REVIEW POTPOURRI – Poet: Richard Aldridge; Composer: Sergei Rachmaninoff; Band Leader: Gene Rodemich; Movie: The Killers

Richard Aldridge (left), Rachmaninoff (center), Gene Rodemich

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Richard Aldridge

Born in New York City, poet Richard Aldridge (1930-1994) attended summer camp here in Maine most of his childhood and, as an adult, would eventually settle down with his wife in Phippsburg while teaching high school English in Bath.

Although his name is new to me, his work became renowned among other poets and he edited and published a 1969 anthology, Maine Lines.

Before sharing a poem of his that is contained in the ever-fascinating 1989 anthology Maine Speaks, I offer his own very astutely stated words on why poems matter:

“The most important thing in life to any person is another person, not a whole number of other people. That is why poetry will always fill a vital place-in essence, it is an art where three really is a crowd. You should be able to hang around with a good poem just as you do with a good or best friend. As with a best friend, a poem you really like will have said something to you in a way that touches bottom, while at the same time it will just be there, on call any time. If it could see and think, it would observe you growing and changing and reaching all the time. And you, coming back and back to it from time to time, will see new angles and depths and reaches that you never quite knew were there at first acquaintance.”

I read this credo of belief that does resonate while also remembering that most all of the successful poets in America still needed day jobs, Robert Frost being one of those select few who earned a living from his books after his first one was published in 1913 when he was 38.

Now for Richard Aldridge’s, A Sharing of Silences, with the inscription, West Point, Maine, underneath the title:

“late fall, the summer people gone
into the village store I go
six fishermen are sitting around
just talking joking supper done
because I have stuck out
now seventeen Maine winters
still have the wife I started with
have had their children now and then
up at the high school off in town
they let me in a little
by not going quiet like wind dying down
or worse just up and easing out
and yet their talk takes on
the slightest shade of guardedness
because I do teach English
after all which means of course
good grammar is my holy flame
and too (they hear) write poems
and such so who knows what
I might go off and copy down
if they could only understand
the only words I care to find
are those the counter image of
the windworn creases in their brows
the bark-like hardness of their hands
the upright carriage of their pride
and those are not for finding”

West Point, Maine, is roughly seven miles southeast from Bath where, as stated earlier, Aldridge taught and it is part of Phippsburg on the Casco Bay Peninsula.

The poem evokes a way of life and the divisions that can occur among different people living that way of life in a small community, the ever perpetual theme of aloneness in the community, of experience that is shared versus experience that can never be shared.

People want to know things about you but do not want you to know things about them, watching you yet wary of you.

The poet injects elements of great potential for more than one story in certain lines- we’d like to know more about “the summer people gone” , those sometimes obnoxious individuals from a distance who do boost the local economy with their dollars; “six fishermen…just talking… joking… [at] the village store ” who fear most all outsiders; and the poet narrator who teaches the children of those fishermen “now and then/up at the high school off in town” but still has the fishermen interacting with him in their minimally sociable manner combined with “the slightest shade of guardedness”…not ever knowing what their children’s English teacher “might go off and copy down.” God forbid!

These hints of story brought to mind another Maine poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) who lived out most of his life in Gardiner and later in New York City, but who was born in Head Tide which is 26 miles northwest from Phippsburg.

Robinson’s poems such as Mr. Flood’s Party, Richard Cory, Miniver Cheevy, Tristan, etc. had innumerable hints of stories.

A poem well worth brooding upon!

In his rambunctious 1930 book on theology, Treatise on the Gods, H.L. Mencken comments – “The only real way to reconcile science and religion is to set up something that is not science and something that is not religion.”


Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony, a masterpiece of unutterable beauty, has generated shelves of different recordings in which the score is either presented in its over 1 hour complete, sometimes sprawling magnificence or with some cuts in the passages. Both approaches were sanctioned by the composer, depending on his mood.

I own a batch of different recordings, each of which has interest, but one I have consistently enjoyed of the cut version, and for more than 45 years, is a 1959 recording featuring Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983) conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in what might be the greatest one he ever made. It has pulse, characterful detail, and delectable notes and hangs together like no other recording I know of.

It can also be heard on YouTube .

Gene Rodemich

A 1921 ten-inch acoustically recorded Brunswick shellac disc (#2060) features one of the better dance bands of that era led by Gene Rodemich (1890-1934) who later worked for NBC Radio before dying from lobar pneumonia at the young age of 44.

The two selections are Margie and the rather obscure Irving Berlin Home Again Blues, both which can be heard on YouTube.

The Killers

Two movies that still stick in the memory are Bing Crosby’s 1944 Going My Way, in which he portrayed a Catholic priest, with the very good co-stars Barry Fitzgerald, mezzo soprano Rise Stevens, and the Little Rascals own Alfalfa; and the 1964 film noir, The Killers, starring Lee Marvin and Clu Gulagher as two highly professional hit men who do convey much nuance in their character development, as unlikable as they are; former President Ronald Reagan in what would be his last movie role before he entered the political arena, and a role in which he very convincingly portrayed a gangster; Angie Dickinson as Reagan’s devious wife; and the now underrated actor John Cassavetes as the victim of the hit men.

The film was very, very loosely based on Hemingway’s classic short story.


James Garfield (left), Lucretia Garfield (right)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

James Garfield

Former 20th President James Abram Garfield (1831-1880) was the last of the Ohio Republican Triumvirate to serve in the White House, following his predecessors Grant and Hayes.

Garfield grew up in poverty on a farm and was the youngest of five children, three of whom died before he was born (One brother James Ballou Garfield died at the age of three in 1829.); only one sister, Mary (1824 – 1884) lived to adulthood, surviving her youngest brother by four years.

Garfield’s father Abram (1799-1833) was born in Worcester, New York, while his mother, the former Eliza Ballou (1801 – 1888) had spent her childhood in Richmond, New Hampshire, and outlived both of her surviving adult children.

To avoid starvation, Garfield and his sister helped their mother on the farm with all of the heavy work and he did not begin his formal education until the age of 18. Being a quick learner, he breezed through college and, at the age of 25 and already an accomplished teacher, became president of his alma mater, Hiram College.

Garfield was also an Orthodox Christian and became a highly accomplished preacher and orator. Listeners felt, as one wrote later, “as if they had been transplanted away from earth to some tranquil, beautiful region of heaven.”

His talent as a speaker served him well when he ran successfully for the Ohio Senate in 1859 and later for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like his two Ohio predecessors, Garfield served with distinction as an officer during the Civil War.

Ironically, for reasons too detailed to go into, he was elected to the U.S. Senate while still Representative but never served there because, about the same time, he became the Republican candidate for the White House and won by a narrow margin over his Democrat opponent General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824 – 1886).

Garfield’s major accomplishment as president may have been pushing the investigation into fraudulent expenditures in the U.S. Post Office which involved a number of high-ranking fellow Republicans, resulting in indictments and prosecution.

Unfortunately, his presidency was short-lived.

On July 2nd, 1881, the president was at the D.C. train station heading to New England with his two sons when the psychotic Charles J. Guiteau (1841 – 1882) fired two bullets into Garfield, who very strangely was traveling without any bodyguards, as Lincoln’s assassination had been considered a fluke and his successors saw little need for protection.

After two months of being unsanitarily poked and probed, President Garfield died on September 19, and was succeeded by Vice-President Chester Alan Arthur (1830 – 1886).

Garfield married Lucretia Rudolph (1832 – 1918) who was a calm and supportive wife and shared with her husband a love of books. Like former First Lady Lucy Hayes, Lucretia was also a college graduate. They had seven children, among whom two died by the age of three while the others lived to ripe old age.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Jazz trumpeter: Woody Shaw; Actress: Inger Stevens

Woody Shaw

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Woody Shaw

Jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw (1944-1989) recorded a very fine LP, United, in 1981 for Columbia records which can also be heard via YouTube. It consists of six tracks, of which three are original compositions by Shaw and one is an imaginative reworking of the Cole Porter classic What is this Thing Called Love.

Shaw was joined by trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Mulgrew Miller, double bassist Stafford James, drummer Tony Reedus and also saxophonist Gary Bartz, each of them outstanding as soloists and as ensemble team players.

For me, some of the five or more minute jazz improvisations can get quite tiresome, Ornette Coleman being an example. Shaw’s gifts are such that the music making held my interest. Some of the most beautiful blends, dynamics and sonorities are to be heard here.

Shaw wrote that his first three choices for instruments to study in school were the violin, trombone and saxophone but they were already taken; hence, he got stuck with the trumpet. When he griped to the music teacher, the latter told him to be patient and that the older man had a good feeling about Shaw’s destiny, which proved to be true.

His major influences included Harry James, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

By the late 1980s, Woody Shaw was suffering from severe kidney ailments and a degenerative eye disease, and, due to being struck by a subway car in Brooklyn, his left arm had to be amputated. He had also been a heroin addict. When he died on May 10, 1989, he had been on a respirator for more than a month due to kidney failure.

In his essay Maine Speech, E.B. White writes the following:

“If you have enough wood for winter but not enough to carry you beyond that, you need wood ‘to spring out on.’ “

Inger Stevens

Highly recommended viewing recently was the gifted actress Inger Stevens (1934-1970) in the 1960 Twi­light Zone episode, The Hitchhiker and the 1967 made for TV movie The Borgia Stick, in which she and actor Don Murray (still living at 95) portray a suburban couple in New York’s Weschester County who funnel millions of dollars from a shadowy outfit known as the “Company” into legitimate businesses.

It can also be viewed on YouTube, although the quality of the video on the site I accessed was a bit below par. One hopes that a better print will be made available soon. Even so, it remains well worth watching.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Rutherford B. Hayes

Former 19th President Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1822-1893) wrote at the age of 19 of his determination “to use what means I have to acquire a character distinguished for energy, firmness and perseverence.”

Through a career that included Brigadier General during the Civil War, U.S. Congressman and Governor of Ohio, Hayes acquired a reputation for courage (Hayes was wounded five times during the Civil War and maintained the respect of his men), honesty, fiscal conservatism and social reform, as well as “energy, firmness and perseverence.”

Among his accomplishments while governor, he pushed for voter registration, battled election fraud, reformed the civil service, got improvements in prisons and mental hospitals, and troubleshooted the founding of Ohio State University.

Although a Republican, he consistently stood apart from partisanship and for what was right.

During the 1876 Republican primary, Hayes and Maine’s James G. Blaine were the leading contenders but Blaine’s hopes and popularity were tainted by yet another of the scandals that much too frequently reared their ugly heads during his political tenure. Therefore, some of the smarter party regulars saw the impeccably honest Hayes as their best hope and he won, in a close convention battle among the delegates meeting in Cincinnati.

The presidential race itself was arguably the closest one in history between Hayes and the Democrat, New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who also had accomplished reforms in his home state – a major one smashing the corrupt political gang of Boss Tweed at Tammany Hall.

The issues involved in Hayes defeating Tilden by just one hotly contested vote are much too detailed to go into at length but one of them was the ending of Reconstruction in the South.

While in office for just one term, Hayes’s other major accomplishment was civil service reform in which all federal government employees were prohibited from taking part in political organizations.

Lucy W. Hayes

Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb (1831-1889) in 1852 who became the first First Lady to be a college graduate. She was also a member of the Women’s Temp­erance Society and thus referred to as “Lem­onade Lucy” because she banned alcohol from the White House (In reality, it was her husband who banned alcohol but she gladly shouldered the blame.).

She was also, according to others, one of the kindest, sweetest human beings who ever lived and was the first First Lady to invite an African-American musician to perform at the White House.
The couple had seven sons and one daughter, of which three boys died in infancy, while the others lived well into the 1900s, daughter Fanny dying at 83, in 1950.

Hayes’s vice-president was New York Representative William A. Wheeler (1819-1887) whose own reputation for honesty matched that of the president. When Wheeler was mentioned to Hayes as a running mate at the Cincinnati convention, Hayes uttered, “WHO IS WHEELER?”, but both men became very close friends.

Widlliam A. Wheeler











REVIEW POTPOURRI: The Great American Songbook

Left-to-right: Frank Sinatra, James Van Heusen, Sammy Fain

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Great American Songbook

A 1991 CD (Reprise W2 26723), Sinatra Sings the Songs of Van Heusen and Cahn, contains 22 classic standards from the Great American Songbook, most of them composed by the team of James Van Heusen (1913-1990) and Sammy Fain (1913-1993), except for Imagina­tion, Polka Dots and Moon­beams, It’s Always You, Swinging On a Star, Moonlight Becomes You and Oh, You Crazy Moon, which Van Heusen wrote with his earlier longtime partner, Johnny Burke (1908-1964).

The remaining 16 have been given classic recordings by Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and several other pop balladeers but it’s Sinatra who, for better or worse, remains associated with them.

The list:

The Last Dance.
Come Waltz With Me.
The Look of Love.
The Tender Trap.
Come Blow Your Horn.
Call Me Irresponsible.
All the Way (a song no other singer could match Sinatra with.).
My Kind of Town.
I Like to Lead When I Dance.
The September of My Years (my personal favorite of all the recordings Sinatra ever made.).
I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her.
Come Fly with Me.
Love and Marriage.

Some of the selections here had been previously recorded by Sinatra during what so many regard as his peak years at Capitol Records between 1953 and 1960. I would men­­tion that All the Way was sung more powerfully for the earlier label.

But Sinatra had a falling out with Cap­itol and in 1960 founded Reprise Records with the intent of giving the musical artists more control over their own recordings; rather strangely, since his friend, the singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer was one of the three owners of Capitol Records, Sinatra felt that label was restricting his artistic freedom.

Meanwhile, Sinatra, Van Heusen and Cahn became a musically joined at the hip Trinity for years and saw each other daily in their marathon rehearsals of new songs in which the singer had input on words and notes in their creation and drafting.

And Van Heusen, along with Jilly Rizzo, worked frequently as bodyguards in the singer’s entourage.

I own a few shelves of Sinatra’s 78s, LPs, 45s, cassettes and CDs. A few choice favorites for listening are the albums No One Cares, Sinatra/Jobim, A Man Alone and the very unfortunately underrated song cycle Watertown.

Much of this material can be heard on YouTube.


Julia Dent Grant

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Julia Dent Grant

Former First Lady #18 , Julia Dent Grant (1826-1902) hated to leave Washington when her husband Ulysses (1822-1885) decided enough was enough after his two terms in the White House.

She wrote, “Dear Washington, how I love you, with your beautiful, broad, generous streets and blue skies! The sun shines always there for me.”

Born into a wealthy Missouri family, Julia had a father who re­main­ed an unreconstructured Southerner for the re­mainder of his life even when staying with his daughter and son-in-law during the White House years.

She met her future husband in 1844, married him four years later and gave him four children, each of whom, unusual for those days, survived well into 20th century adulthood.

Her White House hostessing included up to 29 courses to a meal, Roman punch further easing the stomachs of guests between the pot roast and dessert and at least six glasses of wine.

Up to that point, the Grants were the youngest couple to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Volumes of fascinating material on Grant and his life and family exist, of which some examples are offered:

He was extraordinarily skilled at breaking horses but was a so so student at West Point.

Introverted by nature, he preferred drinking by himself at the off-limits pub to any social occasions.

He loved the novels of Sir Walter Scott but read very little else.

He once stated that he had been told so often that “a noun is the name of a thing” he believed it.

There was never a day during the Civil War when he didn’t drink nor a day after when he did.

He detested dirty jokes and cussing and the troops under his command were very careful with their language around him.

He was President Lincoln’s fourth Commander-in-chief of the Union forces but the first successful one, scoring victories at Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Petersburg.

He would fight alongside his men in battle with bullets flying around him.

When Grant and General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) met at Appomattox to broker the terms of surrender, they were both suffering from migraines.

As to music, Grant knew two kinds; “one is Yankee Doodle, the other ain’t. ”

His presidency eased the national debt, and signed into law the Justice Department but otherwise was rocked by endless scandals.
Grant based his cabinet appointments more often on personal friendship than on professional qualifications .

Grant detested military parades.

His father learned to be a tanner from the abolitionist John Brown and moved to Ohio from Kentucky because he detested slavery; needless to say, he and Julia’s father avoided each other at the White House.

Grant’s sons Fred and Ulysses Junior constantly beat their father at wrestling matches.

Due to some bad investments, by 1884 Grant was destitute and dying of throat cancer. Mark Twain offered to publish his Memoirs which the former president completed just two days before he died. The book sold many copies, left his widow and family well provided for, and is considered a classic.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Recently watched

Keanu Reeves

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Recently watched:

John Wick is a 2014 film noir starring Keanu Reeves as a former, very skilled hitman for the Russian Mafia’s New York City kingpin. After one massive contract for his boss, he is allowed to retire to civilian life, since he had fallen in love (Blue Bloods actress Bridget Moynahan did good work here as his wife ) and gotten married.

A series of unfortunate events occur (due to space limitations, I won’t go into them), which ignite Wick’s very dangerous wrath and he is on the warpath with perpetrators of those events. They include his former boss – portrayed with sparing understatement by Michael Nyqvist (1960-2017) – and, even more of a villain, the boss’s spoiled rotten son.

Unfortunately, the film descends all too often into yet another series of nasty martial arts vendettas, although moments of relief are provided by the contributions of actors Willem Dafoe as a watchful former colleague of Wick’s and Ian McShane as the owner of a luxury hotel which caters to the criminal world as a sanctuary where any deadly activity against individuals is met with execution of the malefactors.

And a lovely moment at the end occurs when Wick adopts a pit bull puppy who had been caged in a euthanasia facility.

Handel’s Messiah

Lovro von Matacic

YouTube has a very good 1967 performance of Handel’s Messiah featuring the Croatian Maestro Lovro von Matacic (1899-1985) conducting the NHK Orchestra of Japan and a top notch chorus and soloists. I have at least 20 different Messiahs, all of them scoring individual points, and recently listened to those conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham (from 1947), Raymond Leppard and John Alldis, each of which are also accessible on YouTube.

But Matacic brought a vibrancy and eloquence uniquely his own. Highly recommended!

Elizabeth Coatsworth

Elizabeth Coatsworth

The poem Winter Splendor, by Nobleboro’s own Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986):

“This is a day to be compared with lions
if one considers the yellow-maned, round-faced sun,
or with an eagle for its icy glare;
or with a stag for something tense and proud
(and perhaps the antlered thickets enter in).
If men were chosen, I’d choose Charlemagne
for what was Northern in him, haughty, clear;
horns would find here their cold and proper echoes;
“magnificent” is perhaps not quite the word
but I can come no nearer. Such a day
towers above its fellows, passing by
with chargers, ermines, pennons, and with spears.”


Andrew Johnson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Andrew Johnson

Seventeenth President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), by his own hard-working ethic and insatiable desire to honorably better himself, became the kind of speaker that one New York Times correspondent would write with grudging admiration how this individual “cut and slashed right and left, tore big wounds and left something behind to fester and remember. His phraseology may be uncouth, but his views are easily understood and he talks strong thoughts and carefully culled facts in quick succession.”

As with several other presidents, Johnson was born into poverty; his early years were spent in North Carolina, his father died when Johnson was three, and his mother apprenticed the boy to a tailor.

He became a very skilled tailor but disliked his boss and ran away, eventually relocating in the Tennessee mountain village of Greeneville where he set up his own very successful tailoring business.

When 15 year old Eliza McCardle (1810-1876) first saw Andrew, she commented to a friend, “There goes my beau;” they were married a year later in her mother’s house, the ceremony being presided over by Mordecai Lincoln, the uncle of the former 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

She helped immensely with her husband’s education, especially in arithmetic and writing. And, when her husband became interested in politics, she fully supported his ambition, but rarely joined him in public appearances.

Johnson was elected mayor of Greeneville, served in the state legislature and five terms in the House of Representatives, and as governor and U.S. Senator before being picked by Abraham Lincoln to replace Maine’s own Hamilton Hamlin as vice-president when Lincoln was elected to a second term in 1864.

Andrew Johnson’s speeches and convictions resonated with the farmers and day laborers of the Tennessee mountains and valleys, a constituency that had little use for the wealthy plantation slave owners. Johnson was against high tariffs and wasteful government spending because they raised the cost of living for working people, spoke up for freedom of speech and religion and, although a Democrat, maintained a feisty independence in what was morally right.

Before Bill Clinton, and later Donald Trump, Andrew Johnson was the only president to undergo an impeachment trial, due to the obnoxious Radical Republicans who were doing their best to subvert the executive and judicial branches in attempts to pursue their own agendas, especially in relation to revenge against the former Confederate states and its citizens. Johnson, like his predecessor Lincoln, believed in a more moderate policy of healing and reconciliation as best for the country, which antagonized most of Congress; his acquittal was due to the vote of one man, Senator Edmund Ross, of Kansas, who was one of the subjects of JFK’s 1956 book, Profiles in Courage.

Droves of fascinating material on Johnson’s own presidency exists and could prove that his ranking as one of the worst presidents is grossly unfair.

In 1874, Johnson became the only former president to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate, was strangely given a hero’s welcome by the entire chamber including his former political enemies. Being a gentle forgiving man, Johnson shook hands with these enemies.

He died within six months of a stroke while visiting his daughter in July 1875, at the age of 66.

A visitor to the White House, Charles Dickens described Johnson’s face as “remarkable…indicating courage, watchfulness and certainly strength of purpose.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Movie: Dog; Christmas music; Quotable quotes

Peter Catesby Peter Cates


Movies portraying the love of man’s best friend have been melting the hearts of cynics since the days of Lassie Come Home. Another perspective was achieved in this past February’s release, Dog.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum portrays Briggs, a former army Ranger who has been removed from combat due to some brain damage. Unable to adjust to civilian life, he wants reinstatement and, after constant nagging of his superior officer, is finally given an opportunity to prove himself worthy.

A fellow Ranger, Rodriguez, has been killed in an automobile accident and his burial with full military honors takes place in five days in Nogales, Arizona, itself 1,500 miles from where Briggs lives near Tacoma, Washington.

Briggs is asked to escort Rodriguez’s service dog, a very aggressive Belgian Malinois named Lulu, as a tribute to her handler. Afterwards Briggs will take the dog to the nearby White Sands base to be euthanized. Only then will he be reinstated.

Despite being crated and muzzled, the dog destroys the inside of Briggs’ van. Other incidents include Lulu being released from the vehicle by an overzealous animal rights activist, while Briggs is elsewhere, who believes the canine is being mistreated, but who then is attacked by Lulu.

Jane Adams

The dog again escapes from the car later in Oregon and leads Briggs to a marijuana farm. Its owner, Gus, shoots a tranquilizing dart in Briggs, believing him to be an intruder, ties him up but then sees reason when his wife Tamara has a calming influence on both Briggs and Lulu.

(Here, I commend the seasoned acting of Kevin Nash and Jane Adams as the married couple.).

Kevin Nash

Inevitably Briggs and Lulu begin to bond, as other obstacles, and even a few epiphanies, occur during the remainder of their journey. At this point, I simply recommend this film for the manner in which this potentially hackneyed plot is developed in a strikingly unusual manner, with a message of hope and redemption.

The film was produced at a cost of $15 million and, since its release, raked in $85 million.

A charming Christmas album

The Mills Brothers

A very charming 1959 LP on the Dot label, Merry Christmas, features the Mills Brothers applying their unique harmonizing to 12 yuletide favorites; the six on side one include such secular examples as Gene Autry’s Here Comes Santa Claus, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and one of the finest renditions of Mel Torme’s perennially delectable Christmas Song, surpassed only by a tiny margin by the one of Percy Faith’s orchestra and ladies chorus, while the second side contains the traditional Xmas carols.

And the album can be heard on YouTube.

Quotable quote

December 3 was the 165th birthday of the great novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). I offer one of his very pertinent quotes:

“It is only those who do nothing who make no mistakes, I suppose.”




Abraham Lincoln

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) first met Mary Todd (1818-1882) at a formal dance in Springfield, Illinois, in late 1839 where he had been practicing law for two years, while she had just recently moved in with an older sister from their home state of Ken­tucky.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Despite their vast differences in background – she having grown up in wealth and he in poverty – they took an instant liking to each other and visited constantly; they shared mutual interests in literature, especially reciting and rereading Shakes­peare tragedies, along with history, geography and politics and swapping anecdotes of their early years in Kentucky.

Both of them also had a keen sense of the absurd and shared much laughter as a result.

Within a year the two were engaged but then, due to an ongoing fear of marriage, he broke off the engagement. They went their separate ways for two very long years, however, not at all losing their affection for, and commitment to, each other. Mary, already knowing of Abe’s tendencies to melancholy, prayed for that glorious day when “Hamlet will be himself again,” as she confided to a close friend.

“That glorious day” finally arrived. The couple announced their intention at the very last minute and they were joined in marriage in her sister’s parlor.

Libraries of material abound on Lincoln’s rise as a politician in Congress, his horrifically challenging presidency during the Civil War and his assassination with its radical reconstruction aftermath.

His wife had her manic/depressive ups and downs but the couple loved each other up to that fateful night of April 14, at Ford’s Theater. Of their four sons, Edward died at 4 years old, in 1850, Willie at 12, in 1862, at the White House, and Tad at 18, in 1871. The oldest son Robert died at 84 in 1926.

Losing the youngest son is believed by many to have caused several breakdowns in her mental and physical health. Robert had his mother institutionalized for a few months in 1876 but her older sister eventually secured her release and freedom, after which Mary moved to France for four years.

By late 1880, due to a paralyzing fall from a chair while hanging a picture, she moved back to the states and moved in with her sister back in Springfield, Illinois, where she died in July 1882, from a stroke.

Mary Todd Lincoln was 63.