get round this dilemma,  We'll see now that works.

I don't have any answers.  Our educational system has been caught flat-footed.  Tight budgets and a lack of innovative planning have finally caught up with us.  Students must continue their education with as little disruption as possible.  To keep the schools closed will have a profound effect on our kids and on the economy.  To open the schools prematurely or unwisely may just kill both them and others.

Welcome to 2020.

Recommended Reading:  I have pronounced on this blog several times my appreciation of author Max Allan Collins.  I just finished reading the fifth western about Caleb York bylined Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins.  The first novel in the series,The Legend of Caleb York, was adapted by Collins from an unproduced movie script written for the production company of his friend John WayneThat initial outing told how Wells Fargo detective and fast gun Caleb york became the sheriff of the small New Mexico town of Trinidad in the latter part of the eighteenth century.  In the books that have followed, Collins used discarded ideas and snippets from Spillane's drafts of the script to build his stories.

Collins is noted for using historical incidents and characters in many of his novels but, for the most part, he has set reality aside and has used the mythic west as the backdrop to the Caleb York saga.  In the latest book in the series, Hot Lead, Cold Justice (Kensington, 2020), he breaks the mold slightly and uses the historical "Big Die-Up" -- a fierce and fatal blizzard that swept the western states in 1866 to 1867, reaching even to the lower parts of New Mexico -- as a backdrop to the tale.  Actually, one could consider the Big Die-Up to be an important character in the book.

Caleb York has been in Trinidad for a year now and things are usually calm.  As the temperature plummets and the storming is edging into town, York's deputy, former desert rat Jonathan P. Tulley borrows York's dark frock coat and black hat to keep himself warm during his rounds.  Tulley is ambushed, shot twice; although he has lost a lot blood, he survives.  York, who has bad his share of enemies over the years, figures that he was mostly the intended target and that Tulley, wearing his outer clothing during a dark, stormy night had been mistaken for him.

There were three suspicious characters in town, cozying up to the owner of the town's harness shop.  Later they were joined by another sinister-looking man with one dead, milky eye.  From the description, York knows the man to be Luke Burnham, a cold-blooded killer who used to ride with Quantrell and whom York had captured a decade before, sending him to ten years in prison.  By the time recognizes Burnham, he and his three cohorts have ridden our of town, into the ever-increasing storm.

The gang heads to Las Vegas, New Mexico, a town some thirty miles away.  There, they rob the bank, slaughtering a guard and the bank's president, and flee back to Trinidad where they plan to hide out until things blow over.  What the bad guys did not reckon on was the ferocity of the storm -- all four of their horses froze on the road to Trinidad.  Luckily for them a wagon stopped by and offered the four a lift into Trinnidad; unluckily for the man and his son in the wagon, they were murdered.  Back in Trinidad, Burnham becomes obsessed once again with killing York.

If that wasn't enough, York is feeling guilty on his inability to decide between two lovely women he is attracted to.

Hot Lead, Cold Justice is a well-plotted, realistic western with well-defined characters and great sense of place.  It's a fast-paced, action-oriented read, just right for pandemic night's entertainment.

Young Man Afraid of His Horses:  Thasunke Khokiphapi (or as near as I can represent his birth name), was a Oglala Sioux Indian chief born in 1836.  Best known by his English name, Young Man Afraid of Horses, he was the fourth in a line of Oglala chiefs to bear that name, which is more properly translated as His Horse Is Feared, or They Fear His Horse -- meaning that he was such a warrior in battle that even the sight of his horse would induce fear.

(The Oglala Sioux were part of the Lakota Nation.  Many modern-day Oglala reject the term "Sioux" because it may have stemmed for the Ojibwe term [with negative connotations] for "snake"; the Ojibwes were traditional enemies of the Oglala.  The current preferred term is "Ogala Lakota.")

The 1864 Sand Creek Massacre (in which the U.S. Army attacked and destroyed a Cheyenne and Arapaho village in the Colorado Territory, killing an estimated 70-500 natives, about half of whom were women and children) brought about retaliatory raids by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Oglala Sioux. During these raids, which lasted several months, Young Man Afraid of His Horses was a leading warrior during these raids.  In 1866, the American government called a council of the Indian leaders, who had been upset because Army forts had encroached on their hunting territory, to obtain a right of way from the Lakota for forts and roads.  During the conference, however, the Army began to construct Fort Kearney without Lakota consent.  This infuriated Young Man Afraid of His Horses' father (who was now known as Old Man Afraid of His Horse) and he stormed out of the council.  This was a major precipitating factor in Red Cloud's War of 1866-1868, the only Indian war to end in defeat for the United States.  Again, Young Man Afraid of His Horses had an instrumental role in this conflict.

In 1868 the Oglala council bestowed one of their highest honors -- a head shirtwearers and protectors of the people -- on Young Man Afraid of His Horses, American Horse, Crazy Horse, and Sword Owner; these four were the last head Oglala shirtwearers, and Young Man Afraid of His Horses was the only one of the four to keep his shirt until he died,

Following Red Cloud's War, Young Man Afraid of His Horses, while remaining staunchly Lakota, worked tirelessly for his people, negotiating with the Federal government and pleading for just treatment.  He attended delegations to Washington, acted as a negotiator for his people, and served President of the Pine Ridge Board of Councilmen.

As we all know, the government did not have Native American rights and wellbeing foremost in mind.  More and more land was taken from them.  In 1889 the government reduced the Lakota beef issue by 20%.  The following year came a devastating drought that killed many of the tribe's cattle, leading to many Lakota deaths.

In 1890, the Ghost Dance mania swept across many tribes.  The Ghost Dance was a religious ceremony that promised Native Americans a return to the old ways, the restoration of the buffalo, unification of then Indian nations, and a reunion with the dead.  much of what the Ghost Dance promised seem to speak to the Lakota and Young Man Who Is Afraid of Hid Horses and several other leaders sent delegates to Nevada to learn more.  Many Oglala then became ardent supporters of the movement but Young Man Who Is Afraid of His Horses was not one of them; instead he took his band on an extended hunting trip outside the reservation and thus avoided both the killing of Sitting Bull and the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

Young Man Who Is Afraid of His Horses had made peace with his old enemies the Crow.  On this day, 127 years ago, he left his reservation to visit his former enemies and fell dead from his horse, suffering a heart attack or a stroke.  He was 56 years old.  Young Man Who Is Afraid of His Horses was buried with military honors at Pine Ridge Reservation.  A link with the old ways of the Lakota was severed.

The Name Game:  One British mother needs help.  She named her daughter Clara and regrets it.  Two years in the name just "doesn't fit."  And besides, there are about four other Claras the same age in the neighborhood.  So she's asking for ideas.  Among the names that have been suggested so far ar Lally, Lara, Loretta, Claire, Coco, and Carrie.  A few people have been crass enough to ask what the hell was wrong with Clara.  So far she's leaning toward either Coco or Carrie.  No word on what the kid thinks.

Is this a prime example of First World problems?

Simple Gifts:  To the anonymous person who gifted me with a Whataburger wrapper and a used candy bar wrapper by tossing them on the back seat of my car two nights ago, thank you.  Your kindness and generosity will not be forgotten and please don't do it again.

Florida Man:

  • Florida Man Bill Dunn, 65, of  Holiday, has been banned from his local Publix supermarket after a "highly irate" encounter over face masks.  Unlike many other Floridians, Bill is not refusing to wear a mask.  Quite the opposite.  The stink he raised with management was about other customers not wearing masks while he was in the sub line.  Bill has diabetes and sometimes needs to use an oxygen machine, so he got quite vocal about employees telling the Publix customers to wear the masks.  He got even more vocal when "they said, 'No, we're not enforcing the law.' "  Good for Bill; boo and hiss to Publix.
  • St. Johns  County Commissioner Paul Waldron, a Florida Man through and through, is now hospitalized with Covid-19 -- a week after he voted against mandatory face masks.  Hr is now in "the most critical of conditions" having gone into septic shock and with many of his organs struggling.  I sincerely hope he recovers, but be careful of what will come back to bite you.
  • Florida Man Jack Vasileros went fishing off the coast of Clearwater in a winged rainbow unicorn floaty and landed a huge tarpon.  Luckily friends were nearby in a real boat to help him load the fish.  A floaty is less intimidating to a tarpon than a regular boat, so it is more apt to come near it, Vasileros said.
  • Florida Man and absolute waste of protoplasm Steven Anthony Shields, 24, crashed his minivan through the front door of Ocala's Queen of Peace Catholic Church and set the church afire with an incendiary device.  Several parishioners were inside but no one was hurt.  Shields then lead police on a vehicle chase before being apprehended.  the ATF is investigating.
  • Florida Man and former Miami cop Jordy Yanes Martel, was arrested after video surfaced of him placing his knee on a pregnant Black woman's neck after tasering her twice during an incident last January.  The woman later suffered a miscarriage.  Martel was fired but until the video surfaced last week had not been charged.
  • Glib, fast-talking Florida Man David Terrell, who owns an agricultural spraying company, convinced the Wauchula City Commission to allow him to spray the town with hydrogen peroxide to fight Covid-19.  There is no data to say that this will work.  Of course, there's no data to say it won't.  Let's wait and see.

Happy, Happy:

Today's Poem:
Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogine

A warrior so bold, and a virgin so bright,
Conversed as they sat on the green;
The gazed on each other with tender delight:
Alonzo the Brave was the name of the knight, --
The maiden's, the Fair Imogine.

"And O," said the youth, "since to-morrow I go
To fight in a far distant land,
Your tears for my absence soon ceasing to flow,
Some other will court you, and you will bestow
On a wealthier suitor you hand!"

"O hush these suspicions," Fair Imogine said;
"Offensive to love and to me;
For, if you be living, or if you be dead,
I swear by the Virgin that none in your stead
Shall husband of Imogine be.

"If e'er I, by lust or by wealth lead aside,
Forget my Alonzo the Brave,
God grant, to punish my falsehood and pride,
Your ghost at the marriage shall sit by my side,
Shall tax me with perjury, claim me as bride,
And bear me away to the grave!"

To Palestine hastened the hero so bold,
His love she lamented him sore;
But scarce had a twelvemonth elapsed, when behold!
A baron, all covered with jewels and gold,
Arrived at Fair Imogine's door.

His treasures, his presents, his spacious domain,
Soon made her untrue to her vows;
He dazzled her eyes, he bewildered her brain;
He caught her affections, so light and so vain,
And carried her home as his spouse.

And now had the marriage been blest by the priest;
The revelry now was begun:
The tables they groaned with the weight of the feast,
Not yet had the laughter and merriment ceased,
When the bell at the castle tolled -- one,

Then first with amazement Fair Imogine found
A stranger was placed by her side:
His air was terrific; he uttered no sound, --
He spake not, he moved not, he looked not around, --
But earnestly gazed on the bride.

His visor was closed, and gigantic his height,
His armor was sable to view;
All pleasure and laughter were hushed at his sight;
The dogs, when they eyed him, drew back in affright;
The lights in the chamber burned blue!

His presence all bosoms appeared to dismay;
The guests sat in silence and fear;
At length spake the bride, -- while she trembled, -- I pray,
Sir knight, that your helmet aside you would lay
And deign to partake of our cheer."

The lady is silent, the stranger complies --
His visor he slowly unclosed;
O God!  what a sight met Fair Imogene's eyes
What words can express her dismay and surprise,
When a skeleton's head was exposed!

All present then uttered a terrified shout,
And turned with disgust from the scene;
The worms they crept in, and the worms they crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temple about,
While the spectre addressed Imogine:

"Behold me, thou false one, behold me!" he cried,
:Remember Alonzo the Brave!
God grants that, to punish thy falsehood and pride,
My ghost at they marriage shall sit by thy side;
Should tax thee with perjury, claim thee as bride,
And bear thee away to the grave!"

Thus saying his arms round the lady he wound,
While loudly she shrieked in dismay;
Then sunk with his prey through the wide-yawning ground;
Nor ever again was Fair Imogine found,
Or the spectre who bore her away.

Not long lived the baron; and none, since that time,
To inhabit the castle to presume;
For chronicles tell that, by order sublime,
There Imogine suffers the pain for her crime,
And mourns her deplorable doom.

At midnight, four times in each year, does her sprite,
When mortals in slumber are bound,
Arrayed in her bridal apparel of white,
Appear in the hall with the skeleton knight,
And shriek as he whirls her around!

While they drink out of skulls newly torn from the grave,
Dancing round them the spectres are seen;
Their liquid is blood, and tis  horrible stave
They howl:  "To the health of Alonzo the Brave,
And his consort, the Fair Imogine!"

-- M. G. Lewis


  1. Was really hoping it was you climbing up the stairs to visit your uncle. We all need an uncle like that.

  2. I had some pretty good uncles, Patti -- Charlie, Arthur, Alfred, Albert, Chet, Ted, and Dick, plus my mother's uncles, Homer, Quincy, and George. The advantages of a large family.
    My regret is that my Uncle Horace died before I was born and that I never got to know him and that my Uncle Dick died prematurely and I only have vague memories of him. I do try t be a good uncle my nieces and nephews. Family is important.