I had some writer’s block the other night, and, as always, I turned to narrative historian David McCullough for some inspiration. One book in particular always re-energizes my creative energy, “Brave Companions: Portraits in History.” His incredibly diverse collection of historical essays and articles is probably one of my all-time favorite books. Among the best are illustrations of Alexander von Humboldt, Louis Agassiz, Frederic Remington, and the U.S. Congress, along with a brilliant tour guide for Washington D.C. and a musing on a special clock that tracks more than just the time.
One of the pieces is about Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the 1852 novel that made her an international celebrity overnight. As I bask in the resurgence of public interest in the Civil War, I’ll share with you what McCullough writes about Stowe during the war:
“When war came, everyone told her it was her war, and she thought so too. In South Carolina, as the war commenced, the wife of a plantation owner wrote in her diary that naturally slavery had to go, but added, ‘Yes, how I envy those saintly Yankee women, in their clean cool New England homes, writing to make their fortunes and to shame us.’
“Harriet Stowe never saw the Civil War as anything but a war to end slavery, and all her old Beecher pacifist principles went right out the window. ‘Better, a thousand times better, open, manly, energetic war, than cowardly and treacherous peace,’ she proclaimed. Her oldest son, Frederick, put on a uniform and went off to fight. Impatient with Lincoln for not announcing emancipation right away, she went down to Washington when he finally proclaimed that the slaves would be free, and was received privately in the White House. The scene is part of our folklore. ‘So this is the little woman who made this big war,’ Lincoln is supposed to have said as he shook her hand.
“She was sitting in the gallery at the Boston Music Hall, attending a concert, on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation became effective. When an announcement of the historic event was made from the stage, someboday called out that she was in the gallery. In an instant the audience was on its feet cheering while she stood and bowed, her bonnet awry.”
My poolside soundtrack for today included:
1. IN THE CLUB 50 Cent
2. MADE YOU LOOK Nas
3. HELLO N.W.A.
4. CALIFORNIA LOVE 2Pac
5. LET IT RIDE Dr. Dre
6. GIN & JUICE Snoop Dogg
7. BREAK U OFF Kool Keith
8. YOU CAN DO IT Ice Cube
9. NUTHIN’ BUT A G-THANG Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre
10. LOSE CONTROL (Stonebridge mix) Missy Elliott, Ciara & Fatman Scoop